Top Chef

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Chinatown Breakdown
In a hurry? Read the recaplet for a nutshell description!

Since they don't have that extra fifteen minutes (which I didn't mind since there are still so many contestants and the episodes seem pretty rushed these days -- can we bring that back? Or was Andy Cohen mad because it was cutting into his Watch What Happens time?), the episodes don't waste any time with the niceties. The episode starts with Padma welcoming the cheftestants to the kitchen wearing a shirt that I am 100% sure I owned in 1986, which was probably about four years after it was stylish. It's a white shirt with black pinstripes and puff sleeves. It looks like the packaging for Exclamation! perfume (which was my signature scent in 9th grade).

Anyway, Padma reminds them that speed is key when cooking in a restaurant on a busy night, and explains the Quickfire Challenge: one of the nation's best chefs will make a dish as quickly as he can, and then the cheftestants have to make a dish faster to win. The cheftestants' minds are racing, trying to figure out who this renowned chef will be, and this would be a lot more tense if they hadn't shown it on the previews, because we all know that it's Chef Tom Colicchio! The cheftestants are all grinning like fools as Tom gets ready to start cooking, and reminds everyone that he's a little rusty.

Time begins and Tom grabs a bin and runs to the pantry to gather his ingredients and equipment. He returns and quickly sets out his mise en place. He's clearly thought through this and the cheftestants are impressed with how organized he is, and how quickly he opens the clams he's using. At one point, he cuts a whole fish, takes part out, and then tosses the rest of the fish into his garbage bin, which goes flying off the table and nearly hits Padma. The cheftestants all crack up. His prep finished, Tom heads to the burners across the room. He cooks a sauce and the fish. One thing he mentioned in his blog that I thought was genius was that he cooked the fish on one side, then flipped it and covered the pan, and brought the whole pan back to his table, knowing that the residual heat in the pan would cook the other side as he walked. Seriously. That is smart and time-saving. He quickly plates his food and calls time; he finished in 8 minutes and 37 seconds. Damn. I might be able to make a scrambled egg in that time, but I don't know that it would taste great and it certainly wouldn't look great. The cheftestants are shocked. Tom urges them to taste his food, and they all agree that it's a good dish for the time he used, and it would be a good dish even if he had taken longer. He made black sea bass with clams, tomato, and zucchini, and it looks great. Padma explains that the cheftestants can make whatever they want, but Tom says that they will factor in the degree of difficulty, so if one of them makes tuna tartare (or another dish that doesn't require cooking), it won't get very far. Padma then drops the bomb that the winner gets immunity AND a brand new Toyota Prius. Damn! Now that's a High Stakes Quickfire.

Padma starts the clock and everyone runs into the pantry and tries to get into the fridge. There is seriously a ten-chef pileup in front of the open door. Everyone, that is, except for Marcel, who runs over and grabs the 75% remaining fish that Tom didn't use. That's pretty smart, as much as I am loath to admit it. Blais grabs some foie gras, while Dale explains that he's making egg noodles. Okay, he must be making his own noodles, because dried pasta wouldn't cook in that time, but how do you make noodles in that time? Damn. And then cook them? Even fresh pasta takes a few minutes to cook. Dale claims that he could easily do it in a wok, but there is no wok to be had. They have nitrogen, but no wok? What's up with that?

Jamie makes an interview comment about how she's dated people who are fast, and she might be construed as fast too, and giggles. See, that's the Jamie I like? Not the sullen one who doesn't serve her food. Where's that Jamie?

Angelo's making crudo, which is not cooked, which is exactly what Tom told them not to do. Hmm. Mike says that he's used to cooking quickly in his restaurant. Jamie, meanwhile, thinks she's doing great with her clams until there are only three minutes left and she hasn't started cooking her clams. Why wouldn't she start cooking them first? They are obviously going to take the longest to cook. Duh. Here's a shocker: Dale's noodles aren't turning out. I don't even know what he was trying to make, but it looks like Saran Wrap with some dough splattered on it, not a sheet of pasta. Anyway, time is up, and it looks like everyone has something on his or her plate, even if it's unfinished. Jamie and Dale, in particular, didn't finish.

The judges go to Antonia first, to try her seared ahi tuna with tarragon and fresh tomato salad. Next up is Blais and his corn-fed foie gras roasted with aromatics, corn, fresh coriander, and port. Tiffani made New England clam chowder with celery and cream. That seems like a horrible idea -- I think chowder needs more time for the flavors to develop, and really, hers just looks like a plate of melted butter with some cream floating on top. Yuck. Fabio made clams, fish, zucchini, tomato broth, thyme, and garlic. That seems really similar to Tom's dish and also, just fish? They aren't going to tell us what type of fish? Weird.

Angelo made yuzu branzino crudo with jalapeno and cilantro. Tom verifies that none of it is cooked, since he warned them against serving something raw. Tiffany serves pan-seared bass with tomato relish, olives, and capers. Tre made grilled beef tenderloin with seared foie gras with mushrooms and brandy sauce. Carla made shrimp with mango, cilantro, and mint.

Then the judges to get Dale's pad thai with egg noodles. Well, that's what it was supposed to be. It ended up being like one limp noodle surrounded by a dribble of horrible sauce. Padma asks if it's safe to eat, and Tom tries it but looks like he wishes that he didn't. Dale knows it's terrible. Casey made a spice-rubbed filet with fresh tomato relish. Marcel used Tom's black sea bass and served it with dashi broth, bok choy, and chili oil. After Marcel, Mike serves pan-roasted branzino over a black olive and caper stew. The judges really like it, and Marcel interviews that they were probably still tasting his flavors instead of Mike's. People. He was joking. Here's the problem with Marcel. I would estimate that 65% of his interview statements are supposed to be jokes. The problem is he's deadpan and he's also not funny, so it's hard to tell.

Jamie serves up a clam amuse-bouche with bacon, tomato, and cream. The problem is that she only had time to cook one clam. She's laughing about it, but at this point, I kind of wish she were more upset, since she's on everyone's shit list. Like at least pretend to take it seriously.

Tom expresses sympathy for their plight, since he just went through it. Dale is obviously on the bottom since he barely had a dish to serve, and what he served was horrible. Jamie is also on the bottom for her unfinished dish. Interesting that Tom also used clams and was able to get them cooked in time. Tom also puts Angelo on the bottom, for doing a raw dish even after being warned not to try that. Dummy. The tops are Mike, Blais, and Marcel, who all developed a lot of flavor in a short amount of time. And the winner is...Mike Isabella. Wow. Really? I guess we've found his strength -- cooking in short periods of time as long as everyone else has only a short period of time as well. Has anyone else noticed that Blais hasn't won a whole lot so far this season? Despite being in the top a lot, he doesn't seem to be able to pull off the actual win when it counts. I wonder if that is foreshadowing for what's to come later in the season.

Padma goes on to explain the Elimination Challenge, which is similar to the Quickfire, in that the cheftestants will have to cook food quickly. They are going to Chinatown! That's what I used to yell in my role as play-by-play announcer when my husband wrestled with our dog: "Baxter (the dog) ta

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