Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 9: Restaurant Wars!

Or: Hosea and Leah go too far.
Or: Lessons in Running a Professional Kitchen by Leah.
Or: Top Chef, High School Style.
(Kim, sorry for stealing your blog title style!)

Couldn't have seen that one coming! Ha. They've only been baiting us for weeks. The drama unfolds below...

Quickfire: Padma and Stephen Starr, restauranteur extraordinaire, challenge the cheftestants to conceive a tasting menu showcasing a restaurant concept. Two winners, one each to head up the restaurants during the elimination of Restaurant Wars! So, no immunity tonight!

On the bottom: Jeff: Salmon isn't the fish to impress apparently. Side note: why can't Jeff make eye contact? Can't look at the camera for any period of time. Not the next Food Network star, I'm thinking.
Fabio: Menu didn't inspire as a restaurant concept. I liked his lunch idea, but it wasn't new or interesting... did like how he took offense to his filet mignon sandwich being called a cheesesteak! Ha.

So the winners, from a mostly fishy menu, lots of "New American” ideas… whatever.
Radhika: Great seasonings, and emerging concept: Indian flavors.
Leah: Clean and forward thinking, Asian influence. (And this she threw together, on the fly, no concept in advance… I’m thinking lucky break.)

So the Restaurant War is on. But first, we have to have a little inappropriate evening cuddle time back at Chez Chef. They had been teasing to it for weeks, but it really was rather mild--what they showed anyway. It seems to prove that eventually people do forget the cameras are on. Or they drink too much. Or a combination thereof. Regardless, quite childish given that they both are supposed to be in respective relationships AND they have to go on to work together/compete against each other. And somehow they both wake up the next day and are ashamed? Whatever. Grow up.

Moving on...thankfully.

Restaurant name: Sahana
Concept: Old spice trade
Radhika: Front of house

Restaurant name: Sunset Lounge
Concept: Asian influence
Fabio: Front of house

So they work fast and furious for 24 hours to bang out the restaurant. Pier One, restaurant supply stores, Whole Foods and some giant food warehouse... how fun! They had $5,000 to spend on decor, $3,000 on food. I think it should have been switched!

It is easy to see right off that Radhika is in way over her head, not comfortable as a leader (she says as much) and happy to let the others conceive their own dishes based on the loose "spice trade/middle eastern foods" concept. They all get along, for the most part, and Jamie steps into the sous chef/leader position. Jeff works with Jamie while Carla does desserts. With Carla's history so far with desserts, that seems best. Or does it? Ominous noises. Don't look to the end. Don't. Keep your eyes up here.

Team Sahana races around getting ready for service, the time seems really short as usual. Good Jeff quote: I feel like a hummingbird on cocaine. Both teams feel behind though; Leah never even makes it out of the kitchen to see what the front of the house looks like! But Fabio has it all under control!

At the Sunset Lounge, Leah is completely lackluster as a leader as well. She and Hosea give each other a wide berth, Fabio is setting up the front of the house, and Stefan is on desserts. Leah has some pouty moment with her fish and the boniness of it, and Hosea gives her advice to cut them out. Not great advice, but it seems to work, though it certainly isn’t pretty. Unfortunately, she somehow neglects to properly cook the pieces going to the judges, and it is deemed the worst dish of the night. Not such a lucky break there.

Later, when Carla's desserts go out, she knows she hasn't done a good job. She is such a funny lady--her comment is, "A train wreck is a comin', lord I know it is!" Ha. She has no idea how much of a train wreck. No one likes her spiced chocolate cake (how hard is that to wreck?) and her yogurts never set up, so they are more like yogurt soup. Ugh.

Fabio looks good at front of house for the Sunset Lounge in his white suit! He says: "We can serve monkey ass [it was hard to hear with his thick accent, but I swear he did say "ass," I'm not making it up!] and empty clam shell, I'm running the front of the house." The difference between his confidence level and Radhika's is palpable. Radhika is mousey in appearance and demeanor, almost shuffling around, and avoiding her hostess duties. She spends as much time as she can back in the kitchen, and the really appalling thing is that the judges get up and LEAVE her restaurant without her coming to say goodbye--she's hanging out in the kitchen. Wow.

So heading to judges table we know that Stefan's desserts rocked. He did a chocolate rice parfait and a lemongrass ginger panna cotta. Even tough guy Stephen Starr thought they were the best dishes of the night. And he finished with a mango-dark chocolate-mint lollipop. Sounds kind of good, and I'm not even a dark chocolate fan.

We also know that Carla's desserts sucked. And that Radhika's service was appalling. So that made their team a little less appealing. On the other side, Leah's fish was horrible, but Stefan's desserts and Fabio's front-of-house performance was what saved her. (Ugh for us having to see her and Hosea and their adolescent post-coital avoidance moments. I can't wait until one of them is gone now.)

So sure enough, the Sunset Lounge crew wins the day, with Stefan taking home top honors. I still don't see what's so annoying about him. I think he's kind of charming. Not great language, kind of bull headed, but that's probably what separates him from the pack. Radhika needed an ounce of his tenacity and energy, but had none. Zippo on the stamina.

But first, we get to hear from Carla about her amazingly bad desserts:"But I had a good time. I thought, if I can't send out a good dessert, I'm going to send out some love with this dessert." To which our visiting judge replied, "Keep the love in the kitchen. Send out good desserts." The fact that his comment seemed somehow shocking to her tells me (and not for the first time) that she’s living on borrowed time. Tick tock, Beeker lady. (Seth and I think she and Beeker from the Muppets are separated at birth… and that’s really not a mean comparison, really. Endearing.)

Even with that refreshingly honest but unacceptable attitude from Carla, Radhika got the ax. Whew. About time. Originally I had some hopes pinned to her, but it's been a long time since I've seen anything really “wow” from her, or any energy to speak of. Bye bye.

Oh and Toby Young was pretty quiet in this episode. Apparently he's aware of his bad press from the first couple of episodes. He wrote a piece for The Spectator that was pretty full of himself, classic Toby. Loves to be hated, he does. But someone in the editing room is actually helping the audience out, since he's been largely cut out of late. Not too sad about that!

And in other Top Chef news, sweet Chef Colicchio was at an inaugural party this week and saved Joan Nathan from choking on a chicken bone. Way to go, Tom!


  1. so - any bets who makes the final three???
    hmmm - I agree that radhika had zero fire in her belly, she was so lost in the last episode it was quite sad. nevertheless, Carla's all you need is love theme is getting silly.
    had high hopes for hosea - silly rabbit! and leah's luck is likely to run out once the heat turns up on the next few episodes.
    thanks for pointing out what i could not figure out-what made me uncomfortable about Jeff - he never looks anyone in the eye...
    so i'm thinking the finals will be down to a combo of jamie, stefan, fabio and hosea. hosea has consistantly out-chefed fabio - but he is losing ground right now.
    what do you think?
    p.s. the photo of the butternut squash salad was great!!

  2. OK, so my final three are Stefan, Jamie and Fabio. I think Hosea is hosed... yeah, like that one hasn't been used before. Just lost whatever faint mojo he had. And Leah... so gone, so soon. And Carla. Ha. She'll be rolling her eyes all the way out the door. And Jeff, maybe he can come up with something to get close to the top three... but I kind of doubt it...

    So them's my picks. Could easily be wrong... of course!


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