This week’s episode opens in the Bahamas, with the cheftestants arriving separately, reflecting on their past experiences with the show, and crowing about how they each want to earn the top spot this season. It’s a rather long montage, so I’m more than a little worried that tonight’s episode is going to be Boringville, USA, if they’re willing to air this much back story. I mean, we know for the Quickfire they’re going up against the chefs who won their original season, but still. We don’t need this much exposition going into it.
Just like the previews indicated, they arrive on the island and see the chefs who won each of their seasons. Guest judge for the night is my boo, Eric Ripert. The cheftestants are told they must cook head-to-head against their season’s winning chef. Tom has selected the proteins. The winner of each challenge gets $10,000. Richard and Antonia each cook against Stephanie Izard, and must use a rack of veal. Mike will compete with Michael Voltaggio by cooking duck. Carla has to go up against the most undeserving winner in all of Top Chef history, Hosea Rosenberg, and they will cook lamb. Tiffany will compete with Kevin Sbraga and use pig.
Their burners are short-circuiting and not working properly, so some of the dishes aren’t coming out the way the cheftestants intended. Here’s what they made, and who won each challenge:
Kevin Sbraga: BBQ pork with cilantro (gag), celery (ugh), shaved onion, and citrus salad
Tiffany: pork stew with potatoes, peppers, citrus and allspice
Hosea GagMeBerg: braised lamb in red chili broth with olives and mint, and goat cheese and rosemary polenta
Carla: Jollof rice (undercooked) with harissa lamb, with peppers, onions and lime
Winner: NOT CARLA (Booooo.....)
Stephanie Izard: veal scallopini with tapenade and poached egg
Antonia: roasted veal, leek and almond puree with sauteed mushrooms, arugula and raisins
Stephanie Izard: veal scallopini with tapenade and poached egg
Richard: seared veal loin and braised veal cap with raisins, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms (Oh, yum)
Michael Voltaggio: citrus-cured duck breast with duck leg in bacon vinaigrette, burnt leek and coffee pesto (Sweet fancy Moses, I want this RIGHT NOW)
Mike: cashew-dusted spiced duck breast with duck leg and mushroom jus
I hate that Carla lost to Hosea. But it was fun seeing Stephanie Izard again, and would it be wrong to confess I watched all the Michael Voltaggio segments on slo-mo just to prolong his time in my living room? Oh, it would? Nevermind then. I totally didn’t do that. Nope. Not at all.
For the Elimination Challenge, the cheftestants are told they’ll be cooking for Bahamian royalty, and they kind of overreact like this is a really cool thing while I am trying not to yell at the TV that there’s really not any royalty, per se, in the Bahamas, and that it’s not like Prince Harry is going to come riding up the beach on his polo pony to eat their food. If anyone is a King in the Bahamas, it’s more in the New Orleans krewe culture, right? I might be wrong, but I don’t think so. Anyhoo, the chefs go back to their hotel suite for some champagne and a good night’s sleep.
The next day, they have 2.5 hours to prep and need to use what’s already in their on-location Top Chef Kitchen to each make a dish for 50 people. There’s a lot of psychoanalysis as they prep, and they’re all getting a little too Woody Allen for my tastes. This is Top Chef, not Top Zelig you guys. After their prep time, they pile into a minivan and are escorted to the event site, where the producers staged a fake carnivale in front of what looks like a South Beach Arthur Treacher’s. Men and women in glittery, feathered Mardi Gras-like costumes bang the drum and dance in the street, and magically the crowd parts and Tom Colicchio walks out and greets the chefs. It’s really stupid, and I’m rapidly losing interest in this episode. Have the finals ever been this lackluster before?
The leader of the group is a dude covered in yellow feathers and he’s the King of Junkanoo, which means he’s about as royal as I am, which makes some of the chefs wish they could rethink their high-end dishes and make them, um, more non-royal. Tiffany is stoked because her dish was more rustic, so she thinks she has an edge over the other chefs. They go into the restaurant to finish their dishes and prepare to serve them.
As they cook, one of the fryers starts billowing smoke and catches fire. Good times. Richard covers it with a sheet pan while someone calls a fire truck. They clear the kitchen while the fire is put out, and because chemicals were used to put out the oil fire, their food is contaminated. Tom tells them they have to start all over again, and they’re free to make the same dish they made the first time, or do whatever else they want. This pleases Antonia, who had been working on a refined lamb and Brussels sprouts dish and will now go more traditional, while Tiffany now realizes she’s losing the competitive edge she came into this dinner with. So, they go all the way back to the hotel to prep again while the restaurant kitchen is cleaned and outfitted with portable fryers.
And I gotta say, none of this feels big enough to be a Top Chef finals challenge. The pace is slow, the content boring, and it’s hard to stay engaged or care about who’s doing what. In fact, the chefs don’t even seem to be into their food at all. Or, each other. It just feels so off.
Here’s what they served to Padma, Tom, Gail, Ripert, and the fake king and his friends:
Carla: fried pork medallion with sweet potato puree, applesauce and apple chip
Some of her pork servings are underdone or completely raw, but it doesn’t seem like anyone hates her dish.
Antonia: crispy shrimp and grits with cilantro and pickled vegetables
Her shrimp are overcooked. Gail doesn’t like it at all, and Tom said, “Howard Johnson’s called -- they want their garnish back.”
Mike: sous vide chicken, mushrooms, yams, lobster sauce, lobster hash
The judges loved it, and I might have drooled a little over this one.
Richard: roasted lamb loin and malted braised leg with pickled turnip and mustard
Everyone liked it, though back in the kitchen he is beating himself up and thinks it was awful.
Tiffany: roasted spiced pork tenderloin, dirty rice, curried slaw, tomato jam
The judges liked it, but said it wasn’t very exciting.
After the meal, the chefs sit in the on-location Stew Room -- which looks like the hotel lobby -- and spread their insecurities around, and treat this show like they want Dr. Phil to show up.
Padma calls them all to Judges’ Table where they get the following (boring) feedback:
Carla’s apple chip was too sweet, and Gail and Tom said their pork was raw. Eric said his pork was perfectly cooked. Antonia was criticized for changing her dish the second time around. Her shrimp were overcooked, Tom hated pieces of pork in the grits, and Gail thought the pork shoulder in the grits was school cafeteria mystery meat. Tiffany’s dish needed something more complex with a sauce, says my boo, while Gail loved the ginger-tomato jam and wanted more. Everyone loved Mike’s dish; Tom loved the sauce, and said the lobster was nicely cooked, and that all his components worked well together. When the judges asked Richard what he thought about his dish he said, “I hate everything I do, really” and I just wanna give the guy a hug because his food does not suck. Ever. Tom told him he really liked the dish, though he thought it might’ve needed one more component.
Mike is declared the winner.
The remaining chefs are sent back out of the room while the judges deliberate and decide who’s going home. When they’re called before Judges’ Table again, Tom tells them their food was too basic, and nothing was outstanding. And Carla gets sent home, which is just a big old heaping bowl of crap pudding after the crap sandwich this whole episode was. What a bummer. I’ll miss the heart and soul Carla brings to this show.
Next Week: They dive for their own food, and other stuff happens but none of it looks all that interesting or tantalizing. And, as for “New! Guest! Judge! Anthony Bourdain!” he’s been on what ... three out of 13 episodes? Fantastic.