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Top Chef: “Chefs At Sea”

Illustration for article titled iTop Chef/i: “Chefs At Sea”
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How do you spell the sound of a giant, never-ending fart? Here's a shot at it: ttthhhhhhhhbbbbppppttttttt. I'd submit that as a grade, too, if it were possible. It's hard to even call what aired tonight an episode—it was more like an hour-long infomercial for a cruise line with about 15 minutes of Top Chef tacked on at the end. Stretched to its limits by shots of the ship and a play-by-play rundown of the chefs' cruise-ship dinner, tonight's installment took my enthusiasm for this crucial end-of-season elimination and replaced it with rage.

Here's why: We're down to only five contestants! In last week's teaser, we were promised that this was the big run-up to the finale. Only four chefs will get off the ship! (Of course, we still have two chefs who will appear from Last Chance Kitchen and viewers' discretion.) If handled well, at this point in the season, Top Chef can really shine. Fewer, better chefs means more screen time for technique and innovation. Those of us who have stuck out the entire season have been waiting for this. We've been anticipating who might remain, and we've been playing out their strengths and weaknesses. The end of the season is our reward for watching the first part of the season. That's how elimination-round competition works. But as early as 10 minutes in, tonight's episode was showing signs of serious distress.


The first warning signs appear with the quickfire barely underway, when Padma and guest judge Curtis Stone painfully and awkwardly make small talk. For a long time. And all of it makes the cut. The premise of the quickfire isn't terrible. The chefs must feature iceberg lettuce—because everyone wants to remember the Titanic while on a cruise ship at sea. Clunky connotations aside, the challenge highlights a tough ingredient, and I was interested to see what the chefs would do with it. The specifics of the challenge and the intentions of the chefs get lost in all the product placement, though. (Does it count as placement if the chefs are actually contained within the product?) It's not a quickfire worthy of much time: difficult ingredient, lots of people, go. It's a tried-and-true concept, but this challenge sees almost twice as much air time as usual, and for no good reason. I was so frustrated by the sloppy editing I wanted to keep fast-forwarding to the food parts. For a show that's ostensibly about food and cooking, that's not a good sign.

The chefs, not knowing the disaster that will eventually take place in the editing room, seem none the wiser at this point. They put on a fair show. Sheldon easily takes the win with a vietnamese lettuce roll that delivers complex flavor and texture. He wins the advantage of getting to choose his proteins first in the elimination challenge.

What follows the quickfire is a lengthy advertisement for a cruise ship's amenities, and much, much rage from my couch. I passed the time by writing some mean analogies and haikus about Stefan.

The elimination challenge nearly turned things around, but again, had to fight tooth and nail against production. The chefs were asked to come up with a modernized surf and turf, to be presented with such whimsy as to match the levity of a cruise ship. And again, to their credit, the chefs stepped up. (Unlike the producers, they realized that this was a late-season game.) Brooke steps far from traditional surf and turf, choosing mussels and frog legs, a combination that wins her points for originality and flavor. Josh's pasta-making error in the kitchen forces him to do something more creative; he combines pork belly with a scallop-egg scramble that envelops his dish with a balanced taste of the sea. Lizzie's trouble with the steamer also fails to fully thwart her dish; her cabbage stuffed with suckling pig and scallops, though hard to eat, held together flavor-wise.


Sheldon fully chokes on this challenge, not only stumbling concept-wise and plating a more traditional surf and turf—he fails to execute the tempura well and then admits to being uninspired at judge's table. Watching his poor face register how badly he'd screwed up was incredibly painful. I thought he'd done himself in. Luckily Stefan's pork belly and eel featured a skin so crunchy Tom was afraid he'd break a tooth. Curtis asks him the question of death at judge's table: Did you taste the food? Stefan's excuses don't save him this time around, and he finally packs his knives after 60+ challenges.

Stray observations

  • Stefan: eyebrows :: child molester : lap
  • Stefan's lip-licking
    Self-satisfied and perverse
    But he's just a big baby
  • Next up: Josh. Then I'm guessing Lizzie. I'm assuming that's when the LCK and Twitter chefs will rejoin.

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