Greetings from North Carolina! I’m home for the holidays, celebrating Christmas with family and friends. I hope you’re blessed as well. I know many of you read these recaps because you’re interested in my “meal memories” and “fondest foods,” so let me share some of the edible highlights of the holiday:
• Christmas cookies
• Christmas dinner
• Salted nuts
What are some of your favorite meals this holiday season? Leave your choice in the comments section. I’m especially interested in hearing about holiday hams and your family’s dessert traditions.
On to the show! Our chefs wake up, spiritually hung-over. Josie and Stefan are still brewing about their profane dust-up at the end of the last episode. Stefan is “over it.” Kristen makes her bed with military precision and quietly celebrates her dual victories last week.
And then, like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky: There’s a note on the table! The chefs are instructed to drive to an address and harvest whatever ingredients they find for the Quickfire Challenge. What will they find at the address: a luxury grocery store? An artisan bakery? A haunted dollhouse? The chefs climb into their Toyota Camrys, which they love, especially since they come equipped with Bing search-engine GPS. Toyota and Microsoft: Now there’s a flavor combination we can all get behind.
Anyway, when our friends arrive at the mystery address, they find only an ugly stretch of grayish-brown mud. Will they have to cook with bog-water? Fortunately not, as the mud has been stocked with oysters — the area is actually a fully functional oyster paddy! As the tide comes in, the chefs scramble to harvest the precious lobster fetuses. (If you’ve ever had caviar, oysters are the same principle, except shellfish don’t lay eggs — they have live births, like people.) John, the most hated chef in Dallas, says the oysters have the flavor of the sea, as if that’s a good thing. Can we all finally just admit that oysters — also known as “snot in a rock” — are disgusting, and people only eat them to show off? It’s like wearing a fur coat. Why would you eat an oyster if there’s regular, adult lobster available?
At that moment, as if to taunt me, Bart the Belgian madman starts eating oysters straight from the bog! He doesn’t cook them or even rinse them off. I assume it’s a European thing — but then, peer pressure being what it is, soon everyone is holding their nose and following Bart’s example.
Back in the kitchen, Emeril announces that, yes, they will be making oysters on the half shell for his delectation. Five chefs will make cold oysters, and five will make hot oysters. They have 25 minutes to figure out how to hide the flavor of the oysters so that they’ll be halfway edible.
Micah, the king of understatement, says cooking for his hero Emeril is like “when Moses met God.” Earlier in the episode, Micah admitted to being attracted to oysters because his father — a pastor — forbade him from eating shellfish (as outlined in Leviticus 11:9–12). So we have two anti-Bible statements on the episode right after Christmas. Is Top Chef trying to drum up controversy? I doubt it’ll work; the people who would be most offended by those remarks probably don’t watch this program, since it doesn’t have a Christian message to begin with.
Bart is making oysters with Champagne sauce, a risky move according to him. John is making oysters with garlic butter, like you’d find at Emeril’s restaurant “Dragos.”
Stefan is smoking his oyster in a plastic bag using a space-gun. Josie is making chorizo with oysters, Spanish-style. But her sauce “goes past reduction and is broken.” (I assume there was a solid ingredient in the sauce that got so soft, it fell apart — like chicken bones, or something. I know you can make soup stock using old turkey bones, so I guess Josie overcooked the bones and they “broke” inside the sauce.)
Lizzie is cooking her oysters with currents, although they don’t show the electrical wires. This seems like a badass way to cook oysters.
After tasting all the oyster dishes with Padma, Emeril beams with delight: He’s pleased with what a “fantastic job” everyone did hiding the flavor of the sea. Lizzie is praised for her electrocuted oysters; Micah’s fried oysters had a flavor that “popped”; and Brooke’s salsa-fied oysters — even though they weren’t properly shelled — had “all kinds of beautiful flavors going on.” Micah wins the contest and $5,000, courtesy of Healthy Choice yogurt. This is the ultimate rebuke to his Christian father.
Padma wants to move straight to the Elimination Challenge, so we do. The chefs will be cooking for “one of the hottest sports teams in Seattle.” Lo and behold, it’s not a football team or a basketball team or any normal kind of sport — it’s a bunch of punk-rock women on roller skates. It’s a sport called Roller Derby. Apparently everyone in this sport has a fake name (like rappers). The chefs pair up to make dishes inspired by the roller-ladies’ names. Emeril says: “These ladies are bold and brash, and that’s the kind of food we want.” I’m starting to think Emeril likes bold, brash food that pops. And, also, that he has a vocabulary of about 50 words.
Now we’re going to see how alternative Seattle really is. The chefs go to a Roller Derby match and watch the women slam into each other and use bad language. Josie is screaming words of encouragement from the stands and driving everyone crazy. Stefan wants her to be quiet, but he’s wearing a blue velvet jacket, so obviously he’s an idiot. (What does Kristen see in him? They are sleeping together, right?) Josie is disappointed by how quiet and lame the other chefs are; she leaves in disgust and knocks over a beer while doing so.
Back in the hotel, Josie lies down on the sofa while everyone gossips about her. She probably feels embarrassed and alienated from the rest of the group. When I feel like that, I lash out in anger — which is exactly what Josie decides to do. Micah, defensive, insists: “Nobody called you a name!” This inspires Josie to flights of poetic ferocity: “This tree right here? You don’t wanna bark up, Micah … this tree knows who she is!” She then accuses Micah of being a closeted homosexual male.
Poor Bart, still wearing his paisley button-down shirt — a delightful, Belgian attempt to fit in at a rock-n-roll punk derby — is stuck with Josie as a teammate. He tries to comfort her in the back room. He tells us: “Josie is Josie, and Josie can be loud.” But Bart doesn’t care: “In Belgium we don’t go head-to-head; we’re civilized.” Josie and Bart are this week’s odd couple, for sure. Apparently it’s reflected in their cooking, too: Josie loves spices that make explosions in your mouth, while Bart lives in constant fear of overspicing his dishes.
As the teams start preparing their food — in the roller rink, it should be noted, because nothing’s more hygienic than a roller rink — we learn that John went through an ugly divorce; his wife “took his daughter away from him.” Brooke reminds him of his daughter; as they cook together he says, “I really appreciate you taking the time to understand me today.” This makes me uncomfortable.
(For the record, everything being made looks horrifying — as scary as the very unladylike ladies slamming into each other on the track with violent enthusiasm. There’s even a shot of uncooked meat lying on a cutting board.)
Our judges arrive at the roller rink, along with other thrill-seekers. Emeril says, “I used to go to a lot of Roller Derbies growing up.” The smirking homunculus of self-satisfaction that is Hugh Acheson says to Padma, “I think your Roller Derby name is Padma Smacks-me!” (Speaking of Roller Derby names, I seriously doubt the names our chefs were given were the ladies’ actual names. Will someone confirm via Google? I will literally pay you $20.)
Here’s what everyone made:
Josie and Bart: “Teriyaki Terror” Steak teriyaki, beet “blood juice” with a twig sticking out of it. The actual Teriyaki Terror (i.e. the roller-derber) says the taste is “unique, but a little too earthy.” Emeril thinks it’s underseasoned. And the black(!) rice is wasted.
Lizzie and Micah: “Jalapeño Business” Crab-stuffed jalapeño (a kind of vegetable) with avocado cream and onion relish. Hugh admits: It’s better than he thought it would be. Tom agrees: “It’s actually pretty good!” The eponymous roller-skater says it’s “cool” that Lizzie and Micah “elevated a party-food favorite.”
Stefan and Kristen: “Eddie Shredder” Corn puree chicken liver and sunny-side egg. Stefan describes it as “chicken inside-out.” The pudding is delicious (as LL Cool J would say), and the liver is cooked perfectly — but the egg is overdone. Tom thinks they missed an opportunity — with the name they were given, why not just shred a chicken?
John and Brooke: “Kutta Rump” Thai beef on lobster jasmine rice with Thai slaw. Hugh praises the way the flavors build and build to a thundering crescendo of boldness.
Sheldon and Josh: “Tempura Tantrum” This dish is interactive: You drag a skewer of tempura across the plate, collecting sauces and spices, and then enjoy a “tantrum in your mouth.” Emeril and Hugh love the concept, but the tempura failed — was the fryer too small to maintain a consistent temperature? (Or should I say, “tempura-ture?”) We’ll never know because I didn’t understand what the judges said and my parents’ friends don’t have a DVR on their television.
The judges leave the roller rink and head back to Judge’s Table to figure out what to make of all the things they just deposited in their mouths.
Padma walks in and asks for John and Brooke, along with Micah and Lizzie. These two teams served the biggest hits at the party. Tom is chuckling about what a great job they did — he seems relieved. “Brooke, John, what can I say? The lobster was cooked perfectly … the meat was cooked perfectly.” I think Brooke is my favorite to win this whole season. Indeed, Hugh announces that Brooke and John have won the week! John: “I finally won … but it would’ve been sweeter if I had won alone.” Honest words from the most hated chef in Dallas. (For what it’s worth, my parents’ friends — almost 80 years old, but regular watchers of Top Chef — don’t like John at all. Nor do they like Josie, about whom one says, “Now there’s a laugh you could learn to hate.”)
Josie and Bart are dragged before the Judges Table, along with Josh and Sheldon. The smiles are gone from the judges’ faces — Emeril masters his impression of President George W. Bush struggling over an arithmetic problem.
Tom asks Josie and Bart: “Did you guys taste everything?” There’s some hemming and hawing, as Josie justifies her overseasoning and Bart justifies his underseasoning. Tom: “If something is properly seasoned and something is bland, if you put it together it’s not seasoned — it’s bland.” Tom is upset; why can’t Bart season anything correctly? And why didn’t they continue to taste their food until they agreed it was properly seasoned? Emeril complains that it was a “mish-mosh,” which is incorrect — he meant to say “mish-mash.”
Josh feels like he and Sheldon did better than some of the other teams. Sheldon defends his risky move of making tempura, while admitting it wasn’t good enough. Josh, who obviously feels like he might be sent home, decides to throw Lizzie and Micah under the bus: “Crab-stuffed jalapeño? (You) told us not to serve concession-style food.” Tom proceeds to destroy Josh, enumerating all the ways in which “Jalapeño Business” transcended traditional concession food. It’s kind of exhilarating. Tom then reiterates how bad “Tempura Tantrum” was: “The main part of your dish was a disaster … that tempura completely ruined the dish!” He basically throws a Tempura Tantrum tantrum … or should I say “Tom-pura Tantrum tom-trum?”
Sheldon looks completely exhausted, slack-jawed with despair. But it’s Bart who is sent home. When Padma tells him to pack his bags, he responds cheerfully: “No problem.” I’ll always love that bucolic Belgian! He tells us that in all his years cooking at his restaurant, nobody has ever complained about the food being underseasoned. I wonder if that’s because it’s in Belgium?