Top Chef Recap: The Evil That Chefs Do

Bitterness. Spite. Tears. These have been the seasonings most commonly used during this generally weak season of Top Chef. And this week’s episode started off just the same…right up until the lobsters hit the conveyor belt.

With Bev on cloud nine after her Pyrrhic victory in last week’s elimination challenge and the rest of the cheftestants wanting to shove her in a locker, they are met in the stew room by Colicchio and boomeranged back to San Antonio. There are no police checkpoints on the way back, no surprise challenges, just a lot of quietude and angry tension that could have used an audible fart to lighten the mood–especially in the girls’ car.  I’m sure if Beverly even so much as made a peep, Lindsay would have used all of her neck muscles to slap the teeth right out of her mouth.

The next morning, we get an extra special treat: Eric Ripert (who I have long been convinced is a French Black Ops agent with a trail of bodies behind him, but since Bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, Gaddhafi, and Amy Winhouse are all dead now, his calendar’s probably wide open). In his amazingly thick accent, he introduces a new Quickfire for this season: the conveyor belt challenge. In it, the cheftestants must use three ingredients from a perpetually moving conveyor belt that initially contains shitty ingredients. Better stuff will come out later, but waiting for them means less cooking time–which, honestly, is a brilliantly devious challenge in a season that has, so far, been lacking in brilliance, deviousness and challenges.

The strategy du jour is to get started with pantry ingredients in the hope that something super cool will come spinning out of the Mystery Wall just when you need it. Unfortunately for the chefs (but fortunately for the viewers), that means sometimes missing the good stuff as it goes spinning by–as Less Handsome Chris learned after missing a pot full of live lobsters twice and only barely making the grab on their third pass, much to the amusement of the Bravo producers who must’ve been sorely tempted to add one of those trombone wah-waaah sound effects each time Less Handsome Chris went sprinting after his sea bugs only to see them vanish before he could get to the belt.

As time ticks away, the cheftestants are forced/frightened into grabbing whatever they can. Paul makes a bitter melon broth with mussels and white bread. That’s a dud that causes Ripert, upon tasting it, to make a stink face like someone had just made him taste a bowl full of moose testicles. Less Handsome Chris (finally!) nabs a lobster, but he screws it up by pairing it with foie gras and vanilla (Chip Roman did the vanilla and lobster thing at Blackfish last spring. I wasn’t a fan either). Lindsay knocks out an ingenious boulliabasse with Pernod, grouper, and clams, but it couldn’t beat Beverly’s glazed sockeye salmon with black-eyed peas. Unfortunately, she ran out of time before she could get her curried rice krispies on the plate, so she’s disqualified, giving Lindsay the win and immunity by default.

Then, as if The Ripper alone wasn’t enough to make this episode awesome, we get the American (by way of South Africa) non-chef female version of Eric Ripert: Charlize Theron. She’s on the set to promote (and promote, and promote) her role as the Evil Queen in an adult (no, not that kind of adult) version of Snow White. Thus, the vaguely shill-ish elimination challenge is to cook an evil dish, and the chefs rise to the occasion like a bunch of bloodthirsty Dexters, turning what could have been an unforgivably whorey episode into one of the best of the season.

Ed Lee leads off with a tuna tartare topped with fried fish skin served with a black and white sauce representing good versus evil. It’s a great start, and gives Tom an opportunity to make a politician joke that’s not at all funny. Next up is Paul, who makes an enchanted forest with foie gras, bacon, pickled cherries, beets, and a bloody handprint. Ripert likes the “keek” of the pickled jalapenos (I fucking love this guy, even if he can kill a man with a rolled-up newspaper). In the three-hole, Beverly makes a “snow white” halibut with “black heart” forbidden rice and “bleedingness serial killer” red sauce (yes, this is what she called it.) The fish is cooked well, but it’s not exactly evil and/or wicked. And then Bev pisses off Charlize by saying that she has a black heart, proving that nobody likes Beverly (I feel sorry for her and I’m sure she’s nice, but we wouldn’t be friends in real life, either).

Batting clean-up is Lindsay with a witches’ stew of short rib served with dragon beans and a seared scallop–the training wheels of any Top Chef plate design. The meal is shaping up to be the best of the season, and Sarah G’s lamb heart and red wine risotto, Grayson’s sinister, blood-spattered black chicken with murdered egg baby, and Less Handsome Chris’ “poison” apple all serve to reinforce this claim.

After Charlize and Padma steal away to the bathroom to purge, we’re on to a nitpicky Judges’ Table. Everyone agrees that, for a change, the cheftestants all put up great dishes so, for a change, they’re having a tough time naming a loser–having to actually critique the specifics of each chef’s technique rather than just deciding who among the week’s bumbling sack of idiots fucked up the worst. For a change, they get to act like judges rather than merciful executioners.

Choosing a winner seems a bit easier, although I’m not certain I would have picked Paul and his enchanted forest. Then again, Paul has some legs and He. Could. Go. All. The. Way. For now, he gets a pair of movie tickets (a shit prize compared to the weed fund he’s been shoring up all season).  Also safe are Ed Lee, Lindsay, and Less Handsome Chris, who are sent back to the stew room while Sarah G, Beverly, and Grayson all appeal to the judges with horrible speeches and tears. Mistakes were made, albeit small ones, but the biggest was Beverly’s lack of evil and use of arrowroot to thicken her sauce, so she’s sent packing.

So much for my prediction last week, but really? Good riddance. I wonder if she’s still kicking herself about not getting those curried rice krispies on her Quickfire plate…