Saturday, February 03, 2007
Previously on Top Chef: A bunch of chefs showed up and cooked. Four went to Hawaii and prepared a luau for Alan Wong. Marcel teased Ilan for his impromptu flambé. Ilan grumped that everyone (including Marcel) knew Marcel was not, in fact, superior. Gail loved Ilan's food. Marcel hit a home run. Elia strayed too far from Hawaii. Sam didn't cook anything. Ilan accused Marcel of disrespecting the kitchen and the food. Chef Tom didn't want to hear it. Marcel and Ilan vowed to duke it out in the final round.
We skip the usual credits of the fifteen chefs and go straight to pimping Hawaii. Ilan and Marcel stroll along a rocky beach, enjoying some downtime. Ilan protests that he would prefer to enjoy the scenery with a beautiful woman, but his infatuation with Marcel is now the stuff of Internet legend. Marcel pulls a sea urchin out of the water. He interviews that it was nice to put the feud aside and have a pleasant morning, breaking their fasts with the innards of the unsuspecting sea urchin. What happened to Wheaties? Marcel looks for another victim. This time, he encounters the Inigo Montoya of sea urchins ("You killed my father. Prepare to die.") and gets stung on the finger. "Hope my finger doesn't fall off," he opines. If you're going to be competing in a cooking competition later on, wouldn't that be a good time to be a little more careful with the hands? Ilan recaps the events, adding that Marcel was advised (by whom, I wonder?) to ward off possible infection by peeing on his hand. Ilan offers to do it, like the slashfic authors need any more ammunition, but Marcel declines. We are then treated to a dorsal view of Marcel taking care of it, and I can't tell you how much that has added to my viewing experience. (Oh, look, Top Chef is just like Survivor! Which ... I don't watch.) Marcel feels all macho about his ability to handle an emergency by peeing on himself. Ilan regrets his lost opportunity.
More Hawaii porn. (It's like real estate porn, except all view and no house.) Padma and Chef Tom meet up with the finalists in front of a restaurant. Chef Tom hands out their final assignment: make the best meal they've ever cooked, five courses for eight guests. Padma has the knife block out. Ilan gets to cook first, working at Donatoni's; Marcel will serve second, working at the Imari tea house. Chef Tom brings out some kitchen help. Mike struts out and I'm ready to toss him into the canal already. He's followed by Mia, Betty, Frank, Elia and Sam. I said it last year and I'll say it again: this would work much better with local sous chefs who know nothing about the contestants. But there's no way a reality show isn't going to skip the ritual of bringing back the formerly booted. Chef Tom has them announce their preferred chef and describe how they can contribute to the win.
- Mike wants to work with Ilan, since they made a great team before.
- Mia decides to "mix it up" and work for Marcel; she campaigns, "I'm the best prep cook you'll ever find, man. I throw it down."
- Betty cheerfully confesses that she has never gotten along with Marcel, and she loves her some Ilan.
- Frank is interested in Marcel's talent, and volunteers to squash his ego and "learn him how to talk to people and not at people." And would there be any time for cooking in between all that lessoning?
- Elia pretends to waffle and votes for Ilan.
- Sam volunteers to help Marcel, offering his credentials as a finalist.
Sam interviews that he figured it would be more interesting to watch Marcel in action with his chemicals, instead of doing yet more Spanish food with Ilan. Since Marcel has second service, he gets to pick a sous chef first. He wisely chooses Sam. Ilan picks Elia. Marcel studies his remaining choices and Sam suggests, "Pick Mike." Betty chortles. I think this was an allusion to the Restaurant Wars scenario where Marcel didn't pick Mike for his team. Marcel ponders some more and then picks Mike for the camaraderie factor. As opposed to the doofus factor. At this point, I was sure he was screwed. Ilan rounds out his team with Betty. Mia and Frank get to go have a vacation. Padma outlines the schedule: they shop at the farmers' market and spend four hours prepping. The next day, each team gets an hour of prep at their respective restaurants before service begins.
The "farmers' market" is conveniently located on a broad green lawn. Thanks, State Department of Agriculture! (I don't really mind the Hawaii pimpage -- it's a great product.) Marcel falls in love with some Kona kampachi. He marvels at the freedom of having no budget or restrictions. In voiceover, he explains that he didn't have any set ideas but let the offerings at the market inspire him. He spots some fresh sea urchin, which reminds him of the morning walk, and seizes the opportunity to commemorate the event.
Ilan sits with his team on the lawn and outlines his dinner plan. He brought some angulas (baby eels) with him, which he's dying to use. Elia is impressed. Ilan interviews that he brought some stuff from home, which we already knew from last week. Betty asks if the meal will be all Spanish or if they're picking up any Hawaiian influences; Ilan thinks it's enough that they've picked up Hawaiin foodstuffs. His menu:
- "Surprise" angulas appetizer served on "Spanish toast"
- Pan-seared moi with gazpacho made with macadamia nuts
- Grilled squab & whole shrimp with foie gras
- Braised short rib with romesco sauce and honshimeji mushrooms
- Dessert featuring bay leaf
Elia explains that he knew he wanted to include a bay leaf, so they created a dessert around that. Happy kisses at the end of shopping.
Marcel sits on the lawn with his team, talking menu. He proposes a salad for the second course; they have lots of lovely produce. Mike interviews that he expects the team to work well; he wants to win and have a part in the Top Chef experience. Marcel tells the camera he's happy with his team and he's sure they'll be "awesome" together. I'm ready to pass a law that henceforth "awesome" can only be used ironically.
Off to the main kitchen for four hours of prep work. Ilan is happy with his team, too. Everybody knows their jobs and it's fun to have people who want to work for him. Mike interviews that Marcel is "being a great leader" and it was like they were old kitchen mates. Sam expects Marcel to pull out the molecularly gastronomical chops, and he has a good shot at the title if he pulls it all off. With an hour of prep to go, Marcel pulls out some of his gear. He interviews that he has been working on a technique involving isomalt "teardrops" which surround drops of whatever in a "super-thin sugar." He has to squirt a drop of whatever onto a layer of isomalt and then let gravity shape it into a teardrop. Mike gets called over to check it out. Marcel admits that this might not be the best time to refine a new technique, but he's in love with the idea. Mike calls him a "mad scientist."
Chef Tom arrives to check things out. He spots the teardrops and asks what's up. Marcel explains that they're "isomalt encapsulations" and Chef Tom's all, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You going to have a problem with the humidity with this?" Marcel decides that he will not, much like he decided that leaving his onions rings in lukewarm fat would magically turn out well. Chef Tom accepts the premise of "positive thinking" and asks about the rest of the menu, which is:
- Uni (sea urchin) in a vanilla/Meyer lemon consommé
- Salad using isomalt teardrops of yuzu vinaigrette
- Poached kampachi with sea beans, honshimeji mushrooms and hearts of palm
- Seared beef with taro balls
- Blini with coffee "caviar" and an "awesome" chocolate mousse
Chef Tom asks how the sous chefs are doing and Marcel says, "So far, so good." Way to show confidence in your team, dude.
Over at Team Ilan, Chef Tom is momentarily foiled when Ilan refuses to disclose the first course. The dessert will use fresh fruit. Ilan voiceovers that they're using Hawaiian fruit and a sorbet of Surinam cherries, topped with a bay leaf that has been dipped in donut batter and fried. Don't you normally put an edible food inside a fritter? Ilan explains that the dessert was a team effort. Chef Tom wishes him luck.
The crews pack up their carts. Marcel voiceovers that he's confident about the preparations. He handled the assembly of the dry goods while "the boys" handled the refrigerated items. Sam checks with Marcel that they're all set, and he agrees. Elia checks with Ilan, and they do a little victory celebration. Ilan explains that his team is just full of love. I think the only thing keeping them from sitting in a circle and braiding each other's hair as they gossip is that two of them don't have hair.
Hawaii porn. Morning of the big cookoff. Ilan interviews that he has displayed "tremendous skill" and won more challenges than Marcel. Well, strictly speaking, they both won two challenges, but Ilan's were Elimination challenges (one being paired with Mike) and Marcel's were QuickFire challenges. If anything, QuickFire challenges might be harder to win, because everyone's willing to go for broke instead of playing it safe. Ilan looks forward to beating Marcel. He bids farewell and Marcel waves a chin in his direction.
Betty interviews how much she and Elia loved, loved, loved working with Ilan. She reports that they had five minutes to gather their ingredients, and good-students how they had gotten everything squared away the night before. Seriously, this woman has never outgrown being the teacher's pet. The team rolls their carts into the kitchen and sets to work. Ilan voiceovers that his menu is "delicious" and he keeps tasting it in his mind's, um, palette, I guess. Elia checks with him about her work. Ilan interviews that she has better technique than he does. Elia interviews that the chef has to trust the sous chef, and "the sous chef is the real chef of the kitchen." Well, in terms of doing most of the work, yes. But it's the chef who comes up with the dishes and directs the sous chefs, which is why the chef gets to claim all the credit. Betty asks "Marcel" if he wants something toasted plain, and Ilan is all, "Say what?" Betty is appalled: "Ohmigod, I should be shot." Well, if you insist. Ilan interviews that he prepped the first course with the tomatoes and his "beautiful" little eels. Chef Tom arrives for a peek. He has managed to spy the "surprise" of the first course and they all laugh about that. Outside, Chef Tom sums up that Ilan is doing Spanish food again.
The judges arrive. Yay, Chef Ooh-bear! Chef Tom voiceovers that it's a great opportunity for a young chef to "showcase" his talents. Ilan asks Betty how he looks, and she pronounces, "Like a winner." Because it's all about appearances. Ilan voiceovers his nervousness as he approaches the table. Padma introduces the guests:
- Michelle Bernstein, chef/owner of Michy's and consulting chef for Social (previously seen in episode 5)
- Scott Conant, chef/owner of L'Impero and Alto, former Food & Wine Best New Chef who does "cutting-edge" Italian
- Wylie Dufresne, chef/owner of WD-50 and a "groundbreaking gastronomist." His sideburns are even bigger than Marcel's; is that how gastronomists indicate status?
- Roy Yamaguchi, chef/owner of Roy's and star of Hawaiian fusion
- Hubert Keller, chef/owner of Fleur de Lys (once again, the "s" is not silent), who will represent all the guests at the judging table
Ilan interviews his trepidation. He welcomes the guests and explains that his menu will feature "Spanish flavors" even though it's prepared from local produce. Padma officially wishes him luck.
Ilan plates his first course as the waiters file in. They serve as he talks.
- Pincho of pan con tomate with angulas, Osetra caviar and Green Zebra
tomato "caviar" (seeds)
Chef Hubert wouldn't have bothered with the angulas. Scott Conant likes them in general, but thinks Ilan should have tasted them before using them to make sure they would work. Wylie Dufresne found the bread "a little big soggy."
Elia works on the fish course. She interviews that it's hard to be helping someone else win, but she's not going to mess up Ilan. Ilan urgently tells Betty to use "a little less." The plates go out.
- Macadamia nut gazpacho with pan-roasted moi dressed with Spanish olive
Wylie Dufresne likes how the fish was cooked and recognizes the Spanish influence. Roy Yamaguchi compliments the use of macadamia nuts. Michelle Bernstein calls it "fabulous." Scott Conant says, "That's exactly what I look for in a young chef. He gets it." Guess they liked it.
Elia cooks the squab. Ilan announces his appreciation of his team. Betty interviews that the third course had a lot of component parts. Ilan warns her to be careful, but apparently too late. Betty explains that the shrimps' heads were falling off. Ilan tells her, "Stop. Just slow down." Hey, don't snap at her. You know she hates that. Elia interviews that Betty was "freaking out" and the plates weren't perfect, but she didn't care, she just wanted the plates to go out. Whereas if it were her own dish, any deviation from perfection would send her into a tizzy of despair and the guests would wind up with vinegar for dessert.
- Seared squab with foie gras, shrimp poached in soffrito, braised leeks
and lobster sauce
Chef Hubert thinks his squab was perfectly cooked. Roy Yamaguchi loves him some surf 'n' turf, so a lobster sauce for a meat dish is right up his alley. Chef Tom calls the sauce "the essence of lobster."
Ilan directs Elia as she cooks some short ribs. He explains that the salsa romesco is his "Spanish twist." We hear more about Ilan's nervous excitement.
- Braised & grilled beef short rib with mushrooms and romesco sauce
Gail thinks the short rib needed a bit more braising, but the flavors are good. Michelle Bernstein wants a little more out of the dish. Roy Yamaguchi likes the romesco and Padma points out the Spanish influence.
Gail expresses curiosity about Ilan's dessert; she's not sure about his pastry background. (Based on his funnel cakes -- pretty limited.) Chef Tom says he knows the plan and "it's very smart." Ilan has Elia break out the sorbet. The plates go out and Betty thinks he pulled off the win. A bit premature, since Marcel hasn't even cooked yet.
- Tangelo/vanilla bean soup with Hawaiian fruit (dragon fruit, avocado,
mango, papaya), Surinam cherry sorbet and bay leaf fritter
Ilan advises that they should just eat the batter off the bay leaf. Gail admires the color of the sorbet. Michelle Bernstein thinks the fruit is a perfect finish after the meaty short ribs. Wylie Dufresne loves the bay leaf idea; the sorbet was great, too. Scott Conant compliments the flavor combination.
Back in the kitchen, Ilan's team has a hugfest. He tells the camera that this was his best meal ever; he showed his love for food and "if I don't win, I still won." He receives applause from the diners. Chef Tom tells him he exceeded expectations (faint praise?). Roy Yamaguchi praises the menu; he thinks it shows a lot of confidence. Back in the kitchen, Ilan announces that Marcel is toast because he doesn't have Ilan's passion. For food! You know, I think Marcel seems awfully happy when he's in a kitchen, so I don't get the whole "he has no passion" thing. Team Ilan toasts themselves and hopes for victory.
After umpty-billion commercials, it's Marcel's turn to cook. The team bumps fists in greeting. Marcel interviews that they had five minutes to collect their stuff. He "took one last look" in the walk-in and found two containers of gelée that were his. He thought they were packed the previous day. He asks Sam, "What's going on in here?" Sam ducks back into the walk-in and Marcel points out something else they need. Sam interviews, "In my opinion, a line cook is only as good as his chef. There was no leadership, there was no organization." Sam asks Marcel if he's "good" and Marcel agrees, so they wheel out their carts. The camera cuts to a pan sitting in the walk-in. Ooh, I wonder if they forgot something.
Marcel interviews that the menu was inspired by his trip. Good thing he had access to all those Hawaiian ingredients, then. Sam asks him to taste something; Marcel robotically calls it "fantastic" without even looking at Sam. He continues that he wanted to respect both molecular gastronomy and "straight-up, solid food." The chefs arrive and Marcel is introduced. He interviews that Wylie Dufresne is the guy who can appreciate what he's attempting, but also the guy who can really criticize what he's attempting. Well, he is probably more qualified to comment on technique, but all the chefs should be able to evaluate the overall success. Marcel explains that his first course was inspired by his walk on the beach, and by Hawaii in general.
Back in the kitchen, Marcel is trying to find his orchids. Sam says he didn't pull them and Mike hasn't seen them. Are orchids dry goods or refrigerated goods? And since he had 40 minutes to set up before meeting the guests, wouldn't he have reviewed the plan, maybe organized his ingredients? Anyway, Sam assures him that he doesn't need the orchids. Marcel looks at a container and says, "I get the feeling that this isn't one and three-quarters quarts of milk." Mike thought he said "cups" instead of "quarts." Chef Tom drops in as Marcel tracks down a squirt bottle and asks how things are going. Marcel says he's intimidated to be cooking for Wylie Dufresne. Anybody else? Hubert Keller? Roy Yamaguchi? Chef Tom realizes that this is a bad time and skedaddles. Back in the dining room, the guests look smooshed around a square table. I think the restaurant seats people on all four sides, but they had to leave one side open for the cameras. They should have gotten a bigger table. Marcel arrives with the first course.
- Meyer lemon and vanilla gelée with sea urchin, fennel cream, caviar and
kalamata olive oil
Roy Yamaguchi confirms that this is the dish inspired by the beach walk, and Marcel explains that they ate sea urchin fresh from the sea. Padma likes the fennel cream. Chef Tom shrugs, "It's good." Chef Hubert likes the idea behind the dish. Gail comments approvingly on the texture of the caviar, and Wylie Dufresne observes that they're starting with caviar again. They agree caviar is a great way to start.
Marcel shows Mike how to plate the salad; Mike interprets his recommendation as "stronger" and Marcel agrees. He interviews that the second course will feature his experimental teardrops. And it's teardrop construction time. Only the stem is all wobbly-looking and Marcel can't straighten it out. Sam advises him to skip the teardrops. He interviews that the main component of the second course "failed -- miserably." Marcel tells the camera that he had to skip the teardrops because the humidity was messing them up, and he's bummed because "Wylie would have appreciated it" and it could have been a "wow factor." Humidity in Hawaii -- what are the odds?
- Cucumber and radish salad with Bibb lettuce and calamaza lime/yuzu
Wylie Dufresne is unimpressed by salad. Michelle Bernstein thinks it's good work for a culinary student, not a chef. Scott Conant doesn't see why Marcel would bother with a simple salad. Chef Tom explains that Marcel was working on some "methyl-cellulose balls," which are obviously not part of the dish after all.
Back in the kitchen, Mike wonders if they're doing the beef course next. Marcel says they're up to the fish course -- shouldn't Mike and Sam already know that? Marcel tries to find his kampachi. Sam searches one rack while Marcel searches the other, but no luck. Or fish. Mike interviews, "He was looking at us -- 'Where's the fish? Where's the fish?' Man, I'm not playing for a hundred grand, you are. You tell me where the fish is." On the one hand, that's a cop-out; Marcel is not the only one with a responsibility to think. On the other hand, yes, Marcel is ultimately responsible for what happens in his kitchen. Given the stakes, he should have checked his teammates' work on packing, especially since he found items left in the walk-in. (In fact, the production gave the teams five minutes to collect their ingredients to give Marcel a chance to discover his fish. If they figured out that it wasn't packed, why didn't he?) Cut to that pan sitting in the walk-in. I wonder what that could be?
So, Marcel is bumming. Sam goes into fix-it mode: Do they have garlic? He gets Marcel thinking about what he can do with what he does have. Sam interviews that cooking with Marcel was a disaster, but he did his best to help him win. Marcel interviews that a chef has to be able to roll with the punches; he worked with the remaining ingredients to make something new.
- Hearts of palm and maitake mushrooms with kaffir lime sauce and sea
Marcel explains that he came up with a substitute dish since he was missing his kampachi. Scott Conant thinks Marcel shouldn't have said anything because the dish is great. Roy Yamaguchi jokes that he should have said he forgot the fish for his salad. Michelle Bernstein calls it a "very mature dish" which is "beautifully balanced." Chef Hubert finds the construction and presentation on a "totally different level." Wylie Dufresne doesn't seen a need for any kampachi.
Back in the kitchen, Marcel has Sam transfer the beef from the stove to the oven. Marcel interviews, "The teams seemed to kind of fall apart a little bit because of the high stress." Except he's in a vest and one of his pseudo-Stephen ties, which makes me think the interview is from a much earlier show -- like the Asian catering challenge (episode 2). I doubt he brought those clothes to Hawaii, not with all the ingredients he's packing. Plating begins for the next course.
- North Shore strip loin with spring garlic purée, sautéed king oyster
mushrooms, crispy taro ball and micro-greens
Roy Yamaguchi likes seeing someone willing to take risks. I'm not sure what's so risky about this dish, but maybe he's still thinking about the last course. Chef Tom thinks it's an okay dish, but it needs development. Michelle Bernstein likes the presentation. Gail thinks Marcel's dishes have been lighter than Ilan's, with "a gentler progression."
Down to the last course. Marcel tells his team to put the blinis on the plates. He interviews that blini and caviar is a classic French dish, but he had the inspiration to use coffee caviar with the Hawaiian chocolate and blinis.
- Blini with Hawaiian chocolate mousse and Kona coffee "caviar"
Wylie Dufresne is wowed by a blini with "caviar" for dessert. Roy Yamaguchi likes it, but the dish needs more color. Gail liked the coffee flavor in the caviar (which was created using molecular gastronomy so the coffee pilled into little "caviar" balls). Scott Conant calls Marcel "somebody to watch."
Mike asks how it went "out there" and Marcel's not sure. He'll wait to find out. Hmm, how about "I don't know, but I really appreciate all your hard work"? "Thanks for all your help"? "Let me buy you a beer"? Marcel interviews that he had "missing products" and "somewhat unmotivated coworkers" but he's pleased with his work. He suspects Ilan wasn't as "creative or original." Marcel receives applause from the diners. Roy Yamaguchi acknowledges his creativity. Michelle Bernstein says the third course was something new, and a group of chefs like this doesn't often come across something they've never tasted before.
Judges' table. Chef Hubert calls the two meals "exciting." Chef Tom suspects that Ilan has made his dishes before and is comfortable with them, while Marcel was inventing dishes for the challenge. Gail thinks Marcel was more inventive, but the result was much lighter. Padma suggests a course-by-course comparison.
- Chef Hubert thinks Marcel "set the tone" with his first course, which had some interesting components, while Ilan's dish was just okay. Chef Tom is unimpressed with canned eels on toast. Gail agrees that he needed to work harder.
- Chef Tom doesn't understand the strategy of using a whole course for an ordinary green salad when you're trying to impress people. Chef Hubert felt it was out of balance with the other courses. Padma's not sure the vinaigrette capsules would have made enough of a difference. Gail found it unimpressive. On the other hand, Ilan's moi was "perfectly done" in Padma's opinion. Chef Tom calls it "really memorable."
- Chef Tom calls a draw. Chef Hubert agrees, he would have trouble picking a favorite between the squab surf 'n' turf and the hearts of palm with sea beans.
- Chef Hubert thinks Marcel's beef dish was more artistic. Chef Tom found Ilan's dish too casual, while Marcel's fit with the rest of his menu.
- Gail loved everything about Ilan's dessert. Padma brings up all the fruit, especially the cherry sorbet. Gail thinks Marcel's dessert was "fun" and "whimsical." Chef Hubert agrees that it was a "conversation piece."
The sous chefs are lined up for interrogation. Betty naturally praises Ilan's leadership. Chef Tom asks if they liked the food and Elia says, "Yeah, it was Spanish, authentic food. Good." Padma wonders if Ilan's reliance on Spanish food is a negative. Elia thinks "he played it wise" by sticking with what he knew. Chef Tom asks her if Ilan deserves to win. She thinks he "totally" deserves to win "over Marcel." If he wins, he pretty much has to win over Marcel. Chef Tom challenges that she didn't see Marcel's food. If he knows she has no basis for comparison, why is he asking her if Ilan should win? Perhaps Elia was supposed to answer, "Well, Ilan should win because he did blah, blah, blah." But you're generally better off asking the question you want answered. Anyway, Elia declares, "Marcel can't run a kitchen, Marcel can't make people work for him. Hands down, Ilan has to win. If you just taste the food." Padma has started laughing. Gail protests that Elia didn't taste Marcel's food. Elia questions whether it was good, and Gail assures her, "Some of it was amazing."
Padma turns to Marcel's team. Mike testifies that the prep period was a really good experience, and Marcel was really organized with lists and tasks. But when it came time to cook, he and Sam were "in the dark" and Marcel had them doing "all this other stuff." Padma clarifies, "Do you think it would have made it better if you had known the master plan?" Mike agrees. Chef Hubert asks Sam how much cooking he did. Sam says he put together the third course "on the fly." Chef Hubert asks if he was responsible for the sea beans and Sam agrees. This could go either way -- Marcel listed sea beans in the description of the kampachi dish, but it's entirely possible that Sam suggested the sea beans for that dish, since he used them before. The sous chefs are dismissed.
Now it's the chefs' turn. Padma congratulates them for making it to the finals. She thanks them both for the meals; they found many things impressive. Marcel says, "Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it." This is why he seems like such an apple-polisher. I suspect he's one of those people who thinks "How do you do?" is a sincere inquiry rather than a conventional greeting. (Been there, done that, got over it.)
Padma asks Ilan to talk about his menu. He says it was "created on the spot." Padma is surprised. Ilan says he brought some ingredients, but he created the menu in response to the faux farmers' market. Gail explains that it felt like he arrived with a plan, which would have been perfectly okay, but Ilan insists that he was inspired by the market. Eh. I think Ilan didn't plan out a menu, but he certainly had a set of dishes that he could pull from. Chef Tom wonders if they should give the title to a guy who focuses on a single style of cuisine. Ilan posits that he has stepped outside of the Spanish realm at various times throughout the competition. Chef Tom asks if the meal was the best he ever cooked, and Ilan thinks it was. It was accomplished and he was thrilled with every course. Chef Tom wants to know how he and Marcel are different. Ilan says, "Don't take any offense and you will, but -- I feel that I have a greater passion. I'm a bit more forgiving and I think I'm more gentle with the people that I work with, that I'm around. I think that I respect people." Unless they have really, really stupid hair, and then it's okay to harp on their putative virginity and try to shave their heads. Ilan confirms that he thinks he should win.
Padma tells Marcel it's his turn. Marcel explains that, while he might have used various techniques before, he never executed any of the dishes before and most of the menu came out of his own ideas. Chef Tom wants to know what wasn't his idea. Marcel says that when he had to come up with "a little bit of a replacement" (!?!) for his missing fish, he collaborated with Sam. Padma asks what happened with the fish. Marcel says he trusted his coworkers too much. While he outlined the menu and its components, he's not sure they had the big picture. Chef Hubert wonders if maybe they weren't fully committed to his team. Marcel says Sam might have had a hard time taking part in the competition and he seemed a little unmotivated, but it must have been hard for him to back Marcel when they've had "some confrontations in the past." He thinks Sam might be a bit jealous of his position. So, that would be a yes? And what about Mike? Was he committed? I tend to think Sam tried. He's too much of a craftsman to sandbag Marcel. As for Mike, I think he did his best.
Padma goes for the $64,000 question: Why has Marcel had so much trouble with the other chefs? Marcel claims he's "a really nice guy and very likeable." (After all, doesn't the camera just love him?) He figures it's because they're all in a competition, and he didn't invest in the "make friends" thing because he was more interested in winning. And if he had watched the first season, he would have seen just how well that strategy worked out. I hope the contestants for the third season have all picked up a clue. Gail asks if that was his best meal. Marcel says that either way, he constantly tries to improve; if he ever thought he had achieved perfection, he would stop trying to grow and improve. So, that's a no? Or a yes?
The judges deliberate. Chef Tom thinks they both turned in good meals. Gail agrees -- some problems, but lots of good things. Chef Tom deals with the "Ilan did Spanish again" issue. Yes, it was the same style, but it was good, and he did do non-Spanish food at other times. (But not all that often.) Meanwhile, Marcel is creative. He's a little stuck on the whole molecular gastronomy thing; sometimes it works, sometimes -- when he tries to "force it" -- it doesn't. Gail figures they'll both be successful in five years, but who is ready now? Chef Tom thinks one might need a "little more time in the bottle."
Decision time. Marcel voiceovers his hard work in getting this far, and the satisfaction of putting everything you've learned into a dish. Ilan voiceovers that he's proud of his menu, but there's always the possibility of losing. Padma reviews the prize list. Chef Tom observes that Ilan stayed in familiar territory, but the flavors were all very strong. He commends Marcel's risk-taking. In an interesting hedge, Chef Tom says one of them might surpass the other in the future, but their decision was made in the present. Padma gives the win to Ilan. Marcel shakes his hand and the judges all congratulate him. Ilan interviews that he's thrilled, of course. He protests to the judges about the stress of the long wait for the decision.
Marcel interviews his surprise at Ilan's win. "I thought it was gonna take more than (bleep)ing saffron and paprika to beat me, but apparently not." Bitter much? Chef Tom gives Marcel a consolation hug. Marcel interviews some more that his food was harder to make, and "it's unfortunate" that he couldn't execute well enough to clinch the win. There, that's better. Gail gives him another consolation hug. More Marcel: he's not done with the chef business. "And honestly I don't really care what any of these other contestants think about me because I'm comfortable with who I am and I like myself, and I like my food, and I like my personality." If he doesn't really care, why is he composing raps to the "haters"? I mean, yay, he likes himself, but there's a flip-side to indifference to public opinion, and that's "I'll treat you however I want to treat you because you don't matter to me" -- which is a little too close to "I don't have to bother to be friendly with you because we're competing." Granted, you don't have to bother to be friendly to people who try to shave your head, but there were ten episodes before that, so that excuse only goes so far.
The sous chefs come out and congratulate Ilan. He's looking forward to the future. And we're done.
Right winner? Eh. I think the judges made the right decision based on what they had to work with. Marcel failed because he made the same mistake he made throughout the competition: he tried to impress with his technique, rather than with his food. Suppose he had pulled off the teardrops, and the diners were able to squeeze dollops of vinaigrette out of their little molecular doodads. Would that have made the salad taste any better? It's the exact same vinaigrette; it's just being applied to the salad differently. If the timing mattered, or the separation mattered, then okay. But this was technique purely for the sake of technique, and why should a diner care if it has nothing to do with the food? On the other hand, the coffee "caviar" was technique with a purpose, so that dish was successful.
Marcel's other problem, of course, was management. I don't know why he picked Mike over Mia, for starters. Granted, Mia's down-home style is miles from his cutting-edge interests, but she has a lot of experience with prep work, and she at least appears to care. Half the time, Mike couldn't be bothered to do that much. Marcel did a good job of organizing and delegating the prep work, but he didn't follow through. You cannot -- if you care about winning -- just assume that your team is going to perform. You have to check that they are performing. And if they are, then great; leave them alone to perform. But if they aren't, then you need to spend more time running the team. And when it comes to a critical step, like pulling all the ingredients, you need to double-check their work.
I suspect divvying up the prep work was pretty easy for Marcel, since he probably spends a lot of time on that part. But leading a team through dinner? I think he's just too much in his own head, that he can't easily step outside himself and figure out what people working for him need to know. Ilan had the advantage of having seen his dishes, or dishes like them, prepared in his workplace, so he already had an idea of how the execution played out. Marcel was working with new dishes, and I don't get the sense he worked out how the execution would break down for a team of three. This is where Sam could have really helped out, if Marcel had given him the necessary level of detail. If a kitchen is like a ship, Sam is a good executive officer. Give him an order, and he'll figure out how to get it done efficiently. But since Marcel was relying so much on his own specialized techniques, he couldn't step back into the captain's role of providing direction. That limited the amount of work he could delegate, and perhaps caused him to spend too much time thinking about his own work and not enough time thinking what his team could be doing.
As for Ilan, he's a weasel. And he's a one-note cook -- but so, stylistically, is Marcel, who's lucky that his style encourages innovation. I don't care that Elia did all the heavy lifting in Ilan's kitchen. Last year, Miguel produced the dish that the judges loved best on Harold's menu, but Harold still got the praise for it. It was his kitchen then, it was Ilan's kitchen this time. He picked someone who can cook, so good for him. Now, get him off my television.
And so we come to the end of a season which lingered far past its freshness date and turned sour. As for next year, well, it would be nice if I could look over the list of contestants and not think, "Oh, right, like so-and-so is actually a contender."