A question: do you think you appreciate an episode of Top Chef more if you’re more familiar with the foods being prepared? Because if so, I apologize ahead of time. The week I fill in for Scott while he’s at the Toronto International Film Fest Top Chef goes French. Sure I’ve enjoyed the occasional frog leg and snail and steak frite but I couldn’t tell you the difference between a hollandaise and a béarnaise, what a sauce velouté is and why the French have another sauce named after us Americans. I don’t think you need to be a French food expert however to appreciate what a big deal tonight’s challenge was for the chefs.
They should have known they were in for a bear of a challenge when the Quickfire a.) entailed an automatic elimination and b.) was all about snails. I predicted two things from the outset: that Jesse would head home (because her self-defeating attitude would surely be a self-fulfilling prophecy) and b.) that somebody, for some reason would make a BLT out of snails. Little did I know that the two things would be combined. All the chefs created intriguing-looking dishes for guest judge Daniel Boulud, but in the end, Kevin (who I’ve come to think of as Young Santa Claus) won with his escargot fricassee with bacon jam. How could you go wrong with bacon jam? Jesse, Ashley and Robin were in the bottom three and in order to fight one last time to stay in the game each had to make an amuse bouche out of anything in the kitchen. While I wasn’t surprised that Jesse got eliminated, to be fair the judges didn’t seem to have much reason why her tuna tartare with a cute little quail egg on top was any worse than Robin’s avocado soup (yum) or Ashley’s foie gras with pineapple. For some reason I was rooting for Jesse this season despite her negativity, so it was sad/annoying to see her saying “I don’t suck this bad,” upon her elimination. She was what, the fourth person eliminated from the show?
For the challenge, each contestant drew a knife with a French protein or sauce on it and paired together in order to cook for a handful of French culinary luminaries including Hubert Keller, Jean Joho, Laurent Tourondel and Joel Robuchon. I admit I’ve never heard of any of these folks except for Hubert from his other Top Chef appearances, except that you’d think I’d know who Robuchon, the chef of the goddamn CENTURY, is. Much teeth-gnashing ensued—this was both a great honor and a great challenge for all the chefs. Also, Kevin and his red beard got to dine with the judges, safe from elimination.
Robin seems to have made herself persona non grata since episode one of the when she decided not to gamble her gold chip, so it wasn’t a total surprise that Ron didn’t enjoy working with her. He wanted to do his French/Haitian thing while she buzzed around with ideas that he hated and generally ignored. Meanwhile, Ashley suggested adding asparagus to the velouté sauce, an idea Mattin didn’t like (always listen to the Gaul in the French food challenges). But otherwise, the teams seemed to work relatively well together. While cooking rabbit with Jennifer, Michael noted that creating French food for these judges was like “singing for the Beatles.” Not really the greatest simile in the world but I also couldn’t cook rabbit.
At the table, judges felt Ron and Robin’s frog legs were OK, Mike and Bryan’s trout with the deconstructed béarnaise was well-executed, Eli and Laurine’s lobster was too tough, Mattin and Ashley’s poussin was bland, Jennifer and Michael’s rabbit was nicely done and Hector and Ash’s chateaubriand was poorly-cooked, sauced and cut. And every time Robuchon spoke in French, ominous music played.
In the end, Bryan won for his reconstructed trout (did it seem like Mike was sort of trying to downplay Bryan’s input there?) and Ashley and Mattin were up with Hector and Ash for the loser. I thought Ashley would be the one going home, who, like Jesse, has had a bit of a loser’s mentality and who didn’t seem to take much ownership in her dish. However, Hector got the axe. As one of my watching partners tonight put it, “You fucked up because you undercooked the meat, that’s what happened.” Mattin, despite all his happy birthday frolicking, is lucky that he escaped elimination for failing to show the Americans how it’s done.
It was an episode maybe boring for those who like to see the chefs attack more everyday food and for those who love the dramz, but definitely a good one for the foodies. Plus, all that down-home excitement seems to be coming next week, where Tom Colicchio appears to hate a dish so much that he throws some of it on the ground. Now that’s a spicy meatball! (I’m sorry).
- How much time do the chefs spend finding the perfect adorably tiny plates for the amuses bouche?
- What does sauce Americaine taste like? Hot dogs.
- Which of those little assholes from Million Dollar Listing do you want to smack most? I want the one with the hair.