Top Chef Episode 2 Recap: Surf (And Turf’s) Up!


Okay, you can throw last week’s racing form out the window. My snap judgments didn’t exactly hold (rather similar to Aaron Grissom’s bourbon onion “jam,” but more on that later…).

We have learned some very new and exciting things about the cheftestants, like the fact Sarah McLachlan superfan, James Rigato, has a PATRICK SWAYZE tattoo. Not sure I would have gone for The Outsiders (I’m more of a Point Break guy), but stay gold, cheffy boy.

This week’s Quickfire special guest is Todd English, who looks positively horrible. Time heals all wounds, but it’s a real bitch when you used to be handsome.

The task is to create the ultimate surf and turf dish, with the ingredients to be determined by a pair of lanterns. If one light turns on, the cheftestants grab from the “land” table; if two lights turn on, they grab from the “sea” table. This is a stupid idea, but at least it creates a foot race situation, the likes of which are always good for drama. Out of the gate, Katsuji beats li’l guy Doug to the sweetbreads. I thought his height was going to be an issue. Turns out it’s his mellow demeanor.

There are a few good options on each table and a whole lot of crap. It’s hard to conceptualize a dish, and a lot of the cheftestants meet their Quickfire demise by adding unnecessary ingredients. Joy tops her veal with buffalo strip steak (turf and turf?) and winds up on the bottom along with Stacy, who overcooks her pork chop. Katsuji reins it in this week with the help of uni and quail egg, sharing the top spot with James, whose Patrick Swayze tattoo inspired a boar bacon broth with sautéed mussels and fiddleheads that Mr. English liked the best. He wins five thousand bucks, but no immunity for the Elimination round.

Speaking of which, before someone packs their knives, the cheftestants pick their knives for a team challenge. This week, Bravo gives a nod to Boston’s police and fire departments, the former subsisting on a diet of donuts, and the latter guilty of being basic bitches in the kitchen. Each team must create a dish using a mystery basket waiting for them in the kitchen an hour before they start cooking. Mei teams up with Katsuji and Katie and isn’t happy about it at all because they were on the bottom last week. There’s some sauce drama and some posturing, but they wind up working very well together. The rest of the teams follow suit (this year’s crop seems to be a nice bunch), save for Aaron’s team, who draws the same knife as Keriann (Best New Something-or-other chef for the organization of another organization of chefs) and the girl from Boston who we will henceforth refer to as “Boston” because if you’re from Boston it’s automatically your nickname.

Our boy in the black hat admittedly “doesn’t play nice with others,” so you know where this is going. If we’ve learned anything from the thousands of words I’ve written and the hours you’ve wasted watching the past 11 seasons, it’s that there’s no “I” in team and pushing your own agenda will ruin your dish–which is exactly what happened after much bickering and poor execution. The judges hated their pan roasted chicken breast with bourbon onion jam and corn salad, and they’re up for elimination.

Another takeaway from all that time spent telling yourself that you’re not going to buy Healthy Choice microwave meals (even though, eventually, you do because advertising) is that you can’t be a pushover. Joy Crump (Carla 2, aka Hootie Too!), Rony Eyester (Fat Harry Potter), and Melissa King (Skrillex) decided to tread lightly, trying way too hard to keep everyone happy for the good of the team. Their decision to keep the veal chops on the bone for presentation purposes yielded undercooked meat and the addition of vanilla to their celery root puree made the dish too sweet. The three of them find themselves on the bottom with Team Bicker, and Carla 2, who fell on the undercooked veal sword, is sent packing.

The cohesive teams fared much better. Katsuji seems to have hit the reset button and Mei’s still got the laser focus, but they were edged out by a perfectly cooked filet mignon paired with pan-seared scallops, parsnip puree, and leek vinaigrette prepared by Hipster Urkel, Stringy Goatee, and the Utterly Forgettable Girl From Chicago.

Next week, the chefs continue the Boston theme in Fenway Park, a dream come true for Stacy, and a nightmare for native New Yorker Adam Harvey. The previews look like there’s gonna be a lot of bitching and moaning and tears. I didn’t expect the mental breakdowns so soon, but I certainly welcome them.

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