To thoroughly enjoy the glory that is Top Chef Seattle, we welcome comedian Max Silvestri, who will be here every week to take us through the season.
This is a difficult post for me to write. Obviously I have a lot of feelings after last night's episode, and many of those feelings are not positive. They are the opposite of positive. In the final few minutes of last night's Top Chef I yelled at my TV, I swore, I got angry, and I did some things I'm not proud of, like watch my first ever Last Chance Kitchen. I try not to throw around the phrase "miscarriage of justice" lightly, because no one loves hearing the word "miscarriage", but I can only assume some vast conspiracy is at work to explain last night's heinous elimination. It's like Scientologists, Star-Whackers, Reptoids, and the Black Illuminati all teamed up in Seattle to rip my heart out of my chest for their gain and amusement. Remember that part in The Princess Bride where Wallace Shawn yells, "Inconceivable!" Imagine him yelling, "Inconsolable!" and you'll have a bit of an idea of the state I'm in right now, both in terms of passion and anger but also that I've spontaneously developed a lisp and lost my hair. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning.
After last week's tease, it's time for the real Restaurant Wars. Sheldon and Kristen won last week's Elimination so each will run their own restaurants in this episode. Sheldon and his soldiers Stefan and Josh will open up Urbano, a modern Filipino restaurant inspired by Sheldon's grandfather, while Kristin leads Josie, Brooke and Lizzie in opening Atelier Kwan, an upscale restaurant serving twisted takes on classic French cuisine. Numerically, Sheldon's team is at a disadvantage with Micah's elimination, but in terms of how much I have to look at Micah's face and hear his voice, they now have a distinct advantage. Stefan and Josh have never cooked Filipino cuisine before. I really love Filipino food but Sheldon's description of it — very sour, no herbs — does not inspire much in his teammates. Josie asks Kristen whether the restaurant will have Korean influences, even though Kristen has never been to Korea. Josie, will your restaurant have loud, headband influences? Yes? OK.
The chefs arrive at Georgetown Ballroom with 32 hours until service, and they learn they must build their own kitchens in the courtyard. Stefan asks, for all of us, "Who does that?" Who does any of this, Stefan? Most meals are not cooked under the watchful eye of three cameras and a dozen producers. All of this is made up, and it's not even your first time around. Go with it. Kristen, because her head is screwed on straight, gets Josie out of her hair as quickly as possible, sending her with Brooke to go pick out decorations for the restaurant. Josie, to the surprise of no one, has horrible taste. "What if all the diners wear paper crowns and the place mats are painted to make the tables look like giant clown faces?" she bellows to no one. Luckily, Brooke, with the aid of a wooden chair, a whip and a high-frequency whistle, is able to rein Josie in. Stefan burns 31 of his remaining 32 hours gliding around the flower shop. He knows it reads as gay, but he does not care. "What can I say? Europeans like flowers and pebbles and vases and stuff." I see nothing odd about you liking and having a knowledge of flower arrangements, Stefan; I do find it weird you made a point to talk about pebbles.
Stefan, though not executive chef of Urbano, is throwing around a lot of weight on his team. Josh and Sheldon have no front of house experience, and Stefan is not letting them forget it. Sheldon says, "I'm going to have to play cowboy and throw a lasso around Stefan's neck." When Sheldon is done with that lasso, he should let Kristen use it on Josie. Josie keeps promising to go get her bones roasted, and then she finally decides not to do it. "Ideally I would have gotten that done today, but..." Kristen's used to a tasting menu at her own restaurant, and she wants to try and cook everything at Atelier Kwan to order. Outside on the Smoker's Patio, Josie complains to Stefan and Josh about it, and it's a little sad how's she treating them like confidants even though they clearly do not want to listen to her gripe. Stefan says, "Bye Josie," which is what we all want to say.
As service approaches, Josie continues her campaign of taking forever to do everything. This has been a constant problem for her this season, and it's genuinely miraculous it hasn't cost her a spot on the show yet. She cooks like I write recaps for this show, in that it involves a lot of lying about how close I am to finishing. My typing is quieter than her talking, though. She is taking her sweet-ass time on the bouillabaisse, and as she makes and breaks promises on timing, Kristen is forced to 86 the gelatin in the sauce, compromising her vision for the reconstructed dish. Brooke focuses on the front of the house. She and her husband have opened four restaurants together, and as she looks at the tables, she says, "It looks like a restaurant." It looks more like a bar mitzvah at a JCC. This is Brooke's plan for her dish:
Padma, Tom, Gail, Emeril and Danny Meyer arrive at Atelier Kwan first. They taste Lizzie's spin on charcuterie first; she serves pulled rabbit in a chicken and rabbit broth. A soup is a long way to go from a terrine of meat-parts, but the judges love it. In the kitchen, Josie's drag-assery has left Kristen rushing to plate the dishes, only to find that the foam canister wasn't tested and doesn't work. She's forced to dump a small quantity of sauce on the bouillabaisse instead of the foam she'd intended. Brooke serves Josie's bouillabaisse, but the judges can't find the broth. Kristen says that she would have preferred one of the dishwashers in place of Josie. Josie, because she is so observant of social cues, is "sensing a little bit of an attitude." Does that headband give you psychic powers, Josie? The judges can tell things are not right. Tom says, "Something happened back there." That "something" has a headband with its name on it.
Kristen's high concept and demand for perfection have her touching every plate that goes out, and she is starting to lose control of things in the kitchen. She's not hearing all the tickets, and food is going to the wrong places at the wrong times. It hurts to see someone you care about so much stumble, but also it is people's flaws that makes us truly love them, and in a way it was refreshing for me to learn that Kristen does have a flaw, even if the flaw is "I try too hard and want too much". She sends out her beef bourguignon, but for Gail and the other judges, this otherwise-perfectly cooked dish is missing the Burgundy taste they are expecting. Emeril is confused by the stone fruit compote in Brooke's cheese course. Gail is an eater, and she hates when a dish's description lets her down. Kristen's macaron/macaroon dessert leaves her near apoplectic. She loves macarons. She starts saying, "If I could come back as anything in the culinary world.." but who is saying you get to? When we die we're dead. You will never be a macaron, prepared properly or not.
Kristen's concept, to reinterpret more or less legendary French dishes, set her up for failure from the beginning, because for each dish the judges already had very high and very specific expectations. Sometimes, like in the case of the rabbit charcuterie, subverting those expectations worked; more often than not, it didn't. Why won't Kristen let Kristen be great? Things in Sheldon's kitchen go smoother, maybe because he did actually get a dishwasher to help prep instead of Josie. First up, the judges get Stefan's take on Kilawen, a dish of raw fish. Then, they're served Josh's balut. A balut is a Filipino dish where a nearly hatched egg is cooked and you open the egg and there is beak and other stuff going on and man it sounds like a lot to handle. Why would you choose to eat that? One of the diners in Urbano says she'd had it before, and it tasted more "from the village." It is so cool when white people talk about things being "of the village." Josh mellows his balut out by by poaching an egg and then adding duck confit and foie gras mousse. It doesn't taste Filipino, but it tastes good. Sheldon serves his miki with prawns and then his adobo with pork, and both blow away the judges. Of the adobo, Tom says that it's the best dish he's had all day. For dessert there is Josh's halo halo and Stefan's dark chocolate with macademia nuts.
Restaurants are about more than the food, though. Stefan was like a bull in a china shop, yelling at diners to leave and offering to send them out the door with a brown bag of Sherry. As much as Stefan seems to enjoy being charming and putting alcohol in people's hands, he very quickly loses interest in the finer points of hospitality. Stefan's ideal restaurant is one where everyone just leaves. To be fair, I don't think any of these people are paying, so he does not seem to care about forcing them out before their dessert. He makes the point that he doesn't care what these 40 strangers think about him, only the judges. Well, if that's the case, he should not scold the judges when he forgets to explain the miki. He makes them all feel stupid and it is kind of amazing how offended they all are. I understand he did a bad thing here, and no one likes to be made to feel dumb by their server, but it seems to me that part of their shock is because these five judges, when they are in a restaurant, never get made to feel like anybody but somebody famous and important. I am almost impressed that Stefan had the gall to treat them exactly like how anybody dining out in New York feels often. Tom says that people go to restaurants for food and they return for hospitality. "I don't know if I'd return to this restaurant." Padma has maybe never been treated this way in her life and she loses her mind. "He should go home for the service he gave me!" and she shrieks it like the way a spoiled medieval prince would demand a beggar child's hands be cut off for touching the prince's cape. Emeril thinks Josie should go home for the bouillabaisse.
Both teams appear before the Judges' Table. Emeril tells Stefan that he was blown away with disappointment at the service. Stefan admits that Emeril is right to feel that way, but he's not particularly apologetic. "I'm a chef and not a server." Luckily, Sheldon's concept and adobo were good enough to get Urbano the win. Sheldon wins Restaurant Wars and a Toyota Avalon, and he saves Stefan from elimination. Stefan knows he is lucky.
Atelier Kwan faces the judges. Ultimately, Brooke's service and charcuterie were good, and they loved Lizzie's rabbit, so those two are safe. Josie's bouillabaisse was obviously a disaster, but it was Kristen's concept and her kitchen ultimately. Here, everything falls apart. Josie, being Josie, cries and says she wanted to give the judges more sauce, but that Kristen wanted something different. God, if only Kristen had let Josie be herself. Josie of course never spoke up and said anything like this to Kristen at the time. Kristen, I can only assume, decides that she'd like to go home. She bites her tongue, again and again, as Josie contorts the truth, and Kristen only nods and says that as the executive chef, she takes full responsibility. The judges, unaware of anything going on in the kitchen, almost seem to sense that there is more to the story, and they try and pry it out of Kristen. They give her numerous opportunities to correctly point the blame on Josie's insubordination, her procrastination, and her general failures. But she doesn't. Brooke can barely contain herself, but she does. Padma says, "Josie...you are safe. Kristen please pack your knives." Cool fake-out. Very cool elimination. I flip out at my TV at this point. Why is Kristen letting me down? Is this a test? I am not sure if I passed. Brooke says, "This is probably the most frustrating elimination yet. Kristen should have said something." Why didn't she? Stefan is extremely sad to see Kristen go. No one is happy to see Josie stay.
I was actually compelled to watch Last Chance Kitchen after last night's episode. I guess CJ has won seven in a row. I'm happy for him, but last night Kristen beat him. She's still got a chance. And even if she's eliminated in LCK, there is some kind of online voting thing that can happen. How does this show work? Does everyone get a chance to come back at the end? I don't know. I'm heart-broken. I'm sorry this recap wasn't funnier. I just have a lot of emotions right now.
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