Top Chef Episode 11: Oh, The Humanity!

We’d like to start this week out with a sighting: a friend of ours just saw last week’s eliminee Andrew air-drumming really hard to music on his headphones (or maybe just in his head?) on the subway in New York. Of course he was. You thought that spazziness was just an act?

To the show. It’s pretty easy to imagine that Tom Colicchio, in another life, was an experienced thief; who’s ever looked more natural breaking and entering in the pre-dawn hours? Anyway, the cheftestants were woken up early to short-order cook at Lou Mitchell’s. Owner Helene watched the six remainders fumble through orders of eggs over hard (who orders that? The same horrible people that like their steak well-done) and split sausage and so forth, eventually naming Antonia the winner for being generally competent and not screwing up anything royally. Also, Helene clearly saw a younger version of herself in Antonia — tough, diligent white-ethnic family girl — and it is impossible to discount the role this emotional resonance played in her decision. Not that she didn’t deserve to win, but still.

Toni’s egg-flipping skills in the Quickfire allowed her to choose her team for the resurrected Restaurant Wars Elimination challenge, and she adroitly tapped Richard and Stephanie. Not only did she get two of the three best chefs left on the show, but she forced Dale and Lisa back onto a team together, a reliably explosive combination. Antonia’s one canny lady!

So, Antonia, Richard and Stephanie decide to do a gastropub called “Warehouse Restaurant” (the challenge was to take place at a giant loft space on Goose Island); Stephanie took the front of the house, easy enough for the former proprietress of Scylla. Meanwhile, Dale, Lisa and Spike concocted an Asian restaurant called “Mai Buddha,” since they all specialize in Asian cuisines and many of them have worked at Mai House in New York.

An aside: Antonia, for the second time, rails on Dale for only cooking Asian food. Excuse me, Ms. Italiana? Like “Asian” is such a tiny niche while ITALIAN is a universe unto itself and for all time? The first time she said it, it was a passing thought. The second time, racist! She may have been right about Dale getting kicked off, but for the wrong reason (by the way, what was the right reason? To be explored shortly)

Restaurant Wars was not the only relic making an unexpected return this week! Cue the devoutly adored Anthony Bourdain as guest head judge and several eliminees from episodes past — Antonia picks Nikki to cook her team’s linguini and clams dish, while Mai House taps Jen because she’s a good chef. Not that we hear from either of them at all for the rest of the show…

Then a lot of things happen very fast — as is often the case on the Restaurant Wars episode — but especially for Mai Buddha. Dale browns up the avocado mixture, Lisa continues her losing streak with some Teflon sticky rice, and Spike slicks himself into a suit at the front of the house and completely disowns his teammates.

Team Buddha’s utter failure during dinner can be placed neatly in the realm of the spectacularly inevitable. Bourdain prophesied that the team, with their overconfidence and disproportionately upscale decor, had set themselves up to fail, and that’s the one front on which they succeeded. Lisa’s laksa shrimp was too smoky for the orthodox Bourdain (although Padma and Ted Allen like it), while her mango sticky rice was likened to “baby vomit and wood chips” (this is better than adult vomit, though). Dale, on the other hand, only had one dish disaster, in the form of some butterscotched scallops. He should have simply served Scotch; we understand Johnnie Walker Black is very popular in certain high-flying Asian circles.

Wearhouse Restaurant did so well it’s barely even worth discussing. Stephanie won for her superior leadership, and got a food tour in Spain as a prize. Wow, that certainly beats the bottle of wine Dale got last week! The only other thing of note is that Richard used ras al hanout again, making it the “fierce” of this Top Chef 4.

During judging, Mai Buddha’s staff got eviscerated, partially by Bourdain but just as much by each other. It was a high-speed bitchfest, and we weren’t the only ones that found it entertaining — Spike didn’t even bother to stifle his laughter. Bourdain at least called him out on being an aloof, selfish prettyboy who only avoided elimination by doing nothing. (It’s worth nothing that unlike in past ResWars, there were no serious service snafus.)

And it came down to Dale and Lisa. They’d been at each other’s throats for so long we can’t even remember who’s at fault (either is plausible), but the difference between them is, Dale has repeatedly shown himself to be a good cook, and Lisa has not. Dale’s elimination at this point reeks of injustice, since Lisa and Spike are clearly lesser chefs than he, and it seemed like Lisa did more wrong, culinarily, than Dale did this week. But since Dale was the executive, the captain went down with his ship. One can only assume he’ll do fine in his next life, at least. We unhappily await one of Lisa or Spike in the final four; they both have the potential to flame out spectacularly next episode, in which Rick Tramanto of TRU takes everyone down a notch.

[Photo: Painful to look at, via Bravo]


Top Chef Episode 11: Oh, The Humanity!