Sunday, December 17, 2006
Previously on Top Chef: Marcel and Betty verbally duked it out. The chefs cooked on the beach for surfers. Frank was screwed. Mia dropped her salt. Elia got the win. Gail had egg issues. Frank got the boot.
Marcel interviews that he's sure he'll sleep better without Frank's snoring. Michael shows off his naked torso, which is at least not as disturbing as Frank's naked torso, so I can live with it. Elia does more yoga. Sam tells someone that Frank broke his knife bag (actually, the strap on his knife bag). Sam recaps that he was in the bottom with Frank, so he needs to keep his focus, but it's getting hard. Mia interviews that they've been competing for weeks now and she's homesick. Ilan rallies the chefs to head out.
QuickFire challenge: Betty interviews that there was "loads of booze" in the kitchen, sounding like she has already indulged in most of it. Padma greets the chefs with "Happy Holidays." July 4th? Flag Day? She introduces Kristin Woodward, an "award-winning mixologist" from Oysters. Padma tells the chefs that "this is the party season" -- sure, if picnics and cookouts count -- and they have to create an original cocktail and snack using the heavily-featured product-placed booze. Cliff interviews that he leaves the pouring to others; he just does the drinking. Au contraire, I recall a certain critical pitcher of sangria several episodes ago. Marcel approves of the challenge. Good to know.
Padma sends the chefs scurrying around the kitchen; they have 20 minutes to work. Mia thinks the challenge is "bogus" because she doesn't drink mixed drinks. Not seeing what one has to do with the other. As for "bogus," chefs don't really have to work with cocktails, but essentially this is all about blending flavors, so it's not outrageously out of line. Ilan reports that he's making a Hanukkah snack, since Christmas isn't a holiday he celebrates. Sam decides to make something pretend-seasonal involving hot chocolate. He uses a packet of cocoa mix, and now I get to look forward to a rehash of the "boxed cake mix" brouhaha. Betty (who apparently has picked up Marcel's trick of narrating her own cooking) interviews that Product-Placed Liquor (henceforth PPL) is more of an after-dinner drink; it's harder to come up with a (before-dinner) cocktail because it's cream-based. Cooking, cooking, cooking. Michael voiceovers that he has a lot of bartending experience (some of it perhaps even professional rather than personal), so he'll get some heat from the home crowd if he can't win this. Padma calls time. The hands in the air definitely look like a bank robbery this time.
- Mike (as the caption now has him): "Tasty Lacy" with caramel PPL, Bushmills, Guinness and a candied rim (adhered by melted chocolate, I think) with a cherry ice cream mini-sandwich. Kristin observes, "The first thing that obviously comes to most people's mind is dessert."
- Cliff: original PPL, rum, vodka & vanilla bean with grilled sliced beef on a sesame wafer topped with crème fraîche, nutmeg & dark chocolate. Kristin's reaction: "I was kinda hoping someone would do a burger and a PPL shake."
- Sam: PPL hot chocolate, Godiva liqueur & heavy cream with egg nog French toast topped with apple, rosemary & onions.
- Marcel: "Fire and Smoke" trio (again!) of scotch, PPL coffee with scotch & milk foam, tapa of pancetta, potato, coffee grinds & vanilla vapor. The tapa sits on top of a tall glass holding heated vanilla beans. Looks tricky to serve. Kristin makes a comment about the combination of salty and sweet.
- Ilan: original PPL and egg whites foamed with Guinness and topped with scotch, with horseradish & beets on matzo topped with pan-fried egg yolk. He also has some potato pancake in there.
- Mia: "Chocolate Mama" mint chocolate PPL, Crown Royal & orange juice (and zest) with grilled mango & Brie on a Danish apple crisp. What's with the constant "mama" names? Skip the shtik.
- Elia: caramel/ginger cappuccino with petit four of chocolate and nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecan).
- Betty: coconut rum with lime & sugar topped by a "float" of caramel PPL and cinnamon with scallops marinated in rum with mint, parsley & cilantro. Kristin is scared of the drink's curdled cream top -- rightfully so, as it turns out.
Padma asks for the bad news first. Mia's drink presentation was too simple. Mia interviews that it's a bummer to get called out in the bottom; she's frustrated and homesick. Betty's drink was unacceptable. She interviews that she was embarrassed and needs to step up. Yep, that pretty much covers it. The good news: Cliff had yummy beef and a good cocktail; Sam also had a good cocktail and the egg nog French toast was "seasonal;" Mike had a "wonderful" cocktail and ice cream sandwich. Cliff gets the win. We get another excerpt of Cliff's previous "immunity is good" interview.
For the Elimination challenge, Padma has them draw knifes. Crap, another team challenge. I am willing to put up with one team challenge, when they're down to ten contestants, and they choose up teams schoolyard-style so we can see what the chefs think of each other. But that's it. Padma pretends it's December some more, talking about the party season and the demand for catering and restaurants. The chefs will be attending a Christmas party for Los Angeles magazine produced by a big special events company -- as caterers. They'll get $1500 to cater a cocktail party for 200 guests. They have 4 hours of prep time plus a day on site. They'll be judged on "taste, originality, leadership and wow factor." Oh, goody, another stupid "leadership" challenge. First, the judges shouldn't consider anything they can't see, and if they don't watch the teams work, they can't accurately assess leadership. Second, I'm tired of them pretending that "leadership" is some sort of magic cure-all that overcomes any and all problems. If a team succeeds, they praise the leader, even though a team can pull together without one; if a team fails, it's all the leader's fault for not fixing everything. Feh.
So, we have the orange team of Betty, Sam, Ilan and Marcel and the black team of Cliff, Mike, Elia and Mia. They get together and start planning. Betty interviews that a loss would damage her professional reputation, since she caters parties for exactly this crowd. Betty and Ilan bond. Ilan proposes Sam as leader and Betty agrees. Ilan joins Sam and Marcel at the freezers and says he's sure they can "all agree" that Sam is their "organizing leader." They can. He's really the only choice, given the tension between Betty and Marcel, and Marcel and Ilan. Speaking of which, Sam tells Marcel and Betty that they have to "get over" their animosity. While they've shown an ability to put emotions aside and work together, that was before their second altercation, so I think it's fair for Sam to bring it up. Better to address it right up front than wait for a problem to erupt. Sam interviews on the hazards of the leadership position. He usually leads a crew of 15 chefs, so he's sure a crew of 4 won't be a problem. In their planning session, Betty recommends 8-10 different items, including some sweet stuff. Marcel makes some suggestions. Betty interviews that they came up with a list of 13 choices. An LA party needs good food, and lots of it.
Cut to the black team, where Elia is proposing two different appetizers, but she wonders if anyone thinks they should have four. Ooookay then. Elia wants two really stellar dishes. Mia says they'd better be pretty damn good if there's only two. Elia interviews about her preference for quality over quantity. Oh, dear, Elia has fallen into the trap of giving the people what they "should" want. I don't care what they are, two kinds of canapes for a cocktail party is nuts. Elia proposes a smoked salmon roll, or perhaps a gazpacho. Mia mentions figs with prosciutto on Gorgonzola. Elia doesn't want cheese, but is enough of a team player to ask if the others do. Cliff says he'd stay away from Gorgonzola because some people don't like it. But you could say that about any ingredient -- which is why a smart caterer gives guests a variety of things to choose from. Mia interviews that they have three people who tend to lead, and she has a lot of valuable experience to contribute. So why isn't she telling them why two canapés is seriously stupid, instead of just saying, "Well, they'd better really good, then"?
During the discussion, Mia verifies that they're doing two seafood dishes, and Elia thinks it will be okay. Not if somebody's allergic to seafood. Are they assuming that the orange team will provide the variety? Mia says she has a problem with doing all that seafood, but Elia says they've already decided. The team members are arranged differently around the table as Mia says she doesn't feel her experience is "being appreciated." Elia assures her that it is. Mia says she's done and they should just work on the equipment list. So, she complains that they aren't listening to her, and when they pay attention, she refuses to say anything. Grr. If you're done, then be done; don't make a production out of it. Mia interviews her team isn't "allowing" her to be the successful, professional caterer that she is. Back in the kitchen, Elia protests that Mia shouldn't get mad and they're trying to reach a consensus. Mia understands, but all her ideas have been "shot down."
Obviously the planning session has been heavily edited, but I haven't seen Mia talk about her catering experience, or how events work, or what guests expect. She obviously disagrees with the current menu, but instead of saying "Here are the problems" or "Here's what we need to do," she pouts that they aren't using her ideas. I just don't see her communicating effectively with the others. Elia clearly has strong opinions, but she's at least trying to build consensus. I'm not sure why Cliff is on board the "quality, not quantity" train with Elia -- maybe he sees it as a way to stand out with the judges -- but he's offering opinions instead of dictating. Mike is just staying out of the way, which leaves Mia as the only opposition, and she's talking about her feelings instead of addressing the problems. In some ways, the orange team is lucky to have all that personal animosity, because everyone knows it's there and can deal with it. The black team is busy avoiding their issues. Cliff and Mia just don't get along, but Elia wants everyone to pretend they do and Mike just wants to cook something and drink some beer. They're doomed.
Half of each team arrives at Restaurant Depot for bulk shopping while the other halves hit the grocery store. Mia recaps the challenge for those of you just tuning in. Mia and Mike look for produce while Betty and Sam start working the herb aisle. Sam interviews about the division of labor for his team. Cut to Ilan and Marcel buying mussels. The guy at the fish counter wants to put them in a plastic bag, but Marcel asks him not to; the mussels will die. The fish guy proposes paper instead, which works. Ilan tells Marcel not to "be a dick" and Marcel protests that he wasn't. I agree, he wasn't. Unfortunately, he just has a naturally dickish tone of voice. Marcel interviews that he's trying to work as a unit to get the job done, but he's also aware of the individual nature of the overall competition. He calls Sam to say he's going to do an endive dish if Sam agrees; Sam agrees with an "okay, if it will make you shut up already" tone.
Elia interviews that she and Cliff were talking about Mike's idea; while it could be good, it's not "high end." Cliff calls Mia and tells her they're worried about the lobster/potato thing and they have another idea. Mia says she's not cool with changing horses in midstream "with no discussion at all." Cliff says that's why he's calling. Cliff interviews that Mia "wanted to fight about everything." Mia tells Mike that they're cutting his dish, which she disagrees with. Mike asks what they're substituting, and Mia gets back on the phone. Mia interviews that Cliff is stubborn and bossy. I believe he can be; I believe he can come off that way even if he doesn't mean to. But we haven't seen him being bossy; he didn't just order Mia to pick up new ingredients. Mike moans that he knew they'd pull this stuff, and Mia tells him she did, too, but she's "just trying to be cool." Mike goes ahead and gets a box of lobster tails anyway; he voiceovers that he needs to contribute, so he'll do a surf-and-turf thing.
Once again, we didn't hear the whole exchange, but Cliff called to talk about things and Mia didn't talk, she just told Mike that the others were changing things and then grumped about it. Did they even discuss the idea for a replacement dish? At least find out what they're suggesting before you get all bent out of shape about it. Maybe it really is a better idea.
At the checkout, Sam tells Betty he feels like they just did one of those sweepstakes shopping trips. Mia observes that the orange team has a lot of stuff. Betty interviews that they had two full handcarts, while the black team had half a cart. She wonders what they'll be serving. Me, too. The teams should be serving roughly equivalent volumes of food, even if they've divvied them up into different numbers of dishes. Mia interviews that she has a catering company, and if she loses the challenge, she doesn't need people thinking that she doesn't know what she's doing. Both Mia and Betty need to ratchet down the egos a bit. First, on a team, the problem is if "we" lose. Second, on a team, your individual reputation is most affected by how you contribute, not whether you ultimately win or lose. Third, who picks a caterer based on her win/loss record on some reality show?
Back at the kitchens, the teams have 4 hours for prep work. Betty recaps that fact in case you missed it in the captions. Betty suggests dividing up the work so they know who's doing what. Marcel immediately asks to see the shrimp. Betty takes notes as Sam explains some division of labor. Betty interviews that the orange team has an "astronomical" list of dishes. Mia interviews that the team put Elia in charge, since she has the best classical technique and the most experience with "high-end product." Ilan interviews that he doesn't understand how the other team could serve only four dishes for a cocktail party. Me, either. Time winds down. Mia says, "Trust me on this, you guys. Let's make some [bleep]ing extra crostini in case we break some so we can have some extra. Please, can we?" Sure, she's smiling, but it's just so incredibly hostile and passive-aggressive, I want to bitch-slap her into next week. If you want to make extra crostini, make extra crostini already and don't act like you need to get their permission to friggin' breathe. Mia interviews that she's worried and depressed; she doesn't have the sense of camaraderie that she's used to. Yeah, go figure. The teams pack up their food. Cliff interviews that he feels they're good to go.
The next day, they arrive at a set of a city residential area (lots of brownstones) covered in fake snow. They find two mobile kitchens. Sam interviews about the wonders of it all. It's a definite "boy and his toy" moment. The orange team explores their kitchen. Cliff interviews that he's feeling positive. Elia interviews that she's excited to work with their ingredients. Sam interviews that there's a lot at stake -- not just the overall competition, but also looking bad at the party. Sam tells the team he wants to work on one thing at a time. Marcel interviews that he's going to be an all-out cooking machine. Sam interviews that they had a lot to prepare, and it was non-stop work. Over at the black team, Mike chops some onions. Betty interviews that the black team isn't "working at the same pace" as the orange team. Mia asks Mike if she should put garlic on the crostini, and Mike says they certainly have time for it. Mia interviews that with their high-end ingredients, they didn't want to cook things too soon and have them sit. She and Elia watch the other team working through the kitchen window. Mia observes that they have too much "going on" and she likes being able to focus on their fewer items; Elia agrees.
Sam warns Ilan that Chef Tom doesn't like skin on bell peppers (is that a warning to be careful with his fingers?) when the man himself arrives for a walkthrough. He asks what the orange team is doing and they list some of their items. Chef Tom asks about quantities. Sam says it's 75 of some up to 200 of others; they want to have people come back to their table. Over at the black team, Elia explains they're doing four canapés. Chef Tom says the other team has 10-15 items; did they make a mistake? Cliff explains that they wanted to do four really tight dishes. Chef Tom asks about the team leader, and Cliff points to Elia, who raises her hand. Chef Tom wishes them luck as he leaves. Cliff interviews that he's still feeling confident and he decided not to let Chef Tom's comments bother him. Hello? He's a judge. You should darn well care what he thinks. Oh, wait, Cliff has immunity. Mike marvels at the count for other team -- "That's crazy!" Elia agrees. She does some math -- 200 people, two hours, 800 canapés is perfect. So, wait, each guest gets one of each canapé? And four canapés each to hold them for two hours? Elia's math isn't looking so good. Elia interviews that she doesn't like comparisons; she makes up her mind and sticks with it instead of letting comparisons sway her. Marcel interviews that on the one hand, his team is going to blow away the judges with all their dishes but on the other hand, the black team is playing it safe and they could have four solid dishes. "Simplicity is a sign of perfection."
Shortly before the party begins, Padma introduces the judges. She's wearing a gold and black dress that reminds me of a tablecloth. Subbing for Gail today is Ted Allen (yay!). The guest judge is Lee Hefter, executive chef of Spago in Beverley Hills. He looks like someone made a copy of Chef Tom and then squashed him slightly. The chefs run around, setting up their tables. Ilan interviews that they're excited and the team worked well together. Mia's interview hits the "quality over quantity" angle once again. Guests arrive and grab drinks. Sam interviews that he and Ilan will cook while Betty and Marcel man (or woman) the tables. Betty starts working the guests. She interviews that she loves that kind of work and she's feeling confident about their food. Sam interviews that they immediately had a big crowd around the table, and the team's confidence was obvious. Marcel tells a guest that they'll have a whole different spread of food in about 45 minutes.
Elia interviews that she feels better in the kitchen, so Mia and Mike got table duty. Mike carries a tray of strawberries over to some female guests. Mia tells some guests the "quality over quantity" angle. She interviews that she was making people happy. A guest describes the black team offerings as "more high-end." Mia tells guests that the chefs are working on more food. Get used to saying that. She interviews that the guests kept asking where the food was, and she wondered why it wasn't coming fast enough, and she began to realize that they had a big problem. Elia interviews that she was cooking the surf-and-turf and scallops during the party. Mike interviews that he'd bring out food and it would be gone as soon as he put it out. Elia asks if he can't entertain them, which Mike rightfully pooh-poohs -- they want food. (Say it loud, Mike: "I'm a chef, not an entertainer.") Ted Allen asks Mia if she has been abandoned, and she explains that Mike is fetching food. He offers to help out but Mia tells him to enjoy himself. Mia interviews that she's just going to keep working. If she had shown this much positivity during the planning, things might not have come to this pass. I'd certainly have a better opinion of her overall. She's doing a great job now in a difficult situation, but that doesn't excuse her passive-aggressiveness during the planning and prep.
Ilan interviews that the great thing about variety is that people have lots of things to choose from, so if they don't like something, they can take something else. Marcel describes the bread pudding to someone. Betty schmoozes with someone I've seen in a commercial. The judges arrive at the orange table. Chef Lee asks where all the ideas came from and Betty says it was a team effort. He asks about a team leader and Betty names Sam. She interviews that the abundance gave their table a special vibe. Ted asks about any planning for their two "courses." Betty says it wasn't planned, except the sweets will come out later. Marcel describes a few dishes to the judges. Padma admires their presentation. Marcel interviews that he was feeling really confident when the judges came along.
- crab cake with spicy fire-roasted corn & pasilla relish
- sesame shrimp skewers with honey
- pickled mussels with apple molasses mignonette
- calamari with dip
- cinnamon croissant bread pudding with white and dark chocolate and almond cream
- beef tenderloin roulade stuffed with Cabrales blue cheese and green beans with watercress and roasted garlic sauce
- cauliflower a la plancha
- croquetas (ham, cheese & potato)
- salmon mousse
- confit of pork shoulder with tomato marmalade
- mushroom tart
- vegetable terrine with roasted red pepper coulis
- chorizo & egg tostada
At the black team table, Ted asks about the strawberries; he's heard raves. Mia describes them and Ted spots bacon! (Pancetta, but close enough.) Mia also points out the scallops. Padma asks what was in the blank spot, and Mike arrives with a tray of surf-and-turf just in time. Ted asks if anything was planned as a featured item. Mike says he came up with the surf-and-turf "on the fly" at the store and it's turning out to be a star.
- surf & turf canapé of lobster medallion with filet mignon & herb (basil/dill) salad on toast
- seared scallops with Belgian endive & ginger-grapefruit marmalade
- smoked salmon with avocado mousse
- strawberries with rosemary mascarpone & pancetta brunoise
When the cooking is over, the teams toast themselves. Marcel interviews that they were celebrating a great team effort, but you never know what the judges will do. Mia interviews that they don't know what the judges will want, but she believes in Elia's talent. Elia says teamwork during a competition is hard; she was chosen as leader and she doesn't want to get the boot.
Judges' table: Padma asks for general opinions. Ted is astonished that the same resources could produce such different results. Chef Lee thinks the orange team looked like they had $5000 instead of $1500. Ted points out that the orange team kept their table overflowing with bounty while the black team kept running out of food. Padma reports that they had empty stations and "poor Mia" was all by herself when she stopped by. Chef Lee points out that the black team's food was better: the scallop on endive and the strawberries were the two best dishes of the evening. Chef Tom didn't care for the orange team's shrimp. Ted observes they didn't have anything you couldn't find at a decently-catered party. It looked and tasted "pretty good" but didn't hold up to the black team's offerings.
Padma summons the orange team, and promptly pronounces them the winners. Chef Tom asks if the win surprises them after seeing what the black team put out. Ilan says, "No" and Sam says, "Not so much." Chef Tom confirms that Sam was the team leader. Marcel interjects that he's a big boy and can cook all by himself, so he didn't really need a leader. Ted asks if he's trying to say that he made a strong contribution or if there's another point, and the rest of the team just laughs, "Oh, that's Marcel." Marcel says he just did his own thing. Look, they're congratulating you on your teamwork; this is not the time to announce that you're not a team player. Padma lets Chef Lee choose the winner, and naturally he picks Sam, who gets a 20-piece Global knife set. "The whole thing?" gawks Sam. Chef Lee says he could divvy them up among the team, but personally, he'd take the knives and run. Sam interviews his pleasure with winning a prize for once in his life. He gripes that Marcel was trying to undercut him; he should have just shut up and enjoyed not being on the chopping block. Okay, I agree that Marcel was stealing some of Sam's thunder, but he's still entitled to talk. And he wound up making himself look silly, so that worked out to Sam's benefit in the end.
The black team arrives for their spankings. Padma asks Elia what she thinks went wrong, and Elia blames "a lack of organization at the end." Padma confirms that she was the leader. Chef Lee says none of their dishes made him feel compelled to go back for more, although the best dish was the scallop; when he asks, Mike replies it was Elia's dish. Chef Lee would have liked to see eight dishes like the scallop. Padma asks Mike what he did; he explains that he was running back and forth delivering food and handling communication. Chef Tom asks why they kept running out of food. Cliff volunteers that it was a lack of communication between front and back ends. I don't buy it. Perfect communication might have helped, but I don't think it would have solved their delivery problems. Mia looks a little disgusted and Chef Tom picks up on her disagreement. She says she had a problem with the lack of food. Chef Tom turns to Elia, who says they were cooking during the party and just didn't work fast enough. Padma points out that they only had four dishes and Elia agrees. Mia says she suggested doing six and was told, "Let's do three." Cliff makes a frowny face. Padma asks if they heard her say that; Cliff shakes his head and the others don't say anything. That suggestion wasn't included in what I saw of the planning.
Mia states that she didn't feel like she was heard and her professional experience wasn't appreciated. Cliff interjects that he "can't allow Elia to get thrown under the bus." But Mia was complaining about the whole team. Cliff says Elia had to deal with some tough circumstances, because not all of her cooks were "in line" all the time. Specifically, Mia was "bitching and moaning." Mia says she didn't; she disagreed and she made her "voice be heard" but her voice wasn't heard, so she "stepped off" and went along with the others. And bitched and moaned about it. Chef Tom asks what problems she saw; Mia says she disagreed with having three seafood dishes. She says she and Mike decided that they had money, so they got the steak and lobster. But that was their third seafood dish, and it sounded like Mike came up with the steak-and-lobster idea. Elia volunteers that she thinks they worked well together. Ted kindly tells her that the judges are seeing a difference between them working together well and them just liking each other or whatever, and the result was that they kept running out of food. Chef Lee adds that "the result wasn't a team of structure and cohesiveness."
Chef Tom observes that Cliff is safe with immunity. Padma asks him who should get the boot, and he names Mia. She explodes, exclaiming that he can't deny that she spoke up for herself when she felt things went wrong. Cliff is like, "See?" She says, "Throw me under the bus, I don't give a [bleep]. I don't give a black bone." She continues that they all talked over her (even Mike?), and Cliff needs to "put your dick away" because he has immunity. Well, that was awkward. Chef Tom asks Elia if she wants to add anything, and she says that "of course" she wants to stay. Chef Tom confirms that she's taking responsibility for the loss; she says she was the leader and "we're all together." I do think the judges appreciate that Elia isn't making excuses, but I suspect that's not enough to save her. Chef Tom shoos them out.
Back in the pantry, the orange team asks if they know anything. Elia announces that she'll be getting the boot. Mia thinks Elia should stay because she has more talent than "a lot of us." Mia has a business to go back to and maybe she belongs in the country.
Padma prompts the judges for discussion. Ted says Elia clearly has more talent than Mia and Mike, and perhaps shouldn't have been chosen as the leader. Chef Tom says leadership requires listening to other people's input and not closing yourself off to other ideas. And I agree, Elia had her own idea of how to approach the challenge and she really stuck to it. Chef Lee says she wasn't strong enough to master the other personalities and direct them. Also true. She has technical skill but her youth means she has limited experience with management, and this was no team for a novice.
Back in the pantry, Mia announces that she'll go home to save Elia. Elia tells her not to do it. Mia continues: it's like Cliff says, she deserves to go, so send her home, she doesn't care. She's the only person in her family to ever make anything of herself. She "should have been a statistic" with her background; she was selling crack as an 11-year-old to feed her family. Okay, this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with whether she should leave? Cliff asks if she's done playing martyr and Mia tells him to "kiss my ass" because he threw her under the bus. He agrees wholeheartedly. I still don't think it's throwing someone under the bus if the judges ask you a direct question, but yeah, he definitely made her a target. Mia says he should have let the others come up with ideas since he had immunity, but he kept stomping on everything she said. So she'll go home and live a happy life (away from him).
Back at the judges' table, Chef Tom observes that Mia's still pretty angry. Ted finds it interesting that she's mad at Cliff more than the others. Chef Tom can't believe that she fought as hard to be heard during the planning process as she did during the post mortem. Ted thinks she should have. Chef Lee calls it "too much, too late." Padma brings up Mike. Chef Lee thinks he played it safe and doesn't have the experience of a top chef. Yeah, he's due for the "Top Sous Chef" cut any day now, but probably not tonight. Perhaps if Cliff had managed to convince the judges that communication was the real problem, but that's a tough sell.
The black team returns. Chef Tom wonders if Cliff would have "done more" if he had been team leader. Mike is "coasting." He didn't do anything to get himself booted, but he didn't do anything to win himself a spot, either. Chef Tom thinks Mia voiced her suggestion to do more dishes, but not as loudly as she defended herself. Elia was the leader; she's talented, but even perfect execution might not have been enough to provide more "wow factor" than 13 dishes. Her idea of perfection doesn't necessarily match everyone else's. Before Padma can make the announcement, Mia interrupts. Elia is talented, and Mia has gotten farther than she expected. Chef Tom is surprised; he thinks Mia has fought a lot of battles and he can't believe she's just going to give up. Mia agrees that she has struggled; she repeats that she's the only one in her family who "made something" of herself. But if she goes home, she'll have made her family proud. I assume she means her husband-and-child family and not the shiftless bunch of no-accounts she grew up with. Chef Tom is still surprised she's quitting, but Mia figures it's time. Chef Tom accepts her resignation. Padma sends them all out.
Mia announces that she's going home because she "wouldn't let them send Elia." She says Elia belongs in the contest and Betty protests that Mia does, too. Mia interviews that she meant what she said about Elia staying. Elia tells her she "didn't have to do this" and Mia agrees. She interviews that she has her restaurant, and she hopes Elia will one day have similar success.
So, right winner? The black team had better food but hungry customers; the orange team had ordinary food but happy customers. If you're a hostess looking for a caterer, it's a no-brainer. If the black team had fixed their execution problems, they might have gotten the win -- but I have a feeling they would have run out of food before the party was over. Four canapés per guest just isn't going to do the job. So I'm good with the team win. As for the individual win, Sam did a necessary job well. He was lucky that his team didn't make his life harder, but he also didn't screw anything up. They had a lot of work to do, and he coordinated the team so it all got done.
Right loser? Chef Tom's blog reveals that they would have booted Elia. I think that's the right choice for this challenge -- she underestimated the execution problems, and she led the team in the wrong direction during the planning stage. It's hard luck for Elia, since she seems pretty talented; I think the team did her a disservice by making her leader. She didn't have the experience to handle those personalities. Cliff has more experience, but he also had immunity, so the rest of the team could have been accused of taking the easy way out by making him leader. I'm sure Mia would have liked to be named leader, but I don't think Cliff would tolerate being subordinate to her. I got the sense in an early episode that he didn't like her and (venturing into the murky waters of racial issues) I did wonder if perhaps he didn't approve of her "type." But he's never said anything, so we'll never know. Suffice it to say, I think he and Mia have different ideas about what it means to be black. My sense is that he had more animosity toward Mia than she did toward him, until he acted on it.
Cliff: sneaky strategist or straight shooter? He couldn't criticize Elia, since he backed her up at every turn, but she was already on the hook as the leader. Mike is not a threat. So he could afford to undermine Mia with the judges. On the other hand, I think he definitely has more respect for Elia and he seems quite capable of competing on his own talents. Throw in a dislike of Mia, and he could have been perfectly honest, rather than calculating. We have so little sense of his personality, it's hard to tell.
Mia: noble sacrifice or self-satisfied martyr? I'm going to have to go with "both." I think her respect and affection for Elia are genuine, and her offer to take Elia's place was obviously sincere. However, I think martyr is a familiar and comfortable role for Mia. (I can just see 11-year-old Mia: "Fine, I'll sell the damn crack, I don't give a [bleep].") During the whole challenge, she was struggling with her control issues, and then she found a way to regain control. She took the decision out of everyone's hands, and I think that compensated for her sense of powerlessness during the planning. And she was a long shot for the final four, so she got to turn her inevitable departure into a victory instead of a defeat. I just don't want to hear anything during the reunion about how Elia should be grateful to her.
I'm not so happy with all the resignations this season. Next season, I think they should make it harder to withdraw. Like, okay, clean the product-placed kitchen with a toothbrush and then we'll accept your resignation.