Thursday, January 03, 2013

Top Chef Seattle Episode 9 Recap

This week's Top Chef starts out with scenes of the cheftestants in the morning: one makes the bed; Stefan slathers moisturizer on his thumb face; Sheldon takes a dump sharpens his knives. He says that super sharp knives are what separates great chefs from good chefs, or something like that. I'm just a scrub, because my knives are as dull as doorknobs. And they're cheap - when they get dull, I just buy new knives.

Good thing Sheldon is so obsessive about his instruments, because the Quickfire Challenge involves exactly that - sharp knives. Master bladesmith Bob Kramer is on hand to judge this contest in three parts. The first part involves sharpening a knife until it can slice through paper. The second part is to tournée a bunch of taters. The third is to dissect a pair of bunny rabbits. But first, Kramer demonstrates why his knives sell for $500 per inch by slicing up some heavy sisal rope. The cheftestants get hard-ons and gasp appreciatively.

The nine cheftestants are put into three teams of three by the luck of the draw (from the knife block, appropriately) and have at it when Padma gives the signal. Padma, by the way, is wearing a very summery ensemble of black long-sleeve turtleneck and velvet pants. Is it no longer June?

The green team of Stefan, Brooke, and Lizzie think they have finished first, but it turns out that Brooke's knife is still dull. They resharpen and TMHCiD calls "check" for his Red team. Kristen is irritated at his less-than-team-player behavior (but surely can't be surprised) because she is sure her knife isn't yet sharp, but it is. TMHCiD's, however, is not. In the battle of Karma vs Ego, Karma always wins. The Blue team of Sheldon, Micah, and the Mustache has a chance to catch up and successfully slice. And then, after a few more minutes, TMHCiD does sharpen his blade enough to slice through the piece of "Top Chef" branded paper and the round is over. The Green team is DQ'd. Womp womp.

Tournée-ing potatoes - cutting them into seven-sided football shapes - is a real snooze, and apparently somewhat difficult to do with a 10" chef's knife. TMHCiD much prefers a paring knife, not that anyone cares. Red team's Josie cuts herself, so she's DQ'd and her team is left with only two people to shape the required amount of carbohydrate bombs. Predictably, the Blue team catches up and wins and goes on to slice and dice cute woodland creatures. The rabbits are so small, the chef's knife seems more of a burden than an asset, but Micah manages to do the job and wins not only immunity from elimination but also one of Bob Kramer's expensive knives.

Bob is shooed away before he hurts someone with those things and Padma introduces the Elimination Challenge, which this week involves two corporate sponsors. Using the Kindle Fires (because Internet juggernaut Amazon needs advertisement) nearby, the cheftestants will watch a memorable scene from one of the previous nine seasons. They will use that scene as an inspiration to create a healthy version of the dish in question, and the winning dish will be bastardized into a future Healthy Choice Café Steamer. I think "Café Steamer" is such an unfortunate name. To me it sounds like a euphemism for something someone would leave in a toilet at Starbucks. (And wouldn't local Seattle business Starbucks make a better sponsor?)

The chefs check out their assigned Kindles and watch amusing scenes like "Pea Puree-gate" from season 7, and Carla Hall's coo-coo chicken pot pie performance on Jimmy Fallon. Josie decides she wants to say, "I'm not your bitch, bitch" over and over, which makes the Mustache wish *he* had won that sharp knife earlier. He gets to do something with Michael Voltaggio's pork belly dish from season 6, which makes him nervous. Two failed pork challenges later, Mustache really doesn't want to deal with that protein, but he pretends to be pleased yet again at a chance for redemption. And, I hate to say it (no I don't), but Mustache is no Michael Voltaggio. Hell, few cheftestants since season 6 have come even close.

The chefs have 2.5 hours to get the job done before serving their food to a gaggle of Top Chef "super fans" and the judges. The kitchen is small, so three cheftestants cook at a time, in order of season, which means the cheftestants working from seasons 1, 2, and 3 go first. TMHCiD happens to be stuck with a season 3 risotto dish. Anyone else think this is a welcome fix?

This week's judges include Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino and two Master competitors, Jonathan Waxman and Wylie Dufresne, plus Wolfgang Puck. Puck is supposed to be a regular judge this season, but has been pretty scarce.

I take terrible notes these days so couldn't tell you what Josie made except that it was unexciting. Stefan's soup and grilled cheese sandwich a la season 2's Betty Fraser was good (the soup) but greasy (the sandwich). And TMHCiD's risotto was both over- and under-cooked. How did he manage that? And why didn't Wolfgang stomp into the kitchen to demonstrate how to make a proper risotto like he did while judging the Next Food Network Star a couple years back? You know he wanted to.

Mustache redeems himself nicely with his well-cooked pork tenderloin, but Sheldon's carpaccio dish is ugly. Lizzie was stuck with the unpleasant Jamie Lauren from season 5, best known for 1) her love of scallops; 2) hatred of celery; 3) the way she turned on Stefan. Lizzie's scallops smelled when she took them out of the package but used them anyway, much to the judges' consternation. Bad idea.

Finally, safe Micah cooked a nice duck breast. Kristen wowed the judges with her deconstructed pot pie with tofu gravy. And Brooke dazzled (ok, maybe dazzled is too strong a word) with a very nice roasted salmon filet.

Padma dismisses Jonathan Waxman and Wylie Dufresne but takes Chris Cosentino back with her to Judges' Table. She enters the stew room to summon TMHCiD, Mustache, Kristen, Lizzie, and Brooke. That's confusing, since it's clear that TMHCiD and Lizzie are on the bottom, and Kristen and Brooke are on the top. Why are top and bottom called out at the same time? And where does the Mustache come in? Turns out he's fine - he pleased the judges with his pork this time and is safe. Cosentino says the judges unanimously chose Kristen's pot pie dish as the winner, which makes three Elimination Challenge victories for her at this point, and another $15,000 for her wallet (and Stefan's g-string). Plus she gets to have her dish bastardized into a Healthy Choice entrée. All they need to do is add a bit of sadness.

As for TMHCiD and Lizzie - they are indeed on the bottom. His risotto has both mushy and hard bits, which he blames on the lack of any flat-bottomed pots in the kitchen. Mustache pipes up and says he had no problems with the pots and pans, which chaps TMHCiD's ass. Ha. Lizzie's dish just stunk. But instead of sending one home at this point, Padma pulls out another Kindle Fire with a clip from season 10. This season's memorable moment (so they say) is CJ being sent home for making that execrable burger with spicy artisan pickles. The challenge is to recreate the burger in a healthy way, so back to the kitchen for 45 minutes.

TMHCiD whips up a lamb burger with an egg on top and an aioli containing cream cheese. Oh yes, so healthy. Lizzie takes the challenge to heart and makes a burger of ground chicken breast with a pickle salad. She almost didn't get the pickle salad because TMHCiD decided to play games. He used all but one small sprig of the dill she pulled from the pantry, and then threatened to keep the entire jar of pickles. He was confident that he could have made a plain boring beef patty and served it to the judges with the jar of pickles under his arm, because if Lizzie had no pickles, she wouldn't win. Unfortunately for him, she did have pickles and she did win because her burger was moister and more flavorful. And not full of fat.

Buh-bye, TMHCiD. Don't let the door hit your wrinkled old ass on the way out.

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