Top Chef Recap: A Thumb in the Eye

“Those are some very nice … pants you have there, Fabio.” Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Bravo

Everyone’s favorite challenge took place last night — Restaurant Wars! But first, we got a very important lesson from Richard that bananas and Nutella go together like tomato and basil, which is true. For the Quickfire, the chefs visited a sadly Eric Ripert–less Le Bernardin, presumably because when the producers planned the season they, like us, assumed Jen would be a contestant the whole way through. Instead they met fish butcher Justo Thomas, who butchers almost 1,000 pounds of fish a day, which, damn. Naturally, the chefs were tasked with taking on his work and portioning out one cod and one fluke each into “Le Bernardin–quality portions.” They were given ten minutes — a gift, really, since Thomas does it in eight. “Woo hoo, I say to myself,” Carla deadpanned. “Woo hoo.” You know it’s bad if there’s no hooty.

It turns out she was right to be worried, as she ended up in the bottom, along with Tiffany and Fabio, who sliced his finger open but continued working without bandaging it up. We understand needing to be tough in the kitchen, but surely there was some sort of blood-staunching device available? Anyway, the best fish butchers were Richard, Mike, Dale, and Marcel, who were then tasked with a second challenge to win immunity: Cook a dish in 45 minutes using the discarded fish parts. The win went to Dale and his fluke-back sashimi with fluke liver sauce and bacon dashi with cod collar. Yum?

Ludo Lefebvre stood waiting for the chefs back in their own kitchen, where Padma explained that Lefebvre had just finished a pop-up restaurant. Obviously none of the chefs could tell this was a very blatant clue that this week’s challenge was Restaurant Wars. However, once she announced it, Fabio exploded with glee (let us all remember the line, “We could serve monkey ass and empty clam shells and still win”) and we were treated to some flashbacks that mostly served to remind us just how much nicer the picture is in HD. Dale got to be a team captain for winning the Quickfire and was also allowed to pick the other team captain. He decided to go with the person he didn’t want to work with the most: Marcel. “Restaurant Wars is about assembling a motherfucking team,” Marcel told us, proceeding to pick Angelo, Mike I., Antonia, and Tiffany, while Dale assembled Team People We Want to Win: Richard, Fabio, Tre, and Carla. For once, the quality of the food all-around mattered, as Padma let the chefs know that the diners would pick the winner, not the judges.

The producers kindly skipped the shopping-at-that-giant-restaurant-food-emporium montage this year, going straight to menu planning and prep. This sequence basically consisted of Team Dale happily coming up with a bodega theme and instantly putting Fabio at front of house, a close-up of kosher salt (does salt really need to advertise?), and Team Marcel arguing incessantly. Almost all of the arguments were between other people and Marcel, whom most of his team didn’t listen to as he yelled instructions and admonitions.

At Bodega, “regular diner” Dana Cowin (editor-in-chief of Food & Wine) was delighted with the concept, as were her “regular diner” companions, who included Eater founder Ben Leventhal. Bodega’s menu consisted of potato chips with herbs and sea salt (Dale/Richard); bacon, egg, and cheese with homemade foccacia (Dale); raw tuna belly with fried chicken skin, chile, and lime in a can (Richard); chicken-fried codfish with Brussels kraut (Richard); pork shoulder and grits with Cheddar and Corona-lime sauce (Tre); blueberry pie with dry-milk ice cream (Carla); and amaretto cheesecake with candied lemon and cappuccino mousse (Fabio).

Marcel’s team went with a Mediterranean concept and thankfully called it Etch and not Medi. Their menu was made up of a frisée and asparagus salad with egg and chorizo sauce (Tiffany); a fluke crudo with grapes and pink peppercorns (Angelo, whose theme this season instead of Asian is apparently raw fish); roasted monkfish with olives (Marcel); braised pork belly and octopus with cannellini beans (Mike I.); fresh ricotta gnudi with oxtail ragout (Antonia); slow-cooked lamb chop with cauliflower puree, which diners constantly sent back to be cooked more or heated up (Mike and Angelo); and a duo of peaches with coconut foam and coconut powder on dry ice (Marcel). This isn’t Top Foam, Marcel.

Bodega was the clear winner, “killing it” per Tom. Anthony Bourdain found Dale’s food to be “stoner food at its finest,” while Dale and the rest of the team gave Richard (whose first job was making Filet-O-Fishes at McDonald’s) credit for helping everyone conceptualize and refine their dishes. The judges rewarded this, giving him the win and $10K. Team Etch took second/last place, with only 17 out of the 76 diners choosing it as their favorite. The judges had a lot of criticism, too, from the saltiness of Antonia’s dish to Tiffany’s lack of flavor to Marcel’s use of foam, again. A fighting match ensued at judges’ table, with Marcel yelling “look, bro” and Tiffany laughing the way you used to when your mom yelled at you when you were little. Unsurprisingly, and thankfully, Marcel went home. Again, unsurprisingly, he was shocked, and noted that he must be the most misunderstood contestant in Top Chef history. GOOD-BYE, MARCEL.

Next week: Mafioso guys! An Italian challenge! Things on fire! Food that would make you leave a boyfriend! People not getting laid!

P.S. We’re sorry we just got the Filet-O-Fish song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

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