Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aw shucks: The Top Chef recap

Once again, I watched an episode of Lie to Me before tuning into Top Chef, and once again, it armed me with mad skills to read the secret meaning behind the facial expressions of the judges and cheftestants.

But first, our four finalists arrive in New Orleans: With the exception of Fabio, who sports a truly unacceptable “faux hawk” and a Pepto-pink scarf, they all look pretty much the same—Hosea is sweaty and ill-at-ease; Stefan is smug and self-satisfied (but perhaps a tad thicker than last we saw him?); Carla looks like a happy and slightly bewildered giraffe.

Emeril Lagasse is the celebrity judge and, as my pal Evan pointed out, is weirdly subdued the whole night. Not a single “Bam!” to be found, despite many “Bam!”-friendly openings. (An Emeril without a “Bam!” is like a Hootie without a Hoo.)

There are three cooking stations set up but the chef’s are told that they won’t be competing in this Quickfire.

This immediately sets off my reality TV “oh, crap, they’re screwing with the rules” alarm, and with good reason.
Out march Jamie, Jeff, and Leah.

The cheftestants grin tensely, expressing outward pleasure at seeing their former castmates. Actual meaning: Christ, didn’t we get rid of these people already?

In particular, Hosea’s facial expression reads: I promised my girlfriend I would never see Leah again and now here she is—should I run?

Yup, one of these three cast-offs is now vying for a place in the finals. I absolutely HATE when reality shows do this. Why have rules at all if you’re just going to randomly change them? It’s not like Jamie, Jeff, or Leah were such stellar contestants that the competition has felt their absence. Hell, Leah was eliminated last week and I’d already forgotten about her.

Their challenge is to make a dish with crawfish, advantage Jeff, who works with seafood a lot at Hotel Vibrator. So he wins.

Jeff gets high fives and congratulations from the cheftestants, but what they’re really thinking is: Can’t you just go back to the hair salon you crawled out from under?

One catch: The only way Jeff can make it to the finals is by winning the Elimination Challenge. So at least there’s that.

Stefan expresses his displeasure with his new competition.
“This is Top Chef. This is not a butt-rubbing contest,” he says. No, I have no idea what it means either. But, if you are playing the home game:

This is not Top Scallop.
This is not Top Pussy.
And this is not Top Butt-Rubbing Contest.

Happy to clear that up.

Their Elimination Challenge is to make New Orleans-style food for a high society masked ball.

Everyone is completely sweating over their work, except for Stefan who, true to character, acts like the whole thing is a joke.
“Stefan’s Achilles heel is that he thinks he has it in the bag,” says Hosea. Foreshadowing? Or just wishful thinking.

Jeff is casing his own sausage, but Stefan is using the sausage that’s in the kitchen.
Stefan holds up the links of sausage like he’s 10. “What does this remind you of?” he giggles.

(Between the butt-rubbing and the sausage jokes, we can safely say that New Orleans brings out the repressed homosexual in Stefan like no other American city.)

Carla is making shrimp beignet and oyster stew, even though she just learned how to shuck an oyster, like, on Tuesday.
“I’m going to have to MacGyver it,” she says, endearingly hacking away at her oysters.

Hosea has been studying up on Cajun cooking techniques and is rouxing the hell out of his gumbo.

Chef Colicchio comes into to visit the chefs and notices, with some displeasure, Stefan’s nonchalance. (More foreshadowing?)

Eventually the chefs set up their tables and the ball begins. At which point, four mysterious masked figures emerge in the entranceway. One is a leggy, raven-haired goddess, one is a thickish bald guy, one is a busty woman, and one is, well, Emeril Lagasse.

“What’s the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation doing with Emeril Lagasse?” I think to myself.

Then they dramatically unveil their masks. They got me!
It’s Tom, Padma, and Gail!

(Re: The return of Gail. Does this mean we are done with U.K. McSnarkerson for good? Pleeeease make it so).

The guests seem to be enjoying the food. Fabio is hitting on all women—and despite his hair-don’t, they seem to like it. Carla is exchanging spirited “Hooties!” with her guests. And all the cheftestants are adorned in appreciative Mardi Gras beads (SO much more appropriate than the AIDS ribbons from a few shows back.)

At judges table, the following thoughts are expressed:

The judges pretty much LOVE Carla’s shrimp beignet and oyster stew and even her fizzy, non-alcoholic drink.

They also love Jeff’s atomically-green cucumber mojito, his crawfish pot de crème and his fried oyster and sausage.
They are particularly pleased that Jeff made his own sausage.
“This is the end,” says Jeff. “I wouldn’t win if I stole somebody’s sausage.”
Stefan gulps.
(Jeff has just seriously gone up in my estimation for making Stefan squirm.)

Despite the fact that it didn’t pass muster with Stefan, the judges are very fond of Hosea’s gumbo, with its authentic roux.

And they like, but don’t love, Fabio’s pasta with crawfish and Stefan’s gumbo with grits.

“You seem pretty indifferent to all this,” Chef Colicchio says to Stefan.
“I’m 36 years old. If it works out, it works out. If not, fine,” Stefan shrugs.
Cut to Colicchio, his lips pursed, his eyes squinted: Classic disgust.

So now here we are: If Jeff wins the whole thing, which is clearly a possibility, both Fabio AND Stefan are going home.
Holy f*&*#! Maybe that foreshadowing WAS for real.

Stefan sits in the holding room, trying to affect an air of amused indifference and nonchalance. Actual mood: Ready to poop his pants.

The cheftestants file back in.
And the winner is . . .Carla! Hootie!!!!

That means Jeff is gone. Again.

So it comes down, fittingly, to the bromance—Hans and Franz, the Euro twins.
For the first time, I actually think that Stefan should get the boot. He didn’t even try, for God’s sake.
And, as Fabio says, “Top Chef will be the enzer to everything I need.” (Yeah, took me a sec, too. Enzer = answer.)

“Fabio pack your knives and leave,” says Padma, her ovaries quivering with sorrow.
Fabio and Stefan share a completely hetero Euro kiss.

“You better win this thing!” Fabio says. And with that, he’s gone.

Don’t worry Fabio, I have a hunch the Dr. Diet Pepper fan favorite award is in your immediate future.


Jennifer said...

It was kind of nice to see Jeff again--he's so pretty!

I think I want Carla to win? Her google eyes have really grown on me.

You're right--Emeril didn't seem very Emerilsh. He seemed downright mopey.

Jennifer said...

Good stuff, Max, as always. Weren't you, like, totally shocked when Leah said she really didn't have any experience with crawfish and had no idea what she was going to do with them? ;-) The girl is like Debbie Downer in a chef hat...

LuLu Blauburgunder said...

Glad Carla won with more than LOVE, and I admire her use of Soul. Stefan needs an ass kicking, and the judges won't give it to him, obvs. what Top Chef has smoked a stogie in the middle of an elimination challenge nonchalantly? why is this left out of the judges' peripheral view? these are the very instances that I hate this show. HATE!!!