Top Chef: Le-Bored-ardin

by moderndomestic on February 6, 2009

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Eric Ripert, of the Pod People.

Top Chef starts off with a nice shot of Whole Foods (Product Placement Number One). I guess that means there’s no Whole Foods shopping trip in this episode. Well, you have to fulfill that sponsorship contract somehow.

At the Quickfire challenge, Padma introduces guest Judge Eric Ripert, who is the chef at the famed New York seafood restaurant Le Bernardin. Ripert looks like a pod person — his hair is frozen in place with a swathe of gel, and his fake tan sends shivers down my spine. Given his appearance I was expecting him to be a major prima donna, but he was actually pretty subdued. It’s a pity — if he had been more of a jerk this episode would have been more interesting. Instead, his introduction is the high point of the episode.

Given that Eric is a seafood chef, the Quickfire is a fish filleting tournament. This concept didn’t work for me, and made for a boring challenge. Unlike that awesomely manic Quickfire where Hung destroyed the chickens, I have no idea how one properly fillets a fish, so I really couldn’t tell when one of them did a bad job. 

Round one of this snooze-fest involved filleting tiny sardines. Carla is out of her element and does a really horrible job. To her credit, she doesn’t try to hide it—when Ripert comes and looks at her fish she just says “it’s butchered” and laughs about what a bad job she did. Jamie also has problems with the filleting—she has almost no sardine left after her awful butchering job. Neither of them continue to the next round.

For round two the remaining chefs have to fillet an arctic char. Again, I have no idea how one fillets an arctic char, so this round is lost on me. Leah is out this round because, pathetically, she gets frustrated and gives up half way through. My Boyfriend Fabio is also out this round because Eric thinks he cut off too much of the fish head. Well I’ll certainly keep that in mind the next time I’m filleting an arctic char.

Stefan and Hosea are the only two left in round three, and they have to skin and fillet an eel that’s still wriggling.  Stefan gets this mad look in his eye—apparently he’s filleted eel, like, a million times before, and he takes to the butchering with immense pleasure and skill. Hosea tries to copy Stefan, but he can’t beat the master. 

Stefan wins the Quickfire. Again. See, even that was boring, since Stefan won the last Quickfire. And has won, like, a bunch of other times.

Side note: I wish there was a way that Top Chef could tie into the Real Housewives of New York City (I can’t wait for Season Two!!). I want to see Stefan try to pick up Ramona. Now that would be a cross-promotional Bravo event to remember.

After the Quickfire, the chefs head off to a special meal at Le Bernardin, where they taste six seafood entrees. I wonder if any of them notices the odd parallel: six remaining chefs, six entrees at lunch. Well, if they do, it doesn’t come across in the show. And I’ll spare you the fawning over Ripert and the fabulous flavors of the Le Bernardin dishes (although, to be fair, they do look amazing).

After lunch the chefs find out that, surprise, the lunch had something to do with the Elimination Challenge! Who would have thunk! For the Elimination challenge, each chef will have to recreate one of the dishes they had for lunch. They’ll be given the same ingredients that Ripert’s restaurant uses, but the technique will be up to the chefs. The judges will then judge the chefs’ recreation of the Le Bernardin dish against the original dish.

Since he won the elimination challenge, Stefan gets to chooses which dish he’ll make. He goes with the baked lobster with asparagus and hollandaise, which all the other chefs agree was the easiest dish to replicate. Everyone else has to pick their dish from the knife block.

The chefs run off to the kitchen to prep for the service. The cooking is pretty uneventful – even Ripert’s walk-through of the kitchen is bland. Man, can someone get me a cup of coffee? I’d ask for a glass of wine but I think I’d fall asleep. 

My Boyfriend Fabio, who is making a sourdough-encrusted red snapper with tomato basil consomme, is the first one to go. He actually does a good job —his sourdough crust isn’t overcooked, and the fish came out well. Still, Tom remarks that when you taste Fabio’s dish against the Le Bernardin dish, “it’s like someone forging a painting.”

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My Boyfriend's snapper is snappy.

Leah goes next, with a dish of baked mahi-mahi with miso and matsutake mushroom sauce. She gets the sauce very wrong – she mixes butter into the sauce, making it much heavier than the original. Plus, the miso flavor is too feint, and the dish ends up lifeless and bland.  Tom thinks the fish is overcooked, and Toby thinks that it’s dull. It looks like Leah’s wish to get kicked off just might come true.

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Leah's mahi-mahi should get her sent home.

Stefan goes next, and his baked lobster with asparagus and hollandaise is a success. Wow. How thrilling. Wake me up when something unexpected happens. Ripert thinks the lobster is well cooked, and Padma thinks the flavor of the lobster is dead-on. The only substantial difference between the Le Bernardin dish and Stefan’s is that Stefan’s hollandaise is thicker. But Eric points out that this is because his chefs make their hollandaise in a blender, while Stefan made his by hand.

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Stefan's lobster is perfect. Yawn.

Carla’s dish of oil poached escolar with potato chips with a bearnaise sauce is also a success, although not without its flaws. Ripert thinks her potatos are not as crispy as they could be, but that’s his biggest criticism. Tom thinks that she did a good job, considering that this was one of the more difficult dishes to do. It’s looks like her win last episode wasn’t just a fluke! I hope she’ll continue on her winning streak.

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Carla's escolar isn't perfect, but she still did a good job. Yay!

Hosea’s dish, a spiced monk fish with black garlic, is next. Hosea should be in his element in this challenge because he works in a seafood restaurant, but it’s the fish, not the sauce, that ends up being his big problem. Tom can tell that Hosea didn’t let the monk fish rest before slicing it, and the fish is overcooked.

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Hosea works in a seafood restaurant? Really?

Jamie is the last to go, and her dish is the biggest disaster of the evening. She serves a sauteed black bass and braised celery with Serrano ham peppercorn sauce, arguably one of the most difficult dishes to cook. The fish is well cooked, but her braised celery is incredibly salty, to the point of being inedible. Toby calls her dish “remarkably poor,” and Ripert calls the celery “hard core.” 

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Poor Jamie. She's usually so poised, but this was not her night.

At the judges table, Stefan, My Boyfriend Fabio and Carla are in the top three. I’m especially proud that they heap praise on My Boyfriend Fabio – Toby calls his dish “very impressive,” and Eric was impressed that Fabio handled the bread crust well.

But it’s Stefan who ends up winning. Again. Stefan wins again. Wow how very . . . dull. So this kind of disproves my little theory that the producers always intervene in the challenge outcomes to keep things interesting. Because right now this show has all the suspense of an episode of Saved By the Bell. 

Jamie, Hosea and Leah are in the bottom three. Jamie admits that her celery was too salty and is very aware of the mistakes she made. Hosea, on the other hand, is suprised that he’s there, given that he works in a seafood restaurant. Well, working in a seafood restaurant doesn’t make one immune from bad fish decisions, Hosea. Remember that eel?

Tom asks Leah if she still wants to be there, given that she gave up in the Quickfire. Leah says that she wants to win, but her tone and demeanor remind me of when I lied to my parents about how hard I was trying in Algebra (um, if by “trying” you mean “copying my friends homework at lunch every day”). She looks like she’s going to fall asleep as she says that she’s passionate about winning. Well, I’m with you on the sleeping part.

I really thought that Leah should have gone home on this challenge, since her enthusiasm is flagging and she’s done such a poor job in the last few challenges. But instead they send home Jamie! Seriously? That was the wrong decision! Jamie made a technical error, but Leah didn’t understand the technique of the dish. Jamie’s a much stronger chef! I am so pissed.

Although, at least it wakes me up long enough to watch the promo for next week.

Next week: I have no idea what happens next week. The promo makes no sense. Are they going back to Craft to cook? It could be. And My Boyfriend cuts himself really badly and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to get through the service. Let’s hope it’s as dramatic as it looks, because I really can’t take another completely boring episode.

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