There’s no time for (un)pleasantries or Pilates at the beginning of the 9th episode of “Top Chef: Las Vegas.” With only eight cheftestants left, everyone has their game face on. Especially Laurine who is on deathwatch since Grandma Robin doesn’t seem to be going back to the nursing home ever. Jenn C. is so riled up about the high-stakes of the competition that she considers cooking in her bathing suit and heels. Jenn does look pretty cute in her bikini (she clearly doesn’t love the pig as much as Kevin Red Beard), but it’s probably not the best idea. I mean hello? Padma’s the only one who’s allowed to wear inappropriate things in the kitchen!
According to guest judge Rick Moonen, the chef/owner of RM Seafood, who Kevin tells us is big on “sustainability,” the Quick-Fire Challenge this week is all about synergy. The chefs must draw knives to form two teams that will then prepare a dish together. Sounds simple, right? Wrong!
Rick Moonen and Padma are practically gleeful as they describe all the surprises in store for the chefs. “First you will draw from the great death block of knives, then you must pick your teammates and hope to God that you don’t get stuck with Robin because she will ruin everything. You will then prepare a dish tag-team style whereby each chef will have 10 minutes to screw their next teammate over with whatever crap you decide to make. And for an extra, knee-slapping good time, you can’t talk to each other and will be blindfolded while your teammates cook! Hahahaahahaaa!” It’s all very Mister Burns. I can practically see Padma hunched over his desk, tapping her finger tips together like an evil dictator.
The chefs are, needless to say, not so amused by all the tomfoolery. “It’s ludicrous, it’s crazy!” Kevin says. I so enjoy hearing Red Beard use his words like the good Southern-battered boy his mama raised him to be. So much better than all the bleepity bleeps. Though Jenn C. does make for amusing television too. I just love when her eyes get all squinty and steam starts shooting out of her nose – she looks just like the bad witch Maleficent when she turns into a dragon in Sleeping Beauty!
The teams shake out as follows: Michael, Bryan, Eli, and Grandma on the red team; and Kevin, Jenn C, Laurine, and Mike Isabella on the blue team. They each have 30 seconds to decide the order they will be cooking, and Michael immediately smacks Robin into the least important position – 2nd chef in the line-up. Eli will go first, Michael puts himself last, and Bryan will go third because, “If there is any crisis early on he should be able to start to fix it.” Translation: Bryan can do damage control after Robin f’s everything up. Eli also puts it nicely when he says, “Robin is somewhere east of Mars in terms of the type of food we do.”
There’s just so much love. So much love. Googly eyes Carla from Season 5 would be practically weeping over it all.
With the orders figured out, the chefs are off and cooking, and it’s actually pretty entertaining to see everyone trying to figure out what the person before them was doing. Mike seems to be having an especially fun time with it. Jenn, who went first for the blue team, is a little worried. He looks a “little dizzy, confused,” and she’s practically foaming at the mouth for the cod she set up to be poached. Mike finally puts two and two together, but then Kevin, that rascal, he decides not to poach the fish! Gee whiz!
The red team presents Rick and Padma with a pan roasted NY strip with whipped miso avocado puree and pickled vegetables; and the blue team serves a pan-seared sablefish with sautéed mushrooms, ginger shiitake broth, and a radish salad. Jenn C. describes it as trout, gets called out on it, and then smirks to the camera, “I called my black cod, trout on national TV. Awesome.” Oh how the mighty have fallen. But not really. The team still wins it courtesy of her exceptionally “well-made stock.” Hugs all around – the blue team is not blue at all! They then have the choice of either taking $15,000 to split between the four of them or letting it ride for the Elimination Challenge – the highly-anticipated Restaurant Wars. Should the blue team take it each chef will receive $10,000. It takes about two milliseconds for greed/pride to win out and the chefs decide to “let it ride.” This is Vegas, baby. VEGAS!
The blue team will also have the advantage (that, incidentally, isn’t really an advantage at all), of choosing which restaurant they want to cook in at the Mandalay Bay. They opt for the fancy schmancy one, which is fine by the red team. “It doesn’t give them any advantage.” Bryan says dismissively. He’s so rational it almost hurts. Wish he had used his voice of reason when his team decided to name their restaurant Revolt. Padma and the gang will have lots of fun with that one later. The claws are coming out, tonight, folks! Meooow!
With names decided (the blue team goes with the rather mundane “Mission” because their cuisine is like mission-style architecture?), it’s off to Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot for the goods. Robin gets testy because Lorraine steals her revolutionary idea to serve sparkling water, and Lorraine’s eyes start rolling like soccer balls. Poor grandma just can’t seem to catch a break from any of the kids. Even teammate Michael thinks “she’s a little out of her league,” and is prepared to stomp all over her feelings with his big chef man boots. Maybe her dentures too.
Robin, always the astute one, knows she’s going to get pushed into the corner with something akin to dishwasher duty. “Michael has asserted his domination.” She says for the first of many many many times over the course of the evening. Me thinks she is really excited about using “Michael” and “domination” in the same sentence. I kind of like it too. Michael has asserted his domination, folks. Michael will have his way with… the food. Michael is… married and has two kids.
Brother Bryan isn’t very happy about lil bro’s assertive behavior. “He’s a bit cocky.” Robin just wants her voice back. We really really do not want that to happen, so it’s pretty great when M.V.(P.) relegates the chatty Cathy to a chef’s version of “dishwasher duty” – dessert, which the other team decides to nix completely because, according to Jenn, every time a chef does dessert “it has bitten them in the ass.”
Big mistake, Jenn. HUGE. Poor girl is just not on the ball this episode! She’s calling black cod, “trout,” making bad dessert decisions, is in the weeds with her fish dishes… Maybe she should have cooked in a bathing suit and heels, afterall?
But enough of the nitty gritty chopping and searing stuff. Nobody really wants to see Jenn filleting fish or Kevin undercooking Lorraine’s lamb. This is “Top Chef” – not “Iron Chef.” The secret ingredient is drama (and sometimes pork)! Onto the restaurant war blood bath!
It’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen at this point. With Eli putting his whiny schmooze-factor to good use out in the front of the house, Michael dominating the kitchen (and Robin), and Bryan working like a valiant soldier, restaurant Revolt is on the up and up. Despite the “horrible” name, the judges are practically gushing over the food. “This chicken is amazing…” “[The pear pithivier] was like a perfect massage.” “I wish Michael would assert his domination on me…”
Oh wait, that’s not what Padma said?
The other restaurant experience could not be any more different. Lorraine is not the hostess with the mostest in the front of the house – failing to describe the dishes to the judges, and the back of the house is equally challenged as Jenn C. frantically tries to steam her mussels and clams to order. Timing is a huge problem, but not as big of a problem as the execution. There are problems with all the dishes (aside from Kevin’s righteous pork entrée- you rock that pig, Red Beard!), and nobody is scratching their chins in confusion when team Revolt is awarded the win at Judge’s Table.
Padma is super excited to announce that Michael is the victor for his chicken and cod dishes, and coyly says, “Michael, I have a little something for you…”
I start to shield my eyes (thinking it’s not going to be PG-13), but it’s only a check for $10,000, which Michael says he will split with his teammates. Aww, sooo cute. Maybe he really does have “the biggest heart here” when he’s not busy asserting his domination and taking over Robin’s “damn dessert.” Bryan doesn’t want anything to do with Michael’s money though. “It’s unprofessional behavior being rewarded.” I tell ya, he’s always the voice of reason, that one. Or just a giant wet blanket.
Restaurant Mission is sent back to the Judge’s table for failing to accomplish their mission (har har har), and it’s a pretty ugly scene. I’m fine hearing them rip on Lorraine for being a “deer in the headlights,” but when they start needling Kevin for the undercooked lamb and Jenn C. for her “broken sauce,” it feels just so wrong. Jenn and Kevin are supposed to be beyond reproach! They can’t go home yet! They just can’t! They have so much left to do – so much more bacon left to cook!
Fortunately, Lorraine’s failures in the front of the house allow Kevin and Jenn to live to see another pork chop. Lorraine knows it’s coming. “Sure,” she says like the good sport she is. I’m a little sad to see the self-described, “rock” go. Poor girl got herself dominated by the competition. Her rock was rocked. And yes, this is still a family show.