Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 7

Here we go! It's been way too long; I was in serious Top Chef withdrawal over the Christmas holiday. I heard a rumor that there was a Christmas special with chefs from previous seasons, but my dvr must have missed that, and I haven't had the time to forage around hulu or to see if that's the case.

Meanwhile, in NYC, there's a new judge in town! The much anticipated arrival of Toby Young... well, slightly anticipated? I don't think anyone in the U.S. really knows much about him, other than maybe the dozen or so people who saw the movie this past year based on his life, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Doesn't that sound like someone you want judging your food? Ha.

To kick things off, the quickfire (sponsored of course by Diet Dr. Pepper. Argh. More sponsorships!) was for the cheftestants to create a dessert using any ingredients besides sugar. A humorless judge, Jean-Christophe Novelli (hereafter known as Chef Chuckles), joined Padma as the chefs raced around using far too many bananas. I am not so much a banana fan...

Radhika, Leah and Jeff all came out as Chef Chuckles' favorites, with Radhika winning immunity from elimination. My favorite part of the quickfire was watching Stefan interact with the guest judge. He was nervous, and trying to make the judge laugh, which didn't work, and I think it made Stefan funnier. It endeared him to me. Ah.

(Later that night, another sponsorship moment on his T-mobile sidekick: Eugene.)

So for the elimination, Chef Colicchio walks in the house, gathers the group and has them pull knives. Says they will all cook blind. How cool is that. I love it. No limits, show off your talents. Family style. That seems truly objective. And two cuts tonight, two people sent home. Wow.

Right off the bat my guess for the go-homes: Carla and Eugene.

My favorite quotes of the night:
"This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!" --Fabio
"I have found the weapons of mass destruction, and they are in this bowl." --Toby Young
"This tastes like catfood." --Toby Young
"I like to layer the flavors of my food with love." --Carla (this one is my favorite because it's so BAD.)

So into the kitchen they go, five in the first group, four in the second. Finally, the knives are out and poised at each other's backs. All the nicey-nicey helpful stuff is out the window. Lots of little stabs in the interviews they edit into the action.

And then to top it off, a great twist: the cheftestants got to judge each other. And watch the other team eat their food and comment on a big TV screen in the kitchn. That was a little harsh sometimes. But Toby's comments were probably the roughest, most harsh. My favorite judging moment was when Toby loved a dish (I think it was Jeff's) and Tom didn't. They were sitting next to each other and you could tell from Tom's body language that he would rather have been seated further away!

The top three dishes were Stefan, Ariane and Jamie:

Stefan seems to be coming alive, mellowing. More personable to me, less acid. He cooked dumplings, duck and cabbage. Very cool, homey and yummy looking. Tom loved it. Toby loved it. Unmistakably German, they said.

Ariane's sounded good to me too--panfried skate with cauliflower puree and pineapple brown butter sauce. And she even got a "fabulous" from the humorless chef. A "great dish," he said at judge's table. Pretty high praise from him. Still ammending my previous opinions on her... she's making it further than I thought...

And the winner was: Jamie with scallops with fennel and olives. Refined, a lovely recipe, says Chef Chuckles. I was really surprised that she won, since the final word on the winner was the guest judge, and he had been so fawny over Ariane; in a way I think Jamie was surprised to finally win, especially after so many close calls.

On the other end of the spectrum: Carla, Eugene and Melissa were the bottom three. I was pretty surprised that it was Melissa and Eugene that ended up packing their knives... it must have come down to splitting hairs between worse and worst! Melissa never impressed me, but Eugene was a lot of fun, and very creative and I loved that he had worked his way up through kitchens.

What to look forward to... it looks like they get a stab (!) at butchering, and a bit of a spat breaks out between Jamie and Stefan. Big suprise there. Oh, and Hung is back as the quickfire judge. How cool. Looking forward to it!

In case you don't remember Hung, here's a funny little short of him in one of his more creative quickfires...

Update: I was feeling a little Toby-Young-harsh about my Chef Chuckles nickname for the French guest judge... but then I checked out the Serious Eats blog post regarding the episode tonight. Not so much.

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