Top Chef Seattle Recap: Spiritual Rice Washing and Fatherhood

It's like a very fancy firing squad. Photo: Bravo

David Rees isn't here today. He says he had a cruise previously planned, but I suspect he just needed some time off given the Sisyphean task that is recapping a show, week after week, always having to invent new ways to say that Padma looks high. Whatever the reason, Rees will be back next week — provided his cruise doesn't break down and get stranded at sea so long that people have to wade through feces — but until then the job falls to me, so let's get to it.

The chefs are still in Alaska, and since Top Chef blew its whole regional-ingredient load last week asking the chefs to cook with both salmon and bread, I've got my fingers crossed for a bear-meat challenge. During the pre-Quickfire hangout, Josh tellingly alludes to what the episode preview already showed us: His pregnant wife is gonna burst any minute now and he's stuck on an hour-long Healthy Choice ad in Alaska.

So the chefs head up a mountain and find a helicopter waiting. Oops! Turns out Brooke is terrified of helicopter rides, but the pilot assuages her concerns with the same calming words Salman Rushdie probably whispered to Padma in their marital bed: "It should only be about fifteen minutes — you'll be fine."

When the chefs land, they take a dogsled to meet Tom and Padma at an Iditarod training camp. The Quickfire posed to the chefs: make a dish in 30 minutes using whatever they find in the camp. Surprisingly, not a single chef cooks one of the dogs.

Brooke and Sheldon are both making halibut, and Josh is making breakfast, which is not going so well. Josh doesn't even have time to fry his eggs — a process that takes one minute at most — so he decides to scramble them, which if done correctly (i.e., over low heat, slowly), takes like ten minutes. "The texture of this dish," he says, "is ironically going to be a lot like mush." If we're going with Iditarod puns here, I'd say Josh's dish sounds like it'll be "dog shit."

Meanwhile, Brooke is surprised to learn that pans cool down quickly when you're cooking on a glacier. Even still, the judges are into her pan-roasted halibut with panzanella. Tom is not impressed with Josh's scrambled eggs. Lastly, Sheldon also pan-roasted his halibut. Tom thinks it's salty, but the resident stoner dog-sledder at the table thinks "it's great," and who can argue with analysis like that? Shocker: Brooke wins and says something or other about it meaning a lot because she conquered her fear of riding in helicopters (I suspect the Xanax helped).

During the commercials, I am very sad to recognize a Weeknd song in an ad for some Twilight knockoff movie called Beautiful Creatures. I thought you were cool, Weeknd.

When we return to Top Chef, it's back in the helicopter for the chefs, and I guess Brooke really did conquer her fears because she doesn't make such a stink about it this time.


Into the chopper, guys.Photo: David Moir/Bravo

Who's waiting for the chefs when they get back to the mainland? Roy Choi, the famous food truck operator turned chef from Los Angeles. Oh, and Emeril's there, too. They're making lunch for the contestants. Roy Choi has this cooking tip to offer Emeril: "The way I clean rice is when I wash it, I try to transfer all of the ancestors and all of the spirits and all of the energies that surround my whole existence and put that into every single kernel of rice as we wash it."

Emeril, a man who has monetized his name so thoroughly that he has his own line of branded Keurig coffee pods, clearly has no idea what the fuck Roy Choi is talking about.

Padma informs the chefs that their elimination challenge will be to cook for the governor of Alaska (not Sarah Palin). They have to make something inspired by the moment they first decided to be chefs.

But! Before that happens, the shit really hits the fan for Josh: His wife calls to inform him — via speakerphone, for the sake of the cameras — that her water broke and she's about to have their baby. Josh is moderately broken up. His kid will always know that dad missed the birth of his child because he was on a reality cooking competition. But chin up, kid: Going through life knowing that your dad chose Top Chef over your birth won't be half as embarrassing as knowing your dad thought an ironic waxed mustache was a smart look in 2013.

On to the prep: Sheldon is almost too prepared for his fish dish, dad-to-be Josh pushes aside his internal struggle long enough to decide he'll make foie gras torchons, and Brooke doesn't have any clue what she's going to cook so she makes up some bullshit about chicken and quail and her mom.

Before the chefs go to bed for the night, Josh's wife calls again, and the sobbing and pleading coming from her end of the speakerphone is just gut-wrenching. At this point, I'm ready to hop on a plane to be by her side, but Josh just lets her cry and cry. He tells her, devoid of almost any discernible emotion, "I want to be there, too," but it's clearly a lie because if he really wanted to be there he would have left like three episodes ago. When Josh's mother-in-law gets on the phone to tell him that his wife can't talk anymore because her contractions are too bad, Josh musters up an "Okie doke." Okie doke?! Behind that mustache wax is one cold-hearted man.

He stays up all night and finally his daughter is born, and as he gazes upon his newborn child for the first time via Skype, he tells his wife, "she's got your pouty face," which seem less like the words of a proud father and more like adding insult to injury.

Anyway, this isn't Top Absentee Father, so let's get to the cooking. Here's what everyone makes for the governor of Alaska (still not Sarah Palin).

Sheldon whips up some pan-roasted rockfish with prawns, baby vegetables, and dashi. The fish is perfectly cooked, but he let his broth over-reduce, and everyone thinks it's too salty.

The show is really playing up the fact that Brooke had a hard time conceptualizing her dish, so it's either going to be an unexpected success or a complete disaster. It's braised chicken and grilled quail, carrot, barley, and pickled vegetables. Aaaaand, it's a success! Wolfgang Puck says some perfunctory bit about the quail being maybe a little overcooked but really everyone loves it.

Meanwhile, Josh's plans yet again go to hell and he's forced to improvise at the last minute. This dude is a total fucking mess. He makes foie three ways: a torchon with pineapple, seared on top of cornbread puree with jalapeño, and a foie gras profiterole. If the challenge had been to make the most cartoonishly overwrought dish, Josh would win hands-down. But, given that he managed to screw up both scrambled eggs and a foie torchon, one gets the sense he'll be heading home to see his daughter and pouty-faced wife sooner than he might like.

The judges do that thing where they hem and haw and act like they can't make a decision before coming to the world's most obvious conclusion: Brooke wins and Josh has to pack his knives. Can he go home and meet his new daughter now? He cannot. Instead he has to be on that Last Chance Kitchen thing on the Internet, the winner of which will head to the finale with Sheldon and Brooke.

Since I bet no one actually watches Last Chance Kitchen, I'll just tell you they tease the victory but don't reveal who won. And so next week David Rees will once again be back and there will once again be three contestants competing. It's almost as if this week never even happened.