Are self-loathing and insecurity actually contagious? Because it sure seemed like everyone came down with a bad case of Richard Blais this episode. (And Blais himself had a particularly acute outbreak.) But more on that later.
First, the annual funny hair portion of the show.
Blais, always one to do his part, has grown a Finals Beard. It’s sort of pokey and indeterminate, much like Richard himself.
Everyone else looks pretty much the same. Mike comes in claiming that during the hiatus, he started training. Huh.
“I worked around all the top kitchens in D.C.,” he explains.
Oh, that kind of training.
Blais explains that he will be missing the birth of his daughter—little Liquid Nitrogena Blais—for this trip. As if the guy needed more pressure.
Also, let me point out that Padma did not wear a bikini this episode. I repeat, Padma did not wear a bikini!
Way to disappoint the tens of heterosexual men who watch this show. (Oh, you thought we meant this week? Our bad.)
(What the show should have advertised? Eric Ripert sporting a nice Bahamian tan. J’approve.)
I absolutely love the Quickfire Challenge: Go head-to-head with the person who won your season.
Also, Hosea is there, for reasons unknown. (Oh wait, I forgot. . .Hosea actually won his season.)
There’s no doubt that Mike has the biggest challenge, because he’s going against Goofus, the greatest chef in the history of Top Chef—just ask him.
Goofus is sporting some sort of dorktastic Stephen Baldwin-meets-Justin-Bieber hairdo, but that doesn’t make him any less intimidating. Dude has skillz.
Poor Stephanie, always a favorite of mine, has to go up against not one, but two all-stars: Richard and Antonia.
Apparently, her veal dish blows (but it still manages to edge Antonia’s, which blows harder) and Blais takes it easily.
So Goofus and Mike both have to make a duck dish. And Mike wins. Wow, all that “training” paid off. (And somewhere deep in the heart of Frederick, MD, Bryan Voltaggio is raising a glass in gratitude to Mike.)
Carla goes up against Hosea, both making lamb. But one of Carla’s burners doesn’t fire properly and her rice is undercooked and she loses. Now Hosea’s actually going to think he deserved to win his season. (P.S. I hate when technical difficulties get in the way of a chef’s performance. Couldn’t they have given Carla some damn equipment that worked?)
Tiffany and Kevin both make a pork dish. In a shocking move, Tiffany makes a pork stew. Kevin, for his part, makes barbecued pork with cilantro. And, lo and behold, Tiffany wins! (Hey, I guess there’s something to be said for knowing what you’re good at and sticking with it.)
Time for the Elimination Challenge: Prepare a meal for Bahamian royalty.
So now that I know this whole “Bahamian royalty” thing is a lie—it’s actually the King of Junkanoo, the island’s version of Mardi Gras—I see how bad the acting is here.
Eric Ripert is all, “I, fer one, would be very honairred to cook fer royalty.”
And Padma and Tom must say “royalty” about a zillion times, emphasizing the word with suspiciously over-the-top gusto.
Not gonna lie. I totally fell for it.
So everyone is prepping for very refined food. As Mike aptly puts it, “Honestly, you don’t want to put up a plate of bullshit”—except for Tiffany and Carla, who don’t really do refined.
After two hours of prep, “a big truck” comes to pick up the gang and take them to the royal kitchen.
I love that they call it a “big truck” when it’s clearly a Cadillac Escalade. If this was one of the show’s sponsors, they’d be all like, “And then they came to pick us up in this majestic Toyota Highlander with leather seats, a built-in GPS, all-weather tires, and electronic stability control.”
So the “big truck” drives them into town and suddenly they’re in the middle of this street festival and they start to get suspicious. This doesn’t look like the kind of place a royal family might roll up to play croquet.
Yup, you’ll be cooking in a fish fry joint for the King of Junkanoo. Joke’s on you!
Maybe Antonia, you ought to rethink that roasted rack of lamb with hazelnut butter.
The chefs mosey into the kitchen and everyone is second guessing their food, except for—you guessed it—Tiffany and Carla, who were going with comfort food to begin with.
Meanwhile, just as last week she summoned Padma by merely evoking her name, this week Antonia is able to make fire.
“This fryer is smoking,” she says. “I think it might light on. . . FIRE!!!!”
Yikes. Fire + grease = bad thing.
Richard Blais bravely takes charge, covering the fryer. But I worry about him getting to close to the fire, cause you know all that styling gel in his hair could blow at any moment.
The chefs get out of harm’s way, but the same can’t be said for their food. Tom breaks the bad news: Your food is coated in fire-fighting chemicals and you have to start over. Sucks to be you.
Both Richard and Antonia change their game plan. Carla decides to cook her pork on the fryer, something she’s NEVER DONE BEFORE. (When will that girl learn?)
It is, as my pal Evan pointed out, the most random serving in the history of Top Chef. All the judges are crammed into a booth—dignified Eric Ripert is positively wedged against a wall—and then there are all these random people (their reason for being there never explained) tasting and commenting on the food. Basically, they just pulled people off the street.
Carla comes out first with her pork loin with sweet potato chips.
Everyone agrees the chips are agreeably crunchy but the dish is too sweet and Gail’s pork is raw.
Next, Antonia’s fried shrimp with pork grits.
The fish is overcooked and the “beige mystery meat” in the grits are a miscue.
Plus, Tom objects to the sliver of carrot on top: “Howard Johnson called. They want their garnish back!” (Has Tom been reading us bloggers? Because that was some Grade A snark.)
Mike’s sous vide chicken lobster hash is a hit. (Altogher now: He’s on fiiire.) The judges particularly love his sauce, although his white meat is a bit dry.
Richard’s roasted lamb with pickled turnip “cannelloni” gets mixed reviews.
Eric wasn’t a fan of the cannelloni; Tom thought it was clever. But everyone agreed the dish had an appealing delicacy.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Blais is already muttering to himself: “My food is disgusting. I’m so upset.” (We call this the “reverse pep talk.”)
Tiffany’s roasted pork with dirty rice and tomato relish is good, but everyone agreed it was a bit overly simplistic, and could’ve used more of the relish.
“It’s better in the Bahamas,” says the King, which he is probably sooo sick of saying. I’m so glad I don’t have to walk around town saying, “Baltimore: Get in on it!” (Yes. Actual Baltimore slogan.)
So basically, after the soaring highs of last week, the meal was a dud.
“Maybe the fire spooked them,” offered Padma.
Back in the waiting room, the SXSL (Self by Self-Loathing) Festival has really kicked into high gear.
Mike: I second guessed every dish I put out this season.
Richard: I just hate everything I do. And that’s a problem. That’s a bigger issue than right now. (Bloggers note: Ya think?)
Antonia: I feel sick to my stomach.
Wow. Who wouldn’t want to party with this cheery bunch?
Padma comes in. The judges want to see all of them.
“Tonight we had a wonderful celebration,” Padma says. Too bad your food ruined it.
Still, Mike did the best of a bad bunch. He wins.
Blais is put out his misery early this time. He’s in.
It comes down to Carla, Tiffany, and Antonia
“Carla, please pack your knives and go.”
Carla, needless to say, is gracious in defeat. “The judges made the right decision,” she said. Now there’s a first.
“Make momma proud,” she tells the four who are left.
Next week: Padma, in a bikini, with Bahamian royalty in a Toyota Highlander. They swear.