Friday, February 6, 2009

"Top Chef" Season 5: Episode 11 - In Which Stefan is the Luckiest Man in the World

Two posts about Eric Ripert in one week? Am I turning into a chef fangirl or what? Next thing you know, I'll be writing posts about how much I love Grant Achatz while stalking him in Chicago (oh, wait, that might actually happen in May...what up?!??!).

Anyway, onto the episode. Hooray! Finally and episode in which the Quickfire and the Elimination Challenge were awesome, relevant to actually being a Top Chef, and showed which of the remaining chefs have the skills to win this bitch. Having Eric Ripert around didn't hurt, either, he's such a class act - all the way. Having him there just showed how very out of his league Toby is, and honestly showed a little bit of how much of a jackass Tom can be.

Gorton's Fisherman Quickfire Challenge:
This was my first thought: YUM!!! ERIC RIPERT!

The Quickfire was divided into three rounds, the bottom two from the first two rounds were eliminates, until two chefs were left to battle it out for the advantage of wining the QF. Round 1 was to clean and butterfly sardines, which really showed the skills (or lack thereof) the chefs had. From the beginning it was clear Stefan and Fabio were the two to be reckoned with, being able to fillet those tiny fish isn't hard - if you have the practice (I clearly do not) - and it was obvious which chefs were on a higher level than the other. Carla was awesome, though, she got Eric to crack a smile more than once in this episode and her reaction to sucking at the Quickfire was priceless. I was kind of surprise Jamie went out as early as she did, I just figured since her cooking skills were so good, she'd know how to deal with the fish, but I was obviously wrong. I was also shocked Leah did as well as she did in the first round (not so much after she interviewed that she worked as the head fish cook at a restaurant).

The second round was pathetic, arctic char should have been pretty easy for the chefs, with the exception of the pin bones, it's not too bad to fillet. Leah proudly displayed her title as "Most Useless Chef to Make it This Far on 'Top Chef'" by giving up midway through filleting, then half-heartedly trying to flirt with Eric Ripert , trying to get out of explaining why she gave up. To be fair, I would have tried to flirt with Eric, too, but I would have filleted my fish properly, first. I mean, it's Eric Ripert, you have to impress him with your skills, right? At the end of Round 2, only HO-sea and Stefan were left, HO-sea interviewing that he hates the "Euros." Nice.

Round three had the two of them skinning and filleting eels. Um, yuck. Seriously. I hate things that don't have legs. Snakes, worms, eels, it's not natural. Things should have legs. Or leg-like appendages. Nothing should move by waving its long, slimy body around. It's disgusting. That said, I was quite happy when Stefan impaled that thing through the head with a nail. The reactions were amazing. As soon as HO-sea had to copy Stefan's eel-skinning technique, I knew he was done. Even if he had miraculously skinned and filleted the eel properly, he should have lost because he didn't know how to do it in the first place, even though he's in charge of a seafood restaurant. Stefan rocked the QF and deserved the win - even Eric Ripert looked like he wanted to make out with Stefan after he inspected the filleted eel. Eric then invited all the chefs to Le Bernardin for lunch with him, which made me the most jealous person ever.

Elimination Challenge:

Eric told the chefs (and Tom and Padma) that he's selected six dished for them to eat for which I respond: Hmmmmm, I wonder where this is going, six dishes, six chefs? Whatever could the challenge be, Bravo producers? The lunch went pretty much as you'd expect it to, Jamie looked bitchy and said she was bored with the food (which I guess made sense when you take the outcome into account, but still, whatever, bitch, it's MotherF-ing Eric Ripert), Leah looked bored, Carla acted adorably humble ("I want to be an Eric Ripert dish when I grow up"), Fabio had some choice Italian witticisms, and Stefan and Hosea acted like douchebags. Well, they were both pretty well-behaved to be fair, but they kind of always are a little bit D-bagyg, even on their best behavior.

So, not shockingly, their challenge was to recreate one of the dishes they had for lunch exactly, and serve it to the judges. The lucky bastards also got direct input from the man himself, as Eric Ripert came into the kitchen to help each chef with their dish. I hope they each appreciated this opportunity - seriously, how many up and coming chefs get to cook food created by Eric Ripert, then have him taste and give them feedback on the dish? Phenomenal opportunity.

The chefs and two hours to prep and practice the dishes they had selected. Stefan had the honor of selecting his course, since he won the QF, while the rest of the chefs had to draw knives to figure out which dish they would cook. As much as the other contestants said Stefan picked the easiest dish, I have to say, I don't think any of the dishes were "easy" and lobster isn't the easiest thing in the world to cook - I know they're all supposed to know what they're doing, so cooking some fish shouldn't be that difficult, but look at the sardine/char debacle at the beginning, clearly they're not everything they make themselves out to be. The best part of this entire sequence, however, was Eric leering at the chefs from the corner of his kitchen. It was so deliciously creepy, yet endearing. Creepy, because, well, I think it was obvious...who likes someone lurking in the corner while they're trying to work? Endearing, because it seems, at least to me, that he really wanted the chefs to succeed and took pride in their earnest (with the exception of HO-Leah) efforts to recreate his handiwork.

Fabio got to fire his dish first, the sourdough-crusted red snapper, with tomato consomme. First, this dish sounded delicious. Second, I was worried about Fabio when I saw the breading, but it turns out that was the only thing he did wrong. I also didn't realize, I don't whether it's because they didn't tell us or I wasn't paying attention, that the chefs had to serve their version of the dish next to an Eric Ripert-protege version of the dish - HARDCORE. Like I said before, it's terrifying enough to have to make a dish conceptualized by a chef, then serve it to that same chef, let alone have it compared to the ideal version of the meal.

Leah went next with the mahi mahi with miso and mushrooms sauce. I don't quite understand why she didn't just ask Ripert what to do with the miso, or try harder to figure it out. She knew it was wrong, yet went with it anyway. Stefan had the lobster with hollandaise, and, of course, he knocked it out of the park. Perfectly cooked lobster and asparagus, great sauce. I'm really trying to find reasons he shouldn't win because of his piss-poor attitude, but I have to say, none of the other contestants hold a candle to him right now.

Carla was the forth course, the oil-poached escolar with potato crisps, and red wine bearnaise. Now, I have to say, Carla really impressed me here. Like a lot. I bet half the contestants couldn't make a bearnaise if you asked them to. She whipped that out with no problem. Only her potato crisps weren't spot on, which I thought was quite forgivable, and apparently, so did the judges.

Hosea was next with the monkfish with Za'Atar and black garlic. Yeah, I didn't know what Za'Atar was, either. It was kind of pathetic that he didn't allow the monkfish to rest before slicing it - I mean, he has a seafood restaurant for God's sake. He, of all people should have been able to serve properly cooked fish. Jeff would have totally whooped his ass in this challenge. Jamie went last and served the black bass with braised celery. Now, I'm not going to lie, I love celery, but braised? Eh, not so much. Regardless, I would have tried to make the dish as best as I could, Jamie seemed to phone it in because she didn't like Eric's "style of food," which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Come on, even if you don't cook like his type of food, you still have ERIC FUCKING RIPERT giving you personal feedback on a dish...suck it up and try your best. She was giving Leah a run for her money in the bitchy, entitled behavior club during the elimination.

Judges' Table:
I think it was clear who the top three would be at the end of the Elimination Challenge. All of them deserved to be congratulated and Stefan deserved the win, even if his dish was allegedly the easiest. Stefan also got the best prize of the season so far - getting to chill at Le Bernardin with Eric for a week, then fly with him to the South Beach Food and Wine Festival and hang out with the awesome (and not so awesome, Rachael Ray, Giada, Paula Deen, anyone?) people there, too. Lucky bastard.

As clear as the top three were, I think the bottom three were even more obvious; the Hos and Jamie. Two of them didn't seem to care and the other one has a seafood restaurant, yet can't cook monkfish properly. I have to say the elimination really surprised me...especially after listening to Tom comment on Leah and Jamie. Why would the judges choose to keep someone who they themselves acknowledged, "didn't cook the food properly and didn't know what she did wrong," vs. someone who didn't cook the food properly, but knew what she did wrong?" It doesn't make much sense to me. In fact, this is a direct transcription from last night, just before the elimination:

The overview, not shocking - HO-sea should have seared his fish first, then added the spice, HO-Leah sucked with miso, Jamie sucked with celery. Jamie goes home, WTF?!??!?? HOW IS LEAH STILL THERE???! WHAT THE HELL HAS HAPPENED? WHY DID SHE REFERENCE TEAM RAINBOW? HOW CAN YOU HAVE A TEAM OF ONE PERSON? WAIT, HOW IS LEAH STILL THERE???

After the fact, reading Tom's blog, he says Jamie's food was inedible, which, fine, I get it. If you make food no one can eat, you definitely should be sent home. But I didn't get that impression from the way the episode was edited. It looked to me like Jamie and Leah were equally sucky, yet Jamie knew where she went wrong while Leah didn't. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Regardless of my thoughts, Jamie was sent home. I don't think she could have won, but she's definitely more talented than Leah, and certainly on par with the rest of the chefs, if not better then most. If I ever get back to San Fransisco, I'm definitely checking out her restaurant, her food is exactly the kind I like to cook and, despite her sometimes pissy attitude, I have a lot of respect for her.

Next Week: The final four decided! Tom doesn't want to be embarrassed!! Fabio is mangled! Wylie Dufresne! Jacques Pepin!!!!11!!


Beth said...

That must be one of the best prizes ever. Though it's also funny, because Eric Ripert is basically saying that getting to be his BFF/bitchling for the week would be a prize for anyone. Not that you would argue that, of course!

I'm mad at all the judges for not sending Leah home. That's enough about that, though.

iko said...

Beth - Clearly I agree, Leah has no business being there, at least not now. Also, I would give pretty much anything to get to hang out with Eric Ripert for one week, but only if you came with me, too! At least we're cuter (and less cocky) than Stefan!! Eric, are you reading this??