Top Chef Recap: Sour Grapes, Salty Losers

Photo: Jed Egan; Photo: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo (Top Chef), ABC (Locke)

“Let’s see what today holds,” Tiffany wondered as last night’s Top Chef began. “I’m guessing it’s cooking with not enough time and not enough equipment,” replied Richard, which, now that he points it out, really has been the theme of every single challenge for eight seasons. The Quickfire, naturally, continued in this vein. Guest judge Lorena Garcia of America’s Next Great Restaurant helped explain that the challenge would be all about synergy consistency and precision: Make 100 dishes identical in presentation and taste in one hour in two teams.

The chefs split into boys versus girls but took the same approach to cooking: Make all the components of each dish in one big batch. Yes, this is a sure-fire way to have everything taste the same, but is not exactly reflective of how restaurants maintain consistency and precision. We know, we know, we’re getting nitpicky on something ridiculous five thousand episodes in, but at least come up with more accurate challenge descriptions/not crappy challenges next time, okay, writers? Anyway, the ladies’ seared beef tenderloin with chimichuri beat out the fellas’ pork Bolognese with homemade pasta, and Mike looked like he wanted to cry, which was a win for everyone.

The celebrations were short-lived as Padma explained the elimination challenge: Cook a lunch to celebrate the Nassau Yacht Club’s 80th anniversary with a deserted-island-themed lunch, on an actual deserted island a small island off Nassau that no one has put a hotel on yet. Richard got confused and thought that the challenge would be a reenactment of Lost and wondered if he would have to catch a wild boar and kill it. But nope, the theme was conch. Sorry, Locke Richard. It was okay, though, because Richard prepped for this finale by having twenty pounds of conch in his freezer, and by growing a beard and buying the same toothbrush as us.

Obviously, Padma greeted the chefs at the boat to the island in a bikini and heels, because what else would you wear to stand on a dock? Is Top Chef losing male viewers that badly? Off on the boat to the island (the third boat ride this season, as this is apparently Top Boats, not Top Scallop), Mike went on about how he was happy they’d have everything waiting for them on the island, so of course instead of conch there was snorkeling equipment. Everyone seemed very shocked that they had to swim for the conch, even though they were clearly all told to wear bathing suits. Luckily, there were tons of conchs just naturally there and definitely not planted by interns fairly close to the beach.

Richard was pretty concerned at the “survivalist cooking” they had to do, what with all the pots, pans, fresh ingredients, and seasonings … but no liquid nitrogen, which was the biggest challenge facing both Gilligan and the Oceanic 815 survivors. The rest of the chefs had more realistic concerns, namely how on earth to get a conch out of its shell. However, no one seemed perturbed by the fact that they had to cook and serve food with swamp butt.

Many hammers, rocks, and boiling-water baths later, the chefs were ready to serve the judges, yacht club commodore, and his guests, all of whom were wearing white as apparently this Dharma station yacht club has a dress code even on other islands. Everyone did pretty well, with some small caveats. Richard’s sweet potato “linguine” with conch and spiny lobster impressed everyone, but his lobster was unevenly cooked. Antonia’s red snapper with conch tartare really delivered a good flavor punch, but her conch was cut too small. Mike’s banana-leaf-steamed grouper over braised pineapple with warm conch vinaigrette was smoky and well-cooked but slightly overwhelmed by butter; while Tiffany’s conch and coconut chowder with sweet potatoes and conch seviche had good, unexpected flavors, but was too sweet and not hot. In the end, the judges loved Mike’s unusual flavors, giving him the win and us agita, and sent Tiffany’s too sweet and cold chowder packing. The loser, at least, we’ll agree with: Tiffany was not up to par with the rest of the chefs.

And no, we are not going to discuss the commercial for Marcel’s new show, because we can’t even begin to handle that.

Next week: Finale time (hopefully?)! The judges’ last supper! Haven’t we done that before? Mike and Antonia bicker! Food tastes rancid! Padma pulls out an envelope and asks the chefs if they remember it! Are we supposed to remember it?

Island Fever