As we start this week's episode of Top Chef
, Spike Mendelsohn
notes how unsavory Dale Talde
's outbursts were last week, but Andrew D'Ambrosi
, on the other hand, is focused on the competition.
He notes that the other chefs are all still pretty exhausted from the Wedding Wars challenge, but he is personally feeling fired up enough to either, in his words, stab somebody or make some amazing food. For all his twitchy intensity, Andrew seems absolutely harmless, so maybe he'll make some amazing food.
Then again…I'm starting to get the feeling that the chef who is featured prominently in this portion of Top Chef talking about how good they are going to do is often the one who is sent home. I am already going into this episode slightly nervous for Andrew and I get a bad feeling about this interview snippet here.
But we have a whole episode to get through before we know, and the first step is the Quickfire. Padma Lakshmi introduces guest judge and former Top Chef competitor Sam Talbot. Antonia Lofaso is feeling much as many viewers do regarding Sam's hunkiness. His hunkiness is actually worked into the Quickfire Challenge: the cheftestants have to “bring sexy back” to the humble salad.
Okay, a) when did salad have any sexy to be lost and ergo brought back? And b) the main thing I love about Sam Talbot is that he proves that it's not just humorless feminism that makes me irritated when something is all about how hot someone is, because I find it just as distasteful when it's about some dude as when it's Kim Kardashian or something. To Sam's credit, he seems to feel as uncomfortable having to deliver the “bring sexy back to the salad” speech as Padma did a few weeks ago singing the praises of microwave rice.
The chefs have 45 minutes and they get to cookin'…er…salad-preparin'. Which doesn't necessarily require cooking, although most of the chefs due include some cooked element.
Sam and Padma make the rounds. He is not fond of Richard Blais's, Lisa Fernandes's or Stephanie Izard's. (And ergo Stephanie has once again choked in the Quickfire, missing an element to her dish during the plating. Her Achilles heel is the Quickfire Challenge for sure.)
Sam liked Antonia's, which had a poached egg, and Dale's, which used nori well. But it's Spike's overall dish that wins. While he won't have immunity, he will get a special benefit in the Elimination Challenge.
The Challenge? After Padma and Sam bring in a couple trays of fatty food, they tell the chefs their task is to create a healthy boxed lunch for a group of police officers and cadets. The dish must include one protein, one whole grain, one fruit and one vegetable. It also needs to be low in sugar and fat.
Spike's reward? He gets an extra ten minutes to shop AND whatever he selects for one ingredient in each category will be off-limits to the other chefs. As Stephanie notes, this is the worst possible person to get this reward since he's the most likely to try to actively screw the others.
And Spike does not disappoint. He picks bread (um, whole grain? Sure bread can HAVE whole grains in it, but something made mainly from flour doesn't seem to be quite the point of a lower-glycemic index starch), chicken, lettuce and tomato. He's gleeful about how much he screwed the others, but the other chefs wonder if his obvious and pedestrian choices are really that smart for himself.
Andrew is not concerned. He's studied nutrition, and he is determined he will make “some fancy sh*t” that will make people say “Wow, that's awesome.” Because of his education, he says he's like an “dart on point” in the store, heading right for what he needs. Andrew is really getting a worrying amount of airtime in comparison to prior weeks.
After shopping, the chefs get to work. Richard is making a burrito with tuna and bok choi. Lisa is making a shrimp stir fry, although Andrew gives her the heads-up that her shrimp is high in cholesterol.
If only he could have given her the heads-up that her burner was high on heat. She notices that the burner under her rice got turned up and it burned the outside rice and undercooked the interior. Without adequate time to prepare more rice, she is sure she has been sabotaged.
Other chefs aren't so sure it wasn't an accident, and you do have to wonder why a chef would sabotage someone who's so often been in the losing bunch. Sabotage Richard. Seriously. I really like the dude but his overall success has become bad television.
Andrew is making a raw-food variation of sushi that has a parsnip puree with pine nuts approximating rice. Stephanie is making a mushroom leek soup with meatballs on the side. Antonia is making a curried filet mignon beef dish with jasmine rice and a berry dessert. Dale is using bison for its lower cholesterol, and putting it into some Vietnamese veggie cups. Antonia wonders if Dale can make anything besides Asian-style cuisine.
Spike is making…a chicken salad with some raw veg. That better be some darn-tootin tasty chicken salad if that's the extent to which he used his advantage.
The chefs bring the food to the cops. Richard tries to turn on the charm, which annoys Spike. Spike has his own tactic: holding back his quantity of dishes to make it seem like the demand is high for his. He only sets out two boxed lunches at a time, as though he's almost all out.
The cops seem to enjoy Stephanie's soup, but not quite so much for Andrew's faux rice sushi roll. The judges find Spike's chicken salad predictably underwhelming.
Back at judging, Dale and Stephanie head back first, with Dale called as the winner for his dish ultimately being heartier. He wins a bottle of Rutherford merlot and two tickets to the winery.
The worst of the group? Andrew, Lisa and Spike. It's a tense judging. All of the chefs seem annoyed for being called as worst. Andrew is criticized for not considering the audience. He counters that he was trying to make the healthiest thing possible since that was the direction of this challenge. He also notes that the cops came back for seconds, but the judges say that was only because it simply wasn't filling enough for an active cop. They also did not care as much for the taste.
Their criticisms for Spike are around the (lacking) creativity level of the dish and some of his flavor components. Tom Colicchio asks him why he put olives and grapes in the salad. Spike's response is “What part of salty and sweet don't you understand?”
It's the kind of thing that were it said under other circumstances, would a) provoke the surrounding people to cover their mouths in disbelieve while saying some variation of “Oh! SNAP!!” and b) be the prelude to a fistfight. To Tom's credit, he doesn't not do what I would have probably done, which is go rapper-style and throw a handful of my GIANT WADS OF CASH in Spike's face. “THAT'S what I understand about salty and sweet, son! How many restaurants do YOU own?!” Who knows, maybe he did and the editor chose to make him look gracious?
And onto Lisa, whose rice and shrimp were both cooked improperly. She pulls out the alleged-sabotage card, and when that doesn't seem to be saving her, she uses as a last resort pointing out that Andrew didn't use a whole grain, which was one of the rules.
He's justifiably pissed, and Lisa back pedals and makes some comment about not wanting Andrew to inflict bodily harm on her. What the heck? Andrew is just hyper, why is everyone always acting like he's actually crazy?
It's tacky anyway, but especially tacky considering she and Antonia barely used Polish sausage in the improv challenge. (For those of you who also thought they used none, it came out after the show that there was some Polish sausage used as flavoring IN the dish, it was simply not the centerpiece sausage on the plate.) I also find it sort of amusing that she did this on the episode when Sam Talbot is the guest chef, since one of the reasons I've never been totally sold on his hotness was the similar tattling move he made on Marcel Vigneron in his season.
Back in the stew room, Andrew chews out Lisa, which, again, I personally think she deserves. I actually don't mind Lisa too much – she's not exactly warm and fuzzy, but hell, that's not the point of the show. But this move just smacked of desperation and it's kind of off-putting.
The judges bring the three back in, and it's Andrew who is going home. Oh, bummer. Well, he handles it graciously, telling them this time they don't need security to get him out of there. Poor twitchy guy. His dish really did sound unappealing, but I still would prefer to see his creativity over Spike's grumpy self-satisfaction. But it's Spazz McGee, as Lee Ann Wong calls him in her blog, who's off to pack the knives he refrained from actually plunging into anyone this episode.
I will be looking forward to talking to him on Thursday; come back here too BuddyTV for the interview!
- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)