Top Chef: Michael Introduces Us to Nitro Gazpacho (Again)

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Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

Last night’s episode of Top Chef started off with Todd English poised over a craps table and the cheftestants rolling dice to find out how many ingredients they were cooking with. The Quickfire was a little asparagus crazy: Laurine made an asparagus-and-leek soup, and both Kevin and Eve made asparagus salads (Eve’s, with raisins, pine nuts, and blue cheese, was eh and Kevin’s, with fennel cream and boiled egg, was good). Jesse went the scallop route, putting them over chimichurri and smashed garbanzo beans to produce “mushy on mushy.” Curiously, the editors didn’t bother showing us Preeti’s, Jersey Mike’s, or Ash’s dishes — make of that what you will. The showstopper was Michael’s “nitro gazpacho” with compressed cucumbers, made with so much liquid nitrogen that dude looked like Michael Jackson standing over a steam vent. But don’t think that just because Slim Shady said that “the secret ingredient was innovation,” he made the dish up on the spot. He actually served it at José Andrés’s Bazaar, where (funny enough) Marcel Vigneron was his sous-chef.

On to the elimination challenge: The guys had to cook for some bachelorettes and the girls had to cook for a bachelor party, and each team had to pair their dishes with the husband’s and wife’s favorite shots. Jen was miffed about the whole guy/girl thing, and Ashley (who looks kinda like the freaky guitar player from Nine Inch Nails) was peeved she had to feed a bunch of breeders (cue commentary about gay marriage, to which Colicchio responds on his blog). Meanwhile, the guys were mostly just happy for a chance to do cannonballs in the pool. (By the way— during this challenge, we discovered that Mattin, Le Petit Prince, is straight despite his sustained use of a neckerchief, and totally not above calling girls “hot.”)

At first it seemed like Jen was doomed when she went for frozen octopus. After all, you know a cheftestant is going down when they laugh and shrug at the game plan they’ve just laid out— e.g., Ashley deciding to make a panna cotta and saying, “The thing that I’m most worried about is I’m not a pastry chef.” (Also— did past seasons not teach her that panna cotta is a suicide mission?) But anyway, Jen parlayed her octopus into a passable “seveech”— her second in two episodes. Eve also went the seviche route, but inexplicably chose to use unseasoned shrimp despite struggling with it last episode. She slopped the stuff into a spoon along with avocado, salsa, and “fresh-popped popcorn” (as opposed to popcorn you find in the crack of your couch?), and not all the tequila shots in the world could make it look or taste good. Bye-bye, Eve. On the other hand, the challenge’s third “seviche” (Hector’s spoonful of tofu, lemon-lime, tequila, and guanjillo achiote tortilla) managed to prove (after last week’s seitan fiasco) that using bland ingredients isn’t necessarily a kiss of death.

But the real revelation was that Michael and Bryan are going to be serious contenders— dare we say the Romulus and Remus of the show. After Michael’s Quickfire win, he had immunity (not to mention $15,000) and yet still ended up in the top two with his apple sorbet and goat-cheese cookie. But he was one-upped by his bro’s fantastic-looking “sweet-and-sour macaroon” filled with guacamole, corn nuts, and corn purée.

So we’ll add Michael and Bryan to the list of top contenders that currently includes Kevin, Jen, and Ashley (so long as she doesn’t try to make a crème brûlée). We’re worried about Preeti, whom Tom the Terminator was pretty rough on. We’ll see how she does during next week’s episode, which will involve cooking for an Air Force mess hall using canned foods.