It's hard to say what there was more of in this episode of Top Chef: tears or forced baseball puns. I don't have the energy to go back and re-count (what do I look like, the 2000 Florida state election board?), but suffice it to say there was a lot of both.
Padma Lakshmi and guest judge for the challenge Ming Tsai greet the chefs for their second sudden death quickfire. Instead of simply announcing the challenge, Padma begins telling the story of the 1773 Boston Tea Party like a second grade teacher would, only she speaks slightly slower. After what I imagine was a much longer speech before the tape hit the edit room, she explains that for this challenge the chefs must prepare a dish highlighting one of thirteen flavors of tea.
After discovering their flavors, the chefs each face different challenges when planning dishes. Aaron "Come at me, bro" Grissom and Adam Harvey both go for the yellowtail, but in the end Adam gets it and Aaron is forced to use monkfish cheeks. Aaron says he's never cooked them before so he's kind of in the dark about them. Honestly, I don't even know what a monkfish is or how it could have a cheek, since most fish don't really have faces. So I decided, at midnight, to Google image search what a monkfish is and now I'm never going to sleep again for fear that I'm one day going to encounter this living monster.
Ron Eyester is stuck with a chocolate flavored tea, which I also didn't know existed but am pretty sure won't give me the same nightmares as a monkfish (but also, is it higher in calories than other teas? because that is scary). He decides to make a mole sauce with it rather than attempt a dessert and risk elimination. Rebecca LaMalfa also gets a sweet tea, a lemongrass pomegranate rooibos. Being trained as a pastry chef, though, she decides to make a cake that features the tea's flavor rather than force it into a savory dish.
Favorites are Melissa King's seared duck, Gregory Gourdet's tuna crudo with strawberry, and Ron's duck breast with the mole sauce. Padma notes that she really hates the tea Ron had to use, but she actually really enjoyed his dish. It's odd that she so dislikes the chocolate flavored tea, because in that brown peplum top and leather pants she looked like she was wearing it. The winner of the quickfire — and of immunity from elimination — is Gregory.
The worst dishes of the challenge are James Rigato's dated fish with beurre blanc, Aaron's overcooked monkfish, and Rebecca's cake because it didn't feature enough of the flavor of the tea. The loser though, is Aaron. He must choose another chef to compete against to save himself from immediate elimination.
Without hesitation he chooses Katie Weinner because "It's an easy choice" and her cooking style apparently bores him. It's easy to write off Katie in this competition because she's a sweet-looking, midwestern woman and we've been conditioned to think that the best chefs have to be "badass" and "rock stars" and have a number of tattoos that rivals any Brooklyn noise band or NBA starting lineup.
Keriann Von Raesfeld is shocked he doesn't choose her after their blow-up fight during the last challenge where he claimed he could cook her under the table. Apparently, Aaron isn't so confident in that when there's a gun, err, elimination held to his head. Aaron also says he chooses Katie because she is a culinary school instructor, and he never went to culinary school, thus his win would prove some kind of point. "Well," Padma says, "we'll see who schools whom," with an emphasis on the "m" in whom so heavy that I thought she fell asleep while saying it.
The two have thirty minutes to make a dish using only pots of boiling water as a heat source. Aaron does a play on spring rolls by making the wrapper for the vegetables out of pureed then steamed shrimp. I'm so jealous that chefs can do "a play on" something and it's completely acceptable. In no other field could you use that phrase and get away with it. You wouldn't see a doctor who goes in to remove your appendix and then instead cuts off your left foot and is like, "Oh, it's a play on an appendectomy." But for cooking it works, I guess.
Katie decides to do pasta, making it from scratch and then creating a sauce to be heated in a bag. She runs into some issues with the pasta maker and has to hand-cut the pasta, which doesn't matter since the whole room is pretty much rooting for her to beat Aaron, the obvious villain, all the way down to the black hat.
Ming and Padma taste both dishes and decide Aaron wins and thus gets to stay and continue in the competition.
This week's elimination challenge is baseball-themed and takes place at Fenway Park. Note, if you started at this point in the episode and took a drink every time someone made a pun or a baseball reference you would be in the hospital.
The chefs must take a classic ballpark snack, like pretzels, peanuts, popcorn or fried dough, and create a fine dining dish inspired by and using that item. Weird that $14 Bud Light wasn't on that list of classic ballpark snacks. Once the chefs plan their dishes they have three hours in the kitchen and then an hour prep in the concession stand kitchen at Fenway the next day before serving on the field.
A chat with Keriann lets the producers firmly plant her in the role I knew they wanted for her: woman trying to have it all. She talks about her children and her husband back at home and how much she misses them (which is all completely fair). But here she is, trying to have it all! Bravo cast her to answer the question: can a woman have a husband and children and pursue this non-traditional career path AND braise short-ribs in three hours on reality television? (Oh, the answer is no, because that's just not enough time for that meat to get tender).
The chefs arrive at Fenway and Stacy Cogswell loses her mind. As a Bostonian, and by extension obviously a Red Sox fan, this is her mecca. It reminds me of the first time I ever entered a Loehmann's (RIP). There's a lot of excitement, at one point some tears, and ultimately you know this is where you were truly meant to be.
Katie takes out her sweet corn creme brulee to learn that it had not set overnight like she hoped it would. Needing to shift gears she starts whisking and molding, trying to turn her sweet corn semi-solid dessert soup into something she can serve the judges.
Speaking of the judges, they are sitting at a random table near the fences in left field. At the table along with Padma and Ming are judges Tom Colicchio, Hugh Acheson, and Richard Blais, along with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.
The first group goes out and Aaron is up first, serving a fine-dining version of a pretzel dog, which to him is a pretzel crust wrapped around a pork rillette with a spring pea tendril salad. The judges enjoy the dish, especially Richard, who in his dark frame glasses and tweed blazer and, for a brief moment, nasal voice reminds me so much of Woody Allen that I'm waiting for Scarlett Johansson to run out of the dugout screaming, "Pay attention to me! I'm still an ingenue!"
Ron serves his popcorn soup with the breaded haddock croquette, which is supposed to be inspired by baseball. If his goal was to make the croquette the same size as a baseball, then he succeeded. The judges all agree it's too big and the soup is too rich.
Katie steps up to the plate (I'm so sorry) and announces she had a technical issue and had to alter her dish from the original version. What they are tasting is a popcorn mousse on a blue cornmeal salted shortbread, and not the corn creme brulee she planned. The judges really like it, though tell her not to undersell with the mistake next time, but instead just explain the dish she is serving. It's a good move though. No one wants to show up for a date and hear, "The girl I really like had plans tonight, so instead I'm seeing you." Trust me.
She tears up explaining that this dish and baseball mean a lot to her because it meant a lot to her and her dad, who recently passed. Lady, did you not see/get forced to watch on account of being a woman A League of Their Own? There's no crying in baseball. Thankfully, there's lots of crying on reality television, so she's good.
The next group includes Keriann, whose beer-braised short rib, horseradish parsnip puree, crispy pretzel shallots and lager infused fondue does not impress the judges. From the dish description you'd think her inspirational snack was beer (not an option), but it was pretzel, an item barely featured in the dish itself. Naming aside, the short rib was seriously undercooked and under-seasoned. This group also included Katsuji, who was the only chef to choose the fried dough as his snack. He prepared a savory bread pudding with mushrooms bacon and deep fried braised pork belly. Like his previous dishes, this one also had too much going on and a poorly cooked protein.
I'd like to note here that Padma's general contempt for everyone and everything around her is considerably less noticeable in this episode when compared with the others. She's smiling and engaging and seems to be enjoying herself. I don't know if it's just finding her groove for the season, or if it's the oddly sentimental nature of this challenge, or if it's just the right balance of vodka and klonopin (my vote, also please share said balance so I can hit it, too), but she seems in good spirits.
Melissa Ling impresses the judges with her corn and ramp soup with pickled ramps, fried calamari, truffle butter and bacon popcorn. Sounds like she created the dish using "hip restaurant ingredient Mad Libs," but however it evolved, everyone loved the brightness and the balance. The second round of tears this episode comes from Stacy as she serves her seared scallop with pickled peanuts and sunchoke puree on the hallowed field of Fenway.
Before serving, Adam realizes that his poached halibut is extremely overcooked, but doesn't have a choice but to serve it. He presents his watermelon curry with jalapeno and chili to the judges and while they all love the broth and garnishes, can't eat the halibut. Hugh describes fish the same way I describe myself 45 minutes into a wedding: hammered. The judges love, however, Gregory's roasted duck with nam prik pao, crispy shallots and herb salad.
The chefs are waiting/fighting in the stew room before one of them says, "I hear high heels" and Padma magically appears at the door asking all of them to come to Judges' Table. The three best dishes of the day are Gregory's roast duck, Melissa's corn and ramp soup, and Katie's sweet corn mousse. After much complimenting, Ming announces that the winner of the challenge is Gregory.
Worst dishes of the day are Ron's soup, Keriann's short rib and Katsuji's pork belly. This is the second week in a row that Ron and Keriann are up for elimination. While there were obvious problems with all of the dishes, it was Ron's inability to edit his dish into something that better fit into fine dining that sends him to pack his knives and go.
Well, that's our ballgame, folks. Come back next week for what looks to be the same petty fighting but with 100% more George Wendt!