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'Top Chef' recap, 'Restaurant Wars'

It’s the holiday season, and one of your favorite presents was just unwrapped!

I hope you got stuffed to the gills last week with turkey, stuffing and apple pie, because, the episode we have been awaiting for 10, count em’ 10 weeks, is here! "RESTAURANT WARS!"

No need to waste any time with a QuickFire this week, we are jumping right into the best episode of every "Top Chef" season. I don’t know about you, but I am always secretly hoping that one of the teams “brings it” and the other, well…basically crashes and burns. So, how did our chefs do this time around?

No one will argue that creating a restaurant from top to bottom in less than 24 hours is an easy task. And while many of the chefs on the show are successful executive chefs and/or owners of their own restaurants, put them in front of a camera with their peers and something special happens: Disaster!

This week, our chefs pulled their knives and divided into two teams, Purple and Green. The chefs visited “The Foundry” in New Orleans, only to discover that there was no traditional kitchen there. They would be working in an unconventional space.

The Green team is made of; Nina, Carlos, Shirley, Sara and Justin. Justin takes the responsibility of being the executive chef for the team. Sara decides to be the Front of the house. Umm, this just in, guys – unless you perform at about 300 percent, one of you is going home.

The other team, Purple, has Stephanie, Nick, Travis, Carrie and Brian. The brave souls to step up are Nick, who will serve as the executive chef, and Travis for Front of the house. Travis so eloquently states, “Gays belong in the front of the house, duh!”  We’ll see Travis, we’ll see.

The chefs scramble to assemble their menus, name their restaurants and head out to buy all the ingredients -- as well as the linens, plates and basically everything you’d ever need to run a restaurant in 24 hours. They head out for all this in their conveniently voiced-over Toyota Rav-4s.

Both restaurants experience issues when prepping for service. Green, now named, “Found,” realizes that a 12-cup coffee maker might not be able to serve 125 people. I know that a 12-cup coffee maker barely serves me on Saturday mornings, so…good luck team!

Over at “Fin,” the Purple team, Brian is breaking down over the mistake of picking up Xanthum gum instead of agar-agar to create his gels. I mean, common mistake – we've all been there.

At the time of service, we start out at Fin. Here the judges are greeted with excellent service and a delicious meal. They are served a mix of scallop crudo and corn relish, sautéed gulf shrimp, linguini, roasted drum and an olive oil cake. Travis earns the new nickname “Mr. Front.”

They then move on to the Green team’s restaurant, “Found.”  They are greeted by Sara, who takes them to their table and won’t see them again for almost a half hour! Big mistake!

Each course is rushed out and Sara walks away without describing any of the dishes, except for when Padma asks…or when it is her own dish. The judges taste red snapper, rabbit and parsnips, poached cobia, pork tenderloin and a brown butter cake. The general consensus is that “Found” is truly lost.

At the Judges' table, it’s no big surprise that “Found” finds themselves on the bottom.  There was clear disorganization in the kitchen for this team. But who is to blame? Justin – for not staying on top of his chefs and running tickets on time?  Maybe it was Sara?  She neglected to serve the judges properly, and her servers were sending incorrect tickets to the kitchen.

Sara also made the mistake of calling in a verbal ticket for the judges' table. Instead of getting nearly immediate service, they had to wait for nearly half an hour for their appetizers. Oh, and one more strike on Sara – she described her dish to include a five-spice mascarpone. Guess what was missing from the dish?

I don’t know if I have foreshadowed enough on this one, but Sara and her many colorful head scarves were asked to pack their knives and go this week. I think we all saw this coming early in the episode...and for once this season felt like there was a “villain” we could route against.

On the lighter side of things, team Fin came out on top. Travis gets props for being the best Front of house in all of "Restaurant Wars" history. I think he did a great job, but I also think that, every season, Padma tells the winning FOH the same thing.  Either way – kudos to “Mr. Front.”

Nick impressed the judges the most this week, with his combination of local black drum and reduction of oxtail. Drum and oxtail? These are actually foods? Well, I am glad the judges enjoyed it. I may have had a different take…but who am I to say? My dinner last night consisted of tater tots. Don’t be too quick to judge, there were three kinds – I am a regular tot aficionado. Fingers crossed for this theme in a future episode.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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