This week’s Quickfire is a knife-skills challenge with guest judge, Bob Kramer. Kramer is a “master bladesmith” whose custom-made knives sell for $500 an inch — which means your average chef’s knife goes for, oh, about $4,000.
The cheftestants perform tasks in teams of three: sharpening; tourneing 50 potatoes with speed and precision; and breaking down and frenching two rabbits. After the first two tasks, one team will be eliminated from the Quickfire, and in the final task — the rabbit butchering — the remaining team becomes three individual competitors. The teams are as follows: John, Kristen and Josie; Josh, Sheldon and Micah; Stefan, Lizzie and Brooke.
The teams of John, Kristen and Josie, and Josh, Sheldon and Micah sharpen their knives first and move on to the next task (paring and turning potatoes lengthwise as you cut, so they somewhat resemble a football). Sharpening knives I can do. Breaking down a rabbit I can do. A nice tourne of potato (or carrot)? Not my forte.
Josie is disqualified because she cuts herself, leaving John and Kristen to finish the potatoes for their team. Turns out they needed her, because Josh, Micah and Sheldon finish their potatoes first and move on to compete against one another in the final task: breaking down two rabbits and frenching the rack. Micah goes into some sort of hyperdrive Zen mode and bangs them out in record time, winning immunity in the Elimination Challenge as well as one of Kramer’s custom knives.
For this week’s Elimination Challenge, each cheftestant is assigned a “memorable moment” from a past “Top Chef” season, and they have to cook a dish related to that moment. What’s the twist? It has to be a “healthy” version, because the winning dish will be the inspiration for one of the sponsors’ microwaveable dishes . . . the name of which is way too reminiscent of flatulence for me to ever be comfortable buying (or eating) one.
Joining Padma and Tom to judge this week is an impressive roster of chefs: Wolfgang Puck, Chris Cosentino, Wylie Dufresne and Jonathan Waxman. Here’s what they ate:
Josie (Season 1’s “I’m not your b*&$#!, b#*#&” moment): Herb-roasted chicken with parsnip puree and steamed root vegetables.
Stefan (Season 2 Betty Fraser’s comfort food): Roasted red pepper soup with bacon and a grilled cheese sandwich.
John (Season 3 Howie Kleinberg’s risotto failure): Umami risotto with chicken, sea urchin, salmon roe, burdock root and carrot emulsion.
Sheldon (Season 4’s Stew Room fight between Spike Mendelsohn and the spiky-haired girl who talked about her girlfriend more than she talked about food): Beef carpaccio with poi aioli, mizuna and mushroom salad, silken tofu foam.
Lizzie (Season 5’s scallop “expert” Jamie Lauren): Seared scallops with roasted fennel, garlic puree, olive-and-orange salad.
Josh (Season 6 Mike Isabella [hey, I know that guy] and Michael Voltaggio’s braised pork belly): Soy-glazed pork tenderloin with smoked cashew puree, heirloom peaches and Thai basil.
Brooke (Season 7’s mysterious stolen/disappearing pea puree): Smoked salmon, forbidden black rice, English pea-and-parsnip puree.
Kristen (Season 8 Carla Hall’s chicken pot pie): Poached chicken breast, carrot puree, garlic-and-tofu emulsion.
Micah (Season 9 Heather Terhune and Beverly Kim’s weepy fight over their terrible duck breast and polenta): Five-spice duck breast with miso polenta, Sriracha gelee and pickled cherries.
Not one of these dishes looked or sounded appetizing to me, and way too many of them incorporated miso. I don’t know about you, but I feel like miso is the lazy cook’s way to “add flavor” to a dish. Dazzle me with something new and interesting. Know how to use salt and use it well. Cook with good product and make it taste the best it can. But don’t be lazy and throw miso into everything because it adds umami or deepens flavor. It doesn’t. It tastes like you added miso.
So, who goes before Judges’ Table first? Josh, John, Kristen, Lizzie and Brooke. “Chefs? You’ve served the five best and worst dishes,” says Padma. Ruh-roh. Josh, Brooke and Kristen plated the three best dishes. Tonight’s winner is Kristen, and she gets $15,000. Her dish will also serve as inspiration for a new, sad tray of microwaveable food. Which would be nice if she got a cut of the profits from it, but I’m quite sure that’s not the case.
John and Lizzie served the two worst dishes. Cosentino tells John his rice wasn’t cooked properly (which John knew in the kitchen and makes a lot of excuses about at Judges’ Table). Lizzie tells the judges she thought her scallops might be “off” because she couldn’t get them to sear. Tom gives her the disappointed dad response: “You’ve always been so thoughtful . . . I was really surprised by this dish.” She seems mortified.
Padma tells Lizzie and John that one of them is going home, but they have one last challenge to complete before the judges make their final decision. Padma whips out a Kindle Fire and tells them it contains the “10th memorable moment” — a moment from their very own season. It’s, of course, CJ’s terrible pork-pickle burger. They have to make a more healthful version of it. And, boy, are they both bitter and angry and cranky about it in the kitchen.
John makes a lamb burger with fried egg and a spicy pickle, tomato and pomegranate salad. Lizzie makes a chicken burger with a goat cheese-ricotta cream, topped with a dill pickle/roasted red pepper salad. Neither sounds particularly healthful to me, and both look kind of vomitous. This week’s show was not at all pleasing to the eye or palate. Who’s going home? John. He goes up against reigning Last Chance Kitchen champ, CJ.
Up Next Week: It’s the dreaded Restaurant Wars, but with a twist: Each chef has to create his or her own restaurant concept. Bigshot restaurateur Danny Meyer is judging. Gail is offended by a matzoh ball. Stefan’s Vitamix blunder sprays some dude waiting to eat his food. Tom says, “Your restaurant will open in less than 48 hours.” Josie finishes her term as Mayor of Annoyingville and is elected Governor of Justpleaseshutupandgohomeland.
Blymire recaps new “Top Chef” episodes each Thursday.