Top Chef Recap: What’s A Block Party?

After an Olympian effort last week that resulted in the elimination of the cheftestant everyone loves/loved to hate, the remaining six are back to being remarkably unremarkable.  But first, the producers need to get rid of last week’s guest judge Charlize Theron, who pops her head into the stew room for a final handshake (which makes virtually everyone, though Sarah G in particular, go all swoony) before getting the vaudeville hook treatment.

And after that, it’s on to with the show. Hooray! Kinda.

This week’s Quickfire is a riff on previous speed prep Quickfires–combining the preparation of scratch pasta, corn, and shrimp with a dish containing all three. The entire season has been about asking the impossible of these cheftestants, and this week is no exception. Maybe that’s why they’re constantly shitting the bed. Paired up into Asians, Ladies (if you can call them that), and Outcasts, forty minutes are put on the clock, and the time after kneading, de-veining, and de-cobbing (is that even a word?) is what’s left to prepare a dish.  Devious, right? And if past seasons have taught me anything, it’s that the Asians always win this one.

Unfortunately, Paul’s self-fulfilling prophecy of being a curse on Ed (which is absolutely true) whenever they’re partnered up materializes as a last-minute goof: an absence of shrimp on their fettucine with corn, zucchini flowers, chanterelle mushrooms, and Parmesan. Sarah “Gummy” Grueneberg’s mad noodle-making skills allow her and Lindsay plenty of time to finish their fettucine with corn milk, shrimp, tarragon, and parsley, but it turns out guest judge Cat Cora hates tarragon more than she loves fairness, so even though neither Cora nor Emeril had anything nice to say about the dish, by double-default (with Ed/Paul being DQ’d and Gummy/Lindsay being put in the tarragon naughty corner) outcasts Grayson and Less Handsome Chris get the win and $10,000 for their fettucine, toasted corn, poached shrimp, chili, bacon, and rosemary concoction. With only six left, immunity is off the table, and the track records of these two indicate that they could both use it.

Next, the producers have some product placement for you. Lots and lots of product placement. Because when I think Top Chef, I immediately think Healthy Choice frozen meals, don’t you? Watching each episode also makes me want to drink a case of Shiner Bock while driving a Toyota through Texas on my way to Whole Foods. Where once product placement was used stealthily (and with a certain amount of appropriate shame) by TV producers, Top Chef has no such qualms. They just pull out the Calphalon pans, the Universal Pictures Weird Snow White Movie and the Healthy Choice products and gleefully smack you right in the face with them. It’s shameless. It’s awful. It’s the cost of doing business today.

But anyway…

Using a reality twist that’s been around since reality TV first ruined the lives of aspiring actors and fathers of sextuplets, each team is turned against each other for a head-to-head battle of “Who Cooked it Best?” Same dish, different interpretation, 200 people. And since Healthy Choice is footing the bill here, they need to put a healthy spin on whatever they make. Genius! And SO subtle, too!

For Less Handsome Chris, that means tofu “mayo” in his chicken salad. For Gummy and Paul, it’s ground turkey. For the rest of the field, healthy is an afterthought. They stick with their original recipes, adding only a few minor tweaks.

Once again, service happens under the blazing hot sun. It’s nice to throw up in your mouth week after week watching the likes of Chris J and Sarah G sweat profusely. You know what else is bigger in Texas? Pit stains. There’s a rush of hungry block-party-goers and Grayson’s decision to not pre-make her chicken salad sandwiches results in a line. While she’s making her sandwiches to order, Less Handsome Chris fends off some Texas-sized bees who decide to roost next to his pineapple blender concoction. One sting could render him a swollen mess, but nothing comes of it other than a less-than-smooth smoothie and a dried out chicken salad sandwich. Also falling victim to the heat is Ed Lee’s dish, a traditional Korean beef short rib that resembled jerky mounted on a digestive biscuit. The ladies both executed well on their meatballs, but Lindsay’s meatball was like Tom Brady, while Gummy’s was more Joe Flacco.

At Judges’ Table, the winners (as chosen by the people at the block party, if we are to believe that the producers and judges had no pull) are Paul, Grayson, and Lindsay. For whatever reason, Colicchio turns up the dick on Grayson and tells her that chicken salad won’t win the competition. She volleys back with something like, “And you think a motherfucking meatball will?” then fights back tears and the adrenaline shakes as they announce Paul as the winner. Again.

Using nothing more than eight seasons of history as a guide, if this guy keeps winning, he’s pretty much guaranteed to self-destruct in the finale, but that’s weeks away. So for now, we say goodbye to Less Handsome Chris, his tofu mayo, his food cigars and his top-knot because it appears that he’s  finally used up his nine technique lives–or at least the patience of Colicchio for that particular brand of culinary gimmickry. He exits gracefully, thanking all and sundry, and honestly seems to believe that this competition has made him a better person. Everyone says that, sure, but for some reason, Chris seems to mean it.

Of course, I’m still hoping he’ll get rid of that stupid feather duster on top of his head before showing up at the reunion.