Top Chef Seattle Recap: David Rees on Healthy Food and Sexy Knives

The judges are very amused.
The judges are very amused. Photo: Bravo

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope some of you have made a resolution to treat the recappers in your life with more respect.

One of the first things we see in this week’s episode is Stefan applying anti-wrinkle cream in the bathroom as Sheldon sharpens his knives. No doubt the producers are celebrating the new year by reminding us of time’s inevitable march toward the clammy embrace of the grave — we must endeavor to keep wrinkles at bay, even as we sharpen our tools for another journey around the sun.

Padma announces a Quickfire Challenge that interests me, as it has nothing to do with food: The chefs will have a knife-sharpening contest! (I should mention that Padma looks especially sharp in a tight black turtleneck and red velour trousers; they must have used the Jaws of Life to fit her inside those pants.)

The judge for the knife contest is Bob Kramer, a “master bladesmith.” (“That’s what she said!” JOKE.) Bob Kramer sells knives for exorbitant sums. How exorbitant? Try $500 … per inch. At this point, I thought, No way would someone pay more than $100 for a knife — are this guy’s knives one-fifth of an inch long? But some people like spending money on stuff they shouldn’t spend money on, and that’s what makes America great, and also doomed.

Bob Kramer demonstrates the power of his knives by slicing through huge ropes of twine. I’ve seen this before: There used to be an infomercial for Ginsu Knives in which the blades would slice through just about anything; is Bob Kramer a sales representative for Ginsu Knives? I can’t see the brand on the knife, so I’m not sure.

Anyway, the gang starts sharpening knives on wet stones. Josie says: “You have to have good knife skills to be a good chef.” I wish they would go into more detail about knife-sharpening techniques, as sharpening things is a lucrative hobby of mine, but they don’t.

The knives are tested by cutting through Top Chef stationery. John’s knife isn’t a clean cut! He pouts. Brooke holds up her team — she’s sharpening at a weird angle — so they’re out.

The next knife challenge is to cut potatoes into football shapes with seven sides in a technique called “touring.” My hosts are enraged that they have to use such big knives for such a fine task; it makes no sense, knife-wise. And then, the scarlet ribbon of tragedy: Josie cuts herself. It’s nothing like Carla’s hand-gash earlier this season, but it’s enough to disqualify her. So Sheldon, Josh, and Micah win the potato-cutting challenge. John is aghast at his loss.

Finally, our three winners must break down rabbits. Sheldon’s never done it before! (But he’s the only chef who seems to really appreciate the art of knife-sharpening, so I’m rooting for him.) Josh helpfully tells him it’s just like breaking down a cat. Josh is struggling with the tiny bones. I can’t tell what’s going on with all the little ribs and guts and micro-sirloins and whatnot, but eventually Micah wins. He collects his amazing super-knife from the Ginsu salesman and holds it close. Sheldon sighs, “That knife is pure sexiness.”

Padma wants the chefs to take a trip down memory lane. For the Elimination Challenge, each chef will cook a dish related to a “memorable moment” in Top Chef’s history. The winning dish will, in turn, inspire a new Healthy Choice “Café Steamer,” which sounds like a sex act from a French frat house.

Our friends are given Kindle Fires, which are loaded with previous seasons of Top Chef. Isn’t it amazing that you can watch Top Chef on a Kindle Fire? That’s just one of the awesome features of the Kindle Fire, which offers the convenience and style we’ve come to expect from Amazon, makers of the new and improved Kindle Fire. You can buy one using your iPad.

The chefs use their Kindle Fires to watch a bunch of former chefs cook dishes while screaming and yelling and using bad language. America, is this really the best we can do?

Basically, our gang will make dishes based on arguments. For instance, Josie has to make a “I’m not your bitch, bitch!” entrée. Lizzie will make scallops in honor of a former contestant who said, “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop,” which I must admit is a zinger for the ages. Stefan’s making something from season two, when one chef insulted another chef whose hair looks like brown broccoli.

Back at the hotel, Micah lounges with a Healthy Choice package. It’s an amazing shot: just a man enjoying his cuddle-time with a quality frozen-food-product package.

At the Palace Ballroom, the chefs only have two and a half hours to prepare their masterpieces. John talks about how he used to know Anthony Bourdain, the famous rebel-chef who drives a Cadillac; he says he’s even mentioned in Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook! Maybe there’s a recipe called “Most-Hated-Chef-in-Dallas Potpie.”

Speaking of potpies, Kristen wants to make a “healthy” chicken potpie. Josie wants to make a healthy dish, too, since her job is teaching people how to eat wisely. Meanwhile, Brooke talks about being depressed, becoming overweight, and then losing the weight. Why all this talk of healthy food? I think it’s because our sponsor is Healthy Choice, the leading provider of food that’s not only nutritious but comes in brightly colored boxes.

A bunch of Top Chef enthusiasts show up to sample the food and reminisce about previous seasons of Top Chef. Our guest judges are former Master Top Cheffers: Wylie Dufresne of wd~50 (famous industrial lubricant), Jonathan Waxman (chef/owner of Burrito), Chris Cousintino (chef/owner of Incanto), and Wolfgong Puck (doesn’t seem to own anything).

Here’s what they cooked:

Josie (season one): herb-roasted chicken with parsnip purée and steamed rot(?)-vegetables. The dish is a testament to the incredible variety of beige. Jonathan Waxman thinks it’s a little bland, like something you’d get at a regular restaurant and not one of his amazing chicken-themed restaurants. “I think I know a little bit about roast chicken,” he brags. Who would brag about their knowledge of chicken? Who cares about chicken? It’s the most boring food in the world. I defy ANYONE to make an interesting meal out of a chicken. I’m being serious right now — look, these recaps can be silly and goofy, but this time I’m not joking: Chicken is fucking boring and anyone who orders it at a restaurant is just being contrary. I will physically fight anyone who disagrees with me.

Stefan (season two): roasted-red-pepper soup with bacon and grilled mimolette cheese sandwich. One Top Chef fan with huge earrings (and he’s a man, by the way, which says something about the kind of person who watches Top Chef) says the dish is in the spirit of whoever made it on season two, which makes me think he watches too much Top Chef.

John (season three): umami risotto with chicken, salmon roe, burdock root, and carrot emulsion. Apparently some of the risotto is overcooked, while some of it is undercooked. How did he pull that off? Did he mix in leftover risotto with new risotto in order to make the dish healthier? I’m gonna steal that technique.

Sheldon (season four): beef carpaccio with poi aioli, mizuna, and mushroom salad and silken tofu foam. C’mon, guys: At least four of these ingredients aren’t real words, and the phrase “silken tofu foam” makes my mouth dry up like an old newspaper in the sun. The dish looks horrible — the beef doesn’t even look like it’s been cooked, it’s so slimy. It’s not just me: The man with the goatee thinks the meat looks bad, like it “went through a grinder.” And the tofu “needs flavor.” I’m really worried about Sheldon at this point: The producers have been using him in a lot of cutaway interviews this episode, which is usually a sign of impending doom.

Lizzie (season five): seared scallops with roasted fennel, garlic purée, orange and olive salad. Wolfgong thinks the scallop is “dubious.” He’s right: At the market, Lizzie worried that her scallops didn’t smell fresh. I know enough about food to know she should have fried them in order to cover up the seawater flavor. But she didn’t, and now everyone can taste her shame. Meanwhile, the guest-diners analyze the scallop’s historical context on Top Chef with Talmudic intensity.

Josh (season six): soy-glazed pork tenderloin with smoked cashew purée and heirloom peaches. (I almost typed “heroin peaches” but then realized my mistake.) This looks like a proper piece of food, I must say. If Healthy Choice could figure a way to shove this into one of their Café Steamer packages, I’d steam it and eat it. Wolfgong loves the pork. Could Josh’s losing streak with pork be coming to a happy end?

Brooke (season seven): smoked salmon and forbidden black rice with English pea and parsnip purée. (I forgot to mention that earlier the chefs were spinning conspiracy theories about how someone’s pea purée went missing in season seven; it’s like an Oliver Stone movie about vegetable sauce.) Brooke’s dish is a hit. The Top Chef obsessives in the dining room love the pea purée.

Kristen (season eight): poached chicken breast and carrot purée with garlic and tofu emulsion. The dish looks like an explosion of colors — my hosts say it’s because she utilized “portion control” and so spread everything out on the plate so it’d look like a lot of food. This is why nachos are the smartest thing to order at a restaurant: They MUST be heaped up in a pile, which makes it easy to see how much food (i.e. value) you’re getting as a consumer. (“Portion control” is just food-industry lingo for “ripping off the client.”) Jonathan Waxmas is “flummoxed,” he likes it so much: “I thought I was the only person on earth who was smart enough to cook a chicken!” (JOKE.)

Micah (season nine): five-spiced duck breast with miso polenta and pickled cherries. (Not sure how he pickled the cherries in just a few hours, as pickling takes weeks. Maybe he bought them?) I will say, however, the dish looks normal — like something a regular person would eat. Tom likes the duck breast and the cherries. Wolfgong wishes Micah had grated corn on the top, which proves this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Should Micah have blanched radishes and infused them into a football and then deflated it and served it on the side? At some point you need to stop adding random ingredients and just serve the dish!

Josh, John, Kristen, Lizzie, and Brooke are called to Judge’s Chambers. They served the best — and worst — dishes. One of them is going home! Josh, Brooke, and Kristen served the best dishes. (Brooke or Kristen is gonna win this thing, I just know it.) Tom likes that Kristen’s chicken potpie was homey without being homey — basically, it was a Zen koan of chicken potpies. And so, Kristen wins! (My notes: “Kristen is crushing this show!”) Healthy Choice will steal her idea for a “Healthy Top Chef Choice Frozen Steamer Café Homey/Non-homey Potpie With a Side of One-Hand Clapping.”

John’s rice was a complete mish-mush-mash; he says there wasn’t a level pot in the kitchen to cook the risotto. (What difference does it make how tall the sides of a pot are? I don’t get it.) And then, just for the heck of it, Josh jumps in to say John’s excuse is bullshit — whoa, dude! You’re already in the clear, why throw John under the bus? For a split-second, my underdog-sympathy kicks in, and the most hated chef in Dallas becomes my favorite chef! It doesn’t last. Lizzie is asked, “Did you taste your scallops?” She knows the scallops were bad: “it was horrible, I’m sorry, it was horrible!”

John and Lizzie must instantly cook-off against each other to stay in the competition; they will re-create and improve on CJ’s pickle-burger from earlier this season. (I think the judges are still hungry from all the lean, healthy dishes they just ate and simply want more food.) John is “pissed”: “I shouldn’t have to cook again … my risotto was cooked unevenly because I couldn’t find a pot.” Our two chefs share the kitchen in an odd, stressed intimacy. John uses all of the dill, even though Lizzie prepared it. She’s not happy about it. John says Lizzie “was pushing me around, bitching and moaning.” I feel like I’m watching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

John makes a lamb burger with a fried egg on top. It looks tasty but not very healthy. Wolfgong: “Mine is a little too much cooked for my taste.” Lizzie makes a chicken burger with goat-cheese ricotta. Tom is impressed with both dishes, adding: “I can’t believe you guys actually made me more food just because I told you to on a whim. It’s good to be king.” (JOKE)

Chris says Lizzie should stay in the competition. Wolfgong thinks Lizzie’s burger was “moister and more flavor.” Tom thinks Lizzie’s patty was better, too. Padma agrees, and so it’s unanimous: John must go. He says: “I got the shaft today. I’m not bitter, but yeah: I think it’s bullshit.” Call me crazy, but he sounds a little bitter. Continuing his relentless self-branding, the most hated chef in Dallas adds: “I endured every challenge; I endured every situation; I endured the childish behavior.” John makes excuses up until the moment he leaves — he even regrets sharing the pickles with Brooke. I can’t help but wonder: Will we ever be deserving of John’s love?

P.S.: According to an onscreen graphic, you can buy Healthy Choice’s “Top Chef Crustless Pot Pie” at Wal-Mart. Will somebody please buy one, steam it, eat it, and then let us know how many weeks you have left to live?

Top Chef Seattle Recap: David Rees on Healthy Food and Sexy Knives