I’m happy to report that this season of Top Chef has so far been significantly more entertaining in two episodes than all of the Las Vegas edition. The “characters” are more colorful, the interactions a bit more spicy, and the talent level more even. I am most encouraged at this early stage. Last night’s episode had the cheftestants pairing up in what could best be described as a three-legged race meets Williams Sonoma. Yes, people were bound together in pairs by unwieldy aprons and forced to make sandwiches using only their left or right hands (depending on which side of the apron any given person was). Of course, these weren’t just any old sandwiches. These were bipartisandwiches, a silly name that I imagine only Andy Cohen himself must have coined (you could practically sense his grinning rictus overseeing the entire challenge).
Once this silly but entertaining Quickfire had come and gone, the pairs then had to merge into groups of four and serve a healthy and appealing lunch to a bunch of middle schoolers using the sort of restrictive budget that public schools across the nation must contend with. It was another fascinating challenge, and as usual, it was both intriguing to see which chefs rose to the challenge, and which ones utterly failed.
In the losers circle, among others, was Amanda Baumgarten who made the curious choice of braising chicken with SHERRY for the kids. Not the wisest move (perhaps she should have used a splash sherry vinegar instead for the flavor? I don’t know). When asked why she chose such an unorthodox / illegal ingredient, Amanda shrugged and noted that she liked the taste, causing a feisty Gail Simmons to pipe up and announce that she likes vodka but wouldn’t cook with it for kids. This, of course, gave me wonderful images of Gail sitting at home alone pounding shots of Stolichnaya and enjoying her favorite meal: eggs.
Also not faring too well was Jacqueline, who had to sacrifice many of her dessert’s ingredients in order to fit within the budget (curiously, the team had enough money for Amanda’s sherry, as guest judge Sam Kass noted). Jacqueline’s biggest problem, however, was that the bananas she used for her pudding were starchy, not sweet, and thus she had to add sugar to liven things up. How much sugar? Oh, just TWO POUNDS WORTH. The moment she mentioned that, it was clear she was going home. Actually, it was clear before that when she seemed to be crying for no good reason during an interview segment. As expected, Jacqueline got the boot, which meant that her tenure on Top Chef ended with a crummy mousse and a crummy pudding. Not the greatest showcase in the world.
Faring better was Kelly, who emerged as the winner of the episode, despite the fact that her teammates groused that she was taking all the credit for the food. Arnold made a big fuss that the chefs were cooking for a greater good, not just themselves, and repeatedly insisted that he was “troubleshooting” wherever he could and had finished his corn salad early to help out others. Of course, the irony here was that Arnold was essentially tooting his own horn under the guise of being a selfless team player. Clearly there will be more drama from him as the season unfolds.
In the meantime, here’s the photocap:
Padma: “Chefs, your food will be judged today by two very hot people.”
Sam: “Well, I don’t know about that…”
“Don’t be modest, Sam.”
“I wasn’t talking about me, Tubby.”
“I pulled 7.”
“Okay. You can put the knife down now.”
“This is a knife? EEK!”
“HAAAY! I pulled 3! I mean, WE pulled 3. I’m just trying to troubleshoot.”
Amanda: “I’ve got a great idea. After we make this sandwich, let’s buy some beer for the preschoolers down the street.”
Padma: “Chefs, what do you have for us today?”
Sam: “Whatever it is, you better have twice as much. Padma is a hungry girl today.”
“Chefs, I’m just thrilled to try this. I only wish my dear and luscious friend Gail Simmons were here to join me. She just loves a good sandwich. Heck, you could stick an old tire between two slices of bread, and she’d eat it, bless her heart.”
“Well, Padma, this sandwich features a Korean-rubbed–“
[nom nom nom nom nom]
“Um, Padma, did you want to hear the rest of the description.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I just eat that all? I thought someone said ‘Pretend to be Gail.'”
“Chefs, I’d like to introduce our judges for today: Sam Kass, Tom Colicchio, and my dear friend, Gail Simmons, who as you can see knows quite a bit about unhealthy eating.”
Gail: “The producers made me wear this shirt to make you look better.”
“That’s cute, Gail, but I’m not too sure people are concerned about you looking better than me. Love the shirt though. Reminds me of a big tomato.”
Tom: “Yeah, it’s pretty bad, Gail.”
Sam: “Does this one stop eating? I’ve been talking to her for five minutes, and I don’t think she’s even stopped to breathe.”
Sam: “So what does everyone think about the food?”
“We don’t know. Padma ate ours.”
Tom: “So how about that Padma?”
“That was Padma? We thought it was Aretha Franklin.”
“Remind me again how adding two pounds of sugar to a dessert is healthy?”
Padma: “Oooh, that sounds nice. I’ll have some more please.”
“Oh look. IIIII won! Who would have thought that MY dish would win this round of Top Chef, WHICH I INVENTED.”
What did you think about the episode?