Top Chef: Salty Gnocchi and Salty Tears

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Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

We’re about halfway through the season, and last night’s Top Chef was the first to end in tears. For the Quickfire, a one-armed bandit provided random-word combos representing mood, taste/texture, and cuisine (“stressed, umami, Asian,” to take one example). Mike I. complained that he had never cooked Asian, and it’s a safe bet Robin, like Ashley, had never cooked Middle Eastern food, since she represented it via a vegetable hash and curry oil. Padma was not pleased. Meanwhile Tyler “As Seen on TV” Florence wasn’t impressed with Jennifer’s “adventurous” salmon roe on top of diver scallops (he’d been there, done that), and he was a bit baffled when Eli decided to represent umami with yet another seviche. In the end, winner Kevin opted to take $5015,000 (in lieu of immunity) for his char-grilled pork with daikon and Vietnamese herb salad.

Here’s where things got good. Padma, nodding to “these tough economic times” (so tough, in fact, that she was reduced to wearing a two-piece that made her look like Farah Fawcett crossed with Kermit the Frog) introduced the guest chefs (Tyler Florence, Govind Armstrong, Nancy Silverton, Takashi Yagihashi, and Tom Douglas) and issued a challenge straight out of Chopped: The cheftestants were to randomly pair up and create family-style dishes using shopping bags full of ingredients provided by each of the chefs.

Throughout the challenge, Jersey Mike acted like he had just drawn Obnoxious, Clueless, and Douchetastic on a slot machine, blabbering about how he couldn’t stand Robin’s blabbering and basically telling her to talk to the hand, even though she was the one who knew about Asian cooking. Tom tried to put him in his place, but there was no stopping his runaway ego. All signs pointed to elimination, but Robin and Mike actually eked by, as did Laurine and Bryan. At Judge’s Table, Toby Young praised the latter’s “chereetzo”-sherry vinaigrette (can Macy’s hook this guy up with some Rosetta Stone CDs?). But it was Jen and Kevin’s Kobe beef dish that really impressed, and its tomato-cardamon broth earned Jen a $10,000 shopping card.

On the losing teams, there were tops and bottoms. Ash basically laid down like a lamb before Jesus as Michael V. nixed all of his ideas and all but literally told Ash, “honey, can you set the table?” As our hometown gingerman fiddled with some flowers, we truly feared for him, and when he glibly compared himself to Picasso’s paintbrush-washer at Judge’s Table, we could already see his goateed head rolling across the dessert. But in the end it was Michael who was held accountable for overcooking his halibut and undercooking the pancetta it was wrapped in. Though he tried to blame a power outage (lesson: Never cook with anything you buy at Macy’s), Tom argued that halibut wasn’t the best choice of fish, and he wasn’t a fan of the egg-yolk ravioli atop it that served as a deconstructed carbonara.

But no way were the judges going to send Michael packing for this. Instead, they focused on Ashley and Eli’s undercooked spot prawns and overly salty gnocchi. During his earlier spot check, it seemed Tom was trying to warn them with his piercing eyes not to do gnocchi for a summer dinner, or at least not to put prawns on top of the gnocchi, lest the gnocchi get mushy — but to no avail. However, mushiness didn’t end up being the issue — Ashley sautéed the gnocchi so they were too tough, and after Eli oversalted them, she couldn’t season the prawns properly. But did she tell the judges Eli was responsible for all the salt? Nope. And away she went.

Next episode, tension flares up between the Brothers Voltaggio, a mystery judge causes everyone to crap their pants, and Robin says something about Eli’s mother. And, of course, we continue to kid ourselves that this isn’t just a battle between Kevin, Jen, and the V. Bros.