Thursday, November 22, 2012
Recap: Top Chef stages a Tom versus Emeril holiday duel
Warning: Spoilers (and Thanksgiving deliciousness) ahead.
In the last episode, three contestants from previous Top Chef seasons returned to compete - to which Dallas chef Joshua Valentine says, "I hate them all." And that seems reasonable after this episode's Quickfire when two of them - Josie Smith-Malave and Stefan Richter - place in the top three during a dumpling-making challenge. The third finalist is Micah Fields, who gets stuck making manti (a dumpling eaten in Kazakhstan, which he says he didn't know was a real place).
Smith-Malave wins immunity with her version of a Korean dumpling called mandu. But the best Quickfire moment was when host Padma Lakshmi and guest judge Dana Cowin of Food & Wine Magazine share a giggle with John "Most Hated Chef in Dallas" Tesar about the pronunciation of his Swedish dumpling: the kroppkaka. The name is definitely the best part; the dish itself looked like a biscuit topped with cream gravy.
For this week's Elimination Challenge, the 17 cheftestants are divided into two teams that will make a Thanksgiving dinner inspired by one of Top Chef's top chefs. Valentine is on Tom Colicchio's Team Red, and Tesar and fellow Dallas chef Danyele McPherson are on Emeril Lagasse's Team Gray. The menus' themes are not surprising: Colicchio wants an Italian-American Turkey Day meal with a pasta dish and Lagasse wants a New Orleans-style feast full of
BAM! spice. "It's like the Civil War of Thanksgiving," Smith-Malave says.
Since this is a Thanksgiving episode, the head chefs impart some turkey-cooking wisdom. Colicchio's birds have about three pounds of butter - each - tucked under their skins along with some herbs. Lagasse's advice: "Stuff that ass with a lot of butter in there as it roasts." Wham, bam, thank you, Em.
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The Gray Team's meal is served first, and the menu includes triple spice turkey with cayenne and hot sauce, gumbo, greens, biscuits, potatoes, and bread pudding with white chocolate and pecans. Lagasse says McPherson did a "wonderful job" on her dressing based on his mother's recipe. He also says that Tesar, who made cornbread stuffing with bacon and jalapeno, "nailed it." Tesar's pumpkin torte is described as having a delicious flavor, but a grainy texture.
Colicchio's group serves braised turkey, stuffing with pancetta and foie gras, mashed potatoes, pasta, soup, salad, Brussels sprouts, panna cotta, and chocolate tart. Lagasse says Valentine's sweet potato ravioli with pecans, caraway, and tart cherries is the "weakest thing on the plate." Because his team wins the challenge, Valentine is not up for elimination. His teammate Carla Pellegrino takes the top spot for her carrot soup with turkey meatballs. Elizabeth Binder and C.J. Jacobsen (returning from Season 3) round out the top three.
Though their team lost, neither Tesar nor McPherson is on the chopping block. Smith-Malave is called out for her undercooked turkey, but she cannot be eliminated due to winning immunity during the Quickfire round. Tyler Wiard and Sheldon Simeon are also in the bottom, but it's Kuniko Yagi, whose potato pave was undercooked and under-seasoned, who packs her knives and goes. And that's when the drama really starts.
After Yagi says her farewells to the seemingly stunned remaining contestants, Valentine says, "It just emphasizes the point that you have to show up and do great every day to win." Then Tesar speaks up: "I'm one of her biggest fans, but you can do potatoes in your sleep as a chef...We had five hours, man. If you can't taste your food in five hours, your mind is someplace else."
And it is on. Jacobsen, who seemed to have an anti-Tesar moment with Valentine earlier, says "Everything ends up being a lecture with you." To which Tesar says, "You're full of shit right now." And, finally, this episode really feels like a true Thanksgiving gathering.
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