E: M, you must be psyched. As far as I’m concerned, this episode gave us everything you’d be dreaming of from this season and hadn’t yet gotten.
M: You’re right, I am! Now, I know that the show was taped months ago, and that our piece on literally has only had 14 views, but it felt like they read all of my criticisms and everyone, contestants, judges and producers alike, all stepped up. And yes, I know that that is amazingly narcissistic of me. I think I’ve been seeing too much of Newt Gingrich.
E: You said it, not me.
M: Gotta call a spade a spade.
E: So true. But to return to the show, this was everything we could have asked for in a Top Chef episode. That’s enough chili and barbeque and Texas themed challenges, producers. This was play. This was wonderful.
M: Exactly! They finally let them cook, let them cook on their own, and let them cook with some real flair.
E: I’ve been thinking about your complaint that these contestants don’t seem as impressive as past seasons. While I think we always feel that (and really, what season will live up to 2 or 4?) but in this case it’s probably exacerbated by the fact that, as you noted, we’ve mostly seen them off their games – cooking food they don’t normally make, all cooking the same food within a very tight set of parameters which allowed little originality, cooking thematically appropriate but (for the purposes of the show) not very thrilling food. But this challenge smashed that problem to bits.
M: I think the last two non-Masters, non-All Star seasons compared favorably to any season, actually. Now, back to this week, I loved, loved, LOVED this challenge. I love challenges that give them a theme or a disadvantage, but then give them a lot of leeway to cook their own way within that. Anything that lets them show off their skills and their creativity is good in my book. The more whimsical the better, too.
E: Really the only bad thing about it was that someone had to go home for a meal the likes of which we’ve maybe never seen on Top Chef. Certainly not this early in the competition. I kept hoping that, as with the All Stars pre-finale episode, they’d keep everyone. But no such luck.
M: I was hoping that they might pull that out again, but having already had a two part opening episode and one double elimination, I was betting against it simply because of scheduling reasons.
E: We’re getting ahead of ourselves, however. Eric Ripert shows up for the Quickfire, and offers them a particularly challenging challenge; pick three items off a moving conveyor belt and incorporate them in a dish. The trick? The better the item, the later it will appear, and so the less time you’ll have to cook it.
M: And that was a total lie! A few of them kept waiting, and the best stuff came out in the middle, there were no last minute great ingredients that came out.
E: Not that we saw, anyway – and only if you consider 24 minutes into the challenge in the middle, because that’s when the fish came out. (And whole fish, holy cow!)
M: Wow, I didn’t realize it was that early.
E: I found the saga of Chris particularly hilarious; by the time he’s run over to the conveyor belt for the bucket of lobster, it’s gone, and it doesn’t come back in the next revolution. On his third try, he actually reaches back through the little curtain flap and grabs a single snapping lobster.
M: I couldn’t believe they did that twice, where it made one lap and didn’t reappear, that was just cruel. None of the other ingredients, at least that we saw, got pulled back. And waiting for it kind of screwed him, as he ended up fixating on the lobster and losing the rest of his dish because of it.
E: Ironically, the top three are last week’s most unhappy winners: Beverly, Sarah and Lindsay.
M: The three of them seemed to all make good choices about the ingredients they picked, while others made really rash decisions. Paul panicked, ending up taking something called bitter melon, that I’d never heard of before, and apparently with good reason. Ed ended up taking things that would have been good on their own, but didn’t work together at all. Sarah did panic a little with the saltines, but made a smart decision to use a protein from the pantry and not try to wait for something better.
E: In the final manic moments of the challenge, Beverly forgets to put her curried rice crispies on the plate, and so loses immunity to Lindsay and her bouillabaisse. Lindsay – who apparently was still delusional enough to harbor ill will for not winning Restaurant Wars – accepted her win with ill grace. Of course, when Eric Ripert says that Beverly’s food was the best by a mile, you can see her feeling less than complimented.
M: I didn’t think it was ill grace, I thought that her comments were appropriate. They told her that she won by disqualification, which is kind of like not really winning. I didn’t have a problem with those comments. The way she and Sarah continued to treat Beverly, different story. But we discussed that enough last week, let’s move on.
E: With pleasure. Once the Quickfire is done and the immunity is awarded, the contestants get a tremendous surprise.
M: In walked Charlize Theron, one of only two African-American women to win a Best Actress Oscar (though she was merely African at the time), their guest judge for the week.
E: Ha. According to Tom’s blog, Charlize is a good “home cook” whom he’s actually cooked with, and also a huge fan of the show.
M: She’s also starring as the evil queen in the new macabre live action version of Snow White called Snow White And The Huntsman (we assume it’s not Jon Huntsman).
E: Wow, you’re all about the politics suddenly.
M: It’s election season, I can’t help it. Now, the challenge that we were gushing so much about at the top of this post is to create a meal fit for an evil queen. E, I’m not sure if you pay attention when they put this stuff up but I try to, they each got $250 to spend and were only cooking one dish for five people. That had to have helped!
E: Actually no, I didn’t hear that, and I’m sure it did help. As a random bit in the home portion of the show, we get to see how much Chris Jones loves his wife, and just how much she believes in him. This immediately led me to assume he’d be going home.
M: As I was watching that I literally said out loud “Oh well, he’s going home”. Which was really weird for me to do, as I was watching it alone.
E: The cheftestants…
M: …oh, it had been such a wonderfully long time since I’d heard that evil word. Stop it, stop it now!
E: …generally go nuts with the theme. It’s spectacular.
M: When they have a very specific theme like this it’s always interesting to see how far people will go with it, and who, if anyone will choose to ignore it. When it boils down to it, it’s always about how the food tastes, so when people go overboard it can derail them, like Chris J’s cigar earlier in the season. However, ignoring the parameters and just cooking your food will do you in, but we’ll get to that. Of course, it’s so much more fun when they embrace it!
E: Honestly, when each course came out, I thought, wow, they’ve liked so many – surely the next course will be the one to fall flat. There’s always this suspense when they do a multi-course dinner service. But none of them did.
M: I felt the same way. They just kept loving the food, and loving the food, and loving the food. With Chris being last, and having had the extra camera time earlier in the episode I was sure he was going to be the one that failed, but no!
E: And he had dessert, which ought to have been doubly against him.
M: Yes, dessert, along with front-of-the-house and risotto, are the biggest contestant killers in Top Chef history.
E: As for specifics, in no particular order, Sarah cooks bloody red wine risotto with lamb’s heart.
M: If she hadn’t had the lamb’s heart then red risotto would have been a total cop out, but she pulled it off. Admittedly she landed in the bottom, but only because of nit picking and how great everyone’s dishes were.
E: Grayson cooks black chicken, and serves an entire leg with the claw attached, along with beets to look like the gizzards, and fried egg to represent the pregnant chicken’s slaughtered child.
M: I thought that was one of the most visually stunning dishes I’ve seen in the history of the show. Heck, even outside the show. The claw and talons on the leg were SOOOO perfect, and they loved the taste AND presentation. Even with nit picking (salty greens? really? I rewound and looked at the dish a few times and could never see any greens on it), I felt that for the artistic value and the chances she took she shouldn’t have been in the bottom.
E: Agreed. Paul puts a “bloody” handprint on his plate.
M: That, along with his “enchanted forrest” of 14 different components including foie gras, bacon and pickled jalapenos (which for some reason spell check wants to correct to Galapagos), took home the win. I loved listening to the judges questioning if he had a glove on when he did it, and acting kind of scared that he might not have.
E: Ed does bloody red tartar with crispy fish skin to make little barbs (along with a good white sauce fighting an evil dark one on the plate). Chris bakes and stuffs a little apple, covering the top with pie dough and serving it with smoke (and little rice krispies to look like maggots, and one gummy worm coming out of it). The judges cannot stop praising the contestants and the food.
M: Lindsay made a perfectly cooked scallop with a “witches’ stew” that included dragon beans. I’ve never heard of dragon beans, but to echo the judges, I can’t think of a more perfect ingredient for this challenge.
E: I was gutted to see Beverly go home, although at least she can do it with pride.
M: I was, too, but she was the only one that didn’t embrace the challenge. Forbidden rice was the only thing in her dish that even remotely approached the theme, and the presentation just looked like a regular Top Chef dish. If someone else had struggled or missed the mark, she definitely would have survived based on her flavors, and of course she would have survived if she’d gotten all the components on her dish in the Quickfire and won immunity…
E: Ugh. How heartbreaking is that?
M: …but neither of those things happened. That was the chance that she took in not embracing the challenge, with everything else being about equal, she didn’t do what they asked. She still cooked a great dish, though, which continued to shove it in the face of the bullies. More on THAT to come, too.
E: I didn’t really want to see any of those three contestants go; when she’s not being a deluded bully, Sarah seems really nice, and she’s very clearly a superior chef.
M: I have to say, I would have been happier seeing Sarah or Lindsay go because of their treatment of Beverly.
E: Yes. I can’t disagree. And though I have been rooting for Nyesha all the way through the LCK, I was pretty pleased for Beverly to beat her, especially after every single contestant insisted that Nyesha would win. I mean, fine, Nyesha was on a total tear, but that was just rude.
M: To be fair, only two people actually said they thought Nyesha was going to win, and Keith did in a much kinder way than SuperBully.
M: I was sad to see Nyesha lose, I hated the double elimination and still feel like she deserves to be in the competition. It was even harder because she had to make a dish out of Beverly’s ingredients, not her own. That was a pretty cruel twist. I was happy to see for Beverly shove it in Heather’s face, though!
E: Right, but if Beverly could only cook Asian food like SuperBully often insisted, she wouldn’t have been able to produce a winning dish with Nyesha’s ingredients, either. We’ll see how Beverly does with the next contestant! This is the toughest point of the competition; I either like or respect all of the remaining contestants, or both.
M: I agree. I think because of their behavior Sarah and Lindsey are at the bottom for me, but that could easily change. We’ll see!