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Judges Feast on "Sacrificial Lamb" Frank, Who's Sent Packing on "Top Chef"

I never thought I'd live to see the day where Top Chef contestants Cliff and Sam would wind up in the bottom three.

These two have proven such strong competitors (not to mention fantastic chefs) so far and I shivered with the thought last night that one of these two talents might be going home. Fortunately, the judges must have felt the same way because they miraculously spared Cliff and Sam (who, let's be honest here, did not have good dishes at all last night) and sent home short-tempered Frank instead. Frank, naturally, dubbed himself a "sacrificial lamb" and surprisingly welcomed all of the contestants and judges to his house. While I'm not sure I follow the metaphor he presented (how was he "sacrificed" any differently than any of the other booted contestants?), the sentiment was in the right place. If anyone does show up, think he'll serve lamb?

Last night's episode of Top Chef (can you believe we're seven episodes in already?), "The Raw and the Cooked," didn't feature any of the catty drama of the last few weeks but it was still a dynamic, stressful episode, thanks to some wacky challenges presented as usual with slower-than-molasses delivery by Padma. What exactly was Padma wearing on the beach there? And did she get those extensions from Tyra and the girls over on Top Model?

Forgive me, I digress. The Quickfire Challenge, overseen by guest judge and chef Rafael Lunetta of Jiraffe restaurant (in Santa Monica) took the chefs to the Redondo Beach Farmers Market, where they had 30 minutes to shop and then prepare an entree using fresh ingredients. But, this being Top Chef, there was of course, a catch: there could be no cooking--or even the mere application of heat--to any of the ingredients. Which means raw, people. I was actually quite impressed with some of the dishes but even more surprised by Marcel's win, with his watermelon steak.

While I thought that some of the other dishes seemed to have a lot more to offer (more on that in a sec), Marcel was really the only one to follow the brief and create a full entree out of the ingredients, even if I do think that watermelon steak was a nice way of marketing what was essentially just a hunk of fresh watermelon. Still, it seemed like a beautifully balanced dish with the sweetness of the watermelon and those gorgeous tomatoes, tipped with robust, slightly anise-flavored, basil. (I make a summer salad of Nigella Lawson's using watermelon, feta, black olives, lime, and parsley and nothing beats it on a hot summer day.) Sadly, my admiration for Marcel's dish was immediately evaporated by his "Immunity Dance." Dude, please don't do that anymore.

I was let down by both Mia and Betty's dishes, which lacked any real presentation, a real essential when you're dealing with raw food. It should look absolutely stunning on the plate and there are no excuses not to plate with precision and beauty at this point in the game. I actually have to give Frank credit for this: his halibut dish was beautifully plated. Credit also to Sam whose quick fruit pickle looked absolutely stunning and was a real surprise. (I'd never think of pickling fruit, especially not in 30 minutes time.) And to Elia, who has definitely stepped up after her "breakdown" in the Thanksgiving episode. Her tuna dish was perfectly balanced and gorgeous and impressed Raphael Lunetta as well. Good on you, Elia!

Onto the Elimination Challenge then. Chefs were told that they would be cooking breakfast for a group of athletes. The catch: they would be preparing their dishes not in their kitchen but on-site where the athletes practice. Hmmm, that's hard. My mind immediately raced to Bunsen burners or something similar in a gym someplace, but I never would have thought that the challenge involved cooking on open fire pits on a beach... for TONS of surfers. Touche, Top Chef producers; you got me there.

Before getting there, chefs had the opportunity to shop for ingredients (at what looked like Wild Oats on Montana Avenue) but many of them couldn't quite commit to a dish without knowing what tools and heat methods they'd have at their disposal. Naturally, this being a breakfast challenge, eggs were at the top of everyone's design. In fact, the only chef with a clear indication of what they wanted to do was Frank, who had decided on doing a smoked salmon quiche. Um, what? Whatever happened to the theory that real men don't eat quiche? Putting that aside, is quiche really the first thing that exhausted athletes want right after working out? And, given that the brief specifically said that they would be cooking on-site, what made Frank think that there would be OVENS at their disposal. If anything, I assumed it would be skillet cooking. So it was hilarious to see Frank's face literally hit the sand when he saw the fire pits. Tee hee. I am such an evil person.

Everyone had to make adjustments once they saw what they had gotten themselves into. Most were able to recover, but Sam, Cliff, and Frank (our aforementioned bottom three this week) couldn't quite figure out how to adjust their dishes for this beachside breakfast. Cliff's sweet potato hash was a great idea (I adore sweet potato hash) but he just slopped it on top of eggs in a bowl without any presentation (a rarity, really, for him). Frank decided to go with a smoked salmon scramble, which was completely, almost inedibly, overcooked. (Gail has a thing about overcooked eggs.) He paired it on the plate with a cannoli cream with a waffle cookie; these two elements had nothing whatsoever to do with one another and the dish failed to cohere at all. (Unlike his eggs which, um, cohered TOO much.) And Sam's thought to switch to doing a toad-in-the-hole (another Televisionary favorite) was a good one though the basil in the eggs and onion mixture turned them an unappetizing grey color. Ouch.

On the plus side, there were four dishes that looked and tasted outstanding. Mia had the right idea when she set out to do crab cake Benedict with mango cream; it was perfect beachside fare and the favorite dish of the surfers. Ideal breakfast food. Betty's egg parcels--filled with morels and leeks--looked divine and she properly realized that she needed to treat the eggs as "delicate" little things that needed to be protected on the open flames and managed to perfectly cook them. Looked absolutely stunning and redeemed Betty from the mess she made in the Quickfire Challenge. (Points to her too for altruistically offering Michael, who had forgotten his eggs, some of hers.) Elia's waffle stack sounded AMAZING, with its combination of sweet and salty, thanks to frozen waffles (clever girl!), ham, fried eggs, cheese, and basil. Each bite went from sweet to salty and back again, a real breakfast favorite experience of mine. The overall concept was a gamble, but one that paid off for Elia. Brava.

So it was only natural that Mia, Betty, and Elia should be named the top three this week and it was pretty awesome to see the top three spots filled by women. The only other dish I would single out for praise was Ilan's Torta, which had great presentation (even Gail wasn't bothered by the slightly overcooked eggs here) and taste. Well done, Ilan, though I really wish you wouldn't be quite so petty sometimes; your jealousy of Marcel is only making you look weaker and not stronger by comparison. Lighten up a bit and focus on your dish and not his.

It was finally time to send Frank packing and I couldn't be happier. Despite nearly winning the Quickfire Challenge and receiving some praise from Lunetta, Frank, our "sacrificial lamb" was told to pack his knives and go. He claims that he is leaving the competition a "gentleman" but he seems to forget the fact that it was only last episode where he got into Marcel's face and said he would beat him so badly his own mother wouldn't recognize him. The ravings of a gentleman? Hardly. Still, I'm thrilled to see him go as one can only wring so much drama out of an errant toothbrush and this chef is way, way out of his league.


Next on Top Chef: it's supposedly "party season" (despite it being the dead of summer when the show was filmed) and the remaining contestants have to cater a party, but this being Top Chef tempers flare and the knives are drawn, particularly when Cliff becomes a little too bossy. Uh-oh.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Survivor: Cook Islands (CBS); My Name is Earl/My Name is Earl (NBC); Smallville (CW); Ugly Betty (ABC); 'Til Death/'Til Death (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); Scrubs/30 Rock (NBC); Supernatural (CW); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); The O.C. (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: Shark (CBS); ER (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: My Name is Earl.

Two back-to-back episodes of My Name is Earl tonight! On the first of a two-part episode ("South of the Border, Part Uno"), Earl and Randy set out to rescue Catalina when she's threatened with deportation, thanks to Earl's gambling problem. Then on the second brand-new episode of the night ("South of the Border, Part Dos"), Earl makes friends with a hostage-taker (guest star John Leguizamo) while Randy meets a married couple who attempt to fill a void in their lives with the lovable scamp. Let me know how that goes for you.

9 pm: Scrubs.

Finally! Scrubs is back on NBC's schedule, where it belongs. And on tonight's episode ("My Best Friend's Baby's Baby and My Baby's Baby"), Carla goes into labor while J.D. and Kim are forced to think about their future, along with that of their baby.

9:30 pm: 30 Rock.

On tonight's episode ("Tracy Does Conan"), Jack interferes by bumping Jenna's appearance on Conan by booking Tracy Jordan on the show instead. Oh, Jack. You really should't have done that.

10 pm: Afterlife on BBC America.

It's the second episode of the supernatural thriller Afterlife, starring Leslie Sharp and Andrew Lincoln, on BBC America. On tonight's episode, when an eight-year-old girl vanishes, her parents make a desperate plea to the public for help, leading Alison to use her psychic abilities to help the police with their search.


Anonymous said…
What? Gail doesn't like overcooked eggs? I hadn't heard. ;)

While watching the show last night, my friends and I tried to figure out what traumatic epsiode from her childhood involved overcooked eggs. We speculated that maybe her father beat her with them?

I think Frank should have won the quickfire, so it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if he had. I love Sam and Cliff, so I wouldn't have wanted one of them to go, but who? Michael, it seems, keeps squeaking by, which cracks me up. HE cracks me up. I hope he keeps sticking around. I didn't dislike Frank like you did, but I also won't necessarily miss him.

Frank was really dumb for planning such a dish when he was clearly told he may not have all that he needs. Still - there was a MUCH better way to recover than that.

In defense of Cliff, and despite the sand, people said his dish tasted good and really - presentation doesn't strike me as the most important thing in cooking for surfers. I think the surfers appreciated coming out of the water and having a really easy dish to eat.

And Padma continues to drive me crazy.
Anonymous said…
Does Padma realize that she's hosting "Top Chef" and not "Top Model?" Judging by that Malibu Barbie beach outfit...apparently not.

So happy to see Frank gone. None of his dishes looked appetizing to me.

I'm glad to see Elia doing so well. She seems to have a very sophisticated (but not pretentious like Marcel) cooking style. And I can't believe she's only 23 as she seems much more mature. I can definitely see her going on to be a great chef.

I also think that Sam could be a great chef but his snippy attitude at the elimination table last night really disappointed me.

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