Top Chef Episode 4 Recap: Om Nam Nam

One of two things has become readily apparent this season. Bravo is either spending more of their production budget on the Shahs of Sunset, or the producer responsible for all of the zany twists is now over at MTV designing torture devices for the next Real World Challenge. Does anyone else feel like they’re dialing it down a bit? Perhaps it’s an effort to get back to the food, but like Cinderella’s Tom Keifer once said

I hate to say it, but I miss the twists and the drama and the rest of the formula that makes reality TV reality TV. We open this week with a post-elimination stew. Louis exhales, then tells America that he hates losing, which is confusing because I thought he hated the fact that he chose family over fame. Dr. Elmi is the next cheftestant to use the flip phone, and instead of saying “shoulda, coulda, woulda” like Louis, he tells America that he loves his family and misses the shit out of them.

Then Emeril appears with Eddie Huang in tow. I don’t know much about Eddie Huang, but it seems like he and I would be really good friends. Unfortunately, my jealous rage over the fact that he gets to wear super ugly high fashion gear and travel the world eating awesome and weird shit (on camera) makes me dislike him (Eddie, if this somehow comes across your smartphone via a google alert and you want to hang out in Philly one day, I’m totally down. We could get sneakers at Ubiq and noodles at Cheu). Emeril tells the cheftestants there will be no Quickfire this week (remember what I said about dialing it down?). Instead, the remaining 15 will be cooking Vietnamese food for the Elimination. This is great for the likes of Travis Masar and Sara Johannes (both of whom focus on Asian cooking), but surprisingly, a lot of the cheftestants don’t know dick about Vietnamese food, including Carlos Gaytan, who’s muttering “mierda” over and over again under his breath. To help him and the rest of the Vietnamesely-challenged, a non-branded party bus picks them up for a tour of Vietnamese spots in New Orleans.

First up is a bakery that Cancer Card points out as they’re pulling into the parking lot. “This is the best place ever,” he says. He might be right, but Nina sees the comment as pure ass-kissery, and she tells America that Michael is faker than Pamela Anderson’s boobs.

Eddie instructs the chefs to “get up in the guts” of the food (Wu-Tang slang–me and Eddie would totally be bros), and everyone obliges. The next stop is the D. Ditcharo Dock, where the cheftestants get to see a real live shrimping operation. The smarter cast members (Shirley) ask the Vietnamese workers what to cook. The dumber cast members (Janine) tell us that they spent some time in Thailand so they know the flavors of Vietnam. Similar? Maybe, but definitely not the same. I guess she’s filling in for Bret the Dumbass this week. The final stop is a place you’d find on Washington Avenue, where everyone crunches on spring rolls and slurps pho.

Then it’s off to the Asian supermarket to shop. Again, we see that team dynamics are the cornerstone of winning challenges on Top Chef, and Sara’s mistrust of Travis results in them leaving the store without lemongrass. That’s a big fucking oops, and one that’s realized too late. Justin Devillier has plenty to go around, but since they didn’t ask for it, he’s not giving it up (I wonder when that karma’s gonna come back around…). Eddie and Emeril weigh in on the missing lemongrass. Travis gets defensive, and tells America that Eddie’s kind of a douchebag. Then him and Bene share a gay joke about playing with meat, and we’re onto service.

First up is Nicholas and the rest of team orange. The judges aren’t a fan of Dr. Elmi’s black pepper squid with cabbage and peanuts. Carlos’ self-fulfilling prophecy of not being able to cook Vietnamese food results in a fish head soup that tastes like minestrone, and not-yet-famous Louis doesn’t pack enough flavor into his pho. Thankfully for this team, Brian Huskey’s gulf shrimp and pork belly spring roll kept them out of the bottom.

The judges were much happier with the red team’s pho, but the texture of Nina’s raw beef salad didn’t have the right mouth feel and the presentation was off on Carrie’s lemon custard. Overall, much better than team orange, especially Shirley’s Vietnamese barbecue shrimp with creole butter. She takes the win and is still the chef to beat.

The dysfunctional and fractured green team–victims of overconfidence and reliance on self-styled Vietnamese expert Travis—completely shits the bed. Without lemongrass, Travis overcorrects his shrimp paste sauce and punishes the judges palates. Sara (the other alleged expert in Asian cooking) fucks up the rice something fierce. The judges tell her that she shouldn’t have even served it. Then she cries the first Top Chef tears of the season. And with all of the classic Vietnamese dishes out there, Janine and Bene choose to make gulf shrimp with a ginger tomato sauce at the recommendation of Travis. I’m all for fusion, but this just sounds like a big bowl of crap. The judges agree, and Janine gets sent home for treating her shrimp like potatoes and frying them twice.

But wait. It’s not over yet, because LAST CHANCE KITCHEN. She joins Ramon, Jason, Aaron, and Bret the Dumbass in an attempt to stay alive. The whole thing feels rushed, probably because it’s a ten minute webisode, and we’re all shocked when Jason’s suzuki crudo with corn white chocolate, and yuzu nectarine doesn’t win. Colicchio said it was a perfect plate, but he didn’t “get” the white chocolate. Whatever, Tom. We don’t get your stupid soul patch. But as far as we know, this now means that Jason Cichonski is gone for good (not counting his appearance last night as guest bartender on Watch What Happens Live).

Next week will bring a Halloween episode they filmed months ago–during the height of summer in New Orleans. I’m guessing the Quickfire will have something to do with “Yo Momma” jokes and candy, unless they skip it again.

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