‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 13: Cruising for a bruising


From left, Stefan, Josh, Brooke, Sheldon and Lizzie take an Alaskan cruise and run into an iceberg -- lettuce, that is. (David Moir/Bravo)
January 31, 2013

We’re down to five in “Top Chef Seattle”: Brooke, Lizzie, Josh, Sheldon and Stefan. Padma and Tom come into the Stew Room after the joyous, wondrous, beautiful, life-affirming event that was Josie’s elimination to tell them they need to pack their bags to get on a cruise to Alaska. Most of the cheftestants are excited, except Brooke — who’s scared of being on a boat. Which ... can you blame her? Norovirus, ship captains who steer too close to Italian coastlines, Neil Diamond wannabes at pianos with tip jars, being trapped with the same people for a week of themed events in what amounts to a floating Sizzler? No, thank you. Yet another reason to be Team Brooke.

Onboard the ship they walk around, pausing long enough for sponsor-mandated beauty shots. Josh is still wearing his twee plaid newsboy cap; have we ever seen him without it? Do you think he might be as bald as Stefan, but the casting producers couldn’t have two bald guys on the show, so they gave him one of those novelty hats with a wig attached? All I know is, that thing must smell pretty awful. To top it off, his ‘stache is so waxed up it doesn’t move in the wind when they’re all standing on the poop deck (you can see my knowledge of ship terminology is limited to what I learned watching “Popeye” cartoons in the early 1970s) getting ready to set sail.

The ship’s horn sounds, and I am 100 percent disappointed to not hear the swell of strings and trumpets with a disco beat and see a montage of Captain Stubing, Doc, Isaac, Gopher, Julie, Charo and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. I’m 200 percent sad to not see a cameo from renowned show-killer Ted McGinley, since that would very well mean “Top Chef” would be canceled in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

Greeting the chefs in the ship’s kitchen are Padma and Mr. Rogers’ sweater stealer Curtis Stone, host of “Top Chef Masters” and real-life boyfriend and baby daddy to the chick who played Janet on the original (and far better) “Beverly Hills 90210.” This week’s Quickfire Challenge is to cook for the cruise’s Welcome Aboard party. They have two hours to cook a one-bite dish for 200 people, and the kicker? It needs to include iceberg lettuce. Brooke tries not to pass out at the mere mention of icebergs. Josh promises his dish will be “a wet salad in your mouth.” My mouth begins to water ... in the bad, pre-vomit way. Here’s what they made:

Stefan: braised iceberg lettuce, pastrami, fingerling potato, blue cheese sauce.

Sheldon: Vietnamese lettuce wrap with pork, shrimp, pickled iceberg hearts and green mango.

Lizzie: iceberg salad with crispy bacon, shallots and anchovy vinaigrette.

Josh: iceberg roll with apple cider vinaigrette, bacon jam and blue cheese.

Brooke: iceberg wrap with bacon, scallop, caramelized onion and crispy quinoa.

Curtis tells them he enjoyed all the dishes, but liked Sheldon’s the best for his creative use of the ingredient and overall depth of flavor. Padma tells Sheldon he’ll have an advantage in the Elimination Challenge.

The chefs take a leisure break;Sheldon and Lizzie get manicures, and Brooke, Stefan and Josh play cards and have drinks. Afterward, they all sit down to eat dinner together in what looks like the most gimmicky, Planet Hollywood-esque restaurant ever ... let alone on a ship. Padma and Curtis approach the table to tell the chefs that they’ll be running dinner service there the following night. They have to take a classic dish — surf and turf — and “turn it on its head.” Let’s hope one of the chefs takes that literally and does something with a pig’s head and prawn heads (oooo, or fish cheeks). Sheldon’s advantage? He gets first pick of his proteins, and whatever he chooses becomes off-limits for the others to use. They “shop” in the ship’s storage area and start working on their dishes.

The judges — Tom, Padma, Padma’s cleavage, Curtis, Hugh Acheson and three execs from the cruise line — sit down to taste the cheftestants’ interpretations of surf and turf. Here’s what they ate:

Brooke: mussels and frog legs with a beet glaze, celery root and fennel puree, papadums and shallot chutney.

Stefan: braised pork belly with beer sauce, parsnip, and eel ravioli.

Josh: scrambled scallops with braised pork belly and bacon.

Sheldon: Korean BBQ filet mignon, tempura lobster, sesame cabbage, kimchi and teriyaki sauce.

Lizzie: cabbage stuffed with suckling pig and scallops with mustard sour cream and pickled shallots and apple.

Time for Judges’ Table! All five of them stand before Padma, Tom, Hugh and Curtis. Brooke is lauded for her innovative protein selection, despite her greasy papadum (BTW, I call Greasy Papadum as my punk band name). Sheldon is told some of his elements — the cold tempura, for one — were “inedible.” Curtis tells Josh his scrambled scallops were surprisingly good. Stefan’s dish was criticized for its greasy sauce, too-hard pork skin and ravioli’s lack of eel flavor. Tom and Hugh liked Lizzie’s dish concept, but thought it could’ve been a little more “done.”

Who wins the innovative, imaginative, surf and turf challenge on a boat in a restaurant from the ’80s? Brooke! Not only does she win the challenge, she wins a cruise (which, ew). Lizzie and Josh are told they’re safe from elimination, leaving Sheldon and Stefan on the bottom.

Who’s going home? It’s Stefan, who goes up against Kristen (and loses) in Bravo’s online series “Last Chance Kitchen.” And, there’s always the person who wins the text-to-save option, somehow getting back into the mix. So, while we’re down to the final four on the show itself, we’re sort of really back up to a final six, of sorts, right?

Up next week: Juneau, salmon, thermal underwear, dog sleds, Josh’s wife in labor back home, Sarah Palin (ha ha, just kidding . . . or am I?), and Padma telling someone their dish was dog food.

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