Saturday, November 04, 2006


Everyday Eaters

Previously on Top Chef: Team Korea and Team Vietnam cooked for a charity event. LycheeGate! Chef Tom interrogated people. Betty schmoozed. Her customer service earned her the win. Marisa's custard had too much gelatin. Marcel and Marisa wanted Otto to go. Otto fell on his sword.

Frank snores. Loudly. Marcel throws his earplugs in an attempt to wake him up. Dude, if he keeps sleeping, you're going to want those. Plus, ear plugs? Very low impact. Marcel interviews that his specialty is molecular gastronomy. Second only to playing to the cameras. He strolls shirtless across the room and Frank throws back the covers. I'm really not seeing anything appealing here. Marcel has noticed that some of the other contestants don't have much experience. "Other"? His performance so far hasn't earned him any bragging rights.

Betty interviews that everyone has different strengths. She, Mia and "Mike" have led in the "comfort food" area, but Cliff, Sam, Ilan and Emily are the "fine dining" stars. Various people make breakfast. Around the table, Michael confides that he thought they'd get to sleep in late. He really has no idea what he signed up for here. He interviews that he's not threatened by the other chefs; he knows he makes good food. But he's trying to stay in the middle so he won't be a target for sabotage. Well, I don't think anyone is really worried about Michael stealing this thing from under their noses, so mission accomplished, I guess. Too bad he's also convincing the judges that he's mediocre.

QuickFire challenge: Padma reveals that today's slant will be populist food, rather than elitist fine dining (consumed by only 38% of the population, and half of those get dragged there under duress). The first challenge is to create a new ice cream. Marisa perks up. She interviews that she uses ice cream all the time on desserts. Yes, but that's not the same thing as making ice cream. Padma authorizes use of a table of ingredients, the pantry and a product-placed ice cream maker. They have 2 hours and 45 minutes to produce 3 quarts of ice cream. Cliff reveals himself as an ice cream novice. They'll take their ice cream out on the road, to the beach. Since it's a hot day, they should get lots of interest. And go!

Betty recaps the challenge; she's another ice cream novice. Carlos apparently has made ice cream, because he knows he can't cook something on the stove and then cool it down in time to freeze. He's going to use avocados for creamy consistency instead of eggs. Emily tastes her mixture and cusses it out for being too hot. She interviews that chocolate and lavender is a happening combination, so she jumped on it. Sam interviews that he's not only not a pastry chef, he's diabetic, so he doesn't make sweet stuff. Cliff decides to please himself with textures and some cookies. Ilan likes breakfast flavors, so he's doing bacon and waffles. Marcel wants "to create new flavor profiles and make them taste really good" so he's going with bacon and avocado. For ice cream? Ilan interviews that he was worried at first to see Marcel with bacon, too, but then he noticed the other stuff and realized he had nothing to fear. Ilan has a taste of Marcel's and Marcel asks for an opinion; Ilan fibs that it's "nice." Padma calls 5 minutes. Marcel interviews that he was happy to at least have the right consistency. Betty interviews that she knew his flavor was a dud. Padma calls "Scoops down!" and it's off to the beach we go.

Frank interviews that the kids were lined up "300 deep." Emily interviews, "I was hoping the demographic was not going to be a bunch of snotty little kids. It was a bunch of snotty little kids. I hate kids." Hello? Summer. Beach. Ice cream. Hell yeah, you're getting kids. Padma explains that the tasters will vote for their favorites. The tasting begins. Marisa interviews that it was "chaotic" and not what she expected. I suspect Marisa has a low mess threshold. It's just a crowd of people, not a mob. Ilan interviews that he got a mixed reaction from the kids, but he's happy with how his turned out. Emily interviews that Sam's going to win because all the tween girls think he looks like Ashton Kutcher. Marcel's ice cream is a hard sell. He interviews that he was worried when he saw the clientele. It's exactly the clientele that Padma told them to expect, so I don't see why he's suddenly nervous now. He knew who he was cooking for. Mia interviews that the kids would spit out Marcel's ice cream and then wipe their tongues with napkins. Okay, that's bad. Marcel tells a customer, "It's an acquired taste." Josie calls the voting a "popularity contest," which evokes memories of not being popular in high school. Emily is offended that a woman criticized her ice cream: "The last thing you need with your four teeth and your huge ass is sugar." I had no idea Emily was such a lookist.

I guess Elia and Frank didn't make anything interesting.

Back in the kitchen, Padma has changed out of her beach clothes. She announces the bottom three: Marisa, Emily and, in last place with all of 7 votes, Marcel. Michael gives him a consoling thump on the back. There's a tie for runner-up: Carlos and Sam. They bump fists. The winner is: Cliff. Everyone claps. Cliff interviews that immunity is freeing, in case we still haven't figured out how this immunity thing works. Padma congratulates him on his second QuickFire win. Cliff is looking pretty good so far. Let's see if anyone tries to sabotage him. Marisa is feeling down because Cliff won -- wouldn't she feel down because of her own placement? -- but she doesn't think he won because of "the quality of his ice cream." Sadly, we do not hear what his win can be attributed to.

Elimination challenge: Padma introduces Stephen Bulgarelli, senior executive chef at GiantChainRestaurant. So we're continuing with the "cooking for the masses" theme. The challenge is to create something that will appeal to his customers. Marisa combines the "I need to win" interview with the "I'm not into this challenge" interview. Padma prods Chef Stephen for more information. He explains that their customers really enjoy childhood comfort food made in a grown-up way, so the challenge is to update a childhood favorite to create something that would fit with their entrees. So it seems that he's looking for an entree, although Padma described the challenge as a "dish." The winning dish/entree will be featured on GiantChainRestaurant's menu. Everyone cheers, even the fine dining chefs. Betty is psyched, because her restaurant does "California comfort food." They will have the afternoon to shop and 2 hours for cooking. Then they will have 15 minutes to finish their dishes "on location" at the South Pasadena fire station. More cheering. Josie is psyched because she has firefighter friends. Although presumably not in South Pasadena. Final detail: Michael used to work at GiantChainRestaurant. He interviews that he worked their briefly, and he has worked for a lot of "corporate" restaurants, so he feels confident. Padma announces that this experience will not give him any preference or any demerits. Which: yeah, but I guess they had to get it on the record.

Shopping: 30 minutes and $100. Marcel interviews that he doesn't "do" comfort food, so the challenge kind of threw him. Michael's brother is a fireman, and he's confident they'll love meat and potatoes, so he's making a steak sandwich. Emily also doesn't "do" this kind of mass-produced food; she has spent the last six years working in only the highest quality restaurants. So she decides on surf-and-turf, for lack of any better ideas. Michael picks up some beer for himself. At the checkout, he's over by a few cents, so he decides to sacrifice some cheese. They sell that stuff by weight; just get a slightly smaller wedge. Sam interviews that he's not sure Michael is in it to win. At the checkout, he advises Michael to get the cheese. Michael thinks there must be cheese in the pantry; Sam disagrees.

Time to cook. Cliff recaps the challenge. He remembers macaroni 'n' cheese and fish sticks from childhood; he hasn't met anyone who doesn't like mac 'n' cheese. Much chopping. Chef Tom comes through. Betty checks that he's allowed to taste her soup; he is, but he can't say anything about it. She tries to see his reaction, but he closes his eyes. Chef Tom asks about Frank's childhood memory. He's doing a "mushroom fantasy" that can be served as a salad or an entree. "Is the childhood memory a drug experience?" asks Chef Tom. When Frank stops laughing, he explains that it's from a favorite of his daughter's, which he also used to watch. Chef Tom arrives at Emily's post just as she's forking up a sample to taste, which she gives to him. "At least you're tasting your food," he comments. Sam has no GiantChainRestaurant experience, so he's "flying blind." But Chef Tom has heard about Michael's experience, and then he learns about the firefighting brother. "You have too many inside tracks," he jokes.

Outside, Chef Tom recaps the challenge once again. The fine dining chefs are stumbling over the casual dining concept. Honestly, what do these people eat? Marisa is playing off her strengths again, doing a fruit crisp. Because the dessert thing worked out so well for her last time. It looks like her oven temperature got reset. What is it about ovens? Marcel remembers his mom's mashed potatoes; he's adding pork chops and onion rings, but Chef Tom thinks the potatoes will be the critical element. Sam is making a vegetarian fruit option; Chef Tom figures some firemen will be tired of the heavy stuff, especially with the heat.

Marcel calls out the halfway mark. He tries to remember if he's ever made onion rings before. He interviews that he really wants to win; after all his focus on fine dining, it would be a huge blow to lose a casual dining contest. Back in the kitchen, he reveals that the secret to making onion rings is to "keep on hand dry at all times." Thanks for sharing. At the adjacent station, Betty is tired of listening to Marcel blather; she figures he's just trying to make himself sound more experienced. I think he's playing to the cameras. She complains that Marcel thinks fine dining is in a different category than comfort food (well, yes, that's why they have different names) but she thinks versatility is the hallmark of a top chef. Marcel announces to the camera that he got everything done. The last few seconds tick away.

The next day, a herd of product-placed vehicles ferry everyone out to the fire station. Padma sends the chefs up to the kitchen, and the firefighters arrive to settle in at the tables with the judges. Padma asks her table if they cook, and one guy answers that they have some serious cooks, and they try to balance out the four food groups. You know, it's an interesting balance: they need calories to sustain the hard work of firefighting, but they don't want to be weighed down with heavy food when they're on a call.

The chefs assemble downstairs. Padma thanks the "brave" firefighters and the chefs all clap. She sends them off to await judgement.

Judges' table: Padma has Chef Stephen recap the challenge. Gail asks for his impressions; he thought there would be more innovation. You know, GiantChainRestaurant and innovation don't really go together. Neither do comfort food and innovation. Comfort food is comforting precisely because it's familiar. He did find one dish innovative, though. Chef Tom guesses that was Sam's salad. Chef Stephen raves about it. He also liked the grilled cheese and tomato soup from Betty, which was precisely what they asked for. Gail asks about Ilan's corn, which she loved. Chef Stephen raves about the flavors, but he wanted it built into an entree. Chef Tom brings up Cliff's dish; Chef Stephen liked that the fish was light and not greasy. Gail reports that the firefighters kept eating the mac 'n' cheese; Chef Tom thinks that dish is classic comfort food.

Betty, Cliff and Sam line up before the judges. Chef Tom praises Sam's flavors and health-consciousness. Gail thanks him for doing something refreshing on a hot day. Chef Tom praises Cliff's fish and Chef Stephen raves about the mac 'n' cheese flavors. Chef Tom reminisces about grilled cheese and tomato soup; Betty did a good job updating it. Chef Stephen gives the win to Betty and she screams. She interviews that she's not going to coast on her laurels.

The backroom has guessed the results and everyone claps. Betty delivers the bad news to Emily, Michael and Frank. Padma asks Frank why he's there. He figures a conceptual dish would need tweaking, but he thought the components were good. Gail reports that people were confused. Frank reiterates "conceptual dish" and Gail says, "Food is for eating." Frank concedes. Chef Stephen has issues with difficulty of execution and it needed more flavor. Padma asks Emily if she tasted her food. Emily says she did taste, but she got frazzled. She can't explain what happened. She gets nailed for using frozen corn and skirt steak. Michael is all "bring it on." He has "no idea" why he's in the bottom. He talks about all the corporate restaurants he's worked at. Chef Stephen wants to know why he thought a steak sandwich would stand out. Michael hasn't seen many steak sandwiches on corporate menus. Chef Tom wonders why they should keep him. Michael protests that he loves food. Chef Tom doesn't see it; he's just sloppy. Padma sends them away while the judges deliberate.

Everyone agrees that Frank had the wrong idea. Chef Tom thinks "an incredible technician" could pull off an idea like that, but Frank's not that guy. Padma shifts to Emily. Chef Tom isn't impressed with the idea of surf & turf. Gail relates how she found it inedible. Chef Stephen goes back to basics: fix the food or don't serve it. Backstage, Emily wipes her eyes and tells Marisa(?) that the judging was rough. Michael's turn. Gail doesn't like his attitude. Chef Stephen and Chef Tom marvel at how he managed to mess up a steak sandwich, even with good ingredients. In the back, Michael is getting combative. The question is not "Is he drunk?" but "How drunk is he?" Michael threatens to throw down with Chef Tom, but Sam and Ilan try to calm him down. Sam interviews that he first thought Michael was a "yahoo" but he realized Michael just gets insecure. Marcel tells Michael he needs to stay and Michael sasses that he needs to knock Marcel out of the competition. Everyone laughs.

The bottom three return. I'm pretty sure Frank is safe. It was a wierd idea, but it wasn't actively bad. I can see Emily going -- her food was inedible, and that's a pretty serious mistake. But Michael seems to be the front runner for the boot. He claims he wants to win -- but not enough to put aside some beer in order to keep ingredients for his dish. Chef Tom gives Frank props for creativity, but it needed to be more refined to succeed. Emily's dish was too salty; you can't succumb to pressure like that. Michael starts shadow boxing and Chef Tom sighs. He wonders if he needs to say anything; Michael seems to be treating this like a joke. Michael protests that he's just being himself. Chef Tom spanks him for sloppy execution. Padma boots Emily. Frank looks stunned. I guess that settles the question of whether they judge cumulatively.

Emily starts to cry as she says her goodbyes and Cliff wraps her up in a big hug. It's a Harold-quality hug, but bigger. Betty and Josie add to the hug experience. Emily's going to miss being a part of the gang. Michael tells her, "This does not define who you are as a chef." That's more maturity than I expected from him. Emily enjoyed being a part of such a diverse bunch of chefs; it has sparked a lot of creative ideas.

Right winner? Sam came in for the most praise, but in the end, GiantChainRestaurant wasn't looking for innovation. I think there are plenty of customers who would want that salad, but enough to justify adding it to a menu? Both Cliff and Betty got the challenge right by referencing classic childhood comfort food. I'm not entirely sure where Betty had the edge; it could be flavor, or it could be suitability for mass production. One of the attractions of Cliff's dish was the non-greasiness of the fish; GiantChainRestaurant might not be able to pull that off.

Right loser? If the judging is challenge-by-challenge, then Emily was the right choice. Inedible is worse than sloppy. But Michael's ouster is imminent. I'm really not sure why he's on the show; who on earth thought he was Top Chef material? Granted, he has more real world experience than Candice, but at least Candice tried to learn from the experience. As far as I can tell, Michael doesn't aspire to be anything more than he already is. Which is fine, if you're happy with who you are. But I don't think he is, and I don't think a Top Chef settles.

Emily: heinous bitch or refreshingly snarky? Eh. She's gone. I can't make myself care.

Betty: heinous bitch or refreshingly honest? I'm more sympathetic to Betty, since I, too, am pretty tired of The Marcel Show, but she did go above and beyond. A simple "Dude, shut up already" would have sufficed. I can see how she might have snapped after having to listen him whine and whine, but it didn't sound like snapping. It sounded like "It's entirely reasonable for me to hate you, and I'm prepared to explain in detail why." That's really not a conversation people should be having. If someone is driving you bonkers, you tell them to stop doing whatever it is that's bonkers-making; you don't launch a wholesale character assassination. So Betty was wrong.

And Marcel was wrong. He ran into a problem, and instead of dealing with it, he whined. And after he finished with his competition entry, he whined some more to a bunch of people who had nothing to do with the problem, couldn't do anything about it and had nothing to do with the judging. And what was he whining about? "Fairness." An argument I never want to hear from anyone past junior high. Nobody set out to screw up his entry. Nobody did anything wrong to harm him. Stuff happens. Grow up and deal. Something Betty did when she found another way to make her grilled cheese sandwiches. Although Betty should not have engaged his sniping while she was cooking. If you're going to be the mature one, be mature. As for Marcel, if you're going to invoke a nitpicky tactic like tit-for-tat, get it right. Since Betty didn't pick on him while he was cooking, he doesn't get to pick on her while she's cooking. Although "nyah, nyah, you had equipment problems, too" doesn't have the same sting when she has already risen above it.

I need a break from The Marcel Show. I'm sure I could find plenty of other people annoying if they just got a little more screen time.

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