You know that feeling of jealousy in the pit of your stomach when you see a woman that is seemingly so unattainable suddenly melts and flirts with someone who is obviously better than you?
Yeah that’s the feeling 99 percent of us had watching host and judge Padma Lakshmi playfully flirt with New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski during this week’s QuickFire Challenge.
First, Padma tells the strapping football star to call her “honey.” Then we get this exchange:
“I eat a big sausage,” says Gronkowski.
“Me too!” Padma follows without missing a beat.
Because Gronkowski is a big man (6’6”, 264 pounds), Polish and enjoys "a big sausage," the QuickFire this week is to create an inventive sausage dish from scratch. The chefs will have an hour and the winner gets immunity.
At this point everyone’s sticking with their strong suit. Gregory’s doing a Chiang Mai-style sausage with curry mix, fish sauce and lemongrass. Mei’s going Asian as well, adding some ginger, garlic and shrimp paste to her pork and fatback sausage. What do you know? Katsuji’s making a “Latin-influenced” sausage.
If you’ve ever made sausage, you know that the tricky part is to stuff the meat mixture into the casing correctly. You have to get the timing and pressure just right or else, as Dougie so elegantly puts it, it “feels like a used condom.” Ew.
George is having problems. First he can’t find lamb (he likes to use lamb because he’s Greek, obviously) so he’s settling for pork and veal. Now he’s having issues with the Kitchen Aid machine. It almost seems like he’s never used one of these before! With about 10 minutes left, he says to hell with the casing and start making sausage patties.
He then made the smart move of turning this into a breakfast dish complete with a sunny-side fried egg and some potato hash.
You know what’s not smart? Telling the person judging your food that you’re not a big fan of theirs. George straight up says he’s a fan of that Washington football team so he doesn’t care for the Patriots or Gronkowski. There’s a fine line between brave and stupid, and George crossed that line.
Gronkowski though, fires right back and reminds George that the Patriots beat that Washington last time they played, so there! C’mon Gronk. Who hasn’t beat Washington lately?
Back to the food. Melissa, having problems with her Kitchen Aid as well, ends up on the bottom for making tiny sausages. Greg joins her with his spicy Thai-influenced sausage sandwich. Gronk might be a big man with muscles but apparently he can’t handle the heat.
Dougie goes old school with some beer-braised pork sausage with mustard and pickled onions. It’s safe but definitely well played because Gronk gives it an A-plus, saying it would make a great pre-game meal.
Surprise! Despite the fact that George said he wasn’t a fan, he wins with that breakfast sausage patty and takes the immunity. Good to see that Gronkowski is all about fair play. That’s more than I can say about his coach, but I digress.
In walks James Beard Award winner and chef Tony Maw pushing a rolling bookcase with six authors' names on books: Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dr. Seuss and Stephen King.
All six authors at one time or another called New England home. So this week’s challenge is to come up with a dish inspired by an authors’ work.
A nice little theme challenge here. Reminds me of Season 9’s Seven Deadly Sins challenge featuring Charlize Theron shelling for that terrible movie.
The key to this week is that not only does the food have to make sense in relation to the literary works, but it also has to visually tell the story. A helluva lot better challenge than making 75 portions of whatever you want for “foodies.”
Here’s a protip: When entering the "Top Chef" kitchen, always try to grab the spot closest to Padma. I’m not sure if they draw for positions or what, but being close to the front allows you to grab ingredients (in a mad dash situation) and often gets first pick in times like this.
Gregory is going with Edgar Allen Poe's “The Raven.” It’ll be a grilled cornish hen with parsnips, beets and a sheet of nori that’s supposed to give the whole thing its dark theme. Sounds a little too conceptional to me but hey, he went to the boarding school where they shot the movie “Dead Poet Society” so, who am I to argue?
You know who I’m guessing didn’t go to boarding school? George. He picks Dr. Seuss and when Padma said, “Please don’t give us any green eggs and ham” he kinda forced a smile. He was totally going to do green eggs and ham! (OK, I don’t really know.)
He decides on “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.” I guess “The Cat in the Hat” would have been a little … problematic.
Katsuji picks Stephen King because he “loves (King’s) movies.” What? No love for the 1995 adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, “The Scarlett Letter” where the filmmakers thought it was a good idea to cast Gary Oldman as the romantic lead opposite beautiful Demi Moore? No. He’s going to interpret “Carrie” by focusing on the only thing anyone ever remembers about that movie — blood.
Out of the three choices left, (Thoreau, Hawthorne, Dickinson) Mei goes with Thoreau. Of course mean girl Padma felt the need to ask skeptically, “Are you familiar with his work?” Go ahead Padma, you name something by Thoreau other than “Walden.” Since Thoreau is a vegetarian and “Walden” is all about nature. Mei will be doing a vegetarian dish using Voltaggian techniques such as “onion soil” and “tom kha snow” to show a snow-dusted forest.
Melissa picks Hawthorne and somehow remembers "The Blithedale Romance" from high school. It’s a story about farms and seasons. She’s going to start with roasted halibut over a spring vegetable garden, and then pour an earthy mushroom broth to show the coming of fall. The only thing I remember from high school was how boring "Ethan Frome" was.
That leaves Dougie with the happiness that is Emily Dickinson, whom he thought wrote, “Pride and Prejudice.” Oops. Good thing the producers gave everyone a booklet so they can do some research. Dougie finally settles on the poem “Bring Me the Sunset in a Cup.” Focusing on the image and color of a sunset. He’ll be making carrot soup.
I don’t know how many of these books Tom Colicchio have read. But during the cook-n-chat he was clearly impressed by some of these chefs’ ability to describe their dishes and how it relates to the themes of their authors’ works.
Joining the judges this week is Francis Lam, editor-at-large of Clarkson Potter and former judge of “Top Chef Masters.” He knows thing or two about literature.
Presentation is just as important as flavor since the challenge is to visually translate the authors’ work. And right off the bat Gregory’s plate looks nothing like how I pictured “The Raven” would look. The prominent item on the plate is a giant hunk of beef?! Not to mention he overcooked one of the judges’ serving.
Next is George’s Dr. Seuss dish. Since he has immunity, I’ll cut to the chase. Beautiful and tasty, but it was more Robert Frost than Dr. Seuss. And I’ll let you guess which “road” he should have taken.
Here come’s Mei’s “Walden.” As advertised, this dish is filled with roasted vegetables complete with soil and snow. It is a perfect depiction of the wintery woods by Walden pond on a plate. And the judges love how it tastes.
Melissa’s dish is also done well. Her vision of the dark mushroom broth overcoming the lightness of the spring vegetables came through. For once she didn’t focus solely on knife skills and it pays off. Plus her knowledge of the novel clearly helped in composing the dish.
“It looks like somebody just got killed on this plate.” That’s how Katsuji describes his own dish. He ain’t kidding. Dude literally slops down hot sauce and beet puree like a blind Jackson Pollock. The dish, a Mexican stew with beans, osso bucho, short rib and beets, is described by Tom as “probably the most unappetizing looking dish I’ve never seen in my life.”
Lastly it’s Dougie with his Dickinson-inspired carrot soup. He’s been nervous throughout because at this stage of he game, he’s making something as simple as carrot soup. Well, actually it’s a grilled carrot bisque with cumin vinaigrette, radish and dandelion. Looks like he managed to capture the essence of Dickinson’s style by turning a few simple ingredients into something filled with emotion. If your soup reminds Tom Colicchio of a sunset near where he got married, you’re doing something right.
Overall, everyone felt good about their dish. And they should because Tom says (as he often does nowadays), “These dishes are really good. It’s the best food we’ve had all season.”
But as Mei pointed out, when everyone feels good, they should worry. Well, Mei has no worries. Though Dougie and Melissa both did a great job, it was her superb technique and skill that managed to create a believable landscape of edible soil and snow that seal the deal.
She bounces back from being on the bottom last week to winning this difficult challenge.
From the first moment when you see Katsuji splash that red stuff all over his plate, you knew he was going home. Because if you’re going to serve something that looks like a murder scene in "C.S.I.," it better taste perfect. It’s not. And while I’m sure Katsuji is a good chef who can create bold flavors and make interesting food, he’s far from a “Top Chef.” Top chefs don’t make silly jokes and keep messy stations.
Tom consoles Katsuji by reminding him how far he has made it. It’s kinda like saying, “Be happy you’ve made it this far because nobody thought you would.”
So long Katsuji! Don’t be so bummed. Last time there was a heavily accented funny chef on “Top Chef” it was someone by the name of Fabio Viviani, and look how well he turned out.
Meanwhile, Gregory breathes a sigh of relief. This is the second time he narrowly escapes being on the bottom. I’d bet he uttered to himself, “nevermore.”
Want to know if Katsuji made it through "Last Chance Kitchen"? Watch on bravotv.com now to find out.
Have a wonderful holiday and a safe New Years. We’ll see you on the other side.