Top Chef S11E17: “Finale”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “singing with harmony.”

Top Chef enjoys spicing things up when it comes to its finale episodes.  Last year we had a live installment that crowned the exceedingly worthy Kristin as the ultimate victor, and this year we were treated to an episode with a positively JJ Abrams-style structure: we open on the judges embroiled in a veritable verbal kerfuffle, seemingly locked in a *gasp* tie.  But then faster than you can say “in desperate need of salt,” we’re transported forty-eight hours earlier to see how this crazy train called life first left the station.

And the first words out of Nick’s mouth brought us back to reality: “Every kitchen I’ve ever been in, I’ve always been like the best chef.”  We’re all aware that modesty and Nick parted company some time ago, likely when it turned up his oven temperature or failed to clean one of his knives thoroughly, but seriously?  As soon as Nick stopped waxing poetic about all that made him wonderful, Padma arrived to announce the final Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here): to create a four-course menu and serve it in a pop up restaurant.  Because Nick has been communing with Satan these past weeks, his most recent Hawaiian victory gave him an edge.**

**At first, I thought Nick’s advantage was simply having the pleasure of watching Padma strut into his house in that red bikini because wowsers.  This was enough to convince me to leave my house unlocked at all times from now on just in case Padma is ever in the area and feels the need to bust all up in my house because, if we’re being honest, I would not call the cops on her.

But alas, Nick’s edge was to select his three person team first from the amalgamation of cast-off cheftestants from this season.  Nick clearly didn’t understand the opportunity in front of him and so selected Jason first because I guess he felt that the secret ingredient missing from his food this season (in addition to salt, of course) was a healthy dose of palpable homoerotic tension.  Palpable homoerotic tension nested lovingly in cornsilk, of course.  I mean what are we, savages?  Anyhow, he then picked Louis because Louis is a boss, and then he picked Brian because…well…because…he was in the show and could cut stuff?

Nina scooped up Shirley and Stephanie (she of the self-diagnosed Top Chef jitters) right off the bat because obviously.  When it came to rounding out her team, she picked…Travis?  *Record scratch* Huh?  Was she planning to cook Asian food with an characteristic level of snobbery?  Weird choice, girl.***

***In the end though, everyone was a winner, especially those not selected like Carlos and Janine because they got to hit the beach with Padma.  In that red bikini.  Just saying.

As the planning began, Jason and Nick began bonding over the fusing together of their scallop noodles, which surprised me because this show never aired on HBO before, did it?  Nina decided to be that overachieving finalist and add an amuse-bouche and intermezzo to the already assigned four courses.  After much shopping and beginning stages of prep work, Tom came around for his final installment of Butt-Puckering Mind Games, reminding Nick his panna cotta from #ImmunityGate was the worst and that Jason was a real knob as far as it went.  He asked Nina why she bothered making a dessert when she was clearly uncomfortable and could have gone with four savory dishes.  Tom straight up mind molested both of them so good!  Classic Tom!

Tom and Emeril then told Nick and Nina that they would be taking them out to dinner that evening, and I’m going to be honest; as the two of them wended their way deeper and deeper into the lush foliage of Maui, I thought maybe they were being lured to their deaths?  Talk about a controversial finale!  But, alas, there was no physical murder, just emotional murder as Tom and Emeril, ever the devious rascals,  surprised Nick and Nina with visits from their respective families.****

****We won’t waste too much time on this, but worth mentioning is Nick’s anecdote that he didn’t want to go on a second date with his gorgeous wife because homeboy got more rump roast than a Port Authority toilet as a single playboy.  Gross.

The big day was finally at hand, and Nick took the opportunity to belittle and humiliate his serving staff because they could not comprehend the heights of his genius.  He scolded and cussed and carried on like a cholichy newborn, in stark contrast to Nina’s poised professionalism with her own wait staff.

After Nina’s universally-praised amuse-bouche of breadfruit (whatever that is) with foie gras, she put out a delightful looking first course: tuna and escarole tartar with with jalepeno.  Meanwhile, Nick freaked out over The Case of His Missing Expeditor before going straight up d-bag and barking at the servers in front of the guests that #FishLandsontheLeft.  His first course, also a tartar, found Nick serving hamachi and tuna with apples presented roughly seventeen thousand ways because Nick believes why do something one way well when you can do it several ways terribly?  Makes sense to me!  Also, Nick was very concerned with Emeril’s blood pressure and so was light on the salt.  Just kidding!  Nick just does not, and never will, grasp the complexities of salt, and yet he’s in the finale.

Course two found Nina’s orecchiette and braised goat going up against Nick’s sweet shrimp bisque with scallop and noodles.  Tom wanted to draw a bubble bathe of Nick’s bisque and rub it into his tender places, declaring it the best thing he’d eaten all season.  Maybe it was that splash of homoeroticism from Jason?

The third course pitted Nina’s swordfish and kale dish versus Nick’s duck and squash plate.  The judges weren’t over the moon about either of them, and guest diner Morimoto in particular disliked the earthiness of Nina’s.*****

*****I found it bizarre that the show managed to wrangle international super-chef Morimoto for a stint on this show, but–aside from his above critique–they basically just cut to him every now and then saying “Yeah” and “No.”  Helpful!  #MorimotoWisdom

Nina served her intermezzo of compressed dragon fruit (it looked heavenly) before her underwhelming chocolate zeppole.  Nick’s second attempt at panna cotta, after a near disaster of a misplaced spoon, was better but still not up to the quality of jiggle that Emeril expects both in his food and life.

And then Nick screamed SO LOUD at a server that it resonated through the restaurant.  Awkwardness pervaded the room, but that server deserved it so much in Nick’s opinion because that server had never in her miserable life so much as considered putting anything in cornsilk and was thus an inferior life form.  Then Tom applauded Nick’s well-timed climax on the show, and I was glad I missed that scene.

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), the judges found themselves in a dead heat, giving courses one and two to Nina and three and four to Nick.  Padma became the voice of reason and rolled her eyes at Tom’s overtly sexual love for Nick’s scallop and noodles, but he dug in.  Hugh (sweet, innocent Hugh) wanted to bring in the issue of Nick’s explosive anger and demeaning attitude toward the wait staff, but Tom poo-pooed it because apparently Top Chef is a dictatorship.  He also, to Padma’s frustration, refused to judge Nina’s two additional courses because then she would have wiped the floor with him.  I knew what was about to happen, and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Of course Nick won.  Of course.  The least deserving chef seemed pushed through by Tom’s hellbent agenda as he circumvented evidence and logic.  At least he can go draw that bubble bath of shrimp bisque now.  To be clear, this is Tom’s fault.  #TomGate

If I wanted to be dramatic, I’d say Top Chef lost all credibility in picking a wildly inconsistent winner who, still by season’s end, had not mastered rudimentary seasoning.  Had I had a melon baller or citrus press within arm’s reach, I might have hucked it at Tom’s dome.  And yes, I believe Nick is a fundamentally inferior chef to Nina (and Shirley and Louis and Stephanie, for that matter), but I had a blast covering this show and will eagerly await my next opportunity to do so.  You’ve got your grubby mitts in me but good, Top Chef.

Hope you enjoyed reading half as much as I enjoyed writing!  Bye!

Oh, and #NickistheWorst. Ugh.

Top Chef S11E16: “Maui Wowie”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “having confidence in your own cuisine.”

This is never an easy discussion to have, but it’s important that you know.  We need to have this out in the open so that we can begin the healing process and take steps to repair the damage.  Look, I’m just going to come right out and say it.

Top Chef and I are definitely not on the same page right now.  Sorry to be so crude, but it’s the truth.  This show is really cheesing me off right now.  Apologies for the coarse language.  But seriously what is going on, Top Chef?  Are you working your way through a trauma?  Because your behavior is completely bonkers honestly and I need to know if I should be worried about you.

First of all, I didn’t appreciate the way you rubbed in the beautiful scenery of Maui.  I mean, for real, you know us East Coasters are struggling through a horrific winter, so what’s the deal?  Not cool, Top Chef.  Not.  Cool.  Then the chefs started to arrive: Shirley, Nina, and Nick.  All three of them seemed relaxed and rejuvenated, but Nick’s transformation positively chilled me to the bone.  He laughed, he joked, he didn’t give off the impression that he would disintegrate before our eyes.  He chalked it up to time spent with family, but regardless of the reason, I didn’t like it.  Not one bit.  Hold me.

Before the Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here), the three chefs stumbled upon a party with people getting lei’ed left and right and Tom drinking something out of a hollowed melon while donning the hat of a seventy year old lothario.  Time for a luau!  Anyhow, before that, Padma needed to introduce the winner of Last Chance Kitchen, and–the one decision this show’s made right lately–it was Louis!**

**I loved when Padma told Louis he “certainly earned it” with all the enthusiasm of a robot.  Sell it, girl!  Wow.  Now I know why some reviewers refer to her rather unaffectionately as Padbot.  For real!

So the Quickfire introduced guest judge Sam Choy, who tasked the chefs with creating a dish out of Hawaiian steak, aka spam because obviously.  Sam Choy started listing the various preparations of spam he’s ingested over the years but none disturbed me as much as the image of a spamcake, whatever on earth that is.  I would prefer never to think of that again, please and thank you.  Anyhow, the winner of this Quickfire would pocket 10 grand, and the chefs were off!

Nick immediately confessed that he was not a practitioner of spam and that it really pushed him out of his comfort zone because he could not think of a way to encase it successfully in cornsilk (I added that last part, tbh).  Louis, meanwhile, found himself inundated with questions by local Hawaiians curious about his technique.***

***He didn’t care for the distraction, but it did allow me to come up with a fantastic band name: Louis and the Curious Hawaiians.  I mean, right?

I wonder how long Padma practiced her “Hands up!  Spam down!” line when time elapsed on the Quickfire because I had the impression she was incredibly pleased with herself.  When it came to tasting, Padma said that Louis’s spam mousse was so silky in her mouth, which forced me to pause the television and immediately go to Confession even though I’ve never gone to Confession.  It just seemed like the right thing to do?  Still, ever the tease, Louis didn’t even win the challenge!  That honor went to (who else?) Nick for his spam broth, quail egg, and fricassee of mushrooms.  Ugh.****

****For a brief second, I thought Nick was having a stroke on national television.  What was happening to his mouth?  OMG!  That’s a warning sign!  It’s a warning si–Oh.  He’s smiling.  Somehow, that was worse?

I just don’t know what to say anymore.

As for the Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here), Professor Padma once again took to the podium and gave us a lecture on the history of Polynesian settlers coming to the shores of Hawaii.  I’ll be frank with you, I wasn’t really paying attention because THAT DRESS.  Padma, you might be part robot, but when you look like that who cares?  Anyhow, she introduced the topic of canoe crops and the chefs had to create a dish using them.

Then before you could say Double Elimination Challenge, a few canoes landed ashore and scantily clad Polynesians emerged!  This show!  So, the chefs selected their ingredients and headed back to scope out their new living quarters.  Nick took the largest ocean front room because he needs the space to plug in his oversized ego overnight.  Puppy’s gotta charge!  Meanwhile, Nina and Shirley shared a room (I bet those two would be delightful roomies), and Louis found himself shoved into a closet Harry Potter style.

Before the cooking started in earnest, the quartet wandered around Maui and found themselves confused over the sight of a waterfall, which I can completely relate to because I never know what to call streams of water falling down the sides of mountains.

And then the cooking!  Nick decided he wanted to make chicken skin salad with his opakapaka because he’s doing an excellent job of making me hate him.  He then told the group he planned to stick his pork butt into the pressure cooker.  I’m not sure, but I think this offended the ladies.  I mean, what a man wants to do in the privacy of his kitchen with whatever appliance tickles his fancy is his business, but I’d prefer not to have it aired in public.  Am I right?

Louis made opah (one tough fish to cook) with sweet potato and coconut glaze while Nina went a little bit more traditional and grilled her opah in a simple broth.  Shirley was the odd (wo)man out, opting to cook pork in lieu of fish.  But poor Shirley immediately began fretting over the sweetness of her meat because #SweetPork.

Top Chef then made it juicy as rain began to fall*****.  Nina joked about the show’s ability to control the elements, but I don’t think it’s a joke.  Can’t you see Tom, Emeril, and Hugh gathered in a circle around a blazing fire and engaging in a rain dance?  Or maybe that’s just an idea best kept between me and my diary?

*****After the raindrops stopped falling, Nick engaged with his diners by dabbling in some playful race humor about sticking the only white guy in the sun without a cover.  And…crickets.

 Unfortunately, at Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), Nick was the unquestioned victor because nothing in the world makes sense any more, and HE IS IN THE FINALE.  Please don’t make this season another Hosea situation because that still haunts me to this day.  Louis’s opah was inconsistent, so after all his grueling work on Last Chance Kitchen, he packed his knives amidst a tearful admission that he wanted his son to see him win.  I found this a real shame because Louis was my favorite.  But, this being a double elimination, the axe had not yet ceased falling.  It was down to Nina and Shirley, both of whom belong in the finale over Nick.

In the end, Tom agreed with Shirley…about her #SweetPork, so the adorable, tenacious, and talented chef packed her knives and left.  For those keeping track at home, that leaves N squared to face off for the title: Nina and Nick.

Take him down, Nina!  Do whatever it takes!  Make a voodoo doll and stuff it with cornsilk if you must!  Seriously, if Nick wins, I’m never watching this show again, Top Chef.

Oh, who am I kidding?  Of course I will watch until the end of time, you wily rapscallion.  Until next week!



Top Chef S11E15: “Leaving New Orleans”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “teaching Emeril to cook.”

I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I’m pretty sure I carry considerable influence with the executive producers of Top Chef.  If you’ve followed my recaps on the season, you’ll know that Nick and I have not been getting along.  He thinks I’m pushy; I think he’s a jerkface.  Clearly, the producers felt our animosity had to end, so they kickstarted this episode with Nick’s heartfelt confession about wanting to make his dad, who happens to be afflicted with Parkinson’s, proud.  For a brief moment, my heart began to thaw; I didn’t care for the foreign sensation of warmth–I was scared and needed to be held.

Fortunately, Shirley intervened and called Nick a total a-hole.  And we’re back!  Thanks, Shirl, for dragging me back to reality!  Because, let’s lay the cards on the table here, folks.  I hate to beat a dead horse and everything, but I have no problem beating up on Nick.

This week’s Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here) was a not just a two-parter.  It also happened to be the dreaded car challenge.  Loyal viewers know that winning the car pretty much means you simultaneously might as well start packing your knives, which gives me pause.  Why are the cheftestants consistently so excited for this challenge?  I mean, yeah, it’s a car.  But it’s no quarter of a mill.  All I’m saying.

Anyhow, the chefs had to participate in a two-roud challenge, first impressing Gail with one complete experience in a single bite and then wowing Tom by highlighting a veg (what we call vegetables in the food service industry).

The first challenge forced Nick to reflect on his need for self-editing**, but when Shirley started talking about the plumpness of her cherries, my cheeks started to burn.  Girl, you bad!

**Though, oddly, it did not prevent yet ANOTHER paranoid delusion about a phantom competitor tampering with the temperature of his deep fryer.  This guy!  #FryerGate

In the process of the tasting, Gail struggled with her forking skills.  When she finally managed, Carlos’s mango shrimp and Nick’s meat and potatoes (with a purple potato chip because UGH) bested the ladies.  Thanks, Top Chef for sending women’s lib back to the stone age!  I’m surprised Gail didn’t slap Nina’s and Shirley’s bums and demand them to collaborate on a pie on their way out.

My heart began to flutter.  Nick was through to the next round!  Suddenly, I found myself rooting for him to continue the show’s track record of sending home the car winner; this despite him getting to the veggie table before Carlos and boasting about his high school varsity track record (really?).  But then he had to go and cut eggplant into a scallop because Nick hates each and every one of us, so Carlos’s simple but elegant pepper soup emerged the victor.

Carlos, NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  Stop dancing and demand a re-taste!  Spit in your own food!  Do something!

But before you could say eggplant scallops, it came time for the Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here).  Before relocating to Hawaii for the finale, the chefs had to create one last dish that summarized their New Orleans experience, then prepare that meal in Emeril’s flagship restaurant.***

***Nick waxed poetic and claimed that his New Orleans experience had humbled him, which worried me a great deal because I’m starting to think maybe Nick might not have a level-headed view of himself?

Anyway, Carlos prepared a seafood tamale without corn (nifty idea), Nina dove into Italian fare with speckled trout and some kind of mini-biscuit, Shirley wanted us to take a trip down the bayou with black drum fish, and Nick prepared roughly ten thousand mini-morsels of fish in a broth.  This might sound judgmental, but Nick’s dish was basically a pile of garbage next to everyone else’s.  Also, I’m worried he might have a glandular problem because two minutes in the kitchen, and the man started to sweat like he’d just been water boarded.

Nina forgot to plate her mini-biscuits and completely lost her mind, apologizing for her catastrophic mistake in front of the judges in a mishap that pretty much came across like the Top Chef version of the Holocaust.  Little did Nina know that Tom was all like, “Yo, yo, yo.  For you, for me, for you, this didn’t even need that ricotta dumpling, dawg!” (Maybe I’m confusing Tom with Randy Jackson?)

Later, in a sequence that really strained my understanding of good taste, the judges wanted to bathe in Shirley’s broth and rub it into their naughty bits, so we all assumed Shirley won.  And guess what?  She did!  Because #ButterSauce!

Emeril felt personally affronted that Carlos didn’t wrap his seafood tamale in a banana leaf, while some of Nick’s fish felt underseasoned for what I can only postulate the ninety-eight zillionth time this season (plus or minus one or two).

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), the producers seemed like they wanted to make up for past mistakes.  Reflecting on their collective sexism from earlier, the judges let the ladies sail through to the finale, leaving the gents on the bottom.

On the one hand, my heart began to flutter again.  Could this be the moment?  Was Nick doomed at last?  Or would Carlos fulfill the prophecy of the Doomed Car Winner?  For a glorious moment, I thought the former possible.  Padma was all like, “Um, ya’ll want to send some chump into the finale who still can’t quite grasp the purpose of salt?”  And all the judges nodded solemnly.  In that moment, Padma’s beauty seemed more radiant than ever.

But guess whaaaat?

Seems like Nick and the witches of American Horror Story: Coven have been holding clandestine meetings.  How else to explain the fact that NICK IS JOINING SHIRLEY AND NINA IN THE FINALE?  Carlos went home because of the dark arts at work, folks.  Nothing makes sense any more.  I’d like to thank Top Chef for making me question the very fabric of everything I hold dear.  Had I known, when it began, that this season would cause me to embark on a philosophical journey of the soul, I might have packed more cornsilk.

Next week, the chefs will meet up in Hawaii and learn the identity of the winner of Last Chance Kitchen.  That means the two part finale has begun!  Let’s just hope Nick leaves his tiresome tomfoolery on the mainland.

Hey, a guy can hope!

Top Chef S11E14: “Po’ Boy Smackdown”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “tilting our bowls to get the broth out.”

We open up our latest Top Chef installment in the devastating aftermath of #ImmunityGate.  With back-to-back scandals under his belt, Nick seemed to feel the weight of both, shielding his face from the red-hot glares of his competitors.  Meanwhile, Shirley collapsed into hysterics; my keen insight into the human condition told me she might not have been taking Stephanie’s ousting so well.

But this is Top Chef.  Emotions are for prep cooks.  Suck it up, Shirls!

For the Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here), food truck mogul Roy Choy was on hand to dispense his brand of culinary wisdom.  The chefs continued to comment on how daring and innovative the man is, which made sense to me personally because I found his shirt incredibly rebellious.  He tasked them with creating Po’ Boys because duh.

Shirley, having wiped the tears from her eyes, said she never made a sandwich before** but dove in, proving herself a lethal quick study when she realized all she needed was bread and something in it. I could tell Nick wanted to get back on my good side because he didn’t make anything with cornsilk, so that’s an improvement?

**Um, what?

Ultimately, reviewing what the chefs made is irrelevant.  Chef Roy Choy knows his way around a Po’ Boy and kept it real—like really real—when he told the chefs that basically they should all give up cooking and just get it over with and donate their organs to science already.  But seriously, he hated all of their Po’ Boys so much!  He then provided incredibly helpful advice to the chefs if they’d all been high as a kite, suggesting they get down to wok talk, find their souls, and go dancing.  I’m not really sure what he was talking about, but I think he had a point in there?  Then Padma threw in her two cents and told the chefs their fillings were good, which I thought was some suggestive language for prime time television.  She then pointed out that they forgot that their fillings needed to rest in two bread pillows, which I think—frankly—sounds like the most amazing way to sleep ever.

Still, someone had to win because Top Chef is like a middle school spelling bee, so Shirley won, but Chef Choy did not seem happy dispensing that quasi-good news because the victory came with an immunity prize.

Chef Roy Choy swapped places with Jon Favreau, who read the room like the champ he is and cracked a joke about their Elimination Challenge involving dumpster-diving in the French Quarter for their ingredients.  What a jokester!  Actually, their Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here) took its inspiration from Favreau’s latest movie project about a guy who takes a food truck around the country, bonds with his son, and finds his culinary voice.  Using this as a launchpad, the chefs had to recreate a meal that encapsulated a turning point in their career and the development of their culinary voice.

But first, the chefs had a night on the town with Emeril, Gail, Padma, and Jon.  The chefs felt like standing in the middle of a congregation of food trucks was the perfect time to open up about themselves.  Brian took an express train to The Overshare Forrest and regaled us with a little anecdote about a rock-bottom DUI; Shirley made all the judges feel great about themselves and said that the shrimp boat challenge was her personal turning point.  Victory sealed.  Shirls, you a stone-cold killer, girl!

After spending the night throwing darts at a picture of Roy Choy’s face, the chefs prepared for service at Café Reconcile, which sounds like the coolest charity (and spearheaded by Emeril, as if I needed another reason to love him), taking at risk kids and providing them with training and opportunities in the food service industry.

But while the diners felt the warm-and-fuzzies, the kitchen was a madhouse.  Nick immediately set the tone with his Nicholas Cage-esque meltdown over the specificity of his pot placement, threatening to break the face of anyone who dared move his pots; this made me suspicious that Nick might have been having a scandalous relationship with one or possibly all three of his pots.  Wow, he was possessive about those pots!

It seemed, then, like all the hard work Nick put into revitalizing his image came crashing down at his announcement that he meant to make five preparations of carrots.  I want to smack him in the face with a carrot.  And let’s not even talk about that blackened quinoa because I never want to talk about blackened quinoa again.

In the end, Shirley’s succulent dish (snapper in a crustacean broth) earned her a win after it made Gail drool all over herself, proving to Nick that that’s what a real chef with immunity cooks like.  Also, it let Top Chef pat itself on the back, so smart play, Shirls!***  Brian served dressed up skinless chicken breast and undercooked potatoes, and Nick’s carrot fourteen hundred ways plate was no huge hit (they really missed the blackened quinoa).

***For my money, Carlos’s pork belly looked mouth-wateringly good, and—had it been socially acceptable—I’m pretty sure Tom would have ordered a second round of Nina’s amazing fettuccine and calamari dish and stuck it right down his pants.  Boy was all about Nina’s food!

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), Padma talked about how hard Emeril’s potatoes were, and the second time she really pushed her luck with the censors this episode.  And I think Tom wanted more carrot from Nick; I found this odd since his dish contained carrot powder, which—typing this—makes me want to hit Nick in the face with a carrot again.

In the end, Brian packed his knives and left, proving Nick really is the hemorrhoid on the buttocks of this show.  UGH!  Send him home!

Top Chef S11E13: “Oui Si A Challenge”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “having a box to think in.”

Having already been swept up in last week’s #KnifeGate2014 scandal with Carlos, I’m not sure Nick’s image needed any more eroding.  But alas, that’s just what we were treated to last night.  Clearly unable to let go of cutlery-based grudges, Nick opened the episode by slamming Carlos as being trapped inside a Mexican box.  This guy really has it out for Carlos, as well as boxes.

Padma welcomed Jacques Pepin into the Top Chef Kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut).  He’s exactly like your grandfather, if your grandfather were a world-renowned French chef incapable of hiding the disappointment etched in his face when you inevitably let him down.  In addition to introducing the Quickfire (watching him make and then recreating his favorite dish of Dover sole, asparagus, and artichoke), Pepin’s presence spoke to a troubling Top Chef motif: subtitling people with thick accents but whose English is perfectly decipherable.  I can understand you, sir!

The chefs gathered around to watch Chef Pepin create the dish but, more important, make them all feel horrible about themselves, capping off his demonstration by making a completely necessary butter floret.  He then invited the cheftestants to stick their fingers into his dish, which I frankly found a bit forward.

Unfortunately, Nick ended up winning the Quickfire and earned immunity because apparently he made a deal with the Devil and cannot be kicked off the show even though he consistently disappoints.

Padma brought us all back to reality by donning her professor sweater and delivering pretty much the most insightful history lecture I’ve ever heard: the French and Spanish had lots of influence in New Orleans.  Their Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut) found our chef splitting into teams to utilize a series of five ingredients common to both French and Spanish.  Team Spanish was Brian, Nina, and Carlos under the tutelage of Julian Serrano; Team French was Shirley, Nick, and Stephanie.  While Stephanie conceded that this challenge put her completely out of her comfort zone, Shirley and Nick made a big deal about destiny and the arrangement of the constellations because they’ve been classically trained in French cuisine and are on Team French, guided by one Dominque Crenn.  That was the exact moment I knew their team would explode in a fireball of culinary disaster.

As each team met with their respective coaches, it seemed like Nick really wanted us to have even greater disdain for him.  I mean, what else would explain his decision to make a chocolate Cornish game hen with a cornsilk bird’s next cradling some sort of frou-frou egg salad?  On behalf of viewers across America, Stephanie called it “loopy.”  Sing it, sister!

Teams French and Spanish went to Whole Foods, and Nina temporarily misplaced Chef Serrano, but everything ended up fine.  Shirley and Stephanie found Chef Crenn attractive while Brian thought Chef Serrano a delightful micromanager.

When it came to service, Carlos represented Team Spanish (describing dishes in his native tongue and infuriating Nick, which of course tickled my fancy) and Nick spearheaded Team French.  Team Spanish ended up winning, so we’ll skip them.

Over at Team French, Shirley made olive oil ice cream and paired it with some fish, which sounded positively disturbing but she’s adorable, so she gets a pass.  Stephanie made a mussel dish that Tom called complex but some other dude declared gritty.

But then the moment we’d been waiting for: Nick’s dish.

Chef Serrano gazed at Nick’s plate as if asked to consume the flesh of a live hamster.  He pretty much said it’s everything wrong with the direction of modern cuisine.  Chef Crenn didn’t like that smack talk about her student, so she tried to defend it half-heartedly.  Serrano scoffed, and the two seemed geared up for a cage fight.  Tom compared the cornsilk bird’s nest to hair pulled from a drain, an apt description if ever there were one.

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut), things got intense, although in all honesty I can not tell you exactly what happened because I found myself completely distracted by the paisley wonders of Chef Pepin’s bowtie.  It looked like a page out of one of those Magic Eye books.

The Judges handed Nina the win for creating a simple but gorgeously crafted dish of elevated potato salad that Jacques Pepin called “elegant.”  Well, excuse me!  You go, girl!

With good news dispensed, in came Team French, and the judges shamed Nick for his abysmal, pretentious plate.  Judge Pepin kindly invited him to withdraw from the competition, which would have been the honorable thing to do since he was the single reason his team lost.  But Nick is Nick, and he crossed his arms and shook his head and said, “Nah.  I got this.”

So Stephanie packed her knives and left.  She even gave Nick a parting hug despite her disgust, which I suppose he preferred to a knee to the genitals, which he deserved much, much more.


From the Pass

– Shirley [making ice cream and struggling with liquid nitrogen]: “I don’t want to be the first person on Top Chef to lose part of an ear.”