Originally aired on Wednesday, 01/24/2007
*** (3 stars out of 5)
Our four finalists head to Hawaii to compete for the title "Top Chef," and face a major elimination challenge that will send two chefs packing.
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- The chefs arrive in Hawaiian and get a quick primer in Hawaiian cuisine.
- Their challenge is to create a Hawaiian luau meal with their own twist.
- Tensions between the chefs and outcast Marcel come to a boil as they make accusations to the judges about his character moments before the final verdict.
After the last episode, wherein no one was eliminated for cooking, but Cliff Crooks
was sent home for manhandling Mr. Congeniality/fan-favorite Marcel Vigernon
, we were left with Elia Aboumrad
, Sam Talbot
, Ilan Hall
, and, of course, Marcel selected to go to Hawaii.
First, though, the chefs, head back home for a couple of months so that they can work on their dresses. Sorry, wait, that's another Bravo show. Why DO they head home for two months? I guess so Elia can grow some hair back and so they can pack up their own special ingredients and equipment to use in the finals. Me, I'm more of a throw-everything-into-a-duffel-bag-when-Super-Shuttle-van-pulls-up kinda gal, but sure, I can see it might take two months to pack if you're a really careful sort. Or whatever.
The chefs also do some preparation during that time. They all study Hawaiian cuisine. None of the remaining chefs is a pastry chef, but Sam, who is diabetic and doesn't eat sweets, really tries to step up his game by spending time as an apprentice to a pastry chef that used to work for Tom Colicchio.
The chefs see each other for the first time in two months as they take their first class seats on the plane to Hawaii. Elia and Sam choose seats next to each other first, leaving Ilan to sit with Marcel. He's not thrilled about this, and, actually, neither is Marcel, who has seen some of the initial episodes and knows that Ilan has "talked smack" about him. Marcel is definitely annoying - and the audience's votes to boot him indicate this is a fairly universal feeling - but the behavior of the others towards him actually makes me feel a little sorry for him. Yes, he's an irritant, but it's no virtue on the other chefs' part to gang up and ostracize someone either.
When the chefs arrive in Hawaii, they are greeted by Miss Hawaii, who takes them to their ride: a helicopter. It takes them on a scenic ride and lands in a valley. They are met by the judges - Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons - and special guest judge, Alan Wong, a Grand Master of Regional Hawaiian cuisine. The group has a traditional Hawaiian meal; the chefs are grateful for the opportunity to taste what they've been studying.
As Padma dismisses the chefs after the meal, she sends them off with a chilling announcement: the next event will be an Elimination Challenge. The chefs' first night in their swank hotel suites are a little more nerve-wracking with this knowledge, but everyone is ready to compete.
The next day, they get the specifics: Alan Wong is having a birthday luau, for which the chefs are to prepare dishes that use traditional Hawaiian cuisine as a starting point, but have each chef's individual flavor. And...at the end of the challenge, TWO chefs will be going home! Cue: worried reaction shots!
They get cookin'. Marcel continues to annoy everyone in the kitchen. Elia says he "disrespects" the kitchen, and that she's had enough. Again, while he doesn't have the best personality, the "incident" that puts her over the edge was his moving her steamer off a burner. In his defense, the burner, it seems, wasn't on. I don't know if there is some Code of the Kitchen that makes this disrespectful, but her response seems excessive to me. I certainly didn't intend to become the Marcel Apologist. Between his hair and the Chef Rap (shudder) he delivered a little while back, I really don't care for him. But from what the editors have shown us, I just don't see what he's guilty of other than being somewhat of a douchebag. I think he's just become the safe outlet for their own anxieties.
Each of the chefs takes his or her own approach to the challenge. Elia decides to prepare snapper steamed in ti leaves and a poke (raw fish) dish using her Mediterranean flavors. Ilan uses his experience in a Spanish restaurant to create a seafood main dish using taro leaves and his own chorizo and fried coconut milk spiced with saffron. Sam's route seems to Tom to be the safest. He's making a snapper dish as well, and a coconut-mascarpone dessert. Marcel, of course, goes the avant-garde route, adding a tomato foam to his salmon, and making a "poi" of sorts from just raw pineapple and xanthan gum, a thickener.
Overall, the judges seem impressed with the chef's offerings. There are a few criticisms: Elia's dishes - though tasty - are so overpoweringly Mediterranean as to have lost the original Hawaiian influence. Sam's dessert is a hit, but his main dish underwhelms the judges. Marcel's "poi" gets mixed results. Alan appreciates his creativity and thoughtfulness, while Gail found it runny and not paste-like enough to be a true poi. Ilan's dishes were more uniformly successful, although Padma thinks he did not cook the taro leaves thoroughly.
After the event, and the judges' conference with and without the chefs, they bring the four back for the verdict. Elia, Ilan and Sam exchange glances as they try to decide whether or not to move forward with what they'd just been discussing: basically, ratting out Marcel. Ilan and Elia haltingly offer up half-accusations, accusing "some people" of "disrespecting" the kitchen and, more seriously, cheating. Tom points out to Elia that they are judging the chefs on the cooking, not their behavior. (Although, of course, Cliff was just eliminated last week for behavior, but okay.) Gail presses Elia for some examples of cheating and she backpedals furiously. All in all: one of the more awkward-in-a-bad-way moments I've ever seen on reality television, and all the more disappointing because - even though they ARE on reality television - these are supposed to be professional adults competing with actual skills.
So Elia gets the ax anyway. And, in somewhat surprising move, Sam is sent home, too, leaving Ilan and Marcel to compete in the final episode. Padma appears near tears as she delivers the verdict.
After the farewells, Ilan and Marcel prepare to go head-to-head, offering each other a little trash talk. And, frankly, 20-something chef trash talk leaves something to be desired, as it mainly involved Ilan threatening to make Marcel cry and Marcel countering that "it takes a lot more than paprika to make [him] cry." Whoa, there boys! There's no need for that kind of language. This is a family show.
Tune in next week for the finale!