Top Chef: They Almost Ruin Christmas

by moderndomestic on December 19, 2008

martha-padma

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

Start of show, shots of NYC, shots of Chez Top Chef in Brooklyn, morning routines, blah blah blah. Does it matter what the chefs say about the last episode, when we know that the Martha is going to be on? I can’t wait. Besides, all we learn in the little episode recap is that Gene almost got kicked off and Ariane feels great about her last win. Next, please!

The chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen for their Quickfire challenge, where lo and behold, the place is decked out in Christmas gear. I bet this feels really strange because they must have filmed this in, like, July (much like the Thanksgiving episode). Everyone’s wearing short sleeves and light fabrics and looks like they’ve been sweating profusely in the summer heat. Still, in Top Chef land it’s supposedly Christmas, because the Quickfire challenge is to make a one-pot holiday meal.

And then it happens!

There she is!

The Martha.

She’s actually there, in all her preppy yet eerily masculine glory!

I can hardly hear the TV over my shouts of fan-girl joy.

When advising the Chefs on the challenge, Martha quotes Einstein: “Make it simple, but not too simple.” Technically she paraphrases Einstein, because the real quote is: ” Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” But whatever, they’re off, with 45 minutes to make their dishes. During their frantic cooking, the camera shows a long close-up shot of the Glad logo, so I’m calling the producers out for Product Placement Number One.

So, I though that this challenge was about making a holiday meal in one pot, which, to me, means making a soup or a stew or something that’s supposed to be cooked in one pot. But a lot of chefs cheat, cooking one element in the pot, putting it to the side, washing the pot, and then cooking something else. Doesn’t that completely defeat the point of the challenge?

Martha, in her all-knowing wisdom, seems to take this into account; Hosea, who makes a paella, is in her top three (she mentions that she appreciates he made a real one-pot dish). She also likes Ariane’s dish of cauliflower puree , which Martha calls “smooth as silk,” topped with a juicy slice of filet mignon. And Martha also likes Jamie’s dish of scallops with a potato and kale stew. Dude, didn’t Jamie do scallops for the last challenge? She’s becoming a little one-note.

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Hosea's paella is actually a one-pot dish.

Jeff, who made a “potato risotto,” is in the bottom three. I can see why—I think he cooked little pieces of potato risotto-style (it looks weird). Gene is also in the bottom three; he makes a spicy Korean stew, but he makes the mistake of thickening it with cornstarch. And despite his absolutely adorable accent, Martha doesn’t like My Boyfriend Fabio’s mushroom polenta, criticizing the “grayish” color (and, apparently, criticizing Fabio’s mother in the process, who’s cooked it this way for her entire life).

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So Gene's stew doesn't look that bad, but thickening the broth with cornstarch is a bad move.

The producers, once again, point out that Ariane and Jamie are once again in the top three for the Quickfire, trying to build up the suspense. And Ariane wins again! This is getting kind of strange. Like, I think she’s a good chef, but I can’t tell how much of her winning streak is the producers wanting to make the show interesting, and how much is actually because she’s talented. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Top Chef were based on talent alone, Stefan would have won more challenges than he has so far.

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Ariane wins again! Um, really?

Besides immunity (believe me, she’ll need it), Ariane wins copy of Martha’s new book (Product Placement Number Two)! She has a new book? Quick! I have to call Wonktheplank and see if there’s still time to get it on my Christmas list.

I was so sad that they didn’t keep the Martha around for the Elimination Challenge, but I hope this means she’s on to bigger and better things (like filling the void that Eddie left at Martha Stewart Living). No, there are two guest judges for the elimination round: actress Natasha Richardson, and Chef Michelle Bernstein. The Chefs will be catering a benefit fundraiser for AMFAR for 300 guests. As if that isn’t hard enough, each Chef will have to create a dish based on one of the lines from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Like last week, this seems like a pretty arbitrary challenge to me. And, also like last week, it’s still way better than the Swanson Quickfire Challenge.

I think the filming schedule may have been a little off when they shot this episode, becuase it looks like the Chefs are doing their Whole Foods run (Product Placement Number Three) in the middle of the night. Everyone is freaking out about the complete randomness of having to make a dish inpsired by a verse from “The 12 days of Christmas.” Seriously, how are you supposed to translate “nine lords a leaping” into a meal?

Back at the Top Chef kitchen, everyone is frantically working to get their prep work done in two and a half hours, which isn’t that much time for 300 dishes. The producers get all ominous on us, as we see the chefs thrusting hot, steamy dishes into the fridge (which could warm up your fridge and end up spoiling everything). The next morning the ominousness comes to fruition, because someone left a fridge open, spoiling a bunch of food. Rhadika and Hosea are especially screwed, because their proteins are now unusable.

But in the Christmas (or 4th of July) spirit, the Chefs come together and help Rhadika and Hosea re-do their dishes, using ingredients from the Top Chef pantry. I have to say, I know it’s cheesy and all, but I was rather moved by this. But not as much as I was moved by another long, lingering shot of the Glad logo. Too bad they’ve already shown it, otherside I could call Product Placement on the producers again.

Everyone hauls their stuff over to the event space and begins setting up their stations. We see lots of very pretty socialites and New York types mingling in their summery finery at the “Christmas” party. Natasha Richardson looks amazing in a floor-length red gown—I even think that she’s doing a better job of raking in the male audience than Padma in this episode.

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I like the color of Padma's dress, but the neckline isn't drawing in the men the way it should be.

As one would expect with the “12 Days of Christmas” theme, the dishes are really all over the map, and not always in a good way. Stefan’s “four drummers drumming” dish is a tiny chicken-pot pie in the shape of a drum, which actually looks rather delicious. Rhadika’s “Patridge in A Pear Tree” dish, braised duck legs on brioche with pear chutney, also goes over well with the judges and the guests.

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Stefan's drum-shaped chicken pot pie. It's kind of a stupid interpretation of a drum, but it still looks really good.

Carla’s “two turtledoves” dish, (which, OMG, she serves to Kenneth Cole! I love Kenneth Cole!) is braised chicken with mushroom caps, but she gets criticized for over-salting her food. Gene’s dish is just bizarre, and not in a good way. His interpretation of “five golden rings” is poisson cru (a mixture of raw fish, coconut milk, and other ingredients), served with a potato chip and pineapple ring. One of the guests wonders if he’s actually tasted it, because it tastes so bad.

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Gene's poission cru. If I were at the party I'd be skipping this station.

My poor Boyfriend Fabio drew “nine lords a leaping,” so he’s made crab cakes with chipotle ailoe. No offense, but that sounds like something you can order at TGI Fridays. Tom thinks the crab cakes are greasy and the other juges aren’t impressed. However, I would much rather eat that than Jamie’s “Seven Swans a Swimming” dish. She serves up a raw scallop (scallops again) “swimming” in a luke-warm vichyssoise. This could have been okay if she had been able to serve the dish ice-cold, but she can’t. One of the guests thinks the scallop is “slimy” (I bet it is) and Natasha Richardson thinks the whole dish is “wrong.”

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Jamie's scallop . . . mmmmm, raw scallop . . .

Melissa also falls down on this challenge, making me think, once again, that she’s the next to go home. Her interpretation of “eight maids a milking” is a crostini with gorgonzola cheese and sliver of New York strip steak. It doesn’t sound that bad, but the judges say that all you can taste is the cheese, which overpowers everything else in the dish. Tom especially is not a fan.

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Okay, so Melissa's dish doesn't look that bad. But it also looks like something I could make at home.

Poor Ariane, who had six geese a laying, decides to make deviled eggs with six different toppings. Um, isn’t this supposed to be a show about Chefs? Who invent new dishes and challenge our concept of food? Not to say that I don’t like a good deviled egg, but come on—even I could do this. Tom doesn’t “get” the deviled egg, although Natasha Richardson at least thinks they taste good.

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Oh Ariane. Such a bizarre choice for Top Chef.

Hosea, however, makes a strong “eleven pipers piping” dish; he serves smoked pork loin with mashed potatoes, cabbage, and apple. The judges seem to like it, as do the guests. For her “three french hens” dish, Leah makes a braised guinea hen on a piece of puff pastry and a squash puree, which the judges also seem to like. “Ten lords a leaping” Jeff makes a dish with several seared cheeses, beets, and sesame, which sounds okay, and his sparking personality goes over particularly well with the guests.

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Hosea's pork . . . it actually looks good!

But despite a couple of good dishes, the judges aren’t impressed by the food in the episode at all. Tom acknowledges that creating food for 300 people is a challenge, but still doesn’t think it’s an excuse to cook lackluster food.

Oddly, though, there are four Chefs in the top: Stefan, Rhadika, Hosea and Jeff. But the judges’ praise isn’t exactly effusive; Tom thinks that “everything was cooked very nicely” in Stefan’s dish, and calls Hosea’s pork “nicely cooked.” Jeff’s dish was “memorable,” and Natasha Richardson though that Rhadika’s pork was “terrific.” Really, it’s damning with faint praise.

Hosea wins the episode, but he’s only winning because his dish was the least awful of a pretty lackluster bunch. As a prize, however, he gets a copy of Michelle Bernstein’s new book (Product Placement Number Four!). And because she’s feeling generous, she’s giving all the chefs copies! Wow . . . a celebrity chef book . . . the world needs another one of those, for sure.

Gene, Melissa, and Jamie are in the bottom three. Do the judges really even need to go into why they’re there? Jamie’s dish is the kind of thing you can serve at a restaurant, where you can keep everything cold, but just doesn’t work in catering. Melissa’s dish was, in Tom’s words, “overwhelmed” by the cheese. And the “coconut and sweetness” overpowered Gene’s dish, so no one could taste the fish in his Poisson Cru.

After the chefs are sent away, the Judges proceed to have a long bitch session about how bad the food was. Tom laments there were “so many bad dishes tonight,” and says the food was “universally poor.”

In a moment that you just know is completely scripted, and yet still feels rather thrilling to me, Tom goes out and has a ‘talk” with the chefs.” He berates them on their lack of innovation, saying their dishjes tonight were “not very inspiring, at best” and that “you don’t win with a deviled egg.”

In the end, no one goes home because everyone did so poorly. Tom calls it a gesture made in the “holiday spirit.” I just think he wants to make life harder for recappers by keeping all these damn contestants on the show!

Next week: apparently the challenge is “no limits.” Does this mean the chefs will actually get to cook food because they think it tastes good, not because it randomly relates to song lyrics? Also, Fabio calls Jamie on her constant use of scallops. “This is Top Chef, Not Top Scallop.” Oh my God, Fabio, you are SO my boyfriend!

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December 27, 2008 at 7:05 pm

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

E December 19, 2008 at 5:05 pm

I feel like Ariane is following in the footsteps of Project Runway’s Terri. Simple is good… but this isn’t “Top Cook.” Also, has anyone noticed that Padma’s eyebrows keep vacillating between brown, blond, and absent? What’s going on with that??

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moderndomestic December 19, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Yeah, I know what you mean. Like, her stuff is good in the early rounds, but I don’t know how much she’ll be able to compete when the competition gets much tougher. She also reminds me of Lisa from last season of Top Chef, who was good at some things, not great at others, and who just sort of ended up in the final round by default.

No, I haven’t noticed that about her eyebrows! Could it be the lighting? Perhaps Wonktheplank could weigh in on this, given that he’s the Padma expert.

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rebecca December 19, 2008 at 10:20 pm

I wonder if the “no limit” episode means there is no limit to the number of people voted off. This would fix the fact that there is a layover from this week. Oh and there are 9 and 10 lords a leaping?

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// January 11, 2009 at 11:03 pm

hi
i am ariane’s niece!!
she is my aunt. I like the person who wrote this by showing what they mean but saying,”But i mean she is a good chef and all but…” most people are mean and just say she is just bad and they probully cannot do any better or just close!! but thanks for being nice. one thing though, you never ate it so how do you know it’ll be bad? Ariane did make eggs but she actually used the theme 6 geese a laying

bye

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// January 19, 2009 at 3:17 am

oh i read ur comment on “oh haha ariane’s niece wrote on my blog too! she is a one pr woman.” thank you!!! i take that as a compliment.
oh and i am araine’s niece by the way!! we thought it was so funny!!!

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