Friday, December 7, 2007

Top Chef Holiday Special summary

Dear Bravo: What’s up with your scheduling issues recently? No episode titles for “Project Runway“, episodes of “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” not airing when you say so, this special airing an entire day early so everyone can spoil people? Not that I’ve found spoilers. Everyone has been great about that, actually. It’s just that you’d think that a network could handle themselves better. (click for more)

We have CJ, Tre, and Sandee from season 3. Season 2 gives us Josie, Betty, and Marcel. Sigh. Tiffani and Stephen are coming from season 1. There is $20,000 at stake. I missed Padma. I saw Katie Lee Joel on “Iron Chef”, and not only did they not mention “Top Chef” once, but she still had the same monotone delivery. Sad.

Everyone arrives in Chicago, at a brownstone I guess they‘re staying at. Steven still has wide ties. He is opening a restaurant and the money could help. Also he can buy some more ties and suits. Tiffani is also opening a restaurant, and she says that’s one of the reasons she’s here, is “Top Chef“. Huh? Without that show she wouldn’t be famous! She claims people wanted her to win. Josie tells us she left kicking and screaming and has a ton of talent. Betty shrieks the instant she gets in the door. Good Lord, I did not miss that. Marcel is getting out of the car after her and at first I thought he was mocking her, but no. He looks better somehow. Also he gives Betty a hug. She tells us that her arguments with Marcel were caused by the circumstances and that she’s embarrassed. Now she can step back and see Marcel for who he really is. As he’s greeting Josie the camera shows her standing pretty far away from them. She’s just looking at the camera and smiling without opening her mouth. I think she still doesn’t like him. Well, in that battle of the seasons special or whatever, he was kind of a jerk. I love the Christmas stockings and menorah combo in the house. Marcel thinks he can get along with Betty. But then he scrunches up his face. You know they only cast those two for the drama. Sandee shows up next, with new stripy hair. Yay! Tre comes in, all low-key and competent. We did really all think he would win. He’s going to win it for all of us who contacted him and said he was awesome. And then there’s CJ. (Kmanpat and I: “CJ!!!!!”) In his interview he starts to describe his likes and dislikes like a dating video. He’s started a catering company and I want to hire him but I don’t know where he works. (Kmanpat: “Does he like math teachers?” Me: “…Shhhh, you can‘t talk anymore.”)

Betty (on a producer’s insistence I am sure) takes all the stockings down and passes them out. CJ empties his and declares “It’s f*cking broccoli!” OK, first of all, it was broccolini, which is totally different. But giving CJ a stalk of broccoli with a gold ribbon? That was hilarious. Also a Christmas card from Tom. Tiffani has a “I’m not your bitch, bitch!” T-shirt, Pepto Bismol for Josie (that was the color of that soup thing when she lost), those hand gripper things you use to increase your hand strength for Tre (I…don’t know), a tie for Stephen, KC Masterpiece for someone (I am going to guess, Sandee), hair product for Marcel. Hee. Everyone also gets aprons.

A lot of cooking and goofing off. Marcel says he liked to see Tre and CJ cooking and he thought they were good when he watched their season. Betty throws food at him later. Tre talks to us about his impressions of Marcel, which are that he has pure talent and knowledge, and he is also an asshat. But those things all together usually make a great chef. Josie wants to win, and she talks about how she and her girlfriend and some friends got jumped outside a bar and got beaten because she was gay. That was a really scary thing. She’s just glad everyone walked away and they’re all fine.

In the morning everyone goes to the Top Chef kitchens (they’re filming Season 4 in Chicago) and I know it’s not really December so this is entertaining. Padma is there with “Santa Claus.” I hope that’s Tom. The Quickfire is to make a treat for Santa in 30 minutes. “But that’s so easy!” you claim. Oh, you know there’s a twist. Under the tree is a present for each person, which has an ingredient they have to use. Heh. Much eye rolling from everyone. They draw knives to get numbers, and then Padma is all, “Who knows how to play ‘Dirty Santa?’” Stephen looks horrified. Santa, of course, raises his hand. Betty explains for us that once the first person picks their present, the second person can steal it from them, and so forth. If you’ve ever had a white elephant gift exchange, you know how this works. That’s not what we call it though. Tre is up first, and he gets cheese balls. Not Cheetos, but the kind made out of spreadable cheese rolled in nuts. I was hoping they’d make them steal gifts before opening, but sadly that doesn’t happen. CJ gets smoked salmon. He wants to leave Tre handicapped with the cheese balls. Betty steals the salmon, so CJ ends up with canned truffles. Tiffani steals these too. I guess you can’t steal things back. However, I must applaud Tiffani because the next gift he ends up with is a nutcracker. HA! Oh, and walnuts, but you don’t care about that part and neither did I. Hee. Marcel takes the truffles (which Tiffani throws at him) and she gets sweet potatoes. Sandee has prosciutto. Yum. Stephen wants the sweet potatoes, and he starts talking about some experimental dish that he wants to try. Tiffani opens up caviar instead. Josie is last, and she can basically steal whatever she wants, so she takes the truffles. Marcel ends up with fatty tuna. Wow, good deal. Canned truffles vs. toro? Now Santa gets to take off the hat and beard and I am horrified to discover it’s Eric Ripert. Oh, Eric, you are worth so much more than that. That makes me sad. I mean, he has fake eyebrows and makeup and everything. Marcel freaks out. Josie is glad to cook for him; she was jealous of the third season.

Stephen is making yam soup with lavender. Hmm. Marcel is treating the toro with integrity and making simple. Tre is thinking cheesy pasta or rice or something. Betty is doing something with leeks and a saffron-orange vinaigrette? I’m not sure. She has salmon so I guess it’s a salad. CJ is thinking walnuts and shrimp. He feels that you’d better deliver if you have something awesome like truffles. Josie gets some scallops and then goes on a hunt for a can opener. The Amazing Cameraman (on loan from “Amazing Race”) shows us a whole bin full as she interviews that she couldn’t find one. Finally she takes her chef’s knife to the can. She’s using the heel of the knife to get rid of the lid. Lots of frantic running around. Josie’s can looks chewed up. Then she forgot to put the sauce on the plate. Oops.

Sandee is up first. She’s made a salad for her prosciutto with dried cherries and a little chili, a port wine sauce, and an apricot and mustard chutney. Well, that’s what the graphic says. Apparently she’s made three separate piles, with different sauces and one is seared. No reaction. No reactions for any of the dishes, actually. CJ serves roasted walnuts with apples and shrimp. Tre has sage encrusted chicken breast and rice pilaf with cheese. The cheese isn’t the main player! That wouldn’t fly on “Iron Chef“. Betty is using the royal “we” as she talks. The leeks, apples, raisins, and arugula are underneath the salmon, with the vinaigrette over all. Josie is kind of freaking out, because she is missing two major components. The dish has a fried egg with a scallop, pine nuts, and shaved truffles on top. I know she’s missing her sauce, but I’m not sure what the other thing is. She should know by now to just pretend that’s how it should be; half the time they won’t figure it out. Apparently there aren’t that many truffles? She wants Eric to overlook a lack of truffles. I don’t know. Marcel serves toro tartar with a fried egg and prosciutto on toast with a chive puree. It looks awesome and I want to try it. Stephen has made his yam soup (yams are not sweet potatoes) with lavender, mocha and a sage chip, with olivo crostini. Tiffani has a seared scallop and a blini, both with caviar on top.

Eric hated Stephen’s, because the lavender was too strong. Hee. He seems to accept that it probably sucked. Tre’s rice was undercooked. Josie didn’t have any truffles. Marcel was one of his favorites (the toro and egg were silky), and also Betty (sweet but good) and CJ (sauce could have been too sweet but wasn’t). God Betty’s mouth is huge. CJ wins. Yay! He’s honored.

For the elimination challenge: they will each make a 3 course holiday dinner for 9 diners, served head to head. After each course 2 chefs are eliminated. After all three courses, there will be a final two, and the judges will pick the winner. Since CJ won the Quickfire, he gets a free pass for one of the first two rounds, but he can’t use it to get in to the final. Kind of like the hidden immunity idol on Survivor. They get $350 for Whole Foods, and then they’ll go to the Washburn Institute (I don’t know if that’s spelled right and I can’t find it, so sorry) and cook for 3 hours. Marcel loves this challenge. Sandee interviews that if you screw up, it’s not the fault of the money, the timing, or anything else but you. I like her.

Shopping time! There’s a Whole Foods near me. I love their deli/prepared foods section. It’s fab. CJ is going to stick to what he knows and not go all “feast of 100 fishes”. Stephen’s menu is shown to us: celery root gnocchi, veal osso bucco, and poached pear pistachio tuile. He knows the osso bucco has to start cooking right away. Josie loves the selection. Sandee goes to produce first so she doesn’t wait for the other chefs at the meat counter. Betty’s menu: duck beignets, rack of lamb, and baklava. Beignets are fried pastries like donuts, and usually they’re sweet but I think Sam made some with sweetbreads or other offal one time and they looked really good. Fried duck, though. I’m not sure about that. Then she’s talking about making baklava with white chocolate and mascarpone and raspberries. That’s not baklava. CJ’s menu: beef carpaccio, goose breast with oyster stuffing, and cardamom panna cotta. Oh, CJ. Panna cotta is the kiss of death on this show. He’s kind of nervous about the goose but happy about having quince. Tre was looking for celery root, but he discovers Stephen has bought all of it. So he goes over to peek in Stephen’s cart, and I am hoping he steals it, but he says it was too green and he would never have bought it himself. Hee.

It’s cooking time! Everyone runs around. Tiffani’s menu: bacon wrapped apple, duck breast spaetzle, butterscotch pudding. It’s really homey but the holidays are homey. CJ knows his immunity won’t help because he wants to win on his own merit. Josie says that 3 hours would normally be enough time if they weren’t competing. Her menu: duck duo (stupid duos), turkey and gravy, oysters Rockefeller. Interesting, no dessert. She warns against over thinking. Betty looks for her yeast and starts to break down. She can’t find it, and it’s for the beignets, which is the first course. Oops. Tre is like, sucks for you, don’t tell everyone your weaknesses. Betty freaks out for a while and then decides to make duck baklava instead. Like, roll the duck and cherry mixture in the phyllo dough. I’m not sure what she’ll do for her third course, but whatever. She thinks it might be better, but again: not baklava. Tre’s menu: seared scallops, veal loin with mac & cheese, and lamb chops. He knows pastries can kill him so he’s not doing it again. Sandee’s menu: mushroom soup, fried turkey breast, and chocolate pecan pie. I want chocolate pecan pie. However, she’s only made pie crust once before. That’s not a good sign. Marcel’s menu: roasted monkfish, dumplings (that’s all it says…dumplings), and lamb chops. It’s always tricky to serve the same thing as another contestant, especially when you’re serving head to head. He’s multitasking and planning out his timing.

After some commercials, Marcel is working quickly but he’s not freaking out yet. He says if you’re not rushing, either your menu is too simple or you aren’t trying. Tom comes by to investigate. Woo Tom! He greets everyone, since he hasn’t seen them yet. And then they get right down to it. He’s doing a good job of not giving advice. We don’t learn a lot from these segments. Tom is kind of chatty, and it’s nice to see but everyone is just talking about their menus which we‘ve already seen. Although we do learn that Stephen has not picked out any wines. Horrors! Marcel wants to redeem himself from the turkey roulade, but as I recall that was the best dish that episode. Even Tony Bourdain liked it and he’s a jerk so you know it must be true if he gives out praise. Tom is wishing everyone happy holidays which is so contrived. Blah. Tom leaves them with an hour to work. He’s thrilled to see everyone, and talks about them behind their backs. Betty has no idea what she’s going to do for her third course if she gets that far, so I guess they have time in between courses to do stuff. He wishes Stephen would spend more time in the kitchen and he thinks Josie will bring the ethnic food.

Sandee worries she’s spent too much time on her pie. Everyone frantically plates. They all get to go out to the table, and everyone has big serving platters instead of individual plates. I like that, it’s more like a family dinner. The panel is made up of people who’ve judged previous episodes: Elizabeth Falkner, Eric Ripert, Alan Wong, Alfred Portale, Norman Van Aken, and then Padma, Gail, Ted, and Tom. The contestants look like deer in headlights. Marcel’s monkfish has prosciutto peppernata and parsley puree. I think peppernata is a relish. Tiffani’s bacon wrapped apples (yum) have brussel sprouts too. Josie has her duo of duck, but apparently the duo is that she has both breast and leg meat. There’s sour cherry and fig chutney with both. Stephen’s gnocchi have parmesan cheese. CJ has endive with beets and horseradish cream to go with the carpaccio. Tre serves scallops with Swiss chard and butternut squash puree with pomegranate brown butter. Sandee has mushroom soup (it does not have a very good color) with Chinese soup spoons that have mushroom puree, bacon, hazelnut, and egg, I guess to add in. Betty serves her duck rolled in phyllo dough (it’s not baklava and I’m not calling it that). It looks like an egg roll gone wrong. There’s mushrooms and a port onion reduction. Padma gives them 30 minutes to work and sends them away. Stephen says you could walk out with plates in hand and they could send you back out.

Everyone serves themselves. Sandee’s soup is watery and not creamy. The monkfish is rustic and excellent. Ted calls Betty on the “baklava” label. Gnocchi does not make a good appetizer, plus the gnocchi themselves suck. Ted drops one from the serving spoon in the dish, and there’s this loud crash like he dropped a rock. They can’t be that heavy. Back in the kitchen Marcel’s dumplings are described in more detail: they are chicken liver and truffle turkey dumplings. CJ had good colors on his dish but his beef feels like an afterthought. Ted likes Tre’s scallops the best. Gail doesn’t understand Tiffani’s dish and feels more like a garnish but everyone else likes it. Tom liked Josie’s duck flavors. Back in the kitchen Josie is discovering that leaving the turkey for her second course in the oven during serving may cost her. It looks all dried out. She hopes that someone will also overcook their food. Right on cue Betty tells us she left her lamb in the oven too long. Padma feels that Stephen, Sandee, Betty, and CJ are the worst. But CJ has immunity, so he’s OK.

Everyone comes out with their second course in hand. They aren’t allowed to put their plates down yet, because Tom has to tell Sandee and Stephen their dishes suck and they can leave. Sandee’s upset to not serve her dish in her hands. Stephen talks about starting a restaurant so he’s not in the kitchen, and being a restauranteur, or something. He’s drinking a beer, I think, so it‘s serious. Marcel serves his dumplings with a savory bread pudding and Tuscan style torta. Tiffani has the spaetzle and duck, with wine and orange jus. Betty’s rack of lamb is pistachio encrusted, wrapped in prosciutto, and served over lentils and tomatoes. Sorry, “sugar plum” tomatoes. Sigh. You know I wanted to go to TGIFriday’s and have her soup and sandwich dish that they put on the menu, but then I started to not like her so I never went. But I forgot how she liked to name stuff. Josie has bacon wrapped turkey breast and pumpkin gravy. Tre serves his bacon wrapped rack of veal with French beans and mac & cheese. CJ has fall spiced goose breast and the oyster stuffing has quince. There are two sauces, mushroom gravy and pomegranate jalapeno. Oo.

Tre wants to make food people want to make themselves. Judges exclaim over this course. They know Josie’s turkey is overcooked. Marcel also gets slammed because the liver dumpling thing sucks. CJ’s goose is great, Tre’s dish is good, Tiffani is excellent. Betty’s lamb was overcooked and underseasoned. Ted says that Josie was better than Betty and Marcel. CJ dances in the kitchen. What? He does! Then he says he’s “confidently worried.” Hee. Betty makes a giant almond cookie for her dessert. Marcel is cooking his lamb unevenly on purpose.

Tom sends Betty and Josie back to the kitchen. Oh well. Marcel has lamb chops with butternut squash puree, parsnip chips, maple syrup and pomegranate gastrique. Tre’s lamb chops are crusted in horseradish and mustard, with parsnip puree. That’s a tough call, based on description. Tiffani has salted butterscotch pudding with caramel and orange and clove whipped cream. She kind of freaks out about the caliber of judges. CJ’s panna cotta has roasted squash with poached figs and gingersnap crumble, with a red wine and balsamic reduction. They look like giant marshmallows. Tre’s lamb is much better than Marcel’s. They don’t like his uneven cooking thing. The pudding is distracting, it’s so good. CJ’s looks sloppy but the squash is really good and they like it. Everyone comes back out one more time so Tom can get rid of Marcel and CJ. Aww! CJ needed that money and he knows his dish could have been better so he’s sad. (Kmanpat: “He can live with me! We’ll…work something out.“) Marcel doesn’t seem to care that much.

So it’s Tre vs. Tiffani. I like Tiffani a lot more now than during her season, and Tre was always really good, so this is pretty awesome. Padma tells them it’s so hard to decide between the two of them that they’ve got a surprise: one more course. They both look pissed. Tiffani thinks she should have seen it coming. They can use anything they want, including any leftovers. So that means if they like someone else’s dish, one that never got served, they can totally steal it. Interesting. They have 30 minutes. They both kind of stand there until Padma yells at them to get going already.

Tiffani immediately grabs Sandee, Josie, and Stephen. CJ doesn’t even know what she’s saying and he mocks her fast talking. She practically rips stuff out of Tre’s hands and claims it for herself. Stephen very leisurely grabs his dish that he plated but never served and wanders over there. Eventually everyone figures out what is going on. Tre tries to get Stephen to help him but he’s all, I have to help Tiffani. Tre wanted his osso bucco. Tre wants to do a dessert with all of Betty’s stuff that she made. Raspberry and walnut crepes, yum. Tiffani wanted to do a leftover turkey sandwich, kind of as an F YOU to the judges, but then she decides on some puff pastry with the osso bucco on top. Betty enjoys working with Tre and she likes his dish. Josie wants Tiffani to win for all the girls.

Tom jokes that they were expecting open faced turkey sandwiches and to her credit Tiffani doesn’t smack him but only says she came this close to doing exactly that. Tiffani says she already made a dessert, so the only option is to take them into the next day: braised veal on puff pastry with truffle butter. Tre says he was “forced” to do to a dessert: raspberry and walnut crepes with balsamic reduction and white chocolate mascarpone. Tiffani’s dish was juicy, even though the puff pastry wasn’t cooked quite enough. Tre’s crepes were festive looking and good. Of course there seems to be some dissent about whose dish is better. Padma then says that she, Ted, Gail, and Tom will make the final decision. So they can get lost. That’s…rude.

Now we have a judges’ table and I am so done with this episode already. They’ve relocated to the set because everyone is in the Stew Room instead of the kitchen. Both Tre and Tiffani get praised but the judges say nothing important and that was two minutes of my life I won’t get back. Everyone gets to come back in to watch the ending. And the judges give the money to Tiffani. Cool. I mean, I really like Tre, but I’m OK with this. She is glad to win for all the female chefs. Tre wins cookbooks signed by the guest judges. Eh. He’s OK with losing to Tiffani, and he got to show his fans he had a good day and he’s talented. Everyone gets hugs! Happy holidays! Come back next year for Season 4!

1 comment:

hillpagan said...

Thanks for doing all this work. I missed the episode and now I feel like I saw it.