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'Top Chef Seattle' recap, Battle before the war

RestaurantsDining and DrinkingCookingWolfgang PuckTom Colicchio

We are greeted with another sunny Seattle morning, as the chefs debrief on the prior elimination. Josh confesses he isn’t the least bit disappointed in John Tesar’s departure, while Stefan is shown looking despondently off on the horizon as he smokes alone on the balcony. Maybe it’s just that he lost his one smoking buddy. Meanwhile, Josie bellows “Asians represent!” and attempts to high five Kristen and Sheldon, who shrug her off like a bad cold.

Padma, Wolfgang Puck, and the glare from his teeth greet the chefs to introduce the quickfire challenge - which will involve ginger. Stefan proclaims that ginger has a lot of “antitoxins." I am pretty sure he meant “antioxidants”, but there may have been something lost in translation. Padma gives us a heavy handed Canada Dry Ginger Ale promo (as they’re sponsoring the challenge, natch) and tells the gang they have 15 minutes to prepare a dish that highlights the fresh, flavorful root. Madcap culinary hijinx ensue. Remember back in the day when ALL the quickfires were 15 minutes in length? Me too. I miss that.

Padma and Wolfgang try the eight dishes. Stefan works it hard during judging by chatting Wolfgang up in German. His polylingual flirtation does not curry favor, though, as the quickfire and immunity go to Brooke, for her ginger caramel squid with fresh lime & chili powder. She graciously accepts immunity, despite the fact that Chef Puck pronounces her name “Bwook."

For the elimination challenge, Padma brings in 25-time James Beard Award winner Danny Meyer. Josh is totally star struck and declares him the “best restaurateur in America.”  To no one’s surprise, this is the Restaurant Wars challenge. But the rules are a little different this time.  Each chef must create a dish that represents their complete restaurant concept, which will be served at Bite of Seattle. The two winners’ concepts will move on to Restaurant Wars next week. Now the episode title makes sense - the Battle Before the War. Way to draw it out, Bravo!

The chefs return from ingredient shopping to discover their sous chefs in the kitchen - of course, it’s a gaggle of eliminated contestants.  Josie basically calls shotgun on Kuniko as soon as she’s through the door. Micah asks, “Can I share Kuniko for a little bit?” and I am suddenly deeply disturbed and offended on her behalf. Sheldon is thrilled to snag Chrissy, his “Filipino sister”, since he is making a traditional Filipino soup. Stefan pairs with Carla because “she is super fast and her butt is always cute.”  Pardon me while I watch Simone de Beauvoir roll over in her grave and Gloria Steinem throw up in her mouth.

Josh, who appears to have no sous chef, is dedicating his restaurant to his father (Bistro George), who he lost three years ago to cancer. He shares that his Dad was a steak and potatoes kind of guy, so he’s preparing a sear of ribeye “straight forward - just like my Dad was.”

Josie’s concept is “305” (the area code of Miami), and she explains to Kuniko that she wants her guests to feel like they’re coming into her home. I think I speak for everyone, Josie, when I say that we’d rather not step foot into your home. It’s probably WAY loud.

Lizzie is drawing on Northeastern Italy for her concept and calmly tells Eliza (her sous chef) she needs to get started on two hundred dumplings. Yes, Miss Hannigan!

Tom comes in to check on the crew. He seems bummed out that Stefan is going Thai and not (his home countries) Finnish/German. Stefan counters that he’s been “sloppy seconds” every challenge and is ready for a win.

Brooke tells Tom she’s making a fancy version of matzoh ball soup (and having seen last week’s preview I can confidently say uh-oh) - she’s going with an “un-Kosher” theme, “Jewish food gone awry” - clever concept but I am now seriously worried for her.

Trays are wrapped, hugs are exchanged, and the chefs head off to bed before tomorrow’s service.

We are forced to watch to an unfortunate montage of Stefan microwaving a Healthy Choice frozen meal, and Sheldon making a birthday phone call on his Obviously A Sprint phone. The grossness of the product placement is tempered by - and forgiven after we see - Sheldon’s adorable three daughters and a clip of his fellow chefs presenting him with a sincere but slightly sloppy birthday cake (forgive me if I’m a bit critical when it comes to cakes).

On to service! The chefs bolt into the Bite of Seattle convention center locale and begin prep. Josh explains that his wife has been “harping on him” to go to New Orleans and thus if he wins $10K he might take her there, “assuming we have time after that baby comes out. Heh heh.” Aaaaaand I no longer like you.

Dear everyone involved in the production of "Top Chef": We are not amused. Love, the women of the world.

All the chefs seems to be moving along, save Josie, whose coquettes are not done yet.

Guests and judges move into the astroturfed dining area. Danny Meyer recalls when he first met Tom Colicchio, at a similar food tasting event - cut to an adorable still shot of a very skinny, very tan, very non-bald Tom. Tom’s experience over 20 years ago really does show how these food shows can take one chef and give them an opportunity of a lifetime. 

Brian Canlis, who judged an earlier episode this season, is complimenting Stefan’s broth when Stefan hits the blender’s go button a bit too soon, spraying Brian, his female companion, and everyone else within a 4 foot radius with hot liquid magma. “Oh, s---!” Stefan exclaims. Brian laughs heartily, clearly having had enough drinks to not care that his cardigan and face are now drenched in Thai lobster bisque.

The chefs serve the judges. After Kristen's dish, Gail remarks that, “In an era when everyone else wants to do their rustic, homestyle interpretation of restaurants, Kristen’s concept was ‘I like formality.’” A harbinger for winnings to come. Josie’s pork is unanimously voted as dry and flavorless.

As it turns out, Gail’s previously previewed comment about Brooke’s matzoh ball soup was merely that the ball itself was not good - she enjoyed all the other aspects of the dish and wished (as Tom did) that she’d made the matzoh from her wonderful homemade rye bread. Classic case of the “coming up next week” totally faking me out into biting off more fingernails. Bravo, you owe me a manicure.

Back to the stew room: Kristen, Sheldon, and Josh are called to the table for the winning judgement. All three wowed them with the dishes and their overall concepts.

Danny announces the two winners who will move on to restaurant wars. Kristen - for her decadent French concept (Alterlier Kwan) and Onsen egg with camembert-mustard sauce & buttered radishes; and Sheldon - for his traditional Filipino concept (Urgano) and Sour tamarind soup with pork belly, shrimp & snapper.

“Happy Birthday!” Kristen giggles to Sheldon. “Well, you get $10,000!” Padma offers. He is blushing and restless. Tom announces that Kristen and Sheldon will face off with each other as executive chefs. Their restaurants will open in less than 48 hours. The two must go back now to pick their staff - carefully, as one is still to be eliminated - oh, and the winner of Restaurant Wars gets the keys to a brand new Toyota Avalon.

Kristen picks Brooke (smart move, and hilariously pissing off Stefan), Lizzie, and Josie.

Sheldon takes Josh, Stefan and Micah. Unintentionally, the chefs have also created GENDER WARS, or boy vs. girl in the World Series of Food.

Now to find out who goes home: Padma calls back Micah, Josie and Lizzie.

Tom is disappointed in Micha’s busy dish and offers “I’d rather have one fish perfectly sliced in front of us than a pu-pu platter of fish.”

Lizzie claimed that she perhaps “wasn’t gracious enough to sort of explain it all to you” - Danny calls her dumpling gummy and she shrinks into a very tiny ball.

Tom complained about “The Josie Show”, her excessive vamping in the face of not having her dish ready, and Gail said all she tasted was fat.

Ultimately, Padma asks Micah to please pack his knives and go for his raw sashimi effort. He proudly boasts as he leaves, “Do I think there are better chefs than myself in the competition at this point? I am not sure.” He then declares that he is determined to win Last Chance Kitchen for his daughters. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t. CJ has now won six in a row.

Coming up next week: Restaurant wars, part deux! The boys are outnumbered by the girls, Stefan speaks arrogantly in French, Gail rolls her eyes, and Padma proclaims, “it’s never been this close.” Hoo, doggy!

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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RestaurantsDining and DrinkingCookingWolfgang PuckTom Colicchio
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