I’ve lost my appetite for this season. Which is too bad, because now the real cooking starts. Recap: Sarah and Lindsay continue to hate on Beverly, because having her eliminated just isn’t satisfying enough. Paul continues to be the class of the operation. Tom reveals longstanding issues with arugula. And Padma’s wardrobe continues to improve.
What, you need more than that?
Ok, guess which finalist is on the list of semifinalists for the 2012 James Beard awards? Hint: the Asian. Also, the one with a penis. And guess which eliminated chef is also on the list? Hint: the other Asian with a penis. Good year for Asians with penises. Just ask the basketball player whose name I can never remember since I’m pretty determinedly uninterested in basketball. Hugh Acheson is also on the list. (I’m guessing there’s a rule about winning more than once, so Tom and Emeril aren’t on the list). To put this in perspective: Also on the list are Anita Lo, Naomi Pomeroy, Michael Chiarello, some other TCM contestants, plus former TC contestants Kevin Gillespie, Bryan Voltaggio, Stephanie Izard, and… Jeff McInnis (?!? Miami Hairdo? Wow, he sure slipped in under the radar). FMI, Minx has it all laid out nice and neat for ya on All Top Chef – thanks, Minx. And congratulations Paul, Edward, and all the other TC/TCM alums.
Prelude: Oh, the usual. Everyone’s so happy to be there. Sarah is so happy Beverly is finally gone and is not coming back: “This is how it was supposed to be the whole time.” Yeah, I suppose that’s why your boss, not you, is on the list. I have to say I really like her hair, it’s a little longer. But throughout the episode I was distracted by Lindsay’s hair, which has that caught-in-a-lawnmower look in the back.
The chefs drive back to Vancouver. They’re playing some kind of name game in the car, but it’s not the Banana-fanna-fo-fanna song game. They don’t explain it, but they keep calling out names. Sarah is sure there’s a rapper named Q-Tip. Paul, good Texan he is, says, “Barbara Bush”. Well, if you’re going to invoke a Texas Republican, she’s probably my favorite one.
They meet Padma and Emeril in Chinatown. Sarah interviews how glad she is that Beverly went home, since she would have nailed it. Notice I’m refraining from editorial. Fill in your own. Paul is nervous, because there’s this expectation he’ll win. Canada has restored Padma’s fashion sense: she’s wearing a very nice black leather zip-up vest thing. I’m not sure why she’s gone sleeveless in winter, but that’s her business.
Padma brings in three Top Chef Masters: Anita Lo, Floyd Cardoz, and Takashai Yagihashi (who I don’t remember from TCM, but I left the house without my bag yesterday and had to beg the vet to clip Lucy’s claws anyway though I couldn’t pay right away, so I’m a little dubious about my memory these days). Sarah flips over Takashi, she knows him from Chicago. They pair via knife draw with the chefs to form three teams: Lindsay and Anita, Sarah and Floyd, and Paul and Takashi. Sarah envies Paul for being teamed with Takashi; she doesn’t seem to know much about Floyd, especially not the fact that he won Top Chef Masters Season 3, because she seems rather unenthusiastic about being paired with him. I’m sure he’ll lose sleep over that. Paul is intimidated by Takashi. Have I mentioned Paul is the class of the operation?
It’s the tag team challenge. Each half of the team will cook for ten minutes, with the other teammate waiting outside, then they’ll switch, twice. The winner gets $20,000. The Masters will start, and the contestants will bat cleanup.
Takashi starts a geoduck sashimi (aka mirugai). Anita sets up for a trio of scallops from three different Asian cultures (Sarah should pay attention). Floyd knows his record on QFs is not good; Sarah hopes he doesn’t make something on a rock. No, wait, that’s “on a wok.” She may not realize Floyd is Indian. Or maybe she doesn’t realize woks aren’t used in India. To her, Asia is just one big place.
Switch. Lindsay is disoriented; she sees the scallops and figures it’s for multiple presentations; she doesn’t want to screw it up. Paul is surprised to see the clam; it’s an acquired taste and texture. But he seems to know what to do. Sarah recognizes curry, and her comfort level is zero. Of course it is, for her the eastern hemisphere doesn’t exist; she starts working on a cold crab salad to accompany the fish.
Switch. Takashi sees Paul has started dashi broth and uses it for a sauce. Anita likes the saute of Chinese sausage Lindsay has made, it’ll go great with the scallop. Floyd sees Sarah’s crab and goes with that. In the waiting room, Sarah’s glad she didn’t have to deal with the clam. I’ll just bet she is.
Final switch. Lindsay finishes the scallop shell presentation Anita has started. Paul sees the cucumbers and adds thai chili since Padma likes spice. Then he worries maybe he added too much, with all the seeds on the plate.
Padma and Emeril taste:
Sarah/Floyd: Pan seared cod with coconut curry, cold crab salad with clementine and amaranth. Emeril likes that Sarah used rice flour to dredge the fish; Floyd says she did exactly what he hoped. Padma loves the amaranth. Emeril loves the crab with the fish and sauce, but it could’ve used more acid. They win. Sarah likes Canada; she didn’t win anything in Texas and now she’s got $30,000 total.
Lindsay/Anita: Seared scallop, bok choy with chili, fried salmon roe, and sausage with water chestnuts tossed with vinaigrette. Anita envisioned a raw prep as well but it didn’t happen. Meaning, Lindsay didn’t realize it was supposed to be there. Padma likes the flavor. Emeril says the sausage is a bit overpowering.
Paul/Takashi: Mirugai sashimi with yuzu dashi. Takashi says Paul got it right. Emeril wonders about the heat; Paul says it was to bring it together, though it isn’t traditionally Japanese. Padma says she likes chili, but it’s a lot of chili. She sounds like she’s choking as she says it. Paul acknowledges it’s completely his fault. The man is made of class.
They’re to bring the heat of Texas and the cold of Whistler together at a Fire and Ice party. Each chef has to serve one dish, with a hot and a cold element, and one cocktail, for a hundred and fifty people. The winner gets a trip to Costa Rica. They get twelve hundred dollars and five hours to cook.
Paul is hoping to make something you think is cold but when you eat it, it’s hot. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds clever. Paul finds “essential oils” to make snow. Hugh notes in his blog: “Paul is pulling the claws off live lobsters. This will make the animal rights people really happy.” I love Hugh. You know, when Tiffani Faisson chopped a lobster in half and tossed it into a screaming hot skillet in the Season 1 semi-final, the blogosphere roared with outrage. I’m guessing Paul’s crustacean dispatch will go without comment, the difference being we could actually see Tiffani’s lobster twitching in the hot pan. And we like Paul. We like Tiffani now, post All-Stars, but not then.
Lindsay thinks snow is gimmicky. She gets herself all tangled up in the different interpretations of hot and cold – temperature or spice, implication or literal. She can’t find interesting fish so goes with halibut, and kicks Beverly one more time while she has the chance by saying now that she doesn’t have to worry about Beverly ruining her fish, she feels confident. She grates her knuckles into the tomato sauce for that little pow of extra flavor. She’s dedicating the dish to the tomatoes of the world. Cooked, raw, and baked. And because she’s worried about not being literal enough, she adds a tomato ice gimmick.
Sarah thinks Lindsay is playing it safe, and she should be doing something “more unique” sending word geeks – shout out to writer and word geek Elizabeth Creith who reads my Top Chef and Project Runway posts even though she’s never seen the shows – into a tizzy (“unique” means “one of a kind” and something either is or is not one of a kind, it can’t be more or less unique. Everyone says it. They mean, unusual or distinctive. But I digress. What else is new). Like baked manicotti? She’s topping it with frozen ginger mousse that will melt and form a sauce, and that sounds pretty cool. She’s never made this before, she says over and over again, which gives me the impression she’s lying. Sarah dropped out of high school when she was a junior to go to culinary school. That’s interesting. I’ll bet Beverly finished high school.
Tom comes in for a walkthrough. Paul talks to him about Pernod. When he hears about Lindsay’s halibut, he asks if she’s trying to set the record straight. Sarah tries to argue with him about Calabria and chilis. She loses.
They get a bunch of bartenders and servers. Paul isn’t too sure about cocktails, it’s not his strong suit. He makes a thai chili foam that will look like snow. Sarah uses an anti-griddle for her mousse, which she starts calling sfumato, but it overfreezes, probably because she doesn’t know how to use an anti-griddle. That’s a guess. Maybe it’s just a super-duper anti-griddle and she’s used to regular ones. In any case, her mousse is rock hard. She plops it on top of the cannoli anyway, and tells the servers to be sure the guests are eating it right, bringing their fork down through both the sfumato and the pasta, because that’s the concept of the dish. And if the guests don’t eat correctly, they are to be punished. Good thing this isn’t Virginia, or they’d be required to get a vaginal probe.
The party starts. Enter Tom, Padma, Gail, and Emeril. Gail and Padma look adorable in their fur collars; later, we see Padma’s truly gorgeous winter white sweater dress when she takes off the coat. The difference between now and then is amazing. They make jokes about no last-last-chance kitchen for Beverly. What, is it National Kick Beverly day? Emeril thinks she’s hiding under the table, which is pretty good, I have to say.
Service and Judges’ Table:
Paul: King crab with lobster broth and snow; Pan Am cocktail with kaffir lime and thai chilis. Gail complains that she didn’t get as much snow as someone else. Tom admires the tons of lobster flavor, but is put off by the arugula; it should have a purpose, not just be a garnish. He’s not a fan of pairing alcohol and food (well, then, why did you design the challenge that way?) but it works well, and he likes the egg white. Emeril tastes the chili. Padma wants more heat. Picky broad, isn’t she? One day it’s too much, the next it isn’t enough. At JT, Tom gives him more trouble about the arugula. What, Tom, were you beaten with arugula when you were a child? Did you choke on it one day? Or did you have a cruel nanny named Arugula? Paul defends his dish, and wants to go to the final because he can’t go home to Austin without winning Top Chef Texas.
Sarah: Five greens filled pasta and ginger sfumato, agrumi cocktail with gin and mango. Gail wonders if the mousse is supposed to be so… um… rock hard frozen; she can’t get her fork through it no matter how hard she pushes. And she’s dislodged it from the pasta – oh no! Gail is eating wrong! Vaginal probe for you, Gail. Tom loves the flavors. Emeril says pasta is a classic and she’s very good at it. Gail thinks the drink would be great in Texas on a summer day, but doesn’t work with the dish. JT: Gail inquires about the fire, and complains about the mousse, though the pasta was great. Tom thought she was brave to push out of her comfort zone into a frozen brick wall. No, no, he didn’t say that. Emeril disses her cocktail. She wants to go to the finals because… something about making a memory, I think.
Lindsay: Halibut with diced celery root, encendido cocktail. Gail says, “Fiery” and Tom says, “Really?” I guess Gail got the chili. He likes the halibut, but doesn’t know why the kale is raw or why it’s there at all. Gail loves the tomato nage; she never ate a piece of ice that was so well-seasoned. That’s the line of the night. Emeril likes the cocktail in combination with the dish, but on its own, it’s flat. JT: Gail loved the soup; Tom thought the remoulade overpowered the perfectly cooked fish, but would’ve been great on its own. Emeril complains his cocktail separated. She wants to be in the finals because she has more to show.
The judges debate privately, and guess what Tom is still complaining about. They admire how Paul took the challenge to heart, though Padma thinks it lost all contrast of hot and cold. Gail loved the depth of flavor. Tom thought Sarah was creative, and argues with Gail about the frozen mousse: creative or failure? Emeril didn’t get heat from Lindsay’s dish, Tom found her cocktail uninteresting though it went with the food really well.
Sarah is declared safe. And… Lindsay is out. Padma sounds really nasty saying it. Honestly, it’s almost a sneer. Or was I imagining things? Did her acting coach lead her astray, and what she thought was empathy came out as haughty? In any event, Paul is the winner, though it’s the most understated announcement of the winner ever in Top Chef history. It’s like they’re embarrassed how many times they’re giving it to him.
And backstage, Sarah further endears herself to the world by announcing: “It makes me sad that Lindsay is going home but at the same time I knew all along it would be me and Paul. He’s a great chef.” Yes, he is, Sarah. His name is on that famous list of great chefs, and yours isn’t.
Next week: The return of the exiles. Families show up. Death by fishbone.
Watch what happens.