Top Chef picks up this week with the crew lamenting the loss of Ash. He may have not been the best chef, but he was a nice guy and a pleasant presence in the kitchen. But make no mistake, this is not just a kitchen, it’s a battlefield. Luckily, the Voltaggio brothers keep reminding us of this with their constant fighting. And as we will see, the battle has really only just begun.
The Quickfire Challenge was a tag team cook-off with a few twists. Each chef drew a knife, but only Jen and Mike V. got to choose the teams. This quickly turned into a playground game of kickball, where the cools kids were all picked first and one poor soul gets picked last. Naturally that soul was Robin, who was not surprised in the least.
The teams were, in order that they cooked:
Blue: Jen, Laurine, Mike I. and Kevin
Red: Eli, Robin, Bryan and Mike V.
Kevin and Mike V. batted clean-up and it was clear that both teams tried to put their stronger chefs toward the end of the line. But the Blue team wisely harnessed Jen’s organizational skills and had her lead off. It paid off, as she laid out a variety of ingredients and options and set the Blue team off in a good direction.
This was a great challenge. As I mentioned, there were a few twists. The chefs were not allowed to speak to each other, and they were all blindfolded until it was time for them to take their ten minute turn. Kevin brought up a good point when he mentioned that going last meant that you could possibly take the blame for the team’s poor showing. But he had nothing to worry about; the Blue team delivers a wonderful fish dish. The funniest thing was the way Jen set up a pot of oil for poaching the fish, and each chef reacted differently to it. At first Laurine thinks it’s there to fry the garnish before realizing it’s for poaching. Mike I. ends up dumping it and starts it over, and Kevin abandons it altogether. Instead he cooks the fish in butter. I like the way this guy thinks.
The Red team did not do too badly either. Eli leads off and gets some steak started along with some other things. Robin jumps right in and continues to build the dish. Then Bryan steps in and sets the stage for his brother to succeed. Mike V. jumps in, finishes the steak dish. It’s good, but the Blue team clearly pleases the judge more.
The Blue team also wins $10K that they can split, or let ride in hopes of winning $10K each if they win the Elimination Challenge. They let it ride. You can see the confidence beaming from the Blue team. Meanwhile, the Voltaggio brothers are seeing red.
For the Elimination Challenge, the battle breaks out into all out war. Restaurant Wars, that is. While Restaurant Wars is always a highlight of each Top Chef season, it was a bit of a letdown that this year décor would not be part of the contest. To me, that’s half the fun of this challenge. But they will still be judged on their food, menu and service.
- The Blue team names their restaurant Mission and the Red goes with a combination of their names; Revolt. I guess naming a restaurant is a bit like your golf swing. It’s easier to see the mistakes when you are watching someone else. I knew it was a “revolting” name and so did you. And so did the judges. But in the heat of the moment, they thought it was a keeper.
- Laurine and Ash volunteer to take the front of the house of their respective restaurants. This is always a sexy option, but it has often spelled doom for past contestants as you become the face of the losing team, and often the fall guy.
- When Eli decides to leave his shirt untucked, I cringed. Even as a mostly untucked guy myself, I know there is a time and a place to tuck, and this would be one of those times. The judges also mention it later on.
- The Blue team thinks they are being clever when they decide to skip dessert, since it is usually the dish that gets someone sent home. However, it’s pretty much the judge’s first complaint when they see Mission’s menu. I am still astounded by how hard dessert seems to be to so many accomplished cooks.
- While at the Restaurant Depot, Mike I. and Laurine playfully block Robin and Eli from getting out of the car, and eventually beat them to the sparkling water. This sets Robin off, and she playfully pushes Laurine. The push is just barley playful.
- Later, in the Revolt kitchen Robin nearly stages a revolt when Mike V. begins to hound her and actually starts to adjust her dish. Robin stands her ground but Mike does belittle her something good. Mike V. claims he has the biggest heart of the group, but he also has the biggest mouth, temper and ego. But Robin knows the old saying about taking the heat in the kitchen…
- The Mission group’s night quickly goes to hell as soon as the guests arrive. Jen falls behind on her dishes and Laurine is overwhelmed by the house. Laurine also forgets several times to explain the dishes to the judges. Tom Colicchio mentions that Lauine seems to be hiding, and also pins some the blame on her when subpar food starts to appear at the table. I sense trouble for her.
- The Revolt team may have friction in the kitchen, but Eli does not let that spill out onto the floor. His shirt may be untucked, but he is quite buttoned up as a host.
- It was obvious that the Mission team did suffer from a bit of overconfidence. However, the dark horse that emerged tonight was Robin. Her pear dessert was the big hit, from a menu that was considered the best in Restaurant Wars history. Not bad.
It was hard to tell who was going to go home this week. Kevin undercooks the lamb, Jen fails with two dishes and Mission’s food service is dreadfully slow. All indicators point to Jen being sent home. Except, I keep remembering Tom Colicchio’s comments about Laurine. She’s definitely the weakest chef on Mission, and they don’t want to let Jen go too soon. Thus it is Mission Impossible for Laurine, and she takes the hit for her team and is asked to leave. Note for future contestants; Hiding from the judges is not good move when you are the hostess.
Meanwhile, Mike V. is the ultimate winner from the Revolt team. He is also awarded the $10K that Mission had just lost. As he had mentioned, he has a big heart and offers to split the money with his team. However, Bryan refuses to take his money out of principle. Mike V. can’t buy his way out of inappropriate behavior with his brother. I love it. I have not seen brothers like this since Wolverine and Sabertooth. (If you happen to have seen the latest Wolverine movie, you know what I mean.)
This is setting up nicely, huh? It certainly will be a let own if both of the Voltaggio brothers are not in the final four. I’m sure we have nothing to worry about. I’m guessing they will be there along with Kevin and Jen, with Mike I. being the wildcard.
Next week things heat up, thanks to Star Wars hottie, Natalie Portman. In Top Chef language, I’d say she’s quite a dish.