Thursday, May 11, 2006

Top Chef Episode Nine

This is a hard one ot recap. The final result just kills me. But I don't dispute it. Unlike previous episodes, I thought the judges were fair and the guest judges gave spot on assessments. It's kind of like in Top Model where Tyra actually says something insightful about the model industry like for men's magazine's spread the legs and for women's hunch over. And you see what she does and it totally makes sense.

Ah the lovely sight of San Francisco. Harold feels bad about Stephen leaving which baffles me. Then we hear about Dave being screwed over by the dot com bust and pursuing his dream of being a professional chef. He's fairly appreciative of how close he's been to being eliminated. Tiffani throws out the tried and true reality tv mantra that she's not trying to make friends. Winning a reality show and not being a raging bitch aren't mutually exclusive. Lee Ann says that her ideal final three is her, Dave and Stephen. Apparently she doesn't like Tiffani either. The editors are setting us up for a Tiffani elimination.

Tom, Gail, and Billy Joel's Child Bride are at the quickfire challenge. Oh god Billy Joel's Child Bride needs to zip but good. It's even more grating when she's trying for inflection. For the final quickfire challenge, they have to make their own versions of junk food. We see a table laden with popcorn, funyons, tortilla chips, oreos and ding dongs. Harold is pissed. Harold chooses popcorn; Dave chooses nachos; Tiffani chooses corn dogs; and Lee Ann chooses hot dogs. Scramble. Scramble. Scramble. Harold makes a corn cake with popcorn and ceviche. Tiffani makes corn dogs with duck sausage and chorizo. Surprisingly, she says she likes corn dogs. Lee Ann makes a seafood hot dog. Tiffani is annoyed by Dave's manic scrambling. She doesn't think he'll make it to the final three. When Harold presents his dish, he totally plugs the sponsors, saying he mad the cake with Pop Secret in the Kenmore microwave. It appears the sponsor ass kissing works because he wins the challenge. A meaningless challenge since noone gets immunity.

In contrast to the junk food quickfire, the elimination challenge requires the uses of two of the most exotic and valued ingredients: some fancy schmancy red wine (Schafer Hillside Select) and truffles. Everyone is happy. They must prepare a dish with the truffle to be paired with the wine. I am laughing my ass off that Stephen was eliminated before this challenge. Even better, they get to prepare the meal in Napa (the supposed epicenter for food and wine) for some of the best chefs in Napa.

The competitors toot their own horns in voiceover. Then at home, the chefs get to taste the wine and savor its flavor. The next morning Stephen wakes up sick. Dave hopes to lighten up for this challenge. Lifestyle porn shots of Napa vineyards. The chef's shop at some hoity toity Napa supermarket. Lee chooses lamb and then Tiffani chooses lamb and then Harold chooses lamb. Dave wisely chooses beef. Lee Ann is not happy about the plethora of lamb.

A the Copia Cooking school, the Julia Child kitchens look like a dream. Tiffani and Lee Ann remember their encounters with Julia. As in a REAL cooking competing, the cooking is staggered so each dish can be served at its peak. Tiffani is making foie gras gnocchi and once again says she's there to win. Harold whines about being sick and decides to make a sunchoke creamed spinach to go with the lamb. Lee Ann decides to make a butternut squash risotto. Dave's instincts are right on as he avoids the typical truffle risotto and decides to make a truffle mac 'n cheese. Tiffani bitches about the fact that the other chefs are interrupting her zen-like silence with things like Lee Ann asking Dave to reach and get her a pan. If THAT throws you off Tiffani, you must go nuts over a regular restaurant kitchen. Tiffani is clearly getting the bitch edit.

Chef Tom comes to check in on the competitors. He expresses concern over Tiffani's gnocchi and the preponderance of lamb. We get to see the guest judges who are the top chefs of Napa and the maker of Schafer Hillside Select. Tiffani is behind and the servers are pushing her to finish. The guests are hungry and ready to judge. After commercial Tiffani serves up her dish and describes it to the judges. Tiffani voice overs that her time management sucked. The judges like the dish but one judges says that the sauce brought out the acid of the wine instead of the roundness. Harold is up next. His plating looks a lot like Tiffani's. In describing his dish, Dave says he used sunchoke puree instead of dairy for the sauce. One judge says that there's grit on his mushrooms. I will say this, the producers chose these judges well. While they offer up their criticism, there isn't an air of superiority or viciousness about their comments. You can tell they want the competitors to succeed. The guest dishes love the flavors of Harold's dish. Poor Lee Ann. She is the THIRD lamb dish. Tiffani voice overs that Lee Ann overshot and her dish was way too complicated. Chef Tom says that it;s going to be one of the lamb dishes that will be eliminated. In hearing the full description of the dish, I'd have to agree with Tiffani that there's a lot going on in the dish. The judges like the cherry sauce but think the risotto is a starchy mess. So Dave serves up his mac 'n cheese. Tiffani gets the bitch edit again as she voice overs that Dave's food is unrefined. When he presents his dish, he blathers on and on and on. The judges are cracking up. He gets criticized for his overuse of black pepper. One judge calls him a "black pepper monkey."

The judges deliberate. They hate Tiffani's gnocchi and the lack of texture in the dish. Harold gets props for his technique and the thoughtfulness of matching the flavor of the dish with the wine. He gets slammed for the grit and not using dairy. Lee Ann's sauce gets complimented but there's simply too much going on in her dish. Oh Dave the pepper monkey. He gets compliments for having a whole truffle at the bottom of the dish, which hightlighted the taste of the truffle. The judges hate the overuse of pepper and the underuse of salt.

Ok. Judging. The competitors get feedback from the three main judges. Everyone looks stressed. Even Lee Ann looks like she is about the cry. And who's the winner? The guest chefs have a clear favorite and while Tom's favorite is Harold, the winner is...DAVE! Even in victory, Dave is a crybaby. My heart is aching right now. Tiffani and Lee Ann look like they've been called to the principal's office. In a testament to how functional Harold is, he congratulates Dave and gives his a friendly pat on the Dave. When the two of them get back to the kitchen, Dave unwinds by pressing the automatic door to the pantry and walking in. Harold is cracking up.

Back to heartbreak ridge. The judges ask Lee Ann and Tiffani why they should be going to Vegas. Tiffani pontificates about her integrity, her competitiveness and her...Humility? Wha...???? She continues that she admits when she screws up and when she's misrepresented herself. Wow. I have no words. Lee Ann counters that she doesn't have to be mean to be competitive and win by not putting anyone down. My heart breaks in twelve pieces when she says she wants to get her head together and BRING IT in Vegas. After chanceries, the judges talk talk talk and in the end, it's Lee Ann who has to take the walk.

Harold and Dave reflect the viewership of Top Chef by being completely devastated by Lee Ann's ouster. The first time I watched this, I was bawling as badly as Dave. Tiffani's bitch edit continues as we get a confessional that she's a nice person but that's not what she has to prove in Top Chef.

So with Lee Ann out who do I think is going to win? It's 50/50 with Tiffani. She's a brilliant chef, but she is clearly being positioned as the Wendy Pepper of Top Chef. Harold is strong and consistent but I feel like he's a little TOO much about the food. Being squirreled away the the kitchen is more a sous chef thing than a Top Chef. Color me surprised but I think the winner will be Dave. Reality shows are all about momentum and improvement and the pendulum has been swinging Dave's way since the restaurant concept challenge. He's shown he can manage the front of the house AND cook.

Next up, reunion show. And it's a big ol' mess.


Barbara (Biscuit Girl) said...

I agree with you, this one was hard to watch. I can understand why LeeAnn lost but I still didn't want to see it happen.

It's going to be intersting to see how the last three chefs do in Vegas.

And, OMG, was the reunion show something. You're right about some of them behing drunk. I read on the Top Chef web page where LeeAnn said that Stephen and Tiffani in particular were pretty wasted.

Can wait to see your write up.

ScottE. said...

I was devastated to see Lee Ann go! Shame on them.

Dave: There's no crying in baseball...I mean cooking!

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