Top Chef, Season 2, Episode 6 "Thanksgiving" Recap
Originally aired on Wednesday, 11/22/2006 Episode Rating: *** (3 stars out of 5) Episode Overview: It's a Thanksgiving-themed show, but for half of the ten remaining chefs, there's not a whole heck of a lot for which to be grateful.
Episode Highlights:
  • This week's Quickfire Challenge, focused on the usage of canned food, has some surprising results for the ten chefs.
  • Elia suffers a defeat that causes her to question the entire competition.
  • The Elimination Challenge reveals a fairly uniform lack of imagination with most of the participating chefs - and this does not go unnoticed nor uncommented on by guest judge, Anthony Bourdain.
  • Marcel's arrogance continues to completely aggravate most of his fellow chefs.
Recap: This week, Tom Colicchio does double duty, stepping in to evaluate the Quickfire Challenge in addition to his usual Elimination Challenge judging. The Quickfire challenge will be to create a dish using canned food as the main ingredient. They can each select three canned ingredients, use a minimum of fresh ingredients from the pantry and will have only fifteen minutes to complete the dish. After making the rounds to taste each dish, Tom announces that there is not just one winner this week - they are five! Cliff Crooks, Sam Talbot, Mia Gaines-Alt, Ilan Hall and Frank Terzoli are all safe from elimination this week. This leaves Elia Aboumrad, Carlos Fernandez, Marcel Vigneron, Betty Fraser, and Michael Midgley as the losers, and Elia, for one, is none too pleased. She says she tried Cliff's dish and spit it out. She cannot imagine how Tom possibly could think it tasted good. To add injury to insult, not only were they the losers, but they will be the only ones participating in the Elimination Challenge AND they will be cooking for the other five chefs. Their challenge will be to create a "Thanksgiving dinner with a twist." What that twist is will ultimately be their decision. There are five strong egos involved in this challenge, so it is difficult for the group to agree on a plan. Eventually it's decided that Michael will be making an amuse bouche, some sides and a cheese platter; Marcel will be making the main turkey dish; Elia will make a soup; Carlos volunteers to take the salad; and Betty will make the dessert. Elia is still fuming about Tom's decision, and Marcel is worried whether she will sabotage herself in the process. The losers head out to shop, and the winners take a field trip to a local food bank to donate the unused canned goods and several turkeys. Back at the loft, Carlos, Betty and Elia begin their prep in the larger communal kitchen, while Marcel and Michael head over to the smaller kitchen in the men's apartment. The kitchen has been used more for living than cooking so Marcel has to do some tidying. He takes the toiletries the other chefs have left near the sink and places them on the floor. Michael comments that he wouldn't want to eat any food that came out of a kitchen in this condition. Over in the other kitchen, Elia has a minor meltdown, ending with her smearing chocolate over her face. She also attacks Betty and Carlos with it, and her goofiness seems to dispel much of their tension. This first day, the chefs only have one hour to prep, so after the hour is up, both the losers and the winners relax with some drinks. Marcel comments that he had to move the toiletries around. Frank, after some instigating by Sam, confronts Marcel about throwing his toothbrush on the floor. (Note to men: if you are going to try The Macho Confrontation, doing the whole two-fingered "Look me in the eyes" thing is not the way to go. All you wind up doing is making the people watching you draw unfavorable comparisons to Principal Vernon from "The Breakfast Club.") Marcel - who I realize is annoying but does in fact generally seem to be innocent of doing anything much worse than being annoying - mildly and with surprise points out that he thought he put Frank's toothbrush in his toiletry case. Cut to: shot of toothbrush sticking out of toiletry case. Oh well. There's another confrontation later, as the losing chefs get a visit from Tom C. during their second prep. Elia asks him if he really thought Cliff's dish was that good. Tom seems very surprised by her question, but answers it forthrightly. Elia says she realizes his decision was a sincere one and that he has a very different palate from hers. The conversation seems to renew her faith in the judges and in the competition and gives her a needed attitude adjustment. The guest judge for this episode is chef and author Anthony Bourdain, and I am immediately full of sympathy for the chefs who have to cook. Bourdain is not one to mince words and I have a feeling that unless their efforts are really stellar, this is going to be a long night for all. The dinner gets off to a decent start. Michael's turkey and egg amuse bouche is tasty and all seem impressed, especially those who tasted/saw his performance in the amuse bouche challenge with Suzanne Goin. But things quickly take a turn for the worse. Carlos, who had earlier indicated he was taking a page from Michael's playbook and trying to stay in the middle in this competition, took the safe route with his salad, and Bourdain is not impressed. He finds it bland, with "limp and unattractive" onions. The chef finds Elia's mushroom cream soup flavorful, but relatively uninspired. Marcel's turkey roulade and cranberry gelee dish is more inspired conceptually, but less successful in its execution. Bourdain grudgingly gives him credit for his "balls." Michael's second contribution - a trio of sides - utterly confounds Bourdain. He finds the twice-baked potato delicious, but thinks it's nearly "perverse" to think that a twice-baked potato, mashed potatoes, and an ear of corn could possibly represent "Thanksgiving with a twist." At this point, he asks Tom "What kind of crackhouse are you running?" and Tom seems completely mortified. Betty's dessert also adds to Bourdain's ire. She claims to have made a pumpkin crème brulee, but due to a failure of the sugar topping to caramelize, it's really just "pie filling" per the judges. Lastly, Michael brings out a cheese plate, and while it's an adequate cheese plate, all the diners are confounded as to why they are eating this now. All in all: nearly an utter failure and Bourdain is on fire about it. And the five chefs all hear about it when they head into the judging room. Betty's dish, Bourdain says, sent him into a "coma." All of Michael's offerings were so completely inappropriate and "Flintsonian" in their execution that Bourdain almost loves him "like a son" for his sheer refusal to confirm. Carlos is taken to task by Tom for the fact that he had four hours to prepare a dish and his weak salad was all he was able to put out there. Elia and Marcel garner some faint praise for the merits of their dishes, relative to the others, and ultimately, Elia is the winner. The judges ask the chefs who they think should be the person to go home. Betty doesn't want to say, but after Carlos says that Betty should go home, she is more than happy to shout out that he should go too. She also says that Marcel should go home because of his attitude, and the whole thing is actually kind of embarrassing to watch. They all return to the back room to let the judges deliberate, where Betty confronts Marcel for being "selfish." Honestly, I find Marcel pretty annoying too, but the way the other chefs seem to become completely unhinged in the face of his arrogance generally seems to make them come off worse than him. Marcel tries to point out how he offered to help Betty and she never once offered to help him, but she just shouts him down. They are brought back in, where after some more berating from the judges, Carlos is finally given the boot. Whew! Those five chefs who didn't have to cook don't know how good they had it this week! -Leslie Seaton