Restaurant Wars! This episode is always good for some yelling, some swearing, a little crying and, of course, at least one complete meltdown. And, oh yes, there’s food involved. Restaurant Wars is the point at which “Top Chef” starts to feel, for better or for worse, like a traditional reality TV show. All you need is Gordon Ramsay to drop by and shriek at a few chefs and you’d think you were watching the Fox network. Let’s just hope the food is exceptional this season or we might as well be watching the chefs burn beef Wellington and picking spaghetti out of the trash.
[Full recap of Wednesday's (Jan. 19) "Top Chef" after the break...]
Today’s Quickfire Challenge takes place at Le Bernardin, a very expensive but damn good seafood restaurant. Anthony Bourdain is there to introduce the chefs to Justo Thomas, the best fish butcher around. Just butchers up to 1,000 pounds of fish every morning. I smell Quickfire Challenge!
For immunity, the chefs must filet and portion one cod and one fluke in ten minutes, which is two minutes longer than it takes Justo to do the same thing. I’m guessing two minutes won’t be enough of a cushion for some of our chefs, so Justo has great job security.
The chefs start hacking away at some big, ugly fish and, surprise surprise, we get yet another injurty when Fabio slices through his thumbnail. Of course, thanks to Jamie, no one is willing to get medical attention unless they get a knife through an important internal organ (I’m guessing some of the chefs would even try to tough it out with one punctured kidney) so Fabio sucks it up.
Once Justo and Anthony examine the fishy massacre, some clear losers emerge (Carla doesn’t even finish). On the bottom are Fabio, Carla, Tiffany and Antonia. Dale, Richard, Mike and Marcel are at the head of the class. But to determine which one of them gets immunity, they have to make a great dish out of heads, racks, wings, fins and collars of a fish in 45 minutes.
Here comes the thoroughly predictable segment in which a chef (this time it’s Dale) explains why they will rock this challenge. Dale says his family ate every bit of the animal before it was cool. Yawn. Much cooler? When Richard says his first job was as the fish guy at McDonald’s. And even then, he screwed it up.
On a side note, we learn that Mike hates Marcel. I’m sure this will be important later.
All of the dishes look pretty good, but immunity goes to… Dale, who presented two dishes (a sashimi and a soup). I thought both looked a little weak, but hey, they must have tasted great.
Moving on! The guest judge for the Elimination Challenge will be Ludo Lefebvre, owner of the pop-up restaurant LudoBites (most recently LudoBites 5.0 at the time of filming, though I think he wrapped up LudoBites 6.0 in Sherman Oaks this September.).
As the winner of the Quickfire, Dale is the first team captain, and even better, he gets to select the other team captain. He chooses Marcel. Marcel feels honored. He shouldn’t. Dale chose him for the purpose of making absolutely sure the guy wouldn’t end up on his team. Good thinking, Dale.
The teams are:
Dale: Richard, Tre, Fabio and Carla
Marcel: Angelo, Mike, Antonia and Tiffany
Let me place an early bet. Marcel’s team is going to suck, if only because Marcel is the captain. No one on this show likes Marcel as far as I can tell, so putting the weasely little guy in a position of power just screams accident waiting to happen.
That accident, at least for this challenge, will be creating a pop-up restaurant in 24 hours. The winning team will be determined by the diners.
Things start out exactly how one might expect. Dale’s team comes together instantly, picking a fun concept (Bodega) and running with it. Meanwhile, Marcel is shocked, absolutely shocked, when his team completely ignores him. Really, Marcel? Is he completely unaware of how much his teammates seem to dislike him?
Eventually Marcel’s team settles on a semi-crappy concept (Mediterranean food with a twist) and chooses a name: Etch. It’s about etching an idea in your mind, I guess, but all I can think about is Etch-a-Sketch. They banter about some egg dishes and lamb dishes and some other ideas that don’t sound that appealing, while Bodega is all about creating fun, bodega-inspired food (chips, “tuna” out of a can) that sounds like what you’d see on the menu at a real pop-up restaurant. Marcel is screwed.
As the chefs begin prepping for the dinner at their outdoor cooking/dining space, Tom shows up. He notes that Marcel has a weird energy, to which I say, you just noticed? I was thinking the weird thing was pretty consistent with Marcel. That being said, Tom doesn’t get the bodega concept of Dale’s team. Really? I thought it was pretty cute. He then mentions to the chefs that the winner, and there will be just one winner, gets $10,000.
As expected, the quibbling and griping gets underway pretty quickly. Dale shouts expletives at Fabio’s wait staff, while Marcel tries to tell Tiffany how to cook a six minute egg. Because she follows his orders, she actually undercooks her six minute eggs. I am pretty sure at this point Tiffany wants to take Marcel’s fuzzy little ferret head and stuff it in a broiler for six minutes.
Dana Cowin of Food & Wine magazine shows up to Etch, and Tiffany promptly freaks out. Worse, she has to nod and smile while listening to how much Dana’s table hates her undercooked eggs. I’m seeing bad things ahead for Tiffany.
After Etch, Dana moves on to Bodega. She loves the menu. And, as the judges sit down at Bodega, we soon discover why.
Raw tuna belly and fried chicken skin with chiles and lime – Richard
Bacon, egg and cheese and homemade focaccia – Dale
Chicken-fried codfish and Brussels kraut – Richard
Pork shoulder, grits with cheddar cheese, corona and lime sauce – Tre
Amaretto cake with candied lemon peel and cappuccino mouse – Fabio
Blueberry pie with dry milk ice cream – Carla
It’s safe to say that the judges are fans of the Bodega menu. Padma loves Tre’s pork, Anthony is a fan of Dale’s dish because it has an egg in it, though Tom is less impressed.
Anthony likes Fabio’s cake so much he swears. Through it all, Fabio handles the front of the house like a pro, keeping tabs on the wait staff, chatting up the diners and getting food out quickly. All in all, it seems to be a pretty successful meal.
And then, it’s time for the judges to move over to Etch. Hmmm, let’s guess how this is going to go.
Behind the scenes, Marcel whines that he wants Mike to talk to him more. He needs more communication. Okay, that’s valid, I guess, except I think Mike is trying to restrain himself from telling Marcel he’s a pompous little twerp, which accounts for the lack of chit-chat. Meanwhile, Tiffany is screwing up the front of the house. The waiters don’t know where to deliver food, and Tiffany just wanders from table to table, cackling like a crazed parrot. Admittedly, part of the reason she’s a mess is because she wasted so much time trying to cook an egg to Marcel’s specifications, but still, a point against Tiffany. Anyway, here’s what Etch was serving.
Frisee & shaved asparagus salad with egg and chorizo – Tiffany
Crudo of fluke, grapes, pink peppercorns and lemon zest – Angelo
Roasted monkfish with kalamata olives, peperonata and parsley – Marcel
Braised pork belly and octopus with cannellini beans – Mike
Anthony declares Marcel’s fish as baby food. Mike’s food is a hit with Tom.
Ricotta gnudi, braised oxtail ragout, arugula and lemon zest – Antonia
Slow-cooked lamb chop, cauliflower puree, turmeric and honey – Mike and Angelo
Duo of peaches: unripened peach and sweet peach with coconut foam and powder – Marcel
None of the judges like Tiffany’s salad. Angelo’s fluke is too bland.
Antonia’s dish is too salty, but Mike and Angelo’s dish is a hit. Oh, and the dessert? Anthony calls it a perfect storm of bleeping awfulness. But he does not say bleeping. Yeah, this did not go well. However, Marcel thinks everything went great. Antonia thinks he’s on drugs. I think Marcel is huffing glue. Was he not paying attention? Oh, I’m sorry, he was too wrapped up in getting Mike to talk to him to notice the kitchen was melting down like day old crème fraiche on a hot griddle.
The teams get back to the waiting room, and Team Etch is called before the judges. Please tell me they couldn’t have won, right? And, big sigh of relief, they didn’t. Only 17 out of 76 diners preferred their restaurant to Bodega, and I guess we’re supposed to assume those 17 were giving points for the color of the tablecloths and because they didn’t like Fabio flirting with their dates.
Marcel seems shocked, shocked, I tell you. He says the reasons for this botch are complicated. Marcel, it’s not a relationship. You’re not on Facebook. It’s complicated is not an explanation. Tom wants to know who was responsible for organizing the kitchen. No one raises their hand. Hmm, I don’t know, maybe that job goes to the TEAM CAPTAIN? Marcel, being at least 80 percent rodent, pretends he isn’t listening.
Then the judges start eviscerating the food. Ludo didn’t like the crudo. He’s sad about Antonia’s sauce. Marcel’s fish was mushy. Mike’s octopus needed char. Anthony calls the dessert a thumb in the eye at the end of the meal. I have to say, Anthony can always be counted on for a vivid description.
Marcel tries to subtly shift blame (“Well, I was working so hard to expedite, dontcha know”), smearing it around like crap on a paintbrush. Mike decides, hey, if Marcel’s going to try that, I might as well say what I’ve been holding back all season. The two chefs get into a big ol’ screaming match, and while it’s probably a good thing that Tiffany is in between them, I’m sure she isn’t thrilled about it. Tiffany tries to calm down Marcel, which inspires him to insult her asparagus. When he makes the mistake of trying to smear a little blame on Antonia, she finally points out that he needed to be a leader and so, so wasn’t. Tiffany laughs, and Padma tells her none of this is funny. But I don’t think Tiffany should be given a hard time for laughing, because it wasn’t a ha-ha laugh as much as a laughing-at-a-funeral-God-I’m-uncomfortable sort of thing. Anyway, Etch is sent out of the room so that Mike can threaten to kill Marcel when no one with a camera is around.
Bodega heads back, and Tom tells the team they killed it. Dale jumps to say he was the executive chef, although I don’t think screaming expletives at underpaid waiters really makes you a great executive anything. Luckily, Richard points out he was the technical advisor and Carla graciously adds that he improved everyone’s dishes. In the end, Richard is the winner. Whoo!
So, it’s time to eliminate someone. I think Tiffany’s going. Anthony declares that prison breaks are more efficient than Team Etch. Oh, Anthony, you and those zingers!
And the loser is… Marcel. Whoa! Not that he isn’t richly deserving (and can someone kick him in the ass as he walks out the door?), but Marcel always gets credit for great dishes (not this week, obviously), while Tiffany seems to be skating by – and as she pointed out, the person handling the front of the room tends to get sent home. But hey, I’m thrilled to see Marcel get ousted, if for no other reason than his being a pain in the ass. While he was skilled, I don’t think he had the polish or skills to be the last man standing anyway, so hey, the sooner we can stop seeing his Royal Squirreliness, the better.
Marcel packs his knives, but can’t understand why he’s going home. His only mistake was picking the wrong team! Oh, shut up, Marcel. He says he’s woefully misunderstood, because he’s just a nice guy. Seriously? That putzy vibe was just something that was created in editing? It’s like he and Camille Donatacci Grammer were separated at birth. I see a love match!
Do you think Marcel deserved to go home? Did you like Bodega’s concept? How much longer do you think Tiffany will stick around?