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.”

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