What is it with Top Chef, elfin starlets, and picky eating? Having decided that inflicting Zooey Deschanel’s veganism on Top Chef Masters wasn’t enough, the producers brought in Natalie Portman to vegetize Craftsteak, which is something like saying, “You have two hours in the honeymoon suite with Padma Lakshmi but you can only blow her air kisses.” Before that happened, though, there was the usual overwrought Quickfire, wherein Paul Bartolotta, winner of “multiple James Beard Awards” (two, to be exact) challenged the remaining seven cheftestants to make TV dinners based on various shows they’d never even seen (what the hell did Mike’s sausage and peppers have to do with Seinfeld? Unless the sausage represented the time Kramer waited in line for Papaya King?). We’ll give Robin points for trying to simulate the googly eyes on Sesame Street via a burger with an egg inside of it, but the judges found the meat dry and the flavors “not special.” The dish joined Jen’s (a chicken roulade that was somehow Flintstones-inspired) on the bottom while Kevin’s meatballs with polenta (inspired by the Sopranos as well as his own family) won him the chance to be featured in — wait for it! — a new line of Top Chef frozen food!!!!!!
Next, the chefs were told they were going to cook at Craftsteak and quickly fell into reveries about slaughtering lambs and whipping up monkey-brain milkshakes. Of course, it was all for naught, because the chick from Star Wars showed up to rain on their protein parade. The chefs were disappointingly mellow about this (even Eli backed off from saying vegetarians were “lower human beings”), maybe because they had such lovely produce to work with (time to purée stuff!). Jen and Eli flipped a dehydrated orange chip to decide who’d get to use the nice eggplant, and Jen was stuck with a baby one that she knew she probably shouldn’t use. Likewise, Robin went buck wild over vegetables she had no experience with (look at all the pretty colors!), and got in way over her head (she unsuccessfully stuffed squash blossoms with wild-mushroom duxelles and her garbanzos ended up having a “salt issue”).
On the other side of things were chefs who stuck with what they knew. Michael reminded us yet again that he’s the most innovative chef in the da house (it must be true, because he was again compared to Picasso!) while also admitting to lifting his banana polenta from a chef he’s worked with (he didn’t bother saying which one). And yet he still got “obviously pissed off” (his words) about Kevin making a dish that he “could’ve made the second year of my apprenticeship” (that dish being the winner — a hearty, “manly” duo of braised morel mushrooms and roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms along with smoked kale and two types of turnips).
We’d at least give Michael points for the T-shirt-worthy line “Where’s my %*#ing chopped hazelnuts!” which reminded us of the scene in Blood Simple where the guy goes, “Where’s my *$U#ing windbreaker!” but the most memorable line was obviously Padma’s, when she said the garlic blossoms in Bryan’s artichoke barigoule, confit of shallot, and wild asparagus were “like a little prick on the tip of my tongue” that became “big in your mouth.” At this point everyone cracked up, and it became apparent they were deep into the Quickfire wine. (If only they could’ve been back in the kitchen when Kevin called for a “brown streak” on his plate!) Actually, the best line of the episode probably came when Kevin bragged about downing 130 chicken wings and said, “I didn’t get fat accidentally — this is a personal choice.” Take that, you rich, beautiful vegetarians!
Anyway, on the bottom were Mike, Robin, and Jen, who did her best impression of a Parkinson's patient when she poured verjus nage over her charred baby eggplant, braised fennel, and tomatoes. Mike ignored that tried truism (“this is Top Chef, not top scallops”) and tried to wow everyone by searing whole leeks so they looked like scallops (hey, at least he didn’t go for a leek seviche). He ended up undercooking them. For all of his bragging that he was going to pull through like he always does, Mike’s most fortuitous words ended up being “looks like scallops, tastes like [bleep].” Now he gets to rant about Robin from the comfort of his home.
Next week, there’s a scene where Padma is in bed and yeah, something else.