This is it folks. Only seven remain in the “Top Chef” Vegas house and the chefs are starting to crack under the pressure. Even Jenn C. who I thought subsisted on a diet of baby’s tears and men’s testacles is buckling. It’s like Paranormal Activity and all that jazz – almost makes me wonder if some demonic presence is preying on her ability to cook yummy things. Is it Mike? Eli? Toby Young?!?
The only chef who doesn’t seem nervous about going home is Robin. “[She’s] really happy with how restaurant wars worked out.” Translation: She’s really glad she was on a team with the Volts and Eli so they could carry her through to the next round. But she knows she’s “here for a reason” (to piss off Mike?) and truly believes she’s holding her own. If holding her own means being in the bottom for eight different challenges. Mike I. would send himself home if he had that record. But Robin? Oh no, she’s just so darn proud of herself! Hooray for just skating by! Think she can get a bumper sticker for that one?
For this week’s Quickfire Challenge, Padma is sporting yet another onesie. Made of denim. Can someone please arrange a “Top Chef”/”Project Runway” cross-over show where the designers create new looks for Padma that do not involve jumpsuits and big belt buckles? Note to her stylist: Denim onesies is not making it work.
Standing next to fashion disaster Padma is guest judge Paul Bartolotta, who has apparently won multiple James Beard awards and is one of the top Italian chefs in the country. Just to be clear – he’s kind of a big deal, but I still am not quite sure who he is or how he relates to this particular challenge. For this week’s TV Guide Quickfire, the chefs are charged with reinventing a classic TV dinner inspired by an iconic TV show. The chefs draw knives for their shows, which include “The Flintstones,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Seinfeld,” “Mash,” “The Sopranos,” “Sesame Street,” and “Cheers,” and then have 60 minutes to prepare their dishes.
Robin never watched TV as a kid and eats health food so is, as usual, sort of clueless, Jenn is excited about drawing “the Flintstones” because she relates to Pebble; who has a cute little boyfriend named Bam Bam who carries a club around and pulls her by her hair (should we be concerned?); and Kevin admits that he has “a little bit of a soft spot for a well-prepared frozen meal.” A little bit of a soft spot, Kevin? C’mon now, be honest, Red Beard! I know those love handles aren’t there because you are so darn endearing! Though I suppose it is possible. Does Grandma really still make your family breakfast every morning? Soooo cute!
After much running around, the chefs present their TV dinners to Paul and Padma. Jenn knows she’s in trouble, and America knows that Robin’s in trouble because, well, she’s Robin. The two ladies land in the bottom – Jenn for her chicken roulade with garlic cream sauce, and Robin for her burger with an egg and crispy kale. Paul tells Robin, “It was not special.” Ya proud now, Motor Mouth?
Kevin Red Beard’s meatballs with polenta and roasted cauliflower ultimately bests Bryan’s meatloaf with mashed potatoes, and he wins yet another challenge. This time, the prize isn’t immunity. Instead, a version of Kevin’s dish will be featured in the new line of “Top Chef” frozen foods! He’s excited – and he really wants his face to be on it so he can make Grandma proud. He’s totally gonna be the next Chef Boyardee. Beefy.
For the elimination challenge, the chefs will again be tasked with taking over an institution – this time with Tom’s restaurant Craftsteak at the MGM Grand. They will each create a dish using the products stocked in the kitchen for the four judges (Tom, Gail, Padma and Paul) and seven other still to be named guests. Everyone is super pumped about using lots of meat – especially Kevin who says, “Cooking meat is me in my element.” Smile. Yes, we know, Kevin.
Of course, it wouldn’t be “Top Chef” without a surprise twist, and this week’s is a doozy. The surprise guest is Natalie Portman and guess what guys? She’s a vegetarian! For the slow, that means she doesn’t eat meat. No steak. No pork. No Mary had a little lamb. Mike isn’t worried though. He has like 20 vegetarian dishes on his menu. Plus, he looks way pumped to be cooking for Natalie. His eyes are all bugging out. He loooooves her. So does Eli, but only because she was in Star Wars which is like “the most important thing you can do.” I mean seriously, could the guy be any more of a cliché? A 26-year-old who lives with his parents, wears black t-shirts like Padma wears onesies, and loves Star Wars? Let me guess, he also reads comic books and cries baby tears while listening to indie rock and emo music.
Robin is happy as a little clam to be cooking veggie (apparently, vegetarians are people too), and is flipping out over all the produce. Fresh garbanzo beans, and squash and beets – she just can’t take the excitement and is, as usual, talking herself into a tizzy. She commands herself, “Oh brain, c’mon work.” And suddenly America knows why she never stops talking! It’s so obvious now! Her brain filter doesn’t work!
Eli is feeling confident tonight – especially since he scored the good eggplants that he and Jenn flipped a dehydrated orange peel for. Poor Pebbles. She just can’t win lately. I sort of want to reach out and give her ponytail a good yank for encouragement. Maybe bop her on the head a few times with a club for good measure? She’s really not so happy about her small eggplants. Gosh darn that Eli! The force is clearly with him tonight – even Michael Volt who is doing crazy stuff with polenta and bananas tells him he’s doing a good job.
It’s a scramble to get dishes plated for the judges, and even Bryan is flustered by the time crunch. It’s a first for the man of few words and almost no personality (except when fighting with his brother). His steady hand is shaking – but not as badly as Jenn’s. When she nervously begins serving the verjus over her charred eggplant with braised fennel and tomatoes for the table, the sauce splashes all over the place. It’s not a good sign for Pebbles.
MV(P) is on the other side of the confidence spectrum with his fancy asparagus with Japanese tomato sashimi and banana polenta. He thinks that “Natalie Portman will walk away from this dish scratching her head and saying I don’t know why I liked that, but I just did.” It’s pretty much a lovefest at the table. Someone calls him Picasso, Natalie is smiling and laughing like a giddy school girl who went to Florida State instead of Harvard, and Paul, the Italian master, is befuddled by the banana in his polenta. He’s sort of a funny guy that Paul. I’d sort of like to keep him around to take surly Toby’s place more often.
Natalie’s words of wisdom are less… compelling. She likes Robin’s dish because she “loved looking at it;” she really wanted to like Mike I.’s undercooked leeks with onion jus, baby carrot purree and fingerling potatoes, because she loves leeks and purple is her favorite color; and describes Bryan’s dish as “lemony!” and “spicy!” Maybe Eli was right? Star Wars was the best thing she did? I think Harvard needs to give her money back. And I think I’d like it if Padma stopped making sexual references at the dining table. A little prick in the mouth? This is “Top Chef” -- not “The Hills!”
Judge’s table is a foregone conclusion. Michael, Eli and Kevin are on top, and Kevin Red Beard wins again for his duo of mushrooms, smoked kale, candied garlic and turnips, which Tom says didn’t make him miss meat at all. He scores some GE appliances and responds with a very unenthusiastic “Okay.” (He really just wants his face on frozen food.) Michael V. is not happy about Kevin’s win. “I could have made that dish in 20 minutes.” He scoffs. Sore loser is not a very cute look for the handsome chef. Has another of my “Top Chef” heroes fallen from grace?
Mike I., Robin and Jenn are predictably on the bottom. Robin babbles on about how she’s never worked with fresh garbanzo beans and squash blossoms before (a super smart way to prove to the judges that she deserves to stay), Jenn is one step away from slitting her throat with one of her knives for serving “a garnish,” and Mike is as smug as ever. Which of course means he’s doomed. He’s sent packing for his arrogant attitude, undercooked leeks and lack of protein. Before he goes, he makes sure to dole out one last shot of Robin haterade – “It’s just her food and her style and she’s always in the bottom…”
Sigh. Oh Mike, we won’t miss you one bit.