Wolfgang Puck greets the cheftestants for their Quickfire, where they have to cook with ginger because the sponsor of this episode is a canned ginger ale manufacturer. They have 15 minutes. Aaaaaaand, go!
Sheldon’s wok-fried skirt steak with ginger and oranges was called “pedestrian.” (Was there a flashing “Don’t Wok” sign he ignored? ::Ba-dum-bum:: Thanks, I’ll be here all week! Try the veal!) Josh’s vile-sounding and hospital food-looking white chocolate and ginger soup with peaches and tarragon “lacked flavor” and was underwhelming.
So, who wowed The Puck? Brooke releases the kraken with a ginger-caramel squid with fresh lime and chili powder, which I want to make. Like, immediately. That girl is no joke. Stefan’s ahi tuna with lemongrass and ginger was also a hit, as was Lizzie’s watermelon and ginger soup with fresh mint, which was “simple but well balanced.” Brooke wins the Quickfire and gets immunity in the Elimination Challenge.
The incredibly successful restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe, the Modern at MoMA, Gramercy Tavern, among many others) joins Padma and Puck to announce. . . say it with me now: Restaurant Wars! This season, it’s a little different. (Praise you, O Wise Producers, for shaking this up and perhaps even making it better.) Each cheftestant must come up with his or her own restaurant concept and cook one dish that best represents it. Carla, Eliza, Chrissy and Kuniko return to help as sous chefs. The two winners of this first part of the challenge will then have to open their “restaurants” in the second half of the challenge.
Danny, Tom, Padma and Gail show up at the food festival where the chefs showcase their restaurant concepts. Danny and Tom reminisce about the first time they met; we see a deer-in-the-headlights kitchen photo of Tom with hair, and he looks strikingly like he could be R.J. Cooper ’s younger brother. Here’s what the judges tasted:
Josh (“Bistro George”): Seared eye of rib-eye with cauliflower puree and mushroom-red wine sauce;
Lizzie (“northern Italian farmhouse kitchen”): Mustard green canederli with fonduta and crispy speck;
Sheldon (“Urbano,” modern Filipino): Sour tamarind soup with pork belly, shrimp and snapper (which I want to eat as soon as the show is over, holy wow);
Stefan (German-Thai): Thai lobster bisque with shrimp dumplings, potatoes and radishes accompanied by a Bavarian cream-mango lollipop;
Micah (raw): Raw salmon, snapper, hamachi, squid, scallop and mackerel with raw vegetables;
Kristen (formal, contemporary French): Onsen egg with camembert-mustard sauce and buttered radishes;
Brooke (“unkosher”): Matzoh ball soup with duck confit and toasted black rye bread;
Josie (“Home 305”): Puerco asado, black bean-chorizo croquette, pickles and mojo sauce.
When Padma asks which chefs are contenders to be sent home, the judges say they are not feeling Stefan’s German-Thai concept. They also aren’t fans of Micah’s raw food. Gail calls Josie’s pork “inedible.”
Back in the Stew Room, Kristen, Sheldon and Josh are called to Judges’ Table. As they stand up and walk out of the room, they look as if someone ran over their puppy while telling them they have cancer. Smiles break out when Padma tells them they had the three best concepts and dishes. Gail loved Josh’s “neighborhood” feel, and Tom thought his rib-eye was nicely seared. Each of the judges praised different elements of Kristen’s dish. Danny tells Sheldon he made an impression with that very first sip of soup. Tom tells him there was a place and purpose for everything in his soup, “and that is the hallmark of a great dish.”
So, which two cheftestants get to open their own restaurants for Restaurant Wars, Part Deux, next week? Kristen and Sheldon. And, I confess, I woo-hooed out loud from the comfort of my living room. They each get a $10,000 cash prize to boot, and Tom and Padma tell them they’ll be opening in less than 48 hours. They get notebooks with all the details they’ll need to build out their space and get everything ready to go for service. Padma sends them back to the Stew Room to staff up their kitchens and cautions them to choose wisely, as one of the chefs will be eliminated in just a few minutes (in TV time). Kristen chooses Brooke, Lizzie and Josie. Sheldon chooses Josh, Stefan and Micah.
Padma sashays in to call Micah, Josie and Lizzie to Judges’ Table. Kristen announces that she “needs a cigarette” and my Judgy McJudgerson hormones kick in and she loses 30 cool points in my book. Padma tells Micah, Josie and Lizzie that their dishes weren’t up to snuff in concept and execution. No one buys that Micah’s raw concept was “from the heart.” Gail tells Micah there was too much fish and you couldn’t differentiate the flavor because he sliced it all the night before, instead of to order.
Tom tells Lizzie the dumpling wasn’t cooked enough, and Lizzie shame-blames herself for not being “gracious enough” to have explained the northern Italian feel she was going for (which incorporates a bit of Austrian heritage cooking). Danny called her dish heavy and gummy. Josie tells the judges she got a lot of good feedback from the crowd, but Danny tells her when he put his fork to her pork, the pork fought back. Gail tells her it was so bland that all she tasted was grease. Tom tells her she spends too much time focused on the show she thinks she has to put on rather than on serving a crispy bean cake that is, in fact, crispy, not drenched in vinegar until mushy.
Who’s going home? Please, don’t let it be Lizzie. She and Brooke are my two favorites, I’ll admit. As I watched, I “The Secret”ed that it would be Josie or Micah. I “The Secret”ed it really, really hard, and I am here to tell you that, thanks to Oprah’s holy spirit, “The Secret” works because Micah is told to pack his knives and go. That leaves Sheldon one man down for his challenge, which actually might work to his advantage since Kristen is now stuck with awful, awful Josie on her team.
Micah heads to Bravo’s Last Chance Kitchen, where CJ is still the reigning champ. Let’s hope it stays that way. Let’s also thank Brooke and Sheldon for putting forth dishes this week — the ginger-caramel squid and the sour tamarind soup — that I want to make and eat time and time again.
Up Next Week: Josie needs babysitting; Stefan is a crappy front-of-house person; Emeril says he was “blown away with disappointment”; Gail wears a really pretty green blouse; Josh’s douchestache gets its own zip code; Josie and Stefan act like jerks at Judges’ Table; Padma wears cute earrings; and Tom exhales. Loudly.