This season of Top Chef started out so warm and friendly, but as the weeks have progressed, the chefs have found themselves not always capable of being on their best behavior.
Last week Lisa Fernandes made a desperate move to save herself by calling out the flaws of Andrew D'Ambrosi's dish, and while it's unlikely this had any effect on things, he was the chef to head home. (Since the show, Lisa has apparently has had remorse for her actions. The recently posted Bravo video of Spike Mendelsohn and Andrew watching that episode showed the two receiving a text to Andrew from Lisa, who apologized and called herself an a-hole.)
But don't fret: all that fellow-feeling and whatnot is taking place after the competition. For now, we still have plenty of tense moments left to savor. And I would have the feeling – even without the previews – that Lisa will find herself embroiled in them oncea again.
Top Chef this season is apparently all about sleep-deprivation and its effects on the ambitious cheftestant. After forcing the chefs to stay up all night for Wedding Wars in the episode before last, this episode finds our remaining six chefs – Lisa, Dale Talde, Spike, Stephanie Izard, Antonia Lofaso and Richard Blais – awoken at the crack by none other than Tom Colicchio. He makes a house call to rouse the chefs and get them to their Quickfire.
The challenge is at a popular local Chicago breakfast joint. Each chef will take a turn on the egg station. It might sound simple, but breakfast is fast-paced, and eggs require a lot of precision, as Spike notes. He also says he's done short-order in the past, but not lately. He says the key is to be methodical, and it's unspoken, but by his chapeau, I assume another key is the right kicky hat.
Antonia is excited for the challenge, saying she likes to test herself. She takes the first turn and seems to do well but appears to run out of time. Stephanie does all right, remarkably less flustered than I would have expected considering her prior Quickfire nerves. Dale does exactly what you would expect, solid, fast work. Richard admits he's a bit confused by some diner lingo and I get the sense he annoys the waitresses. Richard appears to have that effect on some upon first impression.
The owner says they all did well, but Antonia is the ultimate winner. She gets a special advantage in the Elimination Challenge, Tom notes. He also says he won't be at that challenge due to a commitment at a charity event, and sends them off to a mysterious address to meet with Padma Lakshmi.
They find Padma in a large space with hardwood floors…that's right, it's time for Restaurant Wars! Everyone is excited. They will split into two teams and share one kitchen while splitting two ends of the raw space.
(I must take a moment to insert the observation that so far, Spike has been featured in this episode making the lion's share of the comments in interview. My notes for the episode at this point in the show – only a bit of the way in – that it has become “The Spike Show.” I bring this up because, per my prediction for this episode, I sense an image rehab underway for Spike and I am curious as to what it all means.)
Antonia's advantage is to pick her team and to the surprise of absolutely zero viewers, she picks…Richard and Stephanie.
That leaves the other team to be Dale, Lisa and Spike. Do I even need to recap the rest of it? Do I even need to watch the rest of it? Let me guess…um, Asian cuisine, angry kitchen, crash and burn? Am I right? Do I win anything? Just the satisfaction of eventually being right, I guess!
Dale is philosophical, saying it's the same team as Wedding Wars, just without Nikki Cascone, which makes it easier. Not, he notes, because Nikki's personality was horrible, but because it's “one less of them.” There is some sort of weary resignation to his own prickly nature in how Dale says this that – to me – makes all his fits of temper totally palatable.
Predictably, Dale and Lisa go head-to-head immediately with both wanting to be executive chef but they flip a coin and Dale wins. “Asian restaurant, Asian guy,” he notes, laughingly saying it gives them credibility.
The Spike Show continues as he talks in interview about the team putting aside their differences and coming together as professionals. My, but he's getting a warm and fuzzy edit. Why don't they just put a box of kittens in his lap and call it a day?
They head out to shop with their $1500 budget. There is nothing in the kitchens they will be using so they have to buy it all. I think that is the single most terrifying thing I have ever heard because I know if I were in this challenge, I would forget something like oil or salt. Antonia has been made Executive Chef of her trio, and so her Team Golden Children skips through the store whistling and holding hands, easily finding the ingredients for their classic gastropub fare. Team Red-Headed Stepchild, on the other hand, has to hunt high and low for items that will approximate the Asian ingredients they can't find in a regular grocery store.
Team RHS (whose restaurant will actually be called Mai Buddha) have better luck at Pier One shopping for décor. Spike will be handling front of house, which will apparently include every Buddha statue Pier One is carrying that day.
Over on Team GC (which I think is calling themselves “Warehouse Kitchen” but it's such a gray nothing of a name when I saw it I thought it was just describing where they were? I'm a little fuzzy on this detail), they are preparing their menu in happy three-part harmony. The only area of concern for Antonia is the fresh pasta since they didn't buy back-up.
Anothony Bourdain shows up, all sassy as usual. He's taking Tom's place, bringing his “warmer and sunnier disposition” he dryly notes. He does the walkaround, and tells Lisa that the laksa soup she is preparing is one of his favorite dishes. Gulp.
Bourdain thinks the Golden Children have opted for modest expectation they can exceed, while Mai Buddha is aiming high. They might either take a big risk for a big reward (um….) or crash and burn (ding ding ding).
Luckily for both, they get an extra pair of hands. The eliminated chefs return, and each team can pick one to help. Spike's team gets to pick first and they go with Jennifer Biesty, which is very smart. Lisa notes she's talented, a hard worker and (probably most importantly) NOT an a-hole, a role needing to be filled on this team.
Antonia hurriedly enlists Nikki for pasta-making, and it's back to work.
Dale is having some mousse problems for his dessert, and he is on edge. Lisa is having some rice problems and she is on edge. Spike is hanging up pictures and braising ribs.
Lisa's laksa is also not working for Dale or Spike. They find it too smoky.
At service time, Spike changes into a snazzy suit and Stephanie into a dress, and the dinner begins.
First the judges (Padma, Bourdain, Ted Allen, and guest judge Jose Andres) head to Warehouse Kitchen. First course is a beet salad with goat cheese or a linguine with clams. Second is a trout dish or a “Lamb Squared” dish of leg and loin. Dessert is a savory gorgonzola cheesecake with grape sauce or Richard's banana scallop with chocolate sauce.
They basically love every single thing except Richard's dessert, which has an unappetizing smear of brown on the plate. Padma says she expected to hate the savory cheesecake, but loved it. Personally, Team Golden Children would have lost points with me for the “Lamb Squared” title. That's “Lamb Times Two,” folks, unless you can somehow convince me that Lamb = 2. Don't get me started on the math thing.
Over at Mai Buddha, guess what happens? OMG – the judges don't really like most of the food. What an unexpected twist!
After Bourdain notes the décor looks like “the back of Prince's van,” they get to the food. The laksa is smoky, Dale's butterscoth miso scallops are too sweet, and the mango with sticky rice is “baby vomit with wood chips” per Bourdain. (I would enjoy Bourdain's bon mots much better if he didn't always present them so damn preciously. We get it: you're sassy.) Spike's ribs are the best thing there, although Padma seems to enjoy her potsticker and Jose Andres likes the halo halo.
Things aren't going any more smoothly in the back. While Spike projects calm out front, Dale and Lisa continue to go batcrap on each other in the back.
Back at judging, Team Golden Children wins, with Stephanie as the ultimate winner for her cheesecake and pasta. She also seemed to do a good job out front as well.
The losing team heads back for their lashing and it's the blame game again. Dale blames Lisa for being the weakest link, Lisa blames him for being a bad leader, Spike continues to try to communicate with every molecule of his body and its language how much he is not a part of this fight. The judges note he was clever to take the front (although I will say would a true Top Chef really just leave the other two teammates to take the team off the rails? Just askin').
Lisa, though, did not impress with her poor laksa and awful mango sticky rice. Dale had a bad dish and a failure of leadership.
Who is leaving? After another tension-filled stew room with Dale confronting Lisa to talk her crap to his face, they are brought back in to learn that…Dale is heading home. Oh bummer. I called it but I still wanted him to stay. For some reason, his particular flavor of a-holery just doesn't bother me much. He seems really devastated in his closing interview, crying and displaying the most emotion we've seen from an eliminated chef.
We'll be talking with him tomorrow, so head back here for his interview.
- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)