Sunday, January 07, 2007


The Devil Wears Ice Skates

Previously on Top Chef: Marcel needled Betty at the firehouse. Cliff would have punched him in the head. Frank found Marcel's Thanksgiving entrée monotonous in its presentation, plus he hated the little punk. Marcel wondered if all the other chefs got together and randomly chose him to pick on. The chefs had to cater a cocktail party in teams. Sam was happy. Mia was stranded with no food. Elia wanted to cook during the event and couldn't keep up. Sam won, but Marcel didn't need any of his leadership. Elia 'fessed up to being the leader of the losing team. Cliff accused Mia of complaining, and she claimed not to care if he threw her under the bus. Mia then threw herself under the bus, withdrawing to forestall Elia's imminent booting.

Morning. Betty sleepily tries to remember how many chefs are left. Elia lies under the covers and her stuffed hippo. She interviews about the awkwardness of knowing she was about to get the boot; she doesn't understand Mia's sacrifice, but she's happy to still be in the mix. Over in another apartment, Marcel politely asks Ilan how he slept. Ilan reports he slept well, as usual, and wonders if Marcel is going to stop using the frying pan so he can start. Marcel wants to keep his eggs warm until his toast is ready. Not exactly the warm-hearted spirit of cooperation that leads to amiable roommate relations, but it hardly justifies Ilan's response: "You're very selfish. Did anybody ever tell you that, Marcel?" Marcel recalls Betty saying something about it previously. Ilan interviews that Marcel is full of himself; he seemed "offended" that he wasn't recognized more in the cocktail party competition. Marcel interviews that the close living quarters leads to conflicts, but they're all stuck with each other. Marcel nyah-nyahs about Ilan's broken egg yolk; Ilan retorts, "At least I'm not a virgin." Ilan needs to work on his comebacks. Marcel needs to stop pouring gasoline on fires.

Over in the common area, Mike hopes it will be a short challenge. He interviews that he had a tooth pulled the previous day, and it was grim. He looks pretty grim. Back in the commons, he reports it was a pretty casual affair, like a kitchen haircut from your mom when she's yelling at your siblings. He interviews that he's hoping to get immunity so he can take the next day off. Marcel holds the door as the chefs file out. Elia thanks him politely, but Mike does the "there's something on your shirt" fake-out nose boink.

Padma and Ted Allen (yay!) greet the chefs at the kitchen. Cliff gives Ted an "ooh-aah" interview. Padma announces that the QuickFire winners will no longer have immunity. Betty makes big fish mouths and Mike looks like his dog just got run over. Cliff interviews that it makes no difference; he's still going for the win. The challenge: create a dish based on a color. The chefs draw knives:

Betty chortles in an interview that she's happy with her color and happy that Marcel got stuck with brown. I don't see why everyone is so down on brown -- it's the color of chocolate, after all. Padma gives them 30 minutes to cook. And go!

Much running around. Ilan interviews that it's a strange challenge, starting with color; usually he comes up with the flavors and then worries about presentation. Marcel interviews that there's a lot of rushing around in QuickFires. I guess the editors want to be sure that we haven't overlooked that key point. Betty interviews that she listens really hard to the challenge descriptions, and so this one is all about green, green, green. Cliff interviews that he's matching his food to the color of an eggplant, which looks black to him. Mike reveals that he's using salmon, which turns orange when cooked, and carrots. Padma arrives with the five-minute warning. Betty interviews how she spent the last five minutes finishing up her green dish, which she was oh-so happy with. You'd think she discovered green food. Other chefs plate. Marcel narrates his plating disaster -- as he was pouring coffee (or "essense of coffee") into an "exterior bowl," his "French press, like, exploded," spilling coffee all over the plate and his work area. He has 40 seconds left to clean up and finish plating. So, not really the effect he was going for.

Time's up. Betty's arms in the air look like a touchdown celebration. Or maybe she's not satisfied with raising just one hand in class.

Ted summarizes the challenge as difficult, since it's not the typical approach to food. He ranks Betty in the bottom; her presentation was messy, "like something you raked up, not to be unkind." Betty protests, "But you are!" Like hell he is. First, Ted Allen is a very kind man, and second, that plate was a total mess, and third, if you can't stand the criticism, don't submit your food for judging. Betty interviews that she only had thirty minutes to work, and it tasted good, and had a lot of components, and gosh darn it, it was green. It still looked like grass clippings. Deal with it. Marcel is also in the bottom for his dirty-looking coffee moat. Ilan smiles, but then finds himself in the bottom as well for being a little too literal with the color and not providing enough texture contrast. He interviews that it's his first time in the bottom three of a QuickFire challenge. See what smirking gets you?

On the plus side, Sam had the most visual appeal and Ted liked the sweet/salty interplay, Cliff put together a good dish with nice texture, and Mike made a clever choice with the glazed salmon and the yummy carrot chips. And the win goes to: Mike! Who was totally expecting to lose out to Cliff or Sam. Everyone claps. Sam interviews that it was nice to see him get a win. Ted gives him kudos for cooking while medicated. Which shouldn't be all that different from cooking while inebriated or stoned or whatever he was doing before, but apparently painkillers work for him. Mike interviews that it felt really good to win over the two strongest competitors, but not getting immunity "sucks." Fair enough.

Elimination challenge: It's another random inspiration -- a seven course dinner inspired by the seven deadly sins. Cliff is visibly thrilled, for once. He interviews that he has a "fascination with" the seven deadly sins, listing them as "wrath, greed, envy, pride, jealousy, sloth, lust." He listed jealousy instead of gluttony, but the other six are right. Padma gives them three hours to cook before they haul everything off to feed Debi Mazar and several of her friends, along with Padma, Tom, Ted and Debi's favorite chef. Padma brings out the knife block again.

Marcel interviews that he feels good; envy lends itself well to interpretation. As the QuickFire winner, Mike gets to swap with someone. He decides to take envy from Marcel. Marcel interviews his surprise; he thinks lust is a "gold mine" and can't imagine giving it up.

Ilan recaps the challenge. The chefs rally around and pick courses. Cliff recaps the rallying. Marcel suggests taking a few minutes to come up with ideas and then using the pepper mill to let everyone talk, but Betty doesn't see why people who already have ideas shouldn't get started. Sam thinks Marcel is set on dessert, but Marcel says he hasn't made up his mind. Sam points out Ilan, who is definitely set on dessert already. Marcel needs to think about things. The others stand around and wait, so I guess everyone else has their dish figured out. Betty interviews that everyone was working well together until Marcel had to start waffling; she complains, "It's always all about him." For Betty, maybe. Marcel finally decides on the sixth course. Sam interviews that Marcel annoys him, with his insecurity and his bad aura.

Off in the pantry, Ilan tells Sam that Marcel's uneasy. Sam figures it's because he knows his dessert has to stand up to Ilan's. Marcel interviews that two desserts should work for a seven-course meal, but now it's like he and Ilan are in direct competition. Marcel shows his idea to Elia. She wonders if Ilan is using chocolate, too; Marcel should ask him. Doesn't look like that's going to happen. Ilan interviews that for all his talk, Marcel is "kinda slow" with cooking and plating, so beating him should be easy. Back in the pantry, Ilan makes snarly faces.

Grocery store. The chefs have $150 and 30 minutes to shop. Elia finds some organic chickens. Ilan interviews that gluttony is the easiest sin to represent with food, so he'll have no problem making the dinner guests fatter. Mike looks for more crab meat. He interviews his idea to combine fake crab with real crab -- the fake crab is envious of the real crab. But they're all out of the real crab. Mike figures he's hosed, but Sam points out some catfish. Mike does a little recalibration, and comes up with trout envying salmon. At the checkout, Ilan realizes he's left some extras in and has to take them back out.

Next, it's Charlie's Fixtures for serving supplies. Betty recaps the stop, observing that the chefs have to be creative to stand out. But if everyone's being creative, couldn't you stand out by not being creative? The chefs get to spend $150 and 30 minutes -- presumably not the same $150 and 30 minutes as at the grocery store. Cliff interviews about how easy it is to go over budget picking out everything you like. Betty interviews that she's doing slow-roasted soups, so she needs a lot of glasses.

At the checkout, with Marcel standing next to him, Ilan needs to check his wad of cash but the clerk offers him a discount. Sounds good to Ilan. Sam interviews that chefs generally get discounts at restaurant supply stores. Now Marcel's farther down the counter as Sam tells Ilan that "Ratboy" is listening to him. Marcel asks Cliff to confirm that they're not allowed to take discounts, and Sam grumbles about Marcel's cheesiness. Sam interviews that Marcel is always yapping away at someone and there's no getting away from him. Later, Marcel apologizes to the clerk for not taking the offered discount; the clerk says it's a house discount. Over by the merchandise, Sam relays Marcel's apology to Ilan, Betty and Cliff; he says Marcel is driving him crazy with his buzzing again. It's not very nice of Sam to eavesdrop on Marcel's conversation, but somehow I suspect Marcel would be disappointed if no one else heard his apology to the clerk.

Now Marcel complains about people talking behind his back, which means he's eavesdropping on Sam's conversation with the others. He figures that people who have something to say to him should say it to his face. Except I'm pretty sure Sam doesn't want to say anything to Marcel. But since Marcel has requested a confrontation, Sam gives him one. He asks if Marcel has noticed that he goes everywhere alone. Marcel protests that they're talking about him and Sam says he'll talk about Marcel as much as he wants to. Which is true -- Sam's topic of conversation is pretty much beyond Marcel's control. Cliff interviews that they're all just tolerating Marcel, who's a know-it-all, and Sam just snapped. I didn't see Marcel being a know-it-all, but I did see him being holier-than-thou, which is at least as annoying. Sam tells Marcel to go be annoying somewhere else. Marcel interviews that "it could be ironic" that Sam drew the sin of wrath and then showed his angry side at the supply store. Only if you listen to Alanis Morissette. Sam continues to tell Marcel to stay away from people, and Marcel looks away with, "Whatever, dude."

Whew! I agree with Cliff that Sam just snapped. He's complaining that Marcel is a constant annoyance that no one can escape, and here's Marcel in his face again. And Marcel was rather disingenuous about the "talking behind my back" complaint, when he was just doing the same thing talking about discounts. True, he didn't name names, but he was clearly keeping the issue alive. As far as the discounts go, I think the producers are quite capable of speaking up about the rules if there are any questions. Granted, the chefs have a budget they have to meet. But the discount was freely offered and available to all the chefs, so no one had an advantage over the others. Nor did it sound like Ilan planned on getting a discount to keep him under budget. So I don't see anything for Marcel to make a big fuss about, especially if he's going to be all "Well, I didn't take any discounts" about it.

Back in the kitchens, the chefs get to cooking. Sam interviews that he's Sicilian, and when Sicilians get angry, they get angry. Maybe he meant angry. He associates anger with spiciness, and he likes using ceviche as an appetizer, so he's doing a Sicilian shrimp version of ceviche accompanied by a spicy version of the traditional popcorn. Betty interviews that she hasn't made her three soups before, but she's sure she can make them work. Wouldn't it be more slothful to do just one soup? Mike interviews that Betty needs to get off the soup wagon already. Cliff interviews that he sees greed as being too much, so instead of doing a nice, tight dish, he's making bouillabaise overflowing with shellfish for something bold. Elia is happy to cooking without restrictions. She slathers butter onto the chicken, joking that her dish is "very low in calories." It's a challenge that lets the chefs present the inspiration any way they want, so they can create something they're proud of. Marcel interviews that he's not a very "lustful" person (which I totally get from him, although he falls short of S1 Stephen's "sex is icky" vibe) but he thinks lust is easily expressed through food. Ilan thinks "gluttony is a sin so closely related to food," so he deserves to get booted if he can't pull it off. He shows Betty his funnel cakes. He interviews that he still hasn't figured out exactly what he's doing, but it will be great. I think it's not a good sign if you haven't figured things out by the time you get back from shopping.

Chef Tom does his pass through the kitchen. He's surprised by Mike's swollen face and gets the dental work story. Mike talks about his original crab envy idea that turned into a fish envy idea. Chef Tom looks dubious. Ilan explains that he's doing a "final" dessert with a dense chocolate cake and doughnuts, with a sort-of funnel cake recipe. Chef Tom is looking dubious again. He confirms that Marcel is doing a second dessert and wonders if the chocolate sauce means they're getting two chocolate desserts. Marcel explains that his dessert is a cherry dessert. Chef Tom is thinking that he can't hint any harder than that, so Marcel's on his own. He takes off with 90 minutes of cooking left.

The chefs cook. Marcel tells the others that one of the refrigerators always seems to be ajar, and suggests they all be more attentive about it. Ilan interviews that Marcel "needs to work on his people skills" because "he drives me to say things that I wouldn't normally say to an average person." I'm failing to see what's so controversial about pointing out a refrigerator left open. And while it's certainly normal for some people to just grate on each other, most grown-ups try to suppress that feeling instead of running with it. But Ilan decides to tell Marcel that cherries suppress the libido. Marcel replies that he thinks cherries are "pretty lustful" and Ilan says, "Maybe that's because you've never had sex." Okay, maybe someone's sexual experience (or lack of it) is relevant when it comes to interpreting lust, but Ilan would do better to figure out his own dish instead of picking a fight with Marcel. But the rest of the chefs look pretty amused by the show. Ilan follows up on Marcel's annoyance by telling him that he should have fought to keep envy, and Marcel suggests he shut up. Seems unlikely. Marcel interviews that this personal confrontation is giving him extra motivation to win and beat Ilan.

As time winds down, the chefs pack up their food and head out. And then they're at the house of Debi Mazar. Cliff does an "ooh-aah" interview. As they settle into the kitchen, Marcel asks Sam if he needs help with service. Sam suggests having everyone pitch in, as they've done before. Cliff interviews that they all needed to work together to make the dinner a success.

Night falls and the guests arrive. Padma's wearing a smokin' red dress. Sam recaps the hostess and regular judges (with Ted subbing for Gail) and Cliff recaps the guest judge, Robert Ivan, consulting chef with Fred Segal and Debi Mazar's favorite chef. Cliff is delighted to be cooking for Debi, although "cute as a button" is not my first choice for a description. She's more tough than adorable. The guests chat. Sam interviews that he was getting nervous with the celebrities; he spotted the guitarist from Extreme (Nuno Bettencourt). In the kitchen, the chefs buzz over the ex-wife of Artie Bucco (Kathrine Narducci from The Sopranos) being one of the guests. Sam interviews that he's excited to have the first course. He checks with the chefs that they're ready to pitch in. Marcel volunteers to serve his wine. He interviews that he's a professional. As he pours, Debi introduces herself. Marcel interviews that everyone's helping. The guests continue to chat him up. In the kitchen, Sam reports that they're waiting for him to finish pouring the wine. Betty hopes that it's just the six of them in the kitchen continuing.

The chefs emerge and the guests applaud them for their efforts. Padma thanks Debi and her friends for participating.

Judges' table: Padma asks guest judge Chef "Roberto" for his impressions. He though it was tough, but the chefs had some interesting ideas. Chef Tom was impressed with all the little stories. Padma asks Chef Roberto for the lowlights, and he picks the desserts and the soups. His favorites start with Mike, who had good presentation. Ted wanted to inhale it. Padma observes it was more sophisticated than Elia's chicken, which Ted also loved. Chef Tom wanted more of a parade around the table to take it completely over the top. Chef Tom liked the clean flavors of Sam's ceviche, and Padma was ready to gorge on the popcorn. The judges reach a unanimous decision.

Padma summons Elia, Michael and Sam. At the table, she congratulates them on being the top. Padma compliments Sam's sophisticated popcorn. Chef Tom likes how the dish became more complex as he dug into it. Ted praises Elia's moist chicken, with its rustic presentation. He thinks the dish had "soul." Chef Roberto says it was perfect. Chef Tom tells Michael that he should cook on Vicodin more often. Ted found the salmon and vegetables beautifully cooked and really enjoyed the whole dish. Chef Roberto liked the flavor. Padma has Chef Roberto announce the win, which goes to -- Michael! Everyone claps. Mike interviews that he made history by winning both challenges, and he's going to dance on his bed from excitement. Meanwhile, Satan will be ice skating, because hell has just frozen over. Who'da thunk it?

The bottom three are Marcel, Betty and Ilan, leaving Cliff in the middle. Padma asks Ilan why he thinks he's at the table, and he offers up the funnel cake. Chef Tom wants to know why he didn't ditch it, and he tells the story of the reheating and Elia's syrup suggestion, which he says turned out to be a bad idea. He asks if they liked the other components, and Chef Tom is meh. Ted says that the brittle provided some much-needed contrast, since everything else was, as one guest put it, "soggy." Ilan waves the "I took risks" flag. Chef Tom wants to know why Ilan dissed Marcel's dish. Marcel's like, "Say what?" Ilan tries to shrug out of it, but Padma pushes. Ilan says he was just having fun. Marcel is all, "Whatever. It's about the food."

Ted compliments Marcel's presentation and the freshness of the cherries, but he didn't think the dish was lustful enough. Marcel implies that he had other ideas but was constrained by the availability of the ingredients. Padma has issues with the foam, which she thinks was a detriment rather than an asset. Plus, tired of foam. Chef Roberto agrees that it didn't belong.

Padma asks Betty about her thought processes and Betty says she just immediately thought of slow-roasted vegetables. Chef Tom wonders if she tasted everything, because he didn't care for the textures. Betty sounds surprised when he says the soups weren't smooth. She explains that she puréed them and strained them through a China cap. Also, he found some combinations odd, like beet and red pepper. Betty sympathetically sighs, "Yeah." Chef Roberto suggests only one flavor, like beets or onions, and then blending. Betty thanks him for the feedback.

Padma asks Betty who she'd boot if she were a judge. To no one's surprise, she picks Marcel. And she even thinks he deserves to go, because his gelée was flavorless. Ilan also picks Marcel, who is lacking in basics, and yeah, the gelée was flavorless. Marcel rebuts that he used juice that was 100% fruit juice. "Check your palates. Get 'em tested." Chef Tom is amused. Marcel continues that lots of people have personal issues with him. He's not there to make friends; he's there to cook. Padma asks who he'd boot, and he picks Ilan. The cream was watery and while the idea was good, his execution was off. Padma sends them all away.

Ilan skips into the pantry where the others await the bad news. Ilan announces that they had some "bickering" about how they "all" hate Marcel. Try not to sound so proud, dude. Elia looks shocked. Marcel says they both claimed that his dish was bad. Ilan repeats the flavorless charge. Marcel ripostes that he's lost so much of the miniscule respect he had remaining for Ilan. Ilan bursts out that he wanted to "smack" Marcel back on day 1. He goes on how Marcel needs to go out and learn how to cook, but until then, he should shut up, keep making his foams and "go cry in a corner." As smackdowns go, that was kind of a mess. I think Marcel's was better.

Chef Tom is finding it hard to pick a loser, since they all had problems. Ilan's dessert was messy and the funnel cake was just wrong. Padma calls it the worst thing of the whole meal. Ted didn't see any cohesion and it didn't look appetizing. Padma sticks up for the flavor of Marcel's gelée. Chef Tom thinks it "interesting" that the other two were picking Marcel. Ted finds the personality stuff entertaining but irrelevant to the food. (Go, judges!) Chef Tom asks if Marcel embodied lust with his dish, and Ted gives an unqualified "No." Chef Tom brings up Betty's textures. She needed to use a chinois and use it multiple times and blend in between. She's just lacking in basics. Also, not all the flavors worked. Padma confirms that they're all "comfortable" with their choice.

The bottom three return. I suspect Marcel is safe, because it wasn't a bad dish, just somewhat restrained. Given the hate for Ilan's funnel cake, he seems to be the most at risk, but Betty's not looking too good, either. Chef Tom smacks Ilan for not ditching the funnel cake, Marcel for not being lustful and for doing too many foams, and Betty for texture and taste. Betty gets the boot. Ilan comes over to hug her as she thanks the judges. She shakes hands with them all before she leaves. She's bummed that she didn't get to beat Marcel. Other than that, you will be relieved to learn that the defeat has not dented her ego in the slightest.

Right winner? It's hard to say without tasting. However, Mike's presentation looked quite nice and the guests obviously enjoyed it, so he's certainly a credible winner. Also an incredible one. He's had flashes of competence, but excellence is something rather new for him. If this continues, he might make it into the finals. He might even deserve to. Now that would be an unexpected twist.

Right loser? I'm surprised they didn't pick Ilan, since they all hated his flaccid funnel cake. He might have gotten some mileage from his "I'm not a pastry chef" disclaimer. I suppose he at least got credit for the macadamia nut brittle, and possibly the chocolate cake. Meanwhile, the textures of all Betty's soups were off, plus at least one was a strange combination. I don't even eat beets or red peppers, and I can't imagine putting them together. If they were factoring in overall performance, Betty is the clear loser. If they're really going challenge by challenge, it's not quite so clear. Maybe they used the QuickFire as a tie-breaker. Or perhaps Betty failed doing something she should know how to do, while Ilan failed while venturing from his comfort zone. It's not an inexplicable decision, but I was really expecting it to go the other way.

Either way, Marcel wins. And I feel like I'm losing. In the early days, this felt a lot like the Marcel show, until some of the other chefs started getting more exposure. Now it feels like the "Everybody Hates Marcel" show. What happened to the show about chefs cooking? Mike made history by taking both challenges in the episode, and what are people talking about? How mean everyone is to poor little twerpy Marcel. Well, everyone except Elia. And we don't really see Mike picking on Marcel, and Cliff tends to stay out of it. I do think Sam was just fed up at the store, which is immature but not mean. That leaves Betty and Ilan. Betty was more petty than shrewish this time out. Taking offense at Marcel's interception was entirely ludicrous, but at least she reacted to something he did. Ilan repeatedly instigated fights with Marcel. At best, it was childish and at worst, unprofessional. I'm glad Chef Tom and Padma called him out for dissing Marcel's cherries to the guests. It looks like the group didn't really boycott Marcel's service -- they came in without fuss when he called them -- but just proposing it was terrible. Even if Marcel had behaved badly to Betty (which, in a kitchen, would mean far more than his supposed snapping), why should the guests have to suffer? So by trying to make Marcel look bad, Betty and Ilan have made themselves look bad, which is only just. Meanwhile, Marcel is still twerpy and provocative, but at least he's reasonably clever and he's a professional when it's time to compete. It's too much to hope that anyone has learned their lesson, though.

Yeah, I didn't really understand the whole, "You snapped at me" comment from Betty. He seemed pretty tame to me.

Keep up the good work! Love your recaps!
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