Well, Gasmii, this lackluster season has finally come to a close, and I’m happy to say it went out on a great note. The producers actually produced some quality television this week, and it was a pleasure to finally watch master chefs cook something masterful. Hats off to you, Bravo, hats off. Small ones due to the overall disappointing and lameass quality of the entire season, but hats nonetheless.
Look who’s back!
I wonder what we’ll find out this week about Gael. I don’t know what’s going to top sleeping with Elvis and erotic literature, but I am so very game to find out. Also, in a totally random turn of events, did anyone hear about the attempted slaying of Joss Stone? I say “slaying” because her two would-be assailants were apparently planning to off her Tudor style with the use of swords. You read that correctly. They were caught driving around her English country estate in a “mysterious” fashion, someone called the police, and the two guys were caught with the floor plan of her house, aerial photos, rope, a body bag and two swords. There’s no apparent motive since Joss Stone hasn’t been relevant in God knows how long (sorry if you’re a fan, I had actually forgotten she was British until I read the article). I have to say, it’s such a weird “crime” that it kind of smells like she may have staged it for some much-needed publicity… Which would be totally awesome because that means my friend Anna and I could then realize our dream born this afternoon of replacing, “Go fuck yourself!” with “Go Joss Stone yourself.” We might just do it anyway.
Okay, enough procrastination, onto the recap! I will say, the problem I’m left with as a recapper after the departure of Naomi, is that there is significantly less to snark about this week. That’s kind of why I threw in an entire paragraph about that singer my mouth wants to call Josh. The intro is a little spiffier with more of an introduction surrounding each chef. Floyd breaks my heart a little when he reveals that his father actually passed away from cancer before there was a chance to see his son succeed. That goes a long way toward explaining why he’s been incredibly frustrated to come in second so much. Then there’s a really hot picture of him barbequing a LOT of meat, and I’m cheered up.
No Quickfire this week (aw, I like the Quickfires. They’re allowed to be ridiculous), but there’s some Gael right off the bat to set me to rights! There’s also Schmoseland who needs to just buy a beanie and be done with it already, Ruth and Stonecoldfox. They’re there to introduce the final challenge, which is actually super-awesome (ABOUT TIME). Oh, FYI, Ruth used to edit Gourmet magazine. Did not know that. Each chef will prepare three dishes – one will be based on what inspired them to become a chef, one will be their first food memory and the last one is Judge’s Choice.
Mary Sue, Traci and Floyd draw knives and are paired with Ruth, Gael and Schmoseland respectively. Schmoseland requests that Floyd prepare for him some “rendang,” which is an Indonesian dish that is beef served in coconut milk and flavored with spices. Sounds remarkably like coconut soup with beef, but “rendang” is such an awesome name, I can’t protest. I think I’m going to make it a new swear word.
Ruth says that one of her favorite food memories is a lemon soufflé, so Mary Sue is finally tasked with something that’s not right up her alley (she’s kind of been getting an easy shake lately…), and Gael tells Traci that when she was in France on her honeymoon (she’s like a late-night Julia Child, I swear!), she had fried duck with béarnaise sauce that rocked her socks off. I think it’s what made her want to be a food writer, which makes me want to eat that duck.
This is what I found when I Googled “Magic Duck.”
The chefs will have eight hours to shop and prep, and they can go to any specialty shop they want along with Whole Foods, and the following evening they’ll return and cook for 12 guests in the Top Chef dining room. This sounds suspiciously like a go-see episode on ANTM. Why didn’t they just do stuff like this all season?? Why did we have to suffer through a damn science fair?? If I’d known this was up someone’s sleeve, I might have written a letter or something. Well, probably not, but still.
And then Stonecoldfox makes the introduction that no one is surprised by, but everyone acts surprised by, and the chef’s sous chefs, chefs de cuisine and executive chefs come out. Aww, everyone’s really excited. Mary Sue’s is Jaime, who’s been working with Border Grill since he was 16, which is crazy awesome. Traci has a dude named Morgan, and Floyd has Ty, who’s been with him for nine years. Everyone’s happy and smiles all around, and then pair off with their judges to get more backstory on the food memories.
I want to be in her head for a little while.
Gael explains that she and her husband were feeling a bit uncomfortable and nervous in France but then – THEN there was the duck. With béarnaise sauce. Traci is happier than I’ve ever seen her – duck’s one of her favorite things to cook, so it’s safe to say she’s going to kick this one in the teeth as usual. Ruth was taken to Paris when she was a kid and had a soufflé… and yeah, it was awesome. As for James, hew was 19 when he went on his first trip to Southeast Asia. He tried rendang and then talks about a lot crazy shit in relation to what happened in his mouth, and frankly, I don’t want to think about the crazy shit that’s happened in Schmoseland’s mouth, so you’ll all have to settle for “he liked the dish a lot and would like Floyd to make his version very spicy.” Oh, and Floyd mentions that rendang is a reverse braise, and I have no idea what that is. Do you put it in the fridge and refrain from adding water?
With that, the judges exit, and the chefs get to planning their other two dishes. The dish that inspired Mary Sue to become a chef is a kind of shrimp cocktail that her mentor whipped up for her in thirty seconds. Greg Duda was his name, and he died very suddenly at the age of 54 recently, so that one’ll be close to her heart. I think Floyd wins, though… When Traci was 16, she went to Zola in San Fransisco, which was apparently less stuffy than other French restaurants in the 70s, and she had a quail salad. Not sure what she’s going to do with the quail, but it’ll be incorporated. As for Floyd, his father took him to lunch in Bombay, and the restaurant had like, a million forks on the table and he didn’t know what to do. Eventually he put things together enough to enjoy some super-delicious bass, so that’s what he’ll be working with.
It’s time to shop, so the chefs leave what looks like the Roosevelt Hotel to battle LA traffic in the rain. Mary Sue is actually the only chef from Los Angeles, so she knows what to expect and plans accordingly. If you’re not from LA, let me explain Los Angeles traffic to you. You know how when you’re stuck in traffic, and you calm yourself down by concentrating on the fact that you’re not going to be in your car forever, that you will eventually get home? The fact of the matter is, when it comes to LA traffic ESPECIALLY in inclement weather, it’s entirely possible you won’t get home that day. It has literally happened to me before. You’d think God was spitting ice and bullets the way some people drive in the rain.
It’s. Just. Water.
As for Traci, she doesn’t live in LA, but she seems pretty familiar with some of the stores available. She heads to McCall’s for duck and quail, and I wish I could go with her. Alas, I try not to leave my house between the hours of 3-8 (rush hour). Floyd heads to the Grove Farmer’s Market to grab meat and decides to do an oxtail rendang along with beef, and picks up a filet of bass. Mary Sue heads to Whole Foods to look for lobster, but the quality’s pretty questionable. She briefly considers driving across town to the fish market, but considering going “across town” in Los Angeles usually turns into a day trip, she decides against using any lobster and just to stick with shrimp. She also decides not to run around to any different stores and waste time, and just grabs her groceries at Whole Foods and heads back to the kitchen to start cooking. Because she’s a champ.
Floyd’s totally fucked, though. He’s got to go to 18 different stores to find all the Southeast Asian and Indian ingredients he needs, and he totally gets stuck in traffic. JUST LIKE A GO-SEE!! Damn, this is totally the best of both worlds. Mary Sue gets back to the kitchen with Jaime, followed shortly by Traci and Morgan. Floyd doesn’t show up until much, MUCH later, which is a problem because it doesn’t leave him enough time for his meat to braise. He can get it started, but he’ll have to interrupt it, and that’s not good. Also not good? The bass he got from the Farmer’s Market. Apparently they did a rendangin’ terrible job butchering it, so now Floyd has to waste precious time cleaning it. The ghost of his father is shaking his head right now.
Mary Sue’s third dish is a steak tartar. Her mother was from Germany, so they had steak tartar at Christmas, and anyone with a mother who looks like this is going to have incredible fucking Christmases:
Whistle Edleweiss while you look at this. Do it. Right now.
Traci’s doing a shrimp creole that her grandfather used to make for her third dish, and for his first food memory, Floyd is making a semolina cream of wheat type thing that he used to have at teatime with his family. Hilariously, because she is the luckiest lady in all the land, Mary Sue actually used to work a soufflé station, so she’s doing a test round, but she’s pretty confident she can knock Ruth’s socks off. She certainly knocks everyone else’s socks off – Floyd jokes that he’s just going to head home right then. Aw, poor guy!
The next morning, the chef’s take a little detour to Stonecoldfox’s house so he can make them breakfast! At first he looks kind of silly, but then when he starts cooking…
I want those hands on me.
After a pleasant morning, the chefs head back to the kitchen to start cooking, and the pace is much, much faster than the previous night. Everyone’s running around putting out fires here and there (Mary Sue needs to use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream, but she’s never done it before, Traci’s worried about the duck dish), and no one looks very comfortable. It’s kind of awesome, though. It’s like we’re finally getting to see these chefs in their element, and I am so happy and thankful for that.
The guests start arriving and it’s so nice to see everyone! Even this guy!
Jonathan Waxman describes the experience as an acid flashback and reminds me how much I love him. Also present, Susur Lee, Susan Feniger, Tom Colicchio and Rick Moonen. The chefs are introduced when it’s time for the first course, and Mary Sue and Susan make lovefaces to each other when they see each other. Aww, she’s her lobster! They are PRECIOUS, yo. The first courses are the chef’s first food memories, so Floyd’s got his Upma Polenta with wild mushrooms, kokum and coconut milk, Mary Sue did an Asian steak tartar, and Traci’s got her modernized shrimp creole. Ruth picks up on the subtle layering of flavors in the polenta, which is awesome because Floyd was worried that no one would realize just how sophisticated a dish it was given that it was so simple. I swear, Ruth’s such a sweet Earth Mother type. Food’s meditation for her. Gael and Tom aren’t terribly impressed with it, though.
Over at Susan Feniger’s table, she starts telling Schmoseland about she and Mary Sue used to live and work in Chicago together. She also talks about how Mary Sue would ride a bike over to Susan’s apartment, pick her up, and Susan would ride the handle bars all the way to work. If these two were ay cuter, they’d be actual kittens. Susan even admits that she won’t be able to be anything but positive about Mary Sue’s food. Mostly everyone does like the tartar, but the genuine consensus was that it could have been more Asian-y. It’s kind of the same with Traci’s shrimp Creole – it’s not Creole enough.
Looks good to me.
The second course is the inspiration course, and Floyd’s practically jumping out of his crocs to get it his fish on the table so he can finally impress Ghost Father. It’s a rice flaked snapper in tomato-fennel brother with carrots. Mary Sue tells the story about Gregory Duda and his dinner party when she introduces her (wait for it) rigatoni stuffed with shrimp and chervil mousse (I know, right????) and crab and shrimp salpicaon (cold salad). I’ll bet it’s homemade rigatoni, too. I’ll bet it’s rendangin’ homemade rigatoni. Finally, Traci serves roasted quail salad and sweetbreads (mmmmmm) as an homage to both California and classic French cuisine like the kind she experienced at Zola when she was 16.
The ballot’s kind of split on everyone again – Mary Sue’s rigatoni is delicious but heavy, Traci’s done something wonderful and down to earth with the sweetbreads, but they’re not quite right, and Floyd’s flavors are amazing, but the rice on the fish is a little chewy. Time for round three!
There’s a little drama in the kitchen as Mary Sue starts her batter too early and then somehow doesn’t have enough…? I don’t know, it was confusing, but it was clear she was freaking the fuck out. Makes sense to me – the souffle’s kind of the star of the show… She does say “criminy,” which is so cute, though, so I’m entertained. Everything does eventually come out okay, as per usual, and all three chefs rejoice when time elapses and they know they’re done cooking. When the chefs return to introduce the last dishes, Susan can’t help herself and runs up to give Mary Sue a hug (I’ve met Susan Feniger, Gasmii, and let me tell you, she is just like that in real life, and it is rendangin’ awesome). Floyd whines that HE’D like someone to come up and give him a hug, so Jonathan Waxman runs up and hugs him and Traci for good measure.
God, my FACE hurts from the cuteness.
With that, we get to hear about Floyd’s shortrib and oxtail rendangs – they’re separated by a tapioca pilaf with dice potato and peanuts and I wish I could eat that! It looks so interesting… Anybody got the skinny on where to find some rendang in the SoCal area? Mary Sue’s made the soufflé, a rhubarb compote and a lemon hazelnut meringue topped with lemon ice cream. Damn. That just looks so damn good.
Traci’s meal for Gael turns out to be a duo of duck comprised of a crisp duck bearnaise and braised duck leg salad. It looks okay to me, but I’m not a duck fan, so I look at it then go back to Mary Sue’s dish in my head. It’s my new happy place.
The judges are kind of vicious about Traci’s duck, I’m sad to say. Gael has one piece that’s delicious, but the other was dry and hard to cut – I’m not sure which was which. Tom goes even further when he reasons that Gael wouldn’t have become a food writer if she’d eaten Traci’s duck all those years ago. JEEZ. If Gael Greene’s future career rested on a piece of duck, I’m going to start eating random pieces of poultry and expecting inspiration. Also sex with rock stars.
Floyd’s got a pretty big hit all around, Schmoseland natters on about feeling the love in the dish, and I’m filled with more terrible images I don’t want. Aaaaand soufflé. Whew.
Speaking of soufflé, everyone pretty much dies when they eat Mary Sue’s dish. Ruth looks like she’s traveled to a solstice celebration and is about to dance naked under the moonlight. She claims that she would have had an even greater love affair with lemon had she eaten Mary Sue’s soufflé when she was a kid. I find that so much more satisfying to picture than Schmoseland feeling the love.
Waxman looks utterly defeated, but in a good way.
Everyone finishes the meal fat and happy, but then it’s time for Critics’ Table. Bum bum BUM. Schmoseland, Stonecoldfox, Ruth and Gael, and it’s pretty tough to tell who’s ahead. Schmoseland picks at the fact that her rigatoni and seafood salad didn’t really go together, but then people start talking about the lemon and Mary Sue starts to look like Mother Theresa to everyone. Ruth thanks her personally for bestowing another “eureka” moment on her.
Floyd’s critique is much the same – mostly good, but Schmoseland didn’t like the rice on the snapper, and Traci probably comes out on the bottom because not only was half of her duck rendanged up, her shrimp creole just confused people. I think it’s safe to say that she won’t win, but I can’t say about Floyd and Mary Sue.
But wait! Yes, I can!
After some totally unnecessary and super-boring deliberation between the judges, the chefs are brought out, and Floyd is named the winner. I totally didn’t expect that, nor did I expect how happy it would make me! I really wanted Mary Sue to win, and thought she would, considering the lemon mixed with crack she served for dessert. To be honest, though, Floyd hasn’t won much money for his charity, and he kind of owns my heartstrings with the story about his dad.
So congratulations, Floyd! Your incredibly hot younger pictures and your adorable frustration at getting consistently beaten by Mary Sue have been a bright spot in an utterly lackluster season. Mary Sue and Traci, you ladies have been the reason I came back to watch each week (and I have to for the recap), and I’m so happy that you kicked enough ass this season to win lots of money for your charities already. And Gasmii, thanks for hanging in. I know I’m no J-Mo, but I certainly appreciate the love and loyalty, and I shall miss you. Aww, now I’m sad.