By Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey
9:32 AM EST, January 3, 2013
[Pre-recap recap: Last week, the chefs dug up their own oysters, Micah won the Quickfire, the Rat City Roller Girls had a "Top Chef"-catered skating party, Padma wowed us with her roller disco moves, Josie got on everyone’s last nerve, team Brooke/John won and Bart was sent home. Got it? Good.]
It’s dawn in Seattle: We wake up to witness Sheldon methodically sharpening his knives and Stefan methodically applying face cream.
No surprise, then, that the challenge is about knife skills. Padma introduces master bladesmith Bob Kramer, who will be judging the Quickfire. He is one of only 120 masters in the U.S. and the footage of him working in his shop is pretty impressive. This guy is old school. His knives sell “for $500 ... an inch,” purrs Padma, with not a hint of subtlety.
The three-part Quickfire will test sharpening, precision, and butchering. The crew will compete in teams of three. Sharpening begins and the chefs hunch over their whetstones. The knives must slice cleanly through paper - with several failed attempts, two teams move on.
The next step is to tourne 50 potatoes. If you’re sheepishly wondering what that means (as I was, no shame) — to tourne is to peel and shape the spuds into a perfectly uniform oblong shape, almost like a little football — with exactly seven sides. Josie knicks her thumb and is disqualified (Padma had earlier decreed any blood would equal immediate dismissal). The blue team (Josh, Sheldon and Micah) tourne fastest and are now competing against each other to butcher two rabbits. In a true dark horse moment, Micah silently and deftly takes the Quickfire, scoring immunity and the $4,000 Bob Kramer knife.
In what has got to be the most convoluted elimination challenge ever, the chefs are asked to (deep breath here) recreate a healthier version of a dish from a memorable moment in the prior nine seasons of "Top Chef," as it will be made into a Healthy Choice Steamers frozen entree. Kindle Fires are distributed so the chefs can watch video replay of their assigned “memorable moment." John proves himself quite the Top Chef mega fan as he practically recites everyone’s scenes as they watch. I must admit I am delighted to relive the greatest line ever uttered on this program, Season 5’s Fabio barking “This is 'Top Chef,' not 'Top Scallops.'”
As they shop for ingredients, Lizzie describes the scallop dish she is going to prepare and decides this challenge is going to be easy. Ruh-roh. That’s never a good sign.
The next day, the troupe heads to the Palace Ballroom to prep their recreations. The meal will be served to a room full of “Top Chef mega fans” as well as our guest judges, all former "Top Chef Masters" competitors: Wolfgang Puck, Wylie Dufresne, Jonathan Waxman and Chris Cosentino (winner of the last
"Masters" and, yes, my heart).
In the kitchen, John is concerned about the “curse of the risotto” which has plagued prior chefs, and Stefan wonders if his grilled cheese sandwich with butter-laden soup might not be the healthiest choice.
The judges are served their “memorable moments” in chronological order by season. Again, this whole attempt at celebrating ten years of the show is falling completely flat. I would have much preferred they actually bring back some prior contestants or have the focus be on one thing. Instead, the chefs are recreating winning dishes, losing dishes, and dramatic moment dishes. This walk down memory lane is bumpy and confusing.
Josie, Stefan and John serve, and all fare pretty poorly: Josie’s chicken is boring, Stefan’s soup is swimming in grease, and John’s risotto is somehow simultaneously both over and under-cooked.
Seasons 3-5 are up next. Josh has finally cooked a pork dish that pleases the judges. Sheldon’s carpaccio is interesting in flavor but visually unappealing. Lizzie’s scallops are not fresh and that has sullied her whole effort.
The last three dishes are up. Brooke wins beaucoup adorable points as she greets the judges’ table, “Hi, intimidating group of people!” Micah’s duck gets inconsistent reviews. Tom raves over Kirsten’s pie-less chicken pot pie, although Chris is disappointed he didn’t get the gravy on his plate as the other judges did. Brooke’s un-pilfered pea puree is winning over everyone.
After service, Padma calls back Josh, John, Lizzie, Kristen and Brooke. That’s over half of the contestants, what does this MEAN? We are quick to learn: They are the top AND bottom dishes. Brooke, Josh and Kristen are on top, John and Lizzie are up for knife packing.
Chris announces the winner: Kristen, for her poached chicken breast, carrot puree with garlic & tofu emulsion (inspired by Carla Hall’s Season 5 Chicken Pot Pie). She pockets $15,000 and her dish will be made into a Healthy Choice frozen entree. I’m sure she’s a bit more stoked about the cash.
The judges move on to detailing John and Lizzie’s failures. After hearing his risotto was unevenly cooked, John says, “You know, I’m not making an excuse, but there wasn’t one level pot in the kitchen.” Oh wait, you just made an excuse (Again!).
Josh can’t help himself and points out the pots he had were just fine. Lizzie offers no such stammering and admits that she knew the scallops were subpar - she apologizes to the judges and you can feel the genuine pain in her voice. Padma tells them they have one last chance to save themselves. Twist! On the last Kindle Fire is the “memorable moment” from Season 10 - which, by the way, we’re currently watching. This reminds me of that scene in "Spaceballs" when they rent the movie "Spaceballs" to see what will happen. (“When will then be now?” “Soon.”)
The moment in question is CJ’s dill pickle burger fail. Lizzie and John have 45 minutes to make a healthier version of that dish. In the kitchen, John asks if he can use some of Lizzie’s dill, and then just throws all of it into his blender. When she discovers it’s gone ,she is clearly shocked and peeved. John also repeatedly leaves the oven open as she’s trying to cook her burgers. John points out that he shared his pickles with her, therefore he’s not a total prick. Gah! Yes. You. Are.
Burgers are served. John’s is a lamb burger with fried egg & spicy pickle, tomato & pomegranate salad. Lizzie presets a chicken burger with goat cheese ricotta & dill pickle roasted red pepper salad. The judges are pleased with both dishes. Most of my fingernails are gone as we go to commercial break.
The judges are unanimous: Lizzie made the better burger. John, please pack your knives and go. He leaves us with a final John-esque hypocritical statement: “I’m not bitter, but yeah, I think it’s bulls---.” OK, don’t let the "Top Chef" door hit your ass on the way out.
Coming up next week: Restaurant Wars, redux! And someone insults Gail and her entire tribe with an offensive matzoh ball soup. Oy vey.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun