What do Stephanie Izard, aluminum foil, and berries have in common? Absolutely nothing – but the producers don’t let that get in their way.
Stephanie Izard, chef/owner of Girl & The Goat, and only female Top Chef winner (“so far,” murmurs Stephanie, bless her heart), teams up with Padma to spring the latest nightmare on a group of tired, nervous competitors who only want to get their $150,000 and go home.
Everything in the pantry is covered in product-placement foil. Bottles that might be oil (or vinegar or soy sauce), round things that might be lemons (or peaches or pizza dough), phallic things that might be cucumbers (or zucchini or eggplant), square things that might be salmon (or steak or cheese). It’s probably not all that bad, really, since they’ve got some idea of what’s in the pantry from previous challenges. And there’s minimal whining about who got what, so I’m guessing it wasn’t all that. The rule is, take all you want, but once you open it, you must use it in your dish.
Oh, and by the way: foil is the only cooking vessel allowed. This added little jab is pretty unnecessary. Maybe some day they’ll have the courage to forego theatrics. The good news is: they don’t force Stephanie to sing the praises of the specific product-placement brand; she just has to give a little speech about the many uses of foil. Like that’s news to people.
Kristen wants to make a sponge cake, so she’s looking for cake things. I’d love to hear that thought process. No cooking vessels, possibly unusual ingredients, so you go for cake? Is that because it doesn’t require searing or boiling, and pretty much any flavor can be made to work once you get the structural ingredients down? Are the essentials most recognizable? It seems incredibly risky to me (and to Danyele, who proclaims it the ballsiest thing she’s ever heard of), and that’s what she’s going for, something not expected. It works out: the Almond and Chocolate Sponge Cake is moist with a nice texture and good flavors; for that, and for using the foil most creatively, Kristen wins and gets immunity.
Sheldon thought he was getting fish but it’s scallops. The only way he makes scallops is seared, but that isn’t possible, so he smokes them, for Lemongrass Smoked Scallops with Tomato and Shallot Salad, using the foil as a makeshift smoker, which is pretty clever. Stephanie loves them, and he’s in the top half.
Danyele can deal with the cannellini beans and bacon, but the tomatillo surprises her. She’s feeling inferior because her foil pot doesn’t have handles, and other people made handles on their foil pots. Shut up and cook! And she does; her Cannellini Bean Stew with Bacon, Asiago Cheese and Tomatillo works. Stephanie’s particularly taken with the grilled tomatillo, so what Danyele thought was a liability turned into an asset. Maybe she should aim for bad food more often. Top half.
Stefan is relieved he got salmon and not goat balls. Don’t go on Chopped, Stefan, whatever you do. He serves Hot Smoked Salmon with German Potato Salad and a glass of champagne. He says something about east-meets-west to include the “Asian flavors” he pulled, but the only thing in the recipe is soy sauce. Stephanie likes the champagne. Top half.
Bart is really excited with the fun and games, he’s having a blast, but then, he’s Belgian, of course he is. He heard the thing about being creative with foil, so he shapes foil on his head to make a pot into which he places food that will be eaten by other people. Because he’s the Beer Knight, he makes Beer-Poached Cod with Butter Beer Sauce. He proudly shows Stephanie the strainer he made out of foil; she has that, “Oh, that’s nice” look you give to people who are probably crazy. The fish is cooked perfectly. Who knows, maybe hair is a spice. Top half.
Josie: Left on the cutting room floor. Her dish, Lemon Grass Prawns with Sweet Potato Ginger Salsa and Golden Cherry Vinaigrette, was good enough to put her in the Top half.
Brooke picks up something round and silver and muses: “What are the chances this is a lemon?” Maybe not; there’s no lemon listed in her recipe for Bacon-Roasted Yams and Red Onions with Bacon Apple Salad. “Did you cook the onion?” asks Padma, waving sulfur fumes from her mouth; shades of Scott Conant, whose hatred of raw red onion on Chopped is world-famous. Or at least Facebook-famous. Brooke says she cooked half of it; I’m not sure if that’s deliberate, to include two types of onion flavors, or if it was a mistake. Stephanie’s complaint, however, is underseasoning, in spite of the bacon. Bottom half.
Micah has bread, and has the divine inspiration to make panzanella: “It just came to me, it’s almost like a gift, I can’t describe it.” That’s ok, Hugh Acheson can (Hugh’s blog this week is particularly snarky): bread to panzanella isn’t exactly a leap. The problem is, the lamb is too rare for Padma (and if I may call on Hugh again: “Padma is not a rare meat lover, but when you get to EC, bring on the rare to MR cause the rest of us like that and can outvote her.” But Stephanie agrees, the lamb was too rare. Bottom half.
Josh makes Roasted Chicken with Potatoes, Poblano, Tomatillo and Carrots. Stephanie likes the heat of the poblano, but felt it was a little uninspired. Bottom half.
John thinks he’s got a pot of herbs, but it’s a pineapple. “What am I going to do with a pineapple?” Why do chefs hate pineapple? What he does with a pineapple is, he makes Beef Egg Drop Soup with Braised Pineapple. Stephanie likes the pineapple and beef together. But not that much; Bottom half.
Lizzie: Also left on the cutting room floor. Bottom half.
It’s Berry Festival time at Remlinger Farms. This means they’ll be cooking with berries. I know I’m in a bad mood when Micah says he’s happy to cook with these bundles of joy and I want to smack him. Micah got on my bad side in the QF. He’s gonna have to work to get off.
Now the rationale for creating a Top and Bottom half in the QF becomes apparent: Except for Kristen, who has immunity, the chefs will compete head-to-head in pairs, with the top five picking their opponent from the bottom five; one from each pair will be up for the win, and one will be up for immunity. Kristen will cook unopposed, and can still win. They blindly choose the specific berries the dish must highlight, and will cater the outdoor event for 150 people. The prize is $10,000. Stephanie will be guest judge, and Gail is back.
Raspberries: Josie picks Lizzie.
Lizzie is highly offended that Josie thinks she’ll be easy to beat: she’s cooked for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela – twice! Hey, Lizzie, chill: the Obamas love Spike’s burgers, and he’s still an ass. She wants to highlight the femininity of the raspberry. It’s feminine, see, because it’s not robust. Ok, Lizzie, that’s one. It’d be two, except you cooked for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (twice!). She makes a Raspberry Steamed Cabbage Roll with Heritage Pork and Bacon Strips (recipe missing). Everyone loves it. See, that’s what you do when someone disses you. By the way: Heritage Pork means “This Isn’t The Other White Meat.” Or, maybe it’s like “Artisan,” and it is whatever someone says it is. She’s the Winning Half.
Josie gets confused and thinks she’s on Next Food Network Star, so she puts on a Rock ‘n’ Roll show. She hears “raspberry,” she thinks Rock ‘n’ Raspberry Roll, a play on a California roll with raspberry instead of avocado: sockeye salmon, Dungeness crab, raspberry aioli, raspberry wasabi. At her booth, she revs up the energy and shows her stuff, until Padma tells her to keep cooking. Gail whispers to Tom, “Is she high?” Gail likes that she used raspberry in so many ways (which I don’t quite get: she made two raspberry condiments) but she still doesn’t taste raspberry. Tom thinks she’s more concerned with the show than with the food, and the mayo weighs down what should be a light, fresh summer roll. She says she was playing catch-up, entertaining people while she made the rolls. Maybe if she’d focused on her food, she wouldn’t have been behind in the first place. Tom sounds disgusted with her, something he seems to reserve only for those he no longer respects. She’s the Losing Half.
Strawberry: Sheldon picks Micah
Sheldon thinks the light and refreshing strawberry would go well with the saltiness of ahi, so he comes up with an Ahi Summer Roll of Ahi Poke, Strawberries, and Sweet Chili Sauce. Stephanie at first thought the sauce had a strange consistency, but the radish made it work. Gail likes how well he highlighted the strawberry. Winning Half.
Micah has two daughters. He knew he wanted to name them something culinary, but Cinnamon and Cayenne would’ve sounded like stripper names, so his wife picked Sage and he picked Saffron. Because those aren’t stripper names at all. Micah is too young to remember that the extremely dignified and not at all strippery Barbara Bain played Cinnamon Carter, lady superspy, on the Mission: Impossible TV series in the 60s. He makes strawberry marinated fried chicken with a strawberry bacon buttermilk biscuit. Gail: “It’s good, considering.” Considering? That’s the standard now? He admits Sheldon’s flavors popped more than his did, that he hoped the freeze-dried strawberries would make the biscuits “pop,” and Tom conduct a tutorial on popping flavors. Another Tomlesson ensues when Micah says he thought he had a good concept; “But did you execute it correctly?” I love it when Tom goes all didactic. Gail gives up the pretense, and admits the biscuit was dense and had no strawberry flavor. Stephanie: “Why not make something strawberry?” Because that would be too simple. Losing Half.
Blueberries: Danyele picks Josh to get an Oklahoma-Texas thing going on.
Josh makes Goat Cheese Mousse with Blueberry Compote with Thai basil and a cracker crust. Tom likes what he did with the blueberries, but wishes there was more; Gail thinks it’s balanced and delicate, but wants a little crunch. Winning Half.
Danyele gets stressed over space, and yells out, “Over your head dickhead!” I’m not sure why, or to whom, but it amused me. She makes a Chicken Pine Nut Terrine with Blueberry Mostarda on a croustade. It seems the crunch missing in Josh’s dish ended up here; there’s some tooth-cracking going on. Worse, the thin slice of terrine is rubbery and flavorless; Padma likens it to lunch meat. Ouch. Tom tells her she gets halfway there with her concept, but then she stops. Stephanie tells her one of the truisms she learned in S4: cook croustade to order. Losing Half.
Gooseberries: Stefan picks John because they’re the two oldest competitors. I respect the choice. He didn’t pick low-hanging fruit.
Stefan uses Kristen as a pillow in the overnight. She doesn’t seem to mind at all. You know, Kristen is one of those people I like so much, and I’m hoping she’s going to be one of the finalists, but girl, what are you thinking. Do you think it was lost on Stefan that the guy who hooked up in S5 ended up winning, while the girl he hooked up with went home? Maybe she’s playing him as much as he’s playing her. That’d be fun. After all, she’s won 2 challenges, and he’s won… zero. But I don’t think he’s here to win the game. He wants to make sashimi but Sheldon’s just snared the last of the fresh tuna, so he gets a frozen saku block and makes Cali Crudo with Radishes, Gooseberries, and Spiced Vinaigrette. Gail loves the spice and the crunch, but doesn’t get any gooseberry. Tom agrees; it’s a good dish, but he wants more gooseberry. Winning Half.
John puts a neon sign on his head reading “Stefan is Using Frozen Tuna” before it’s even in the cart, and doesn’t take it off the whole time. “I just love getting into his head,” he interviews. But later, he says it isn’t that it’s frozen, it’s that it isn’t sustainable. I guess the brush with Rick Moody reminded him there’s nothing like a soapbox to beat someone up with. But he isn’t saying “It isn’t sustainable” he’s saying “It’s frozen.” It’s hard to make a political point if you complain about something else. It is, however, a way to backtrack the whole bus routine and pretending it’s a noble pursuit. He doesn’t do himself any favors with his White Gazpacho with Spanish Chorizo, Gooseberries, and Sweet Grapes; everyone finds the soup to be good (contrary to Stefan’s claim that “I wouldn’t flush my poop with it”), but the chorizo unpleasantly overpowering. Seeing his Frozen Fish sign isn’t working (Gail comments on this in her blog), he tries the “I’m Not Making Any Excuses But Here’s My Excuse: The Kitchen Was Crazy” card. Tom outright laughs at him. But he faces up to it in the end: when he returns to the Stew Room, he admits, “I got my ass whooped.” Losing Half.
Blackberries: Bart picks Brooke; she’s flattered, because she’s last to be picked, which means no one wants to go up against her. Yeah, that tends to happen when you win both halves of the previous episode.
Brooke wants to keep her streak going. Except: she was just on the bottom half of the QF; I’d say her winning streak has been broken. Her Spicy Smoked Chocolate Pudding with Blackberry Tapioca and an Earl Grey Marshmallow (the girl made her own marshmallow, though it’s more like a meringue) is “totally smart” per Stephanie; they love it. Winning Half.
Bart, no longer basking in the giddiness of the foil, gets into a fight with John over who-gets-to-use-the-blender. His Blackberry Soup with Salmon and Rhubarb Yogurt half works; they all love the soup, but Tom thinks the salmon is bland (I’ll say it is, it’s invisible in the recipe). Stephanie doesn’t think he needs the salmon at all (maybe that’s why). He explains he had to choose between crab and salmon, and he picked wrong. Losing Half.
Tayberry: Kristen solo.
Kristen gives us some personal background: she was abandoned at birth in Seoul, and by age 4 months was adopted and living in Michigan. If she wins the $10,000 prize for the episode, she’ll go to Korea for the first time since birth, to see where she’s from. The way Top Chef has run, long-time viewers start to worry when the moving personal stories come up; they used to be a precursor to elimination. But the Elves realized we’d caught on several seasons ago and switched it up. Most of us still get the same “uh-oh” when someone calls home or brings out the baby pictures. The way thing are going this season, it looks like the opposite: last week, it was Brooke who showed off the good-luck lizard her son gave her. When she gets tayberries, she immediately thinks “goat’s milk.” I’d like to hear more about that reasoning, but no such luck. Her Matcha Goat Milk Custard with Tayberries Macerated in Olive Oil is a huge hit. Tom loves the texture and restrained sweetness of the custard; Stephanie’s crazy about the use of olive oil. For those of us who have never heard of it before, matcha is a Japanese green tea.
John, Bart, Danyele, Micah and Josie are called out first; it’s clear any group including Josie is the Bottom Group. Discussion included above for each chef. They’re sent back to stew some more, and to send out the Top Group: Brooke, Stefan, Josh, Lizzie, Sheldon, and Kristen. There’s no discussion at all, merely an announcement.
Kristen wins, giving her a sweep of the episode. Stefan blows her a kiss. As they walk back into the Stew Room to send out the Bottom Group again (damn, those guys are getting jerked around, adding insult to injury), Stefan announces it was “wifey” who won. Kristen, I’m counting on you, girl: watch your back.
Danyele is eliminated, and I’m shocked. I thought it was Josie for sure. Tom’s blog isn’t up yet, so I don’t know what to say; Gail’s blog makes it clear there wasn’t an element between them that worked, so I guess it could’ve gone either way. I still think Josie’s shenanigans should’ve come into play, if the dishes were equal. Then again, I still haven’t forgiven her for the turkey.
Back in Stew, Josie picks a bizarre fight with Stefan (apparently, only one person at a time is allowed to have a conversation; either that, or they were both vying for camera time, and he stepped on her moment); from the previews, it looks like another enmity has formed. I’m ready for Josie to go home.
So much recapping is about snark: Let us pause to give props to Stephanie. I know Richard felt he gave away S4 – and I’m a Blais fan myself – but fact is, she’s done incredibly well since, and is a credit to the show. She also handled herself with grace and humor on this episode when faced with such things as raw lamb and a foil strainer; her comments were precise and made sense.
Josie continues her decline. But they have to do a roller derby, so I can’t really blame her.
Last Chance Kitchen:
Danyele vs CJ:
Since Danyele lost because her terrine tasted like lunch meat (gotta rub it in; she visibly winces), the challenge is: make a sandwich with lunch meat. In 20 minutes. But they get to go shopping, which is unusual for LCK. They have to. It’s the only way to turn it into a product placement spot for the car.
CJ is out of sorts; sandwiches aren’t his thing. He figures a baguette, ham, butter, that’s a sandwich. So he works with that and moves towards a bahn mi, which he oddly pronounces “bone-mi,” by making celery and daikon radish butter, throwing in fish sauce, cilantro, apple, and radicchio. Tom thinks his “Vietnamese-inspired” Ham-Butter Sandwich has too much bread, and though the flavors were good, he wanted more daikon and pickled peppers like a real bahn mi. In other words, he wanted a bahn mi, not a Vietnamese-inspired Ham Sandwich.
Danyele: She eats a turkey sandwich every day – sometimes multiple times a day! – so she’s ready for this. She’s glad to make something she really loves, instead of some dish that doesn’t represent her like lunchmeat terrine. Tyler, over in the Peanut Gallery, hears of her plans: “Turkey, avocado, bacon, really?” he sneers. Hey, bud, she outlasted you, didn’t she? It’s bad enough Chrissy (first out, Hawaiian, remember?) is wearing a “Big Ceej” t-shirt and everyone’s cheering for CJ, do you have to harass her, too, just because he beat you? “I’ll eat it if no one else will,” she says. Tom pipes up, “I have to eat it.” Ouch. Not a fan of turkey sandwiches, I’m gathering. I am – a turkey sandwich is a beautiful thing – but they have to be made with actual turkey, not the slimy deli crap. She mashes up the avocado with olive oil and smears it an inch thick on the bread, and pickles some red onion. Her turkey sandwich has the opposite problem of CJ’s: there’s too much meat, the bread’s breaking apart, and the avocado is oozing out. He does another tutorial on how to put the lettuce on the outside to keep the avocado in. “Tom is a hater,” says Danyele. You understand that turkey sandwiches are on his menu, right?
This is the first LCK in which neither dish has been particularly good. CJ stays in, Danyele leaves, taking her sandwich with her. And now she’s going to cheer for CJ, too, so the next person coming through the door can feel all alone, too. Where’s a sociologist when you need one.