Top Chef, Season 2, Episode 5 "Social Service" Recap
Originally aired on Wednesday, 11/15/2006 Episode Rating: *** (3 stars out of 5) Episode Overview: The theme for this week is leftovers, and the chefs are challenged to create delicious offerings out of some less-than-desirable ingredients, with some less-than-stellar results.
Episode Highlights:
  • The Quickfire Challenge this week is not for the vegetarian, nor faint-of-stomach, as the chefs have to use, frankly, the nasty parts of the animal to create their dish.
  • The Elimination Challenge is forces the chefs to team up, and again, restricts their creativity by limiting their ingredient choices.
  • The gods - aka show producers - address the imbalance caused by last week's lack of elimination and send home not one, but two chefs!
Recap: Last week's surprise non-elimination is still having reverberations for the chefs. Betty Fraser is insistent that she was mistaken, not cheating, when she changed the recipe for her elimination dish. Marcel Vigneron is disappointed that their team's win is tainted by her actions. Back at the kitchen, host Padma Lakshmi introduces the chefs to the guest judge for this week, Michelle Bernstein from the Miami restaurant "Azul." Carlos Fernandez is excited to see her as he is also a South Floridian chef. Michelle will be judging the results of this week's Quickfire Challenge. The chefs are presented with "leftovers," or offal, the generally less-appealing bits of edible animals: pigs' feet, kidneys, oxtail, sweetbreads (which, I always thought were brains, but are actually glands; this makes me exactly zero times more likely to ever order them). Because these can be tougher cuts to cook, requiring soaking and braising, the chefs will have two hours to prepare this challenge. Even with the longer time, some of the chefs encounter some difficulty making their offal edible. After tasting, Michelle takes Josie Smith-Malave and Elia Aboumrad to task for their handling of the cuts. Sam Talbot, Cliff Crooks and Ilan Hall are singled out for praise, with Sam being the ultimate winner. He receives immunity for this round. Next the chefs head out to an L.A. venue called the "Social Club," where they learn they will be cooking a six-course meal for sixty people for an event hosted by Jennifer Coolidge, aka, as Michael Midgely puts is, "Stiffler's Mom" from the "American Pie" movies. She also played Joey's agent on that "Friends" spin-off, but that should absolutely not be held against her. She won't actually be judging the event though. The chefs will be limited to use the "leftovers" in the kitchen, and will have to pair up to work as partners for the preparation. They then draw knives to determine what course they will be cooking. The pairing/courses are as follows: Betty and Mia try to get all the chefs to coordinate their courses, but everyone else is too eager to get into the pantry to see what is available for them to use. Tom Colicchio later questions the wisdom of this, and it creates a roadblock for Marisa and Josie - who are making a light intermezzo - when they later have to change plans when they see Elia and Carlos are doing something similar for dessert. Most of the pairings work well together, with the exception of Frank and Marcel. Marcel doesn't like the sauce that Frank creates for the dish, and after Cliff does a blind taste test to pick the best (and picks Marcel's), they seem to be even less enamored of working with the other. But their dish gets out to the tables on time and plated correctly. The judges think it could have had more textural interest, but it is not a complete flop. Sam and Cliff's course is very successful. It's a pairing of scallops and foie gras and it is an overall hit. So is Ilan and Michael's course, a small baked paella topped with a fried soft-shell crab. Then things start to fall apart. Mia and Betty create a savory Napolean, using duck and a puff pastry. The idea confounds Tom and the other judges - why so much pastry? - and the execution is poor. Marisa and Josie's intermezzo is also confusing and poorly executed. Elia and Carlo's dessert...again, the judges can't get behind the concept of their unrelated trio of sweets, and they are really put off by the shot glass of juice included as it seems to have gone bad. In the judging room, Sam/Cliff and Ilan/Michael are selected as the two top teams, and Ilan, for his influence on the selection of the Spanish paella, is selected as the overall winner. The three final courses are all brought in as the worst, and Tom rakes them all over the coals for again, poor concept compounded by bad execution. After dismissing them for a brief private conversation, they are brought back in and Marisa and Josie are both eliminated. Some are surprised, but most seem to have suspected that the producers would make up for their generosity last episode. We should be back down to one off at a time next week - so see you back here then! -Leslie Seaton