Did you know that Top Chef has only been won by a woman once? And no, I am not counting Hosea, even though I realize that he was born with both "things" down there, which in and of itself is not uncommon, but that his parents waited until he was 17 to decide which to keep is actually pretty strange. The only lady Top Chef is Season 4 champion Stephanie Izard, and she also possesses the distinction of being the only Top Chef to win Best New Chef from Food & Wine magazine. We are all so proud of our baby girl. Are you exhausted by how many times you just read me write the word "chef"? Imagine how the words "vessel", "bus," and "berry" made me feel on last night's episode. I felt like Bravo molded me into a vessel for receiving the word "vessel."
Chef Izard is this week's guest judge, and she and Padma inform the contestants that in this week's Quickfire they can cook anything they want and there are no catches and certainly no product placements. Psyche! There are both those things. The chefs have 30 minutes to cook with whatever ingredients from the pantry they want, but every ingredient in the pantry is covered in Reynolds Wrap. Once they unwrap an ingredient, they have to cook with it. That is a practical challenge. "This QuickFire tests your ability to determine product through three layers of aluminum. It's also a paid advertisement by Reynolds to remind us of how annoying foil can be." Looking at the square mileage of foil used I got to thinking about the Greatest Generation and how they rationed and donated foil to help the war effort, if they weren't themselves dying on the front lines for our freedom, and how here I am writing a recap for a blog about how much aluminum foil got wasted on a reality show challenge, and think of what my education cost, both financially and in terms of ancestral capital, not to mention the education of the three English majors who work as interns and probably spent two day full days wrapping this garbage in the Kitchen. Oh well! Follow me on Twitter.
In case guessing at ingredients was not hard enough, the Reynolds Wrap will also be the chefs' only cooking vessel. Everybody throws around the phrase "cooking vessel" like that's how we frequently describe our pots and pans. "This Christmas I'm going to ask for a new large cooking vessel!" I said just days ago. Padma says, "Home cooks use Reynolds Wrap every day." Do they, Padma? I cook at least once a day and I think there are weeks that go by where I somehow, God willing, find a way to get food on my table (bed) that does not involve thin metal paper. Also, even if I'm willing to accept that aluminum foil is handy in the kitchen, home cooks are not using it as "cooking vessels." Literally no one is shaping Reynolds Wrap into a little saucepan. Maybe she meant, "Homeless cooks use Reynolds Wrap every day." Homeless chefs are all, "It is a chore getting dinner all over my beard every night, especially when my kitchen is the stairwell behind a methadone clinic, but Reynolds Wrap makes it easier, especially when I can reuse it as a helmet to protect me from the Jewish mind control machines." I am just kidding; even crazy homeless cooks would still use the cheaper, imitation Reynolds Wrap, like Stephanie, who also definitely buys non-Reynolds Wrap for her restaurant from a supply company.
Everybody scrambles to finger-guess ingredients. Stefan hopes for goats' balls but ends up with salmon. John goes for a pot of herbs but ends up with a pineapple. A pot of herbs? You are so old. If there is one ingredient in the kitchen that is easy to guess by it's shape I would think it's a pineapple, and you assumed pot of herbs. "What a nicely shaped vase they put this pot of herbs in and then wrapped in foil. Maybe I should push my glasses further up onto my forehead, back into Guy Fieri-territory." Micah remarks at the difficulty of figuring out what the product is, "Unless you are Superman who can see through alumnimum foil." If you are Superman you should train that X-ray vision at Padma's dress and stop worrying about winning the QuickFire because you are Superman. Kristen tries to recall her sponge cake recipe, which should not be difficult as she reveals she has photographic memory. "It gets better," as they say. Those videos are about how great a wife Kristen would be for me, right? Kristen, do you remember what book I was reading when we first met? Of course you do.
Stephanie's least favorite dishes are Brooke's under-seasoned bacon-roasted yams, Micah's rare lamb, and Josh's uninspired roasted chicken with potatoes and poblano. Stephanie says that if she were in Chicago on a cold day she'd want to finish all of Danyele's cannellini bean stew, which is mild praise at best but Danyele needs the encouragement. "Finally, I made something that shows I know what good food tastes like." You poor thing! You already made it to Top Chef, so just believe in yourself. You are so fragile, that sometimes I worry you will shatter, like glass, or your crispy curls. How do you get them so crispy?
Chef Izard also enjoyed Sheldon's lemongrass smoked scallops, but her favorite dish, and the one that used the foil most creatively, is Kristen's almond and chocolate sponge cake. Go Kristen. It's her first Quickfire win, and I bet this is a moment she'll never forget, on account of her photographic memory. When she's announced as winner, Stefan blushes, because he is in ell-oh-vee-ee.
This week's Elimination Challenge will, according to Padma, "get your competitive juices flowing!" The chefs will be cooking at the annual Remlinger Farms Berry Festival, which sounds like something child-me would divorce my parents over if they forced me to attend. Honestly, if a parody of the Prairie Home Companion mentioned the "Remlinger Farms Berry Festival", I'd be like, "Nah, that's too much." The Elimination will be head to head, and the favorites from the Quickfire get to pick their competitors from the Least Favorites. Kristen will cook alone, free from elimination but still eligible to win. Sheldon, looking to push himself, picks Micah. Danyele challenges Josh to a Texas-Oklahoma battle, whatever that is. Do those states not like each other? They should be friends. Stefan picks his fellow-old John, in order to whip his ass. Josie picks Lizzie and then proceeds to put her in a headlock, because Josie is a loud, slow-moving buffoon and everything she does is a little annoying or a little condescending or a lot of both. Bart is left with Brooke; he apologizes, but she takes it as a compliment that no one wanted to pick her as a challenger.
The chefs open cloches to find out their matchup's berry selection. Everybody proceeds to lose their minds over the berry types. "Oh, gooseberries! Tay Zondayberries!" And if you think Reynolds laid down a lot of money for the shoutouts in this week's episode, they've got nothing on the Big Berry Lobby, because everyone starts going on about berries in a very unbelievable way. Micah says, "Berries are so sweet and tangy. I'm excited to cook with these little bundles of joy." Later, as the chefs pull up to the farm, Stefan looks out the window and exclaims, "Blackberries!"
There is some shopping. Oh I've missed them talking to grocers. It is always the best part of the show. Stefan is forced to to purchase Saku Block tuna, which is frozen, and John can't believe it. He says he is playing mind games with Stefan, because John is such an insane psy-warrior. "Who uses frozen fish?" he says. Maybe someone whose jeans are straight torn to shreds? Probably from a fight. You should see the other guy('s jeans)!
It's important to note here that though they show Kristen and Stefan being affectionate with one another, it is clear to me and anyone else watching that Kristen is merely practicing on Stefan for her Real One True Relationship, with whomever that may be. I've seen it a hundred times before, and I feel bad for Stefan, but happy for me, I mean the other guy.
The chefs have three hours to cook for 150 guests, and their kitchen (barn?) there is very small. Everyone is bumping and grinding into everybody else. Danyele gets boxed out here and asks people to let her in but because she is a mouse-person everyone only hears squeaks. She wishes she had telekinetic powers like her favorite anime character. Josie screams about her dish, and Bravo is able to digitally remove the bullhorn she presumably uses. She is making a GREAT-sounding "Raspberry Rock N'Roll" which is a California Roll but with raspberries and mayonnaise and oh boy.
Bart is very spunky today. He calls Brooke a fancy pants girl from LA, even though he's like the Crown Prince of Brussels or whatever. Maybe Brooke should invade him; it's very easy from what I understand. He then yells at John for hogging the blender. "Do I hear blending? Nooooo." They tell one another to fuck off, and then the blender tells John, Josh, and Danyele to all three fuck off.
Kristen doesn't have a competitor, but she still wants that ten grand, which she'd use to visit Korea. She was born in Seoul but put up for adoption and sent to America. God, what a story. She is great. I can literally picture the New York Times Wedding Announcement word for word and let me say, it's extremely charming. Strangely, no one seems to be making their food with a Reynolds Wrap molded cooking vessel. Were they not given Reynolds Wrap for this challenge? How barbaric. John and Stefan keep sniping at each other and they both use the phrase "throwing me under the bus" so many times. Why does John keep saying it? Does he think he is Mr. Cool Busdriver in his new hat? I wonder where he got his new hat. I bet he bought it with his own money.
Micah, predictably, tells us that his children are named, Sage, Saffron, Rosemary, Thyme and Farjoram. Farjoram is the youngest and most like Micah. If Josie were here, she'd laugh so loud at that joke, but like 90 seconds too late. The judges arrive, and they promptly pay a lot of lip service to the berries. Do the berries have their loved ones held hostage? Gail says, "I'm very excited to eat a lot of berries today." Tom says, "Have you seen the berries? They are beautiful, beautiful berries." Padma keeps blinking and it is Morse code for "PLEASE HELP US."
It is a fun-seeming berry festival. I mean, have you seen the berries on that festival? People throw bean bags through wooden holes. There is frolicking and sunshine and tractors. It looks like a John Mellencamp video. Some drunk ladies riff about how long Josie's food is taking. Gail asks, "Is Josie high?" and I immediately have a nightmare vision of what it'd be like to be stoned around Josie. I'd pull off my own fingernails.
Everybody serves and eat food. Danyele makes a chicken pine nut terrine with a blueberry mostarda, and it makes me think she's a little mostarded. It is like a rubbery, tasteless bologna. Josh makes a balanced, delicate savory goat cheese mousse with blueberry compote. Josie serves her roll, which looks like a wrap you'd get at a deli made by someone who looks like Josie. Lizzie's raspberry steamed cabbage roll looks great, and the judges love it. Sheldon serves an ahi summer roll with strawberries and a sweet chili sauce, and Micah has a strawberry-marinated fried chicken with a strawberry biscuit. It does not taste like strawberries. John made a white gazpacho with Chorizo, gooseberries and grapes; it is oily and grainy and Stefan says, "I wouldn't flush my poop with it." I never even stop to consider the quality of the liquid I'm flushing my poop with, but Stefan is teaching me to live a more mindful existence. Coincidentally, Padma remarks that John's soup seems like it has "two dishes going on in the same cup," and I would watch a video of Padma doing Two Dishes, One Cup. Stefan serves his frozen tuna crudo.
Brooke makes a spicy smoked chocolate pudding with blackberry tapioca, and Bart serves a blackberry soup with salmon and rhubarb yogurt. The judges very much like Brooke's dessert, but they do not like the salmon in Bart's otherwise-perfect soup. Kristen, all alone, but not for long, wink, serves a matcha goat milk custard with macerated tayberries. John and Stefan say "under the bus" fifteen more times. As the festival goers cast their votes, Padma is "really anxious to see who the guests preferred," so she crushes up a Xanax and snorts it off Tom's head.
John yells at Stefan a few more times about his frozen salmon, so Stefan takes a poll of the stew room: every single chef has cooked with Saku Tuna before. He stands up, triumphant. "Blow me, bitch! Suck it hard!" I hate the phrase "suck it" in any context.
Padma calls in John, Josie, Bart, MIcah and Danyele, this week's losers. "Of course it's the bottom. What are you, fucking high?" Nobody's food popped. "Popped," they all keep saying. Josie's summer roll was too heavy, Micah's berries didn't pop, Bart's salmon was off, Danyele's chicken and toast were bad, and John's whole concept was off. He keeps making excuses, and then saying, "I'm not making excuses." That is the rhetorical device of a jerk. "I agree with you, but." Don't say "but."
On top is Stefan, Kristen, Sheldon, Brooke, Josh, and Lizzie. I am happy with all these winners. This week's top and bottom was a very clear line in the sand between who I like and who I don't. I already think Stefan, Kristen, Brooke, and Lizzie have solid chances to win the whole thing. For the second week in a row, a Quickfire immunity win leads to Elimination Challenge greatness: Kristen wins ten grand and a probable trip to Korea. She flushes red, almost as much as Stefan does.
Predictably, the eliminated chef this week is Danyele. She was honored to have the privilege, as everyone is. She says, "it sucks to be eliminated." She instructs the chefs to "kick their asses." Whose asses? Each other's? The judges? It would be great if next week the remaining competitors kicked all the judges asses. I'm sure we will see Danyele again after she wins Last Chance Kitchen. I'm just playing. This is Danyele's face as she leaves:
Josie and Stefan get into a gross annoying fight after Danyele leaves that I will not bother recapping here. I'm sure we'll hear about it endlessly next week. Merry Christmas everybody! Also, Josh wrestled in high school in a denim singlet.