Monday, April 03, 2006


Let Them Eat Cake

Previously on Top Chef: Ken was an obnoxious jerk and was booted. Yay! In other news, Harold won the first Elimination Challenge.

Trolleys! We must be in San Francisco. Cynthia reveals that her father is dying of cancer. She found out the night before she left, and he told her to go on with the show, but she's not sure she's committed to the competition. Andrea does yoga. She interviews that she needs to work on her presentation. Candice is disappointed in her performance because she wants to prove that she's all about food. Tiffani is bummed that she didn't win. She interviews that she's totally competitive.

QuickFire Challenge: They arrive at the work kitchen to find Katie Lee and guest judge Elizabeth Faulkner of Citizen Cake, who is famous for her "avant garde pastry designs." Tiffani dishes on Chef Elizabeth's credentials. The challenge is about presentation. They have 30 minutes to create a fruit plate from the fruit basket in front of them. They'll be judged on presentation and knife skills. There's a frenzy of slicing except for Andrea, who likes whole fruit, and Stephen, who thinks he's above such a simple task and starts thinking of something different to do.

And the winner is: Stephen, who interviews that he knew he won when he saw the competition. Tiffani interviews that Harold should have won. Harold interviews that he knows some of Stephen's flavors wouldn't work and Stephen had admitted to not tasting everything. Andrea interviews that everyone was shocked except for Stephen. I'm with them. Stephen used the blender more than the knife, and knife skills were listed as a judging criterion. So now Stephen is looking smugger than ever. They all go back to the house to await details of the Elimination Challenge.

They all gather on the roof garden. Katie reveals that the Elimination Challenge is also a presentation test; they have to create a sexy dessert for a party. Their hostess arrives in a tight red latex dress: Madame S, the manager of Mr. S, a famous fetish store. Various horndogs drool. Madame S explains that the party is for 50 of her best customers, who will be dressed to play. She's looking for something decadent. The contestants will go shopping for presentation supplies. There's a group discussion of what's sexy that quickly exceeds Stephen's tolerance. I'm pretty sure he thinks sex is unsanitary.

They go shopping at Economy, a restaurant supply store: $50 and one hour. Tiffani interviews that she's not a pastry chef, so she needs to be creative. Brian interviews that food should be sexy, and "you should put whatever swagger you have into it." Miguel and Stephen discover they'll both be using tapioca pudding. Stephen warns Miguel that his will be better, so Miguel will look bad. Miguel doesn't seem worried.

Back to the kitchen. Harold is doing something with caramelized bananas. Lee Anne interviews that she thinks food is sexy by itself, so she doesn't want to make body parts. Cut to Miguel working on his "Tarts 'n' Tits" pastries. He was a pastry chef for a year, so he's feeling good about his skills. He wonders if any porn stars will attend. Andrea and Lisa both go with a nuts theme. Tiffani plays with string and tries to keep everyone else from figuring out what she's doing. Cynthia is also going the "food is sexy" route. Chef Tom drops in to see how it's going. Dave is making "Tit for Tat" pastries. Stephen is making something with champagne. (Did you know Stephen is a sommelier?) Candice is baking.

We have some drama when Lee Anne's oven temperature is changed and it throws off her timing. When the time limit is up, she still has a tray in the oven for two more minutes. She offers to take that time off the next day's work period. Everyone is okay with that except Tiffani, who figures rules are rules. Except Tiffani explains herself exactly how you would expect a "rules are rules" personality to explain it, which ticks off Lee Anne. I'm kind of with Tiffani, at least philosophically. Since you have a kitchen timer counting down the time, it would have been obvious when Lee Anne put the tray in the oven that it wouldn't be done in time, so she should have thought about refrigerating them for baking tomorrow (assuming that would work). But Lee Anne did propose a reasonable accommodation, so I think that would have been fine if everyone had agreed.

The next day, Cynthia checks up on her dad. He's fading pretty quickly. She thinks she might have to quit. Dave is in on the story. Miguel interviews that the way you feel shows up in your food.

Everybody is back in the kitchen for 4 hours. Lee Anne throws out her dim sum from the previous day and starts over. Chef Tom wanders through. Harold tries making buttermilk gelato by hand, not realizing there's an ice cream machine. Cynthia tells Chef Tom that he can't talk to her right now, and he immediately turns away. She needs to get things done. Chef Tom is worried about Andrea's (un)sexiness, Cynthia's disorganization and Harold's homemade ice cream. Everybody has to pack up their food for transport. Harold and Cynthia are both thrown because people keep opening the freezer and their food isn't getting a chance to set.

Katie Lee and Madame S greet them at the sex shop. Gawking ensues. They must set up their stations and then change into their party outfits before the guests arrive. Cynthia has to throw out her chocolate bombe because it didn't stay cold enough. The fun starts when the chefs start changing. Miguel tricks himself out as Fat Bastard (already high on my personal Ew! list), including a jacket over not enough of his naked chest. He's having fun; his fellow contestants, not so much.

The guests arrive. Lots of latex and leather. Ru Paul is in the house! Fabulous red leather pants make her legs look six miles long, but the long crimped hair looks tired. Ru Paul towers over Gail and Katie Lee, and tells Andrea that her low-fat dessert needs butter. The judges circulate with the guests and sample.

Madame S goes around to find her winners. Stephen interviews that his was the best. He gets a little freaked out when Madame S flirts with him. Miguel interviews that they really needed to sell sex, and some people didn't really do that. We see Dave, Lisa and Andrea looking totally stiff, while Candice, Tiffani and Lee Anne party with the guests. Miguel, of course, is totally into the party part. After various shots of people being decadent, the party is over.

Back at the judges' table, Chef Elizabeth complains that a lot of dishes were lacking in taste. Gail says they were also lacking sexiness, and she heard a lot of excuses about things that didn't work. She just wants to hear you're behind your food. They bring in Madame S to select the top runners. Tiffani was fun and sexy but the cookie was yucky and crumbly. Stephen's dessert had a great mouth sensation. Miguel was engaging and his dessert tasted good. Brian was sweet and his dish had different textures. Brian, Miguel and Stephen get summoned to the table. Chef Tom tells Stephen that he had a great presentation, but the champagne was too dry and he should have used something sweeter to meld with all the flavors. Ha! Let's just pause to savor the moment. Chef Elizabeth liked Miguel's because it felt like different courses, and it was fun. Gail liked the rough edges of Brian's cookie garnish and the sensuality of the cream. Katie annouces the winner: Miguel, for his balance of taste and presentation. Stephen looks puzzled by the judges' failure to recognize his innate superiority.

Andrea, Lisa, Cynthia and Dave are summoned to the table. Chef Elizabeth found the flesh tones of Dave's dessert kind of freaky. He confesses he was too literal. Andrea is surprised to be in the bottom, but admits she needed more presentation. Gail says there was no originality or pizzazz. Lisa didn't sell her tarts to the judges. She doesn't have much confidence with desserts. Cynthia focused too much on what went wrong. She declines to play the "my father's dying" card. Instead, she is upset that she's not performing as well as she could. They get sent away so the judges can talk some more. Dave's was too complicated but he tried to get into the spirit of things. Lisa's tasted good, at least. Andrea's was just ordinary and Cynthia's was all over the place, so it's between the two of them. They get called back to the table. After another scolding, Andrea gets the boot.

Lee Anne delivers Andrea's eulogy, praising her for her strength. Andrea interviews that this confirms her belief in what she's doing, and she's off to finish her cookbook and change the world one meal at a time. Because nothing says "Atta girl!" like losing.

I'm pretty sure Cynthia won't be around too much longer, but I was glad to see Andrea go. Cynthia was disappointed in her performance and wanted to do better. Andrea was complacent. It seems to be enough for her that food is healthy, and people deserve more than that from a chef.

Controversy: Should Cynthia be competing if her father is dying? She was accepted onto the show before she got the news, but presumably she still had the chance to back out. Her father suggested she continue with the show and he's the one who's most concerned, so I think he gets the biggest say. I suspect they really had no idea how quickly or slowly things would progress when Cynthia left, and they were only expecting her to be gone for about a month, so they decided to go for it. My impression is that her father is fading faster than anyone initially expected.

The other question is, should Cynthia be competing if she's not able to give it her full attention? Objectively, it doesn't make a lot of sense. However, that assumes Cynthia knew she'd be a total wreck. If she has never been in this situation before, perhaps she expected that cooking and meeting the challenges would be a distraction from her worry, instead of the other way around. I'd really rather be able to see what she can do when she's more focused.

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