Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top Chef Season 4 - Episode 8: "Common Threads"

It's getting to be that time during the season on "Top Chef." You know that time. There are nine chefs left. The wheat has been separated from the chaff. The chaff has been derided by Tom, sent home packing by Padma, and cried each and everyone of their little hearts out during their exit interviews.* The challenges start to get really interesting, and we, as viewers, actually start to see everyone's food - in great detail, making it that much easier to snark on. Unfortunately, here in season 4, I think we still have some chaff left and it kind of upsets me. Nikki? Really judges? I'm sure her restaurant is lovely, I may actually go eat there, being in close proximity to Brooklyn, but, come on, she's no Top Chef. Spike? WTF judges? Douche hat should have gone home a long time ago...he's pretty much been skating by as much as Nikki, am I wrong? He made a good soup last week. Strong work. Now send his ass home.

So, will the chaff get sent home tonight? Or will it inexplicably remain, blowing about the kitchen, clogging up the hoods and the Robocoups? Let's find out.

Sidebar: It makes me sad that the Gladware Forceflex bags get more screen time than Harold in the opening credits.

Opener: The chefs interview/voiceover that they're all really starting to realize peeps are going home...the usual for the opening scenes. We get a shot of Mark apparently trying to remove the enamel from his teeth with his toothbrush...seriously, MY gums were bleeding after watching that. Antonia interviews that she's just going to cook what she knows and not questions her flavors. Good strategy, but that's almost always the death-knell-edit for the chefs.

Quickfire: Art Smith wants them to cook a complete entree in 15 minutes, using, wait for it...Uncle Ben's Ready Rice!! Padma even calls it healthy, and I agree, if by healthy she means sodium-laden and full of corn syrup solids. Oh, I'm sorry, it says "whole grain" on the label, it can't be that bad. I get that it fits in with the theme of the show, getting a meal on the table so you can spend time with your family, but, is cooking real rice really that hard? I can think of about a billion Asian people who do it everyday.

Look at the ricesKape, though. Aunt Sandy would be so proud:

The Food: Dale makes some delicious sounding fried rice and apparently put scallops on it later, too. Yum! Spike acts like a douche and stuffs a tomato with the Ready Rice. It makes me angry to even write that they're USING Ready Rice (yeah, I know, I'll save it for later - focus on the episode, Iko, jeez). Antonia makes rice and salad (?), which, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt here, but that does not sound right. Mark licks his stirring spoon and puts it back into whatever he's cooking. Again. Nikki makes vegetable fried rice with a messy, ol' pile of soy sauce on the side. Is she just copying the other contestants now? She can't even come up with her own ideas anymore? I think the best part of a rather uneventful Quickfire was Padma not knowing the difference between turkey and chicken. Although, to be fair to her, Mark's saliva probably covered up the turkey flavor.

Bottom Three: Mark, Stephanie, Lisa - seems about right to me. The three of them were all over the place and Art was emoting his negative feelings about their food pretty clearly.
Top Three: Dale, Richard, Antonia. Again, I think this is fair. All three looked good and had clear visions of their food.
Antonia is the winner. Yeah, I'm still not sold on rice and salad, but I think I'll have to try it, with actual REAL rice, now. Just to see what all the fuss is about.

Elimination Challenge:
Oh Lord, the challenge is to "enrich the lives of others by forcing people to eat with their stupid families, by teaching them how to cook nutritious foods with the whole family using a budget of $10." I laughed out loud when Andrew interviewed about the lobster terrine, come on crack-head, no one makes lobster terrine at home, except maybe Michael Ruhlman. I think what they should have actually been complaining about was not that they had only $10, but that they had $10 with which to shop at Whole Foods. At least bring them to a farmer's market or a regular grocery store, maybe somewhere they would be able to pick up organic and/or local, reasonably priced food, not organic food flown from South America and priced accordingly due to fuel costs. Honestly, I don't think many families shop at Whole Foods, especially not those in this Common Threads program. I'm not going to go off on a tangent about food, food prices, and the horrible state of nutrition in this country here, but I think showing people how to shop and cook food from a normal grocery store would have been much more useful.

Shopping: The chefs sprint through Whole Foods and everyone goes right for the chicken. Dale is pissy that everyone is buying chicken so he buys some chicken sausage (I think chicken sausage is made of actual chickens, too, Dale), just for something different. Yes please! Andrew rambles about his cooking philosophy being "simple, old, new." I don't know..I think he was trying to make it sound much more deep and intellectual than it actually was. Whatever, at least he has a cooking style...unlike some certain members of the chaff still floating around the kitchen. The thing that struck me most about this shopping trip was Stephanie wandering around, seemingly lost, with no clear plan as to what she was going to make. I'm all for buying whatever looks good, then figuring out a dish later, but not when I'm on a TV cooking competition. Step it up, girl! I'm with you all the way, but this is making me worried.

Also, can I just say, if I worked at Whole Foods and the chefs came barreling through, forcing me to ring up their food over and over and OVER again until they were under $10 and ripping individual leaves off my beloved bok choy, I would seriously choke a bitch. That must be the most irritating thing in the entire world

Cooking: Padma reveals they'll be cooking with children. Ugh. Again. You know how some of the chefs in previous seasons complained about cooking food from vending machines or for a microwave? Yeah, I'd be the bit** complaining about the kids...I guess it's fine to cook with your own kids, but I'll be damned if I have to interact with someone else's children. That being said, I think these kids were actually pretty chill and didn't seem to be affected by the cameras or Tom's shiny head at all. Strong work, children.

The chefs all bond awkwardly with their respective child and Antonia cries because she misses her daughter. Again, the editors fool me, because I definitely thought, at this point, that she was getting the "I miss my family" edit, which we all know means bitch is going home, but, not so much this time, as we'll see when we get to the end. Assorted amusing bits from the cooking: Richard explaining what a beet is, Andrew's kid learning first hand that crack is whack, and Spike maiming his child within 10 seconds of meeting him. To the child's credit, he was back in there peeling carrots. I know 30-year olds I went to cooking school with who would cry about less than that.

Sniff and Sneer: Now it's Tom's turn to awkwardly interact with the children! I would have totally paid my child to call him Mr. Clean. Child-Emanuel (Dale's kid) proves his awesomeness by saying he loves the eating part of cooking the most. I may actually kind of like that child...scary...I think the ice in my heart is starting to melt. The other kid (don't remember which one, I guess it was Andrew's) mashing the chicken with the pan was too funny. Tom actually looked a little concerned, like, "Um, am I going to get sued if this kid breaks his own hand?" I also love how Tom has to stay in the kitchen to make sure the kids are helping and, to add insult to injury, he has to taste all the food by himself in the kitchen. Was it Season 2 when he had to do that? Something about keeping an eye on the chefs do to some drama that had been occurring? Whatever. I just remember the extremely pissy look on his face the whole time he was in the kitchen during that episode, which made me laugh as I watched him hunker down over the prep table to eat his food, all alone.

Service: Other kids eat the food and the helper kids explain what they cooked to the children, while the cheftestants explain what they cooked to the judges. Dale's sausage and cabbage doesn't go over too well with the judges, but the kids seem to like it and, child-Emanuel, the only child I like, apparently, is so happy and proud of his food, so I think Dale will be sticking around. Nikki gives her sob story of being raised by a single parent and how she had to learn to cook for herself when she was ten, again. Actually, as much as I think she has no place being here, her chicken and vegetables did look good and a one pot meal is definitely a plus for any busy family. Still, Top Chef? Not so much. Mark's food doesn't go over well (sweet potato curry), neither does Stephanie's overcooked couscous. Stephanie, what is going on with you? Of all the food, it pains me to say, but I think Andrew's chicken paillard looked the best. That's the perfect thing to eat during the warmer months and it's very economical and easy to make. Bonus points for looking fancy and French, too. I think what offended me most was Gail's insistence that Antonia did such a fantastic job because this challenge was "real life" for her. Real life because she has a child and needs to cook her dinner? I think she did a good job because she's a good chef, not because she's a single mother, Gail.

Direct from my notes last night: "UGH...I just vomited. Richard talks about making babies. I'll never get that image out of my head. EVER. UHLGHLLGH...."**

Judges' Table:
Top 3 - Andrew, Nikki, Antonia. Blergh. Nikki's still going to be around, although, like I said before, this is one place where she actually made appropriate food that looked and tasted good, too. Again, Andrew's dish looked the best to me, fancy, but also appealing to children - the crack-man-ho comes through. Antonia's use of the whole wheat pasta to hide the vegetables was clever, too. I think the judges did good here, those three definitely should have been at the top. Without tasting the food, I'm good with Art's pick of Antonia. I think this also makes her the second person in "Top Chef" history to wine both the Quickfire and the Elimination Challenges, the first being Mikey (Flounder), the woefully inadequate, but hilariously degenerate cheftestant from Season 2.

Loser 3 - Lisa, Stephanie, Mark
Wow, Stephanie, peanut butter, tomatoes, soggy couscous? Step it up! She definitely deserved to be in the bottom three, she had no clear plan going in and it really showed. I hope she can pull it together next week. As far as Mark goes, I think they must have edited a whole chunk out for time here, I was a little confused about the judges talking about a lack of protein and Mark defending his dish by saying he should be allowed to cook vegetarian food. Then, the conversation kind of ended. I was expecting one of the judges to start pontificating about getting protein into a dish using vegetables, legumes, tofu, etc., but got nothing. Lisa, well, I'll give her bonus points for trying to explain how she was learning from the previous critiques they had given her at Judges Table and applying that knowledge to her food today, but she was a little (OK, a lot) angry about it. My favorite part of the entire show was Tom calling her under seasoned food "shocking." To which I responded out loud, to the no one in my apartment, "Really, chef? That's the most shocking thing you've seen? Not Sam's watermelon and blue cheese debacle? Not C.J.'s charred broccolini tree? I know an angry mofo named Anthony Bourdain who may disagree with you."

Tom manages to work the term "Common Thread" into his derision of the chefs, just to bring the whole show full circle. I wonder if he ever just flat out tells the producers he won't say something. Mark goes home and he should have. I do think, though, that if Stephanie had not been so strong out of the gate, she would have been out like trout tonight, but she's still my girl, so I'm rooting for her to turn it around next week.

Next Week: Cooking for 14 hours. Nikki complains. Dramatic music plays. The chefs have to make a wedding cake. Lisa and Dale fight each other. Richard is fired up. Dale is fired up! Iko says: didn't they already do a wedding catering challenge back in Season 1?

*NOTE - This doesn't apply to Season 2, in which the entire cast was made up of chaff. Actually, I think they were made up of the manure that nourishes the seed, so it can develop into a plant, resulting in the wheat and the chaff that is then necessary to separate.

**The last "word" was a gurgling sound I made, just before I passed out from the horror.


David Dust said...

I responded to Tom's "shocking" comment the exact same way. I wrote "really?" in my notes...

Click here for DavidDust's Top Chef recap.


looziana said...

i was actually talking to someone just the other day about the GLAD excessive product placement... i think it's because most people use TiVo and skip over commercials now... there's gotta be a way to stop it!