Top Chef Episode 4: Three Squares

Fidel Gastro is back at again with his recap of Top Chef.

With Tracey and her sweaty bandana back in the trailer park, the rest of the gang is subjected to a marathon of a cooking day. This episode was seriously dense, like Heart of Darkness dense (The Horror! The Horror!). Unfortunately, the cheftestants didn’t devolve into savages, because it would have been really cool to see Kenny emerge as the Marlon Brando of the bunch. And although they didn’t, it’s a good thing that Tracey packed her knives last week, because if they did, she might have wound up on a spit (yes, that’s mean, but since I am also a fat ass and fully expect the same joke to be made with me as the butt of it, the anger is justified).

Capitalizing on the recent birth of the Tom and Padma’s scions, the quickfire challenge is to make a dish that looks good on a plate and tastes good after a whirl in the blender. It is also a high stakes challenge with two winners, and Alex immediately creeps things up by saying he’ll use the money for an 8-ball and a hooker. Perhaps he should save the hooker money and see if Amanda is interested in a relapse? Arnold lies by saying he’ll give the money to orphanages in Thailand (or maybe he’s telling the truth because that’s who is making his knockoff Louis Vuitton bags), and Lynne explains the secret to her youthful looking face: no kids.

Onto the food. Kelly leaves a lemon seed in her roast pork loin with peaches and ginger, and the pork itself is deemed to be bland. Timothy, also and once again at the bottom, makes some crappy lamb. This guy just can’t execute, but he does have a winning smile. Alex—likely too busy thinking about glass coffee tables and hookers named Cinnamon—overdoes it with the herbs, and hometown-ish hero Kevin leaves a pool of blood under his duck. Not a great showing for those in the basement, but the judges were certainly less dickish this week than last (in HD, you can see the bags under their eyes, so maybe they were just hung over).

The winners’ circle was graced with reverse-progeria-faced Lynne, who made a chicken with sweet potato and fruit compote. This is exactly the kind of stuff Mrs. Gastro feeds our daughter, so it comes as no surprise. Maybe she’s lying about the whole no kids thing. Angelo’s there, and I’ll admit that his poached tuna with fenugreek broth, soy sauce, and honey looked pretty good. I will also admit that this guy needs a nose job. Padma, wearing what looked like triceratops skin ironed onto a flour sack, called it elegant baby food, and has probably been serving it exclusively to her “miracle” baby since they wrapped up filming of this season. Kenny shows up again, smoove as always, with a curried chicken, mango salad, confit of butternut squash, and maitake mushrooms, and splits the win with Tamesha, whose salmon with vegetable chowder & lobster stock, Thai basil and licorice oil almost brought tears to Tom Colicchio’s steely blue eyes.

With ten thousand smackaroos in both Tamesha and Kenny’s pockets, the elimination challenge is announced: pair up to make a healthy but sophisticated signature menu dish for Hilton Hotels. Starting with breakfast, the cheftestant pairs will be whittled down meal by meal, with until the final three pairs cook dinner to remain in the competition. The pair-off is always an awkward beginning to a challenge, and nobody wants to work with poor Cokey Boozeface, so she gets stuck with wee little Stephen. They actually make a great pair, because at certain angles he looks like he might have a severe case of meth mouth.

And cue the Whole Foods. This time, more of a brisk walk from the cheftestants (I’m thinking Brooks should be the sponsor. Nice solid speed-walking shoe), all of whom get cured pork of some sort, mostly bacon. They are starting with breakfast, after all.

Back in the kitchen, some familiar faces from last season (Isabella and the non-winning Voltaggio), and Spike “Please Hire Me” Mendelsohn from Season Four (bro, lose the fucking hat already) are tapped to judge alongside Beth Scott, the VP of restaurant concepts for Hilton Hotels, Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora in DuPont Circle, and new standby Eric Ripert (who I’m convinced has probably killed a man).

The breakfast dishes all look pretty good, but it’s Cokey-Methy’s poached egg, pancetta, potato rosti & grape ragout with hollandaise and poor-execution-Timothy and under-the-radar-Tiffany’s crab cake eggs benedict, asparagus & bacon potato hash in hollandaise that saves these two teams from elimination. The rest of the bunch was more poached eggs, more bacon, more stuff I’d rather eat than watch roll by on the screen.

Next up is lunch, which was supposed to be portable, so how come nobody made a sandwich? This is a no brainer  people! Bubbling up to the top of round two is creepy Alex and regular guy Ed, who made sea scallops with a ricotta gnudi & brocooli rabe. I guess Alex wasn’t lying when he said that he “cooks the shit out of scallops (he probably wasn’t lying about the 8-ball and the hooker, either).”Also moving on (and I think this was a bad call of World Cup proportions) is Angelo and Tamesha with their slivers of beef, jicama-asian pear salad with mint, cilantro & kimchi vinaigrette. I wouldn’t order that for lunch, even if it was on the expense account. I would rather have Kenny and Kevin’s chickpea pappardelle, but maybe it looked better than it tasted, or perhaps I’m under the spell of Kenny’s lyrical baritone.

With three teams left, the cheftestants get down to business. Arnold’s such a nice guy and tries to keep it together as Lynne starts to act her age by being real grumpy, it’s girls against boys in the short rib category, and somebody’s going home.

At Judges’ table, Kenny and Kevin were chastised for the lack of glaze on their short ribs. Eric Ripert (who has killed a man), “’ad a ‘ard time to fine thee ‘orshradeesh flayvor.” The gals’ short ribs, given “the business” by Andrea, were the type of short ribs the judges wanted, glaze and all, so they took home a pretty choice win, a menu feature and an all-expenses-paid trip to any country in the world as long as it was Italy or Spain. The panel was happy with Team Reverse Progeria’s thinking outside the box, but the obscurity of the dish and its poor execution—especially the squid ink pasta—sent the two of them packing. Old beast Lynne gets put out to pasture, and poor Arnold’s flame goes poof, showing the rest of the world what we knew all along: he’s really a “bottom” chef.