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This week on Top Chef, the other judges take advantage of Daddy Tom’s absence to make a controversial decision that still has my jaw on the floor.
“I’m thinking I should grab my junk between the second and third course… thoughts?”
We open with Daddy Tom rousing the final six chefs out of bed at 5:45 am. Now I’m definitely not a morning person, but if DT wanted to climb IN bed with me at that hour, I wouldn’t complain. He makes everyone meet him down in the kitchen to announce their Quick Fire — they’re working as short order egg station cooks for the morning breakfast rush at Lou Mitchell’s — a very famous and insanely busy Chicago breakfast joint. They head down to the West Loop, and Daddy Tom explains the rules — each chef will take a turn working the egg station, and the owner will determine the winner by declaring who she would be most likely to hire. Judging from the other cooks she’s got in her kitchen, Manny would have had this one in the bag.
Antonia is up first, wearing a misguided “Yo Biotch!” t-shirt for this QF. Very professional. We don’t really see much of her turn, but everything seems to have gone well as the brassy, Da Bears-type owner motions her out of the kitchen. Yoda’s up next, and stays true to her sucking ass at QF roots by losing her poached eggs in the pot of water, and breaking the yolks in some other eggs while trying to flip them in a skillet. At least she doesn’t almost burn the place down, which is exactly what Fleasa does. No, it wasn’t because her greasy hair dripped onto an open flame — instead she started melting a styrofoam container, probably by giving it one of her patented glares. Evangelass doesn’t seem to be making any major mistakes, but he’s his normal loud, frantic self which is hardly helpful in an already bustling line. Richard does all right, but struggles to decipher diner-lingo as the servers and other short-order cooks shout out dishes and instructions. Dale seems actually to do the best, as he successfully manages four orders at once. Just being able to remember and keep track of the orders is impressive enough, but it looks like he prepared them fairly well, too. This doesn’t stop the owner from giving him the same judgmental, bitchy looks she gave everyone else, though.
Unfortunately, we only get 3-4 minutes of footage before all the chefs are brought back out front for evaluations. I definitely would have liked to see them sweat it out back there for a while longer — as well as customer reactions to some of the presumably messed up dishes they produced. It seems like every time a QF is interesting, the editors cut it super short (see also the blind taste-test challenge). Oh well. Daddy Tom asks the owner who she would hire, and she says it came down between two people — Antonia and Dale — and she then picks Antonia as the winner!
“As the winner, you get to have sex with me! Here’s my number… thank God she didn’t pick Dale.”
With that out of the way, DT announces he’s doing a charity event and therefore will not be at the Elimination Challenge this episode. Nooo! Who will make the snappy put-downs when the losing chefs inevitably act like gigantic, spoiled twats? We all know Scar will be too stoned to handle it. He hands Antonia an address and directs the chefs to go find Scar at that location. As a Chicago native, Yoda’s never heard of Haines Street, and neither have I, but a quick Google of the address shows they’re going to the intersection of Haines and Hooker St (not kidding), west of the river. They arrive and find Scar sitting in an empty warehouse-looking space, and she quickly cuts any suspense by announcing this is Restaurant Wars!
Here are the rules: the chefs will divide into two teams, which each team taking half the warehouse space and sharing the kitchen. Tomorrow night each restaurant will have approximately 35 guests, and to accommodate them, each team will get $1,500 for food and $5,000 for decor. As the QF winner, Antonia gets to pick the teams — which is a huge advantage given the steep drop-off in skill between the top four and Fleasa and Evangelass. If she’s smart, she’ll pick Yoda and Richard, and leave the other three to self-destruct. Dale’s not stupid, and looks terrified that that’s exactly what she’ll do… and she does! Yoda notes that they were split up the same exact way for Wedding Wars, and suggests that this can be a rematch (her team won that one, obviously). Dale makes the same observation, but is more confident this go-around because Nikki’s not there this time. “Not to say that Nikki’s personality was horrible,” he clarifies, “but it’s one less to deal with.” I know so many of you guys hate this kid, but Dale honestly entertains me more than the rest of the remaining chefs put together.
The teams separate to plan their menus. Antonia/Richard/Yoda name their restaurant “Warehouse Kitchen” which I find questionable (why not just name it Cockroach Infested Rat Feces Filled Kitchen?), and opt for gastro pub cuisine. Richard wants it to be fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere, and the two girls are on board. Across the room, Dale/Fleasa/Evangelass decide upon “Mai Buddha” as their name and Asian (of course) fusion as their cuisine. They squabble a bit — who gets to be Executive Chef, who they think America hates the most, whether soap is a requirement or an option — but Evangelass maturely tells us that with all three of them having Asian backgrounds, they should grow up, remove their heads from their asses and try to get the win and force the judges to send one of the front-runners home. While I would much rather see Evangelass or Fleasa get the boot, that would be some good drama to see the increasingly cocky front-runners get some comeuppance. But we all know it ain’t gonna happen.
Everyone heads to Whole Foods with only 8 hours before dinner service. Unlike most EC’s, they don’t have a partially-stocked kitchen to fall back on and therefore they have to buy everything they think they’ll need for their restaurant. Team Buddha struggles to find the right ingredients for their Asian menu, but seem satisfied overall and manage to get their total bill within $2 of their $1,500 limit. Speeding over to Pier 1, Evangelass and Yoda take charge for their respective teams of the front-of-the-house (FOH) decor. Evangelass appears to focus on plants and Buddhas (who knew Pier 1 sold so many fucking Buddhas? Do they also have an extensive Jesus selection?), whereas Yoda’s looking for warm and inviting touches. They really should rethink their name because I don’t think “fine dining” and “warm and inviting” go with “warehouse.”
“Kirstie Alley, did you leave your career back here?”
With 5 hours left before service, the two teams arrive back at the warehouse. As Evangelass and Yoda set up in the FOH, executive chefs Dale and Antonia work with their remaining teammate to organize the kitchen and begin prepping the food. I’m really surprised they made Antonia EC and stuck Yoda’s nervous, panicked ass out front. I can just see her fainting dead away from nerves the second it gets busy out there. But I guess there’s no easy way to say, “Hey Antonia, thanks for picking us to be on your team, but you’re the weakest link so why don’t you go play FOH? Thanks!”
Here are the menus for the two restaurants, with the course number in parenthesis:
(1) Beet & goat cheese salad
(1) Linguini with clams
(2) Trout with cauliflower
(2) Lamb leg & loin
(3) Gorgonzola cheesecake
(3) Banana scallops (that Richard made for the dessert QF)
(1) Shrimp laksa (spicy noodle soup)
(1) Pork & pickled plum pot stickers
(2) Butterscotch miso scallops (umm, interesting…)
(2) Braised short ribs
(3) Halo-halo (that Dale made for the dessert QF)
(3) Mango sticky rice (also interesting…)
With 4 hours left, Antonia’s bitching to us again about how Dale only cooks Asian food. Obsessed much? Snidely referring to their restaurant as a Chinese restaurant, she notes the team’s overall experience with Asian cuisine but doesn’t seem that concerned. What she should be worried about is that teammate Yoda is moving in on Nikki’s monopoly of homemade pasta — and it’s not looking so good thus far. They didn’t think to buy backup pasta at the store, and it sounds like it’s too late to change the menu, so if Yoda bones this, they’re fucked. Across the kitchen, Evangelass takes a sweaty break from setting up FOH to make the braised short ribs, determined I’m sure to yet again have at least 1 dish on the menu he can take credit for if they lose. Don’t think for a second that it’s because he’s a team player.
Well this would normally be the time Daddy Tom makes an appearance, but with him out of commission today, he had to send in a replacement — Anthony Bourdain, clad in DT’s signature purple and here to bring his “warmer, sunnier disposition” to the table. All right, if we had to give up DT for a week, Bourdain is a pretty damn good replacement. Like DT, he has that older man je ne sais quoi, and he’s an asshole to boot. AKA LoLo’s dream hunk. No wonder why I’m single. And does it amuse anyone else that Scar doesn’t get a promotion, but rather they bring someone else in entirely? The chefs eye him with varying degrees of respect and terror, as Evangelass notes that Bourdain probably knows Asian cuisine better than DT, which may be bad news for Dale and Team Buddha. As if they weren’t already trying to scale Everest here.
“Why do I have the bad feeling you guys are going to make haggis sound appetizing by comparison?”
Bourdain stops by Team Warehouse first. After asking them how they divvied up the responsibilities, he gives Richard crap about his smoke-gun science trick shit (which come to think of it, he hasn’t pulled in a few weeks now). Richard laughs it off, and Bourdain seems impressed with their plans and progress thus far. Turning to Team Buddha, he makes sure they’re all comfortable with the Asian cuisine, and that Dale didn’t bitch slap them all into submission. They reassure him that it was a group decision, and Bourdain comments that he’s really looking forward to the shrimp laksa, which scares the hell out of Fleasa, who’s in charge of that. I don’t think he’ll be loving laksa anymore after today.
Bourdain leaves the kitchen to give us his thoughts — he thinks Team Warehouse is deliberately creating modest expectations so it’ll be easy to blow those expectations out of the water. He also thinks their menu is rather safe. As for Team Buddha, his opinion is they will either crush the other team if their menu succeeds, or they will fall flat on their asses faster than Bourdain could eat a pig intestine. In other words, their menu is much riskier and more interesting, but at the same time will be harder to pull off. I guess when you already know you’re the underdog, you gotta take some risks.
Coming back in, Bourdain announces that each team will get an extra set of hands — as he trots out Beasty, Nikki, Mutton and Twitch. Now while I think Twitch is the most talented of those four, Antonia’s practically clapping her hands in delight at the sight of Nikki, since she can help Team Warehouse save that pasta Yoda’s been mangling (ignoring, of course, the fact that Nikki got sent home partially for BAD PASTA). Bourdain gives Team Buddha the first pick since Antonia already got to self-assemble Team Warehouse, and they quickly snatch up Beasty. I’m surprised Evangelass didn’t fight for the opportunity to reunite with his Douche Twin, but maybe he had Dale’s little midget fingers wrapped around his nuts so tightly he couldn’t speak. As for Team Warehouse, Antonia immediately picks Nikki. I feel kinda bad for Twitch, who looked slightly crushed Evangelass didn’t pick him. Oh well, he and Mutton can now go back to the loser’s lounge and share a bubble bath.
Nikki should just kill herself.
We now have 3 hours left, and things are starting to go wrong. Dale’s making an avocado puree to go on his halo-halo dessert, and instead of being a light green, he’s got sludge the color of baby diarrhea. He thinks he must have dropped a rotten, brown avocado in (gross), and attempts to salvage the puree by adding in honey and other ingredients. However, this mistake is bringing out the Angry Midget, as his mood goes to shit and he’s now all on edge and making even more mistakes. Fleasa notices and tells us that as much as she’s trying to overcome his poor attitude, it’s going to drag hers down. Down from what? From drunk Amy Winehouse to drunk Mel Gibson levels? Another dish with problems for Team Buddha is their shrimp laksa (uh oh, bring on the wrath of Bourdain), as Dale tells Fleasa it doesn’t have any heat, and Evangelass calls it sour, which is so not what spicy soup should taste like. While Fleasa looks worried, Evangelass tells us that there’s no way the judges can hold him responsible for any of the food. Okay dude, yes you’re in charge of the FOH, but this is still “Top Chef” not “Top Design.” You try to tell the judges that, and Bourdain will rip out YOUR entrails and eat them.
Over on Team Warehouse, Nikki has found another job, this time as a taste-tester. Way to be useful! Next she can hold out towels for them to wipe their hands. As she’s sampling the linguini & clams, she notes that she’s tasting grit over and over — meaning the claims haven’t been properly washed. What is it with Richard and not being able to clean seafood properly? First it was Scalegate, now this? Someone keep that fauxhawk away from the creatures of the sea. As Richard rewashes the clams, Antonia tells us that they’re not each taking credit for a specific dish or two, but rather it’s a collaborative effort where they’ll all share the responsibility. Yeah, we’ll see how long that sentiment lasts in front of the judges.
With 1 hour before service, the waiters arrive for training from Yoda and Evangelass. Yoda’s approach is to encourage them to have fun and be relaxed, since eating and drinking isn’t supposed to be about being stuffy and wearing a suit and tie. Cut immediately to Evangelass — wearing a suit and tie. Of course. He’s set up one table with linens, placement settings, etc, and instructs his waiters to copy the set up on the other tables. This actually is a pretty good idea, although he should have stuck around to supervise it. I mean, he has nothing to do with anything in the kitchen, right? So where the hell else do you gotta be right now?
“Mendelsohn. Evangelos Mendelsohn.”
Okay, Team Buddha is having another culinary disaster as Fleasa notices the rice for the mango sticky rice dessert isn’t sticky. Dale — calmly I might add — suggests Fleasa make a pastry creme and mix it in, which tastes good but makes the entire dessert look like apple sauce mush. You can’t even tell there’s any rice in there. Like the avocado puree, it’s just… baby goo. They’re so fucked.
Time for dinner! The judges are Scar, Bourdain, Ted Allen, and Jose Andres, the chef and host of “Made in Spain”, a PBS show. As the judges receive Team Warehouse’s first course, we hear Ted remark that something — whether the food or decor is unclear — does not look like gastro pub. However, the judges seem impressed with both first course offerings — especially the homemade pasta in the linguini & clam dish that Yoda totally takes 100% credit for! That sneaky bitch, I didn’t think she had it in her! The judges love the taste and presentation of the lamb second course, as well as the fine-dining touch of leaving the skin on the trout dish. Team Warehouse falters a bit with their third course, as Ted and Bourdain note the smear underneath the chocolate ice cream reminds them of the New York City sidewalks. Scar says she was prepared to hate their gorgonzola cheesecake, but surprisingly loves it. As a whole, they declare the third course risky but well done. This not only all sounds hard for Team Buddha to beat, but I would argue it’s the best any team has ever done in the history of Restaurant Wars.
With that, the judges head over to Team Buddha, which looks completely and utterly fucked at this point given the great reception to Team Warehouse and all the problems we’ve seen them have in the kitchen. I think the decor looks pretty nice — albeit a bit tacky with all the cheap Buddhas — but Bourdain and Ted have a field day determining whether it reminds them more of the back seat of Prince’s van (you know they’ve both been there) or an Aerosmith concert (where neither one will ever step foot). Pouring the drinks, Evangelass fights back the urge to slam the bottle into both of their heads.
I wouldn’t want to look at this upcoming train wreck, either, Buddha.
They send out the first course, and Fleasa tells us that this is the first dish she’s really messed up this whole competition, and she knows she’s going to pay for it. Really? You’ve been in the bottom group FOUR weeks in a row, and you think this is the only time you’ve really messed up? Oh man, those poor judges are going to be projectile vomiting by the end of the night, aren’t they? Well, Bourdain predictably does not like the laksa, but only remarks that it’s too smokey, rather than giving us an acerbic gem. Hopefully that will come at Judges’ Table. However, the judges really seem to enjoy the potstickers. For the second course, Evangelass is hovering in the back, whining about how he thinks the portions should be bigger. Fleasa and Dale tell him to STFU since there’s nothing they can do about that now while Beasty keeps her mouth shut and has an amused look on her face. She’s just biding her time until she can stab Evangelass and avenge her lesbian lover once and for all.
The braised shortribs and butterscotch miso scallops hit the table, and almost everyone hates the scallops as the butterscotch flavor completely overwhelms them. As one random diner says “I don’t even know what I’m eating.” Yeah, it just sounds disgusting to me and I love both butterscotch and scallops separately. Like Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer, these two just don’t belong together. Now for the third course, both of which had trouble in the kitchen. As they’re trying to get the dishes out, Dale’s screaming for the waiters to hurry, as Fleasa’s screaming at Dale to stop screaming. LOL. He complains to us how while he may be a pissy little bitch, she’s a bigger, pissier little bitch, so nah nah nah nah boo boo. Seriously, if Fleasa wasn’t a lesbian, I would say these two are a match made in bitter, dysfunctional heaven. Evangelass is back there again as well, and blatantly lies that everything is going great! Not helping, pal. He then darts away when he sees Beasty fingering a cleaver. Out in the FOH, the judges give mixed reviews to the halo-halo (with guest judge Jose loving it), and everyone despises the not-sticky not-rice dessert. Scar calls it a monstrosity and Bourdain compares it to baby vomit with wood chips. And there’s the Bourdain I love!
With dinner service over, the patrons fill out comment cards the judges will review prior to making their decisions (even though I don’t see how 35 cards reading “Team Buddha SUX” will be very helpful), and the chefs come out of the kitchen to mingle and kiss some ass.
Dear Lord, Richard, you team clearly won. Get your headbanded ass back in the kitchen before you screw that up!
Back at the Top Chef kitchen, Scar calls in Team Warehouse as the winners. Bourdain compliments them all, and then begins sorting out the responsibilities. Yoda takes credit again for the pasta as well as the gorgonzola cheesecake, and Richard claims the beet salad as his own. Evidently we’re in for a treat with Team Buddha’s appearance before the judges, because guest judge Jose quickly announces Yoda as the winner (receiving her third — fourth if you count when Richard split the Wedding Wars prize with her — EC win and a trip for 2 to Barcelona, which is so kickass), and the judges shoo them the hell out of there in under 3 minutes.
Team Buddha drags their sorry asses in, with Fleasa immediately assuming her standard Judges’ Table stance. Fleasa, I seriously hope you read some of these blogs/recaps out there and learn a little something about body language at least. Bourdain starts with asking about the purple decor of the FOH, asking Evangelass who picked out the tablecloths and napkins. He quickly claims it was a group decision as Fleasa looks on in shocked surprise and Dale laughs bitterly. Evangelass is such a childish, shady SOB. It’s surprising I hate him, because that description makes him sound like my kind of guy. However it doesn’t seem that Bourdain necessarily hated their decor — he mostly felt it was misrepresentative of the food that came out of that kitchen. Which brings him to the butterscotch scallops. Dale mans up and immediately takes responsibility, admitting that he thought they were a little sweet. Bourdain tells him that butterscotch and scallops have no business being together, and Jose agrees, saying the entire dish was a mess.
“A little sweet? There was so much sugar in that, my poop’s going to come out crystallized.”
The judges them switch their attention to the beginning of the meal and Fleasa’s shrimp laksa. Everyone begins complaining about the overwhelming smokey scent/taste, as Dale literally points at Fleasa (dude, so unnecessary) and she admits it was her dish. Ted wants to know where Dale was when Fleasa was scenting the laksa with Parfume de Great Chicago Fire, and Dale explains he doesn’t even know what laksa tastes like, so he left that up to his teammates — an answer that Bourdain does not like at all since Dale was the executive chef. Jose then calls the shortribs the highlight of the menu, which leads to a mini-squabble as Fleasa points to Evangelass as being responsible while Dale vocally takes credit. It finally gets sorted out to it was Evangelass’s recipe and vision, and Dale executed it. Then Evangelass put it on the plate, then Dale wiped the plate, then Evangelass handed it to the waiter, and then Dale threw on some parsley garnish. Got that?
Next, Scar wants to talk about the not-sticky not-rice dessert. Fleasa claims Dale picked out the rice at Whole Foods, which prompts Dale to freak out and argue that it’s 100% not true. I went back and checked, and sure enough you can see Dale suggesting they use a particular kind of rice for that dish. Tsk tsk. Although I don’t think he should be held responsible for that dish just because he suggested a rice while everyone else stood there, staring blankly. Sick of babysitting, Bourdain tells them both to STFU while Jose’s combover states the obvious by observing there’s a lack of teamwork here. Oh those Europeans, they’re so quick on the uptake. This comment prompts another round of arguing, of course. Dale bitches to the judges about Fleasa’s lousy attitude, and tells them that their team was only as strong as its weakest link. Fleasa retaliates with another cliche by saying their team was only as strong as its leader. Evangelass, never one to be left out, shouts “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” which makes sense to no one. Scratching their heads in confusion, Scar shoos them out for judge deliberations.
“And a stitch in time saves nine. What the fuck is your point?”
Once alone, the judges note the smart way Evangelass played this round, by keeping his ass out of the fire and subtly shifting all the blame onto his teammates. I’m a little surprised he doesn’t catch any heat though for having almost nothing to do with the food. Yoda, for instance, managed to turn out two great dishes despite running the FOH as well as he did (if not better). Turning to Dale, they think the scallop dish was bad enough to merit a booting right there, but then counter it with pointing out that Fleasa messed up both the laksa and the sticky rice — two dishes she has experience with. Bourdain notes Fleasa’s horrible body language, and thinks that shows she absolutely refuses to accept criticism from the judges. Which is definitely true. It also shows she’s a fucking bitch. I really hope she’s finally going this week — with Dale’s successful track record she should be despite his big mistakes and being the executive chef.
In the back room, Fleasa’s muttering to Evangelass how Dale was backstabbing everyone in front of the judges (like you did last week to Twitch, you mean?), and Dale overhears, angrily insisting he was trying to keep his dickishness in check in the kitchen for this EC. That is true — he didn’t punch anything or grab his crotch this week.
Scar calls the losers back out for results. Bourdain criticizes Dale for poor leadership and nasty scallops and Fleasa for the laksa and the sticky rice. So who’s gonna pack their knives and get the fuck out? It’s… DALE?? Okay my jaw literally just dropped open. I’m shocked. How the hell can Fleasa now be in the bottom group FIVE weeks in a row and not be eliminated?? When they walk in the back room to announce the results, Team Warehouse is understandably shocked, and Dale tells us that people usually either love him or hate him, but that’s who he is and he knows he’s a good chef. Which, as much as you readers may fall into the hate camp, he definitely was. A million times better than Fleasa which is why this pisses me off.
Oh so THAT’S why he wears the sweatband… it doubles as a hankie. Aww!
So what did you think? Did you ever think Team Buddha had a chance, or did you assume they were doomed from the team selection? Did Dale deserve to go home, or should Fleasa have gotten the boot? Did you think it was okay Evangelass was able to completely wash his hands of any cooking/chef like responsibilities and be a glorified waiter for the night? And what’s your pick for the final four?