Top Chef – My Take 5/28/08

Top Chef, May 28, 2008

High Steaks

Well, I think this is one of the calmest episodes of Top Chef that we’ve seen yet.  The Quick Fire Challenge, though it had two parts, was pretty straightforward and went smoothly.  I was, like most of us, disappointed to see Stephanie do poorly, but she has never excelled at Quick Fires.

First the chefs had to butcher a big hunk of beef to the exacting standards of Chicago chef Rick Tramonto. Then they packed them up and returned to the Top Chef kitchen where they had to prepare the steaks. All of them looked pretty rare to me, though Antonia’s looked best.  But Spike was channeling his grandfather, the butcher (and his mother is a chef?), giving him a quick fire win, along with an advantage in the EC, which was squandered when he chose to work with frozen scallops. Not a good choice.  The other chefs all recognized that, so why didn’t Spike?

On to the Elimination Challenge…  and what a good one it was, though I must say, the atmosphere is still pretty calm.  I expected a little panic, or a meltdown, or a temper tantrum.  And I am a bit ashamed to say that I wanted to see Lisa burn some rice. But alas! All was well, and there were no real bombs.  This was truly a challenge of degree… some excellent dishes, and some just kind of okay dishes.

The chefs had to create an appetizer and an  entrée to be served at Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood and the “special guests” were previous winners Harold Dieterle, Ilan Hall, and Hung Huynh. (Good to see Harold and Hung, but Ilan could’ve stayed home, in my opinion.)

Richard performed well, as always. His hamachi and sweetbreads appetizer impressed the judges, and his filet with potato puree, turnips and brussel sprouts, deconstructed (what’s up with that?) was good, though not great. Richard seemed more nervous that we’ve ever seen him in this challenge, which kind of confused me. Also, his plate was kind of messy looking, which is surprising as well.

Lisa’s performance made me have second thoughts about why everyone dislikes her so much. She was pretty likable tonight, and her food was good. If only she could take that sour look off her face at judges’ table! The chilled and grilled shrimp appetizer sounded delicious, but apparently did not go over well. As an entrée, Lisa made a New York strip steak with a spicy apple and caramel sauce, with peanut butter mashed potatoes! Peanut butter mashed potatoes? I can’t quite imagine it, but apparently they were quite good, and elevated Lisa in my opinion. Unfortunately, her steak was not terribly well prepared.

Antonia made a warm mushroom and artichoke salad with a poached egg, topped with a bacon vinaigrette. Sounds weird, but who knows. The judges love well executed eggs, and a bacon and egg combo sounds pretty cool. Her bone-in rib eye with potato gratin did well, with the gratin winning raves all around. If her appetizer had been more innovative, Antonia might have won tonight.

Spike blew it big time. Choosing frozen scallops was an absolute waste of his advantage, and using them in such a simple dish only highlighted the problem. Had they been in a creamy sauce or a salad preparation, he might have slid through. Adding canned hearts of palm at the end only exacerbated the problem. And though he butchered the meat well, his preparation of the tomahawk steak with an overly sweet sweet potato puree was less than stellar. Spike has the unique ability to turn an advantage into a disadvantage like no one I have ever seen.

Stephanie showed incredible maturity and class in this episode. There was no sign of the nervousness that has plagued her in the past, and she put out a great meal. The first course of crispy sweetbreads with a golden raisin and pine nut sauce sounded yummy, and the main dish of tenderloins (perfectly cooked) with salsify puree, wild mushrooms and apple sauce was well-rounded, well-executed, and interesting enough to shine. I love this girl! She can cook, and is a delight to watch. Go Stephanie!

And then there was judges’ table.  Spike, Spike, Spike, don’t you know that “defend your dish” and “act like an ass” are not the same thing?  At least he was insightful enough to admit to the others that he had acted dumb.  You don’t call the guest judge out on what was in his freezer! Duh.   He shoulda made a soup!

But that’s the way it goes, and yes, Lisa has squeaked through one more time….

Off to Puerto Rico!

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11 Responses to “Top Chef – My Take 5/28/08”

  1. heathenly Says:

    I am so behind on Top Chef. I have no idea of what’s going on.

  2. thelittlefluffycat Says:

    I was so, so glad to see Spike finally caught out. You’re right, he has no idea what to do with an advantage–it would have been a shame for him to get to the finals by some mischance, and keep someone else with true Top Chef potential (LISA? give me a break, Tom…) out.

    I am thinking that we will see Lisa go in the finals quickfire–if they do two, I am hoping for Antonia, also. (She’s not as nice as she seems, the only time I agreed with Spike this whole season was that she was singlehandedly responsible for the Zoi ousting with her snootiness about the soup.)

    I’d like to see the finals be between Richard and Stephanie, to my mind two of the most consistent chefs and the ones who really exemplify the concept of Top Chef. I would love to see Dale come back to sous for Richard–they would KILL, together, and imho if Dale hadn’t had that testosterone thing make him insist on being executive during restaurant wars, he’d be on his way to Puerto Rico right now. Dale! Buddy! If someone asks you are you the Executive Chef, you! say! no! Didn’t you ever WATCH this show?

    Dang, whatcha got against my boy Ilan??

  3. nanis Says:

    Ilan would have been charged with assault if this was the real world. He is a weasel, and should not have won.
    But that is old news. I too think it should be Stephanie and Richard in the finals, but I think it just might be Antonia and Stephanie. Just a hunch.

  4. thelittlefluffycat Says:

    I’m confused…shaving heads was Ilan’s idea, yes, but it was Cliff who went and put the arm on Marcel, and it was his own idea, as far as I could tell. He and Marcel were on each other’s last nerve from the get-go. And boy, it was stupid luck that Cliff didn’t wind up breaking Marcel’s neck, too–I was shrieking in terror when I watched that the first time, and I made sure I used it as a teaching moment in my house, you can bet. As you say, proof Top Chef is not the real world.

    Ah well, you’re right, old news.

    Richard had a little bit of a problem in the steak show–but I think he can hold it together to get through the elimination quickfire. Probably. It depends. But then–when hasn’t it, lol? I think that sense of humor he brings to his cooking is a huge plus.

  5. nanis Says:

    It was Ilan’s plan, and he held the camera while urging Cliff on. He also tried to get Elia and Sam to finish the job.

    I agree about Richard, but sometimes I think the chefs, after so much time away from their families, do themselves in, kind of accidentally on purpose. I get the feeling Richard is tired and wants to go home.

  6. nanis Says:

    Oh, and Ilan was also shoving the camera in Marcel’s face after the fact.

  7. thelittlefluffycat Says:

    Yeah, I agree on that do themselves in thing. They get pushed and pushed and pushed…and they get so little contact, any of them, they’re a mess when they do. I think that’s part of what went wrong in the head-shaving thing, the exhausting and whatnot after the love-meal–well, that, and the drinking. Very easy to make bad decisions when you’ve been pushed so hard for so long. *sigh* I hadn’t ever realized Ilan had misbehaved so badly. I am extremely disappointed.

    I think the missing home could make a real difference for Antonia–she’s already had it back up on her so much that time. Lisa apparently quit her job to do it, and who knows what the situation is with her and her SO. Richard’s wife is home running the place, I think. Steph’s the only one that hasn’t been saying anything. I could stand to see her Top Chef, she’s a good soul. I’d prefer Richard–but Steph is VERY competent.

  8. Shawn W Says:

    I swear the cooking channels are the only part of cable I miss. Thank goodness Hell’s Kitchen is on regular TV.

  9. nanis Says:

    Ohmygod! I just discovered Hell’s Kitchen, and I am so addicted! Embarrassing to say, actually, but I love it. I’ll have to write an article about that next.

  10. Corina Says:

    I don’t watch cooking shows. I gain weight just looking at food.

  11. heathenly Says:

    See, I’ve watched Hell’s Kitchen since it started. It’s on hulu.com, if you get behind…

    I still can’t believe Lisa made it to the end.

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