Thursday, November 12, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas Episode Eleven Recap

Six chefs left and the finale is looming. Who will Padma send home this week? Yeah yeah, we know who you *want* it to be....

Once again we meet our intrepid cheftestants in the McMansion, getting ready for another day in the salt mines. Jen thinks it's a big deal that DoucheyMike isn't around anymore. And Bryan, although enjoying his TC experience, is feeling a bit homesick.

Cyborg technology is apparently quite advanced. They can breed now.

He's allowed a brief phone call to his family. His almost-2-year-old son, Thatcher, answers the phone with an excited, "Bryan!" Gee...only a few weeks away and already the family treats you like a stranger.

Rather than the M Resort, the cheftestants head to the Venetian where they are whisked to a kitchen in the bowels of the hotel, somewhere deep under the faux canal with faux gondoliers and overpriced gelato. A phone rings - it's for the chefs.

If DoucheyMike seemed excited about cooking for scrawny vegetarian Natalie Portman two weeks ago, then how would he react to the voluptuous Nigella Lawson? Alas, we'll never find out. And I'm not all that sorry.

The Breakfast in Bed Quickfire requires that the cheftestants each prepare a yummy breakfast for Padma and Nigella and wheel it through several rings of hell to their suite somewhere upstairs. They, in the meantime, are having fun in bed.

What passes as fun for you, dirty-minded reader, is not necessarily the same thing that turns on our raven-tressed lovelies. A damn shame.

Eli and Robin head off to cook first.

Eli decides to make a Reuben Benedict with 1000 Island hollandaise, and Robin scurries around like a chicken with her head cut off, making something or other. They deliver their dishes to the ladies.

Robin ended up making blintzes with pineapple, and the ladies don't seem too impressed. Eli presents next and his dish is very well-received; Nigella thinks it would make a great hangover breakfast.

The next duo to cook are Michael and Kevin. Michael spends the first 5 of his 30 minutes cleaning up the mess Robin left behind, which puts him directly into the weeds. He of course can't make anything simple, and concocts Huevos Cubana, with banana puree, rice, bacon, and arugula salad. Kevin, pretty much his polar opposite in the kitchen, does steak and eggs.

Finally, Jennifer and Bryan create their dishes. Jen does the American classic, the aptly-named, "shit on a shingle."

Bryan does a four-minute egg, polenta, asparagus, crab and a vanilla butter sauce which does not go over well with Nigella.

After Nigella and Padma finish pigging out, they get dressed (after taking a shower together) and summon the cheftestants for judgement. Nigella's least favorite dishes were Bryan's and Robin's. Her favorites were Kevin's and Eli's, with the latter being the winner. Padma then announces that Eli will get his recipe published in the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook. Viewers who watched the preview vids for this episode and have the cookbook (or who, like me, read too many blogs and face the dreaded spoiler on a regular basis) already knew the winner. If I remember correctly, Richard Blais was the only cheftestant from season 4 to get a recipe in the original Top Chef Cookbook...and Eli just so happened to be the best man at his wedding. Coincidence? Most likely.

On to the Elimination Challenge. The cheftestants are to celebrate the Strip by creating a casino-inspired dish which will be fed to 175 of "Las Vegas' Elite" (to me, this means Cher, Elton John, and Wayne Newton, but apparently it merely refers to non-tourists who wear things other than ugly shorts and baggy t-shirts).

The knife block comes out.

Each knife bears the name of one of the gaudy hotel/casinos on the Vegas Strip. Bryan draws Mandalay Bay, Michael draws New York, New York, Eli gets Circus Circus, Robin gets the Bellagio, Kevin draws the Mirage, and Jen gets Excalibur.

Each cheftestant has a car and driver to ferry him or her to their designated Palace of Sin. First we see Michael disembark at New York New York. He is immediately inspired.

Next, Jen goes to Excalibur to eat roast chicken with her hands at the Tournament of Kings.

She says she's having a hard time focusing and doesn't know what she's going to do. She's been slipping more every week, but I think the beer had to have something to do with it this time.

At Mandalay Bay, Bryan opts to head directly for the shark reef, where he encounters a sign touting sustainability. (You know Rick Moonen, whose restaurant rm seafood is in Mandalay Bay, had to have something to do with this.) Immediately the idea unit in Bryan's circuit board starts blinking.

On his way out, he visits the gift shop to buy something for young Thatcher.

This disturbs me. First we see Bryan claim he misses his kid and phones home. Now he's buying toys. This is usually a type of loser edit. I express my thoughts to Mr Minx who says he thought Bryan's eyes looked red in one of the Confidentials. Nooooooo! Not my favorite expressionless chef! I calm myself by repeating, "this does not compute," and put my attentions back to the show.

Robin is at the Bellagio, one of the rare classy joints on the strip. She is awed by the Chihuly sculpture in the lobby and vows to make something with gelatin. Sure, I see the connection too.

Kevin is at the Mirage, where he is impressed to see waterfalls and flowers. He looks around carefully, hoping to spot some leprechaun brethren; finding none, he goes to the dolphin show.

Finally, Eli gets to Circus Circus where he's disappointed to find there's no big top, no clown cars, no lions, tigers, or bears, just lots of circus-y junk food like candy apples and cotton candy. He calls his mommy for permission, then gorges himself on sugary treats before heading back to the McMansion and the rest of the cheftestants.

The next morning, the chefs head to the Top Chef Corporate Sponsorship Kitchen for 3.5 hours of cookery, after which they pack up and go to the rooftop of the World Market Center, where they draw straws to decide who will be the one to push off Robin. They get another hour to set up and do finishing touches before the hungry hoardes arrive.

Not surprisingly, Jen is having issues. Robin is as well, as the sugar work she attempted to recreate the look of Chihuly glass did not set up. And Michael is worried that he has to crisp up 175 portions of chicken wings.

Padma and the judges arrive and head straight for Jen's station, where she is not quite prepared. Padma snottily remarks that Jen's empty table looks as if she's sold out of food. Jen's dish is inspired by the Sword and the Stone, using overcooked beef in place of stone.

Next the judges visit Kevin who has made cured salmon with tomato water. Nigella enjoys it quite a lot.

Good thing the cameras didn't catch any of the men from the waist down.

Michael's curried chicken wings, inspired by something the FDNY might eat, had nicely crisp skin and a disc of cold bleu cheese sauce that some of the judges loved. Toby, in place of Gail (because three sets of boobies would have been too much), wasn't entirely impressed.

Robin indeed used gelatin in her panna cotta - too much of it - which caused it to set too hard. And without the sugar work, it was difficult to see the connection to Chihuly.

Bryan prepared an escabeche of halibut with parsley coulis that Nigella thought had fantastic balance. Whew! They liked his dish. He's not going home. Not that I ever thought he was. Of course not.

You know, I think Nigella would make a great permanent judge, don't you?

Finally, Eli's caramel apple and peanut soup with raspberry froth was a bit of a mess. Padma didn't like it at all. The textures didn't work. Toby, however, admired his willingness to try something that might fail. Speaking of fail, I'm wondering where Toby left all of the amusingly harsh insults he tossed about last season.

Then comes a Fake Out Scene that's so dull, it should have been included in last week's Reunion Dinner Special. The chefs open Korbel and toast each other.

/end Fake Out Scene. Yawn.

The cheftestants then head to the Glad Family of Products Stew 'n' Booze Room to stew and booze. Padma shuffles in and drones that she would like to see Michael, Kevin, and Bryan.

Everyone loved Kevin's broth. Bryan's dish was "quiet and elegant" according to Nigella. Toby called Michael's food "effeminate" to which Michael replied, "I believe a chef's personality should be evident on the plate." Huh? Did he just out himself?

Girly or not, Michael is awarded the win, and a big old bottle of Terlato wine. Plus, a trip to the Terlato winery in Napa. I'm sorry, but "Terlato" sounds to me like a euphemism that Archie Bunker might use for bad wine.

The remaining chefs - Jen, Robin, and Eli - are on the chopping block. Jen didn't have a clear vision of her dish, and Tom said she had a lack of knowledge about Medieval food. Because food back then spoiled for lack of refrigeration, it was usually heavily spiced. Oh yeah? Well tell the bozos at Medieval Times that. I hardly think that their Lipton dehydrated-vegetable soup and plain roast chicken could be called "spiced" at all. Toby suddenly gets pithy again and says Jen's dish was more Spamalot than Camelot. Heh. Good one.

Robin's panna cotta was too firm.

Damn, she's hot.

Finally, Eli, who thought he was conceptually on the mark, was told his dish was a failure. Padma didn't want to eat it again, and Nigella said her good upbringing was the only thing that prevented her from spitting it back into the cup. I love that woman.

But just when it was starting to look like Eli was out, Padma asked Robin to please pack her knives and go. :::putting earplugs in to drown out the deafening roar of approval:::

You'll hate me for admitting this, but I got a little choked up as Robin thanked the judges and packed her knives. She should be proud of lasting so long in such fierce competition.

Next week: Thomas Keller and Bocuse D'Or!