Top Chef Episode 7: We Just Make It Up As We Go Along

Pastries. It was going to happen eventually; Padma reminded us that pastries have historically been an Achilles’ heel for cheftestants, and it presents a good opportunity to see who’s been paying attention to that fact. Lisa claimed she had sworn to herself she wouldn’t do a pastry on the show, but how stupid is that? We don’t even believe her. Spike, on the other hand, memorized a particular dessert recipe because he knew this moment was coming.

What none of them knew was that the pastry Quickfire would have the disproportionally prestigious prize of a spot in the Top Chef cookbook. Now obviously there will be other Top Chef cookbooks that include a larger chunk of this season’s chefs, but still, it’s pretty hot to slip in there at the end. All of the desserts, despite the chefs’ crows of ignorance and fear, looked professional and appetizing, but Richard’s pseudoscallop bananas and avocado was certainly the most interesting and original of the bunch and the only one whose recipe we’d actually like to see. Kudos also to Dale for making halo-halo, an underpraised dessert if there ever was one.

It was really funny (but not funny haha) when Mark disinterestedly rattled off the notable Second City alums by way of introducing the improv troop. Either New Zealanders are not impressed by the likes of Belushi and Colbert, or the man was completely exhausted and depressed by his crappy showing in the Quickfire. Both explanations are plausible; the life of a cheftestant is not a leisurely one!

The conceit of the challenge — dishes that connote the colors, emotions and foods yelled out by the audience during the improv show — is a clever one. Like in the movie challenge, here is a case of the chefs having to abstract a narrative to sell their dishes. Will they have learned the lesson of how critical it is to get the theme right? No, apparently not!

So let’s see, there’s…tofu+green+perplexed, yellow+love+vanilla, drunk+magenta+polish sausage, orange+turn-on+asparagus, and purple+depressed+bacon. And now that there’s only ten people left and they all know each other pretty well, they were allowed to pair off on their own. This is the first of several elements of meta-improv that go on in the main challenge. While it isn’t stated explicitly, the lack of electrical equipment (BTW, what the honk are robocoups and vita-preps, anyway? Too insidery! There should have been a pop-up explainer) and the chefs’ forced relocation to the TC house for cooking are both improv devices, even if they didn’t seem to have a negative impact on any of the teams.

It was certainly telling when we’re treated to lengthy exegeses on the Spike & Andrew (goofy egotists) team, the Jen & Steph (competent professionals) team and the Richard & Dale (high-end superstars) team, but nothing much at all about Mark, Nikki, Antonia and Lisa. Because these people are all going to go away soon! But not just yet; as Nikki (and many others throughout the episode) pointed out, the show is now at a stage where chefs are eliminated for error, not for general incompetence.

First, the good. Richard and Dale’s tofu-with-an-identity-crisis impressed the judges, who like pretty much everything Richard does (except for scaly sous-vide salmon). Dale seems to ground Richard, making sure the high-concept doesn’t interfere with taste and quality assurance. But since it was Richard’s “brainchild,” as Dale called it, he was the winner. Now, winning the Quickfire and the challenge is pretty impressive, right?

Spike and Andy make a butternut squash soup (yellow) with vanilla creme fraiche to avenge episode 5’s debacle, and pull it off very successfully. Because sometimes, it’s better to be good than avant-garde! By the way, when Antonia said “if he wins with a soup I’m going to vomit in my mouth,” we LOL’d a little.

Mark and Nikki pass through with a bacon dish because no one ever loses on bacon. We sort of took offense at Mark’s contention that the bacon was “depressed” because it had to share a plate with brussel sprouts; brussel sprouts are like our Zoloft! Anyway, both of these people are on thin ice, and we bet one of the two will go next episode.

It was unusual this week that the top four chefs were men and the bottom four were women, especially given how much Bravo is touting the ladies this season. Lisa and Antonia were reamed for completely rejecting the Polish sausage aspect of their dish. Lisa’s like, “I’m too good for Polish sausage peasant food.” Well you know what, little Lisa? Polish sausage is damn good, and comes in more varieties than you can shake a stick at. Stop being an idiot and make what you’re told; your ego has one foot out the door! Also, always serve the guests tequila.

But the real sadness is Jen and Stephanie, two people we would not have expected to see at the bottom already. Their vaguely uncomfortable ménage à trois with orange, goat cheese and asparagus was a total failure for the judges. First of all, Jen going on and on about the phallic imagery of the asparagus was kind of a lost cause. Second, how lucky are they that “orange” happens to be both a color and a food? You’d think they’d have been a little more grateful. Thirdly, they should have ditched innuendo for total obscenity and had the asparagus actually penetrating the orange slices…and along those lines, we can also think of a more clever way to deploy the goat cheese. Haha ew! It is somewhat tragic to have soggy croutons be your downfall on Top Chef, but that’s the way the stale bread crumbles. Jen’s departure, in which she calls Richard her [hair] brother, is classy. We will miss her!

Next week, important Oprah chef Art Smith (now of TABLE fifty-two) and his various charities.

[Photo: lost in thought (BravoTV]


Top Chef Episode 7: We Just Make It Up As We Go Along