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Grey Horses, Sharp Knives, and Egos Aplenty on "Top Chef"

A few things off the top of my head about last night's episode of Top Chef ("Latin Lunch"): I was actually pretty impressed with the chefs during the Quickfire Challenge and not so much during the elimination challenge, Howie and Joey seem to have buried the hatchet, and I'm not quite sure who drilled that arrogance into Hung's skill but it appears to be completely unwarranted.

The Quickfire Challenge was to take a frozen pie crust and transform it into something delicious. That's it. No other rules or guidelines; it was up to the chefs to determine whether they were going to make something sweet or savory. I loved that Dale was immediately irritated by the challenge, coming as it did on the heels of last week's pastry disaster; these are not trained pastry chefs by any stretch of the imagination, so I was rather impressed with what some of them managed to pull off with just frozen pie crust. Joey really did step it up in this challenge, creating a trio of tarts (berry cream with balsamic vinegar, roasted mango puree with rum, and warm apple compote), and walking away with the much coveted immunity. Brian went a little overboard, with his four-course tart menu, but it was a bold move and unlike anything anyone else presented. Tre's tarte tatin was absolutely elegant and stunning and looked completely delicious; sometimes the simplest idea is the best one and he drew on his knowledge of the recipe from the restaurant and updated it with a little fennel to add an innovative twist.

I have to say that I was blown away with how disgusting and unappetizing Hung's chocolate banana cream pie was; it was far too liquidy and simply oozing off of the crust into what looked like something that came out of my puppy. The fact that he was surprised that he was singled out for critique further made me question his sanity. Who is he kidding? You need to stand by your dish but Hung is just so arrogant and condescending that it makes me wonder if he actually thought it was good, despite the unset mousse. He seriously needs a wake up call and to stop cooking in a beige and/or brown palette.

Last night's Elimination Challenge was interesting because it tested the contestant's use of timing when preparing a dish for a large quantity of cast and crew of a Telemundo telenovela (gee, vertical integration on a Bravo show, how novel); originally told by Padma--sporting a bizarre Pocohontas look--that they would have three hours to prepare their dishes, the timing was cut in half, meaning that many had to revise their plans to accommodate the shorter cooking time.

I was the most worried about Howie, who has again and again proved that he cannot work on a time schedule (if I hear one more time about how he can take however long he wants to cook when he's in his restaurant, I'll scream), especially given that he was cooking a braised pork shoulder, which requires long cooking time. I was impressed with how he held together and didn't sacrifice his original vision, completing a polished dish--braised pork shoulder with yuca and sour orange mojo--that was true to the brief. It looked composed and delicious. I was also really impressed with Joey's dish (the second time tonight no less!). Despite having immunity, he really stepped up this week and created a bean stew with lobster, shrimp, chicken, and chorizo that looked absolutely stunning; it proved that using fresh ingredients in an innovative and unexpected way is the key to winning this thing. It wasn't over the top or elaborate, but had great flavor profiles. Good on you, Joey. Naturally, it came down to these two for the top spot and I was happy to see Howie win the elimination challenge but give his prize--a fantastic bottle of wine from Argentina--to new compere Joey. Aw, sweet.

Kudos to Sara M. for her chiles rellenos, with homemade queso fresco; way to use your cheesemaking skills, Sara!

As for the bottom four in this challenge, I have to say that I was let down by each and every one of these dishes. Casey's bacon-wrapped chicken with rice and molasses-coffee glaze was an inedible mess: dry, overcooked chicken, scorched rice, and cough syrup-tasting sauce. Poorly done on all fronts. I loved Lia but there wasn't really anything Latin about her dish, smoked rainbow trout with polenta cake; yes, she meant to grill the polenta but it was a bland, mushy dish that didn't wow anyone (her dish was the one most often left uneaten on people's plates). I still don't really understand Sara N.'s shrimp and scallop avocado ceviche with charred corn and picked radish; it looked more like guacamole to me and overwhelmed the ceviche with avocado. Plus, it seemed like an amuse bouche rather than an entree.

Finally, there was Hung's arroz con Pollo, which just didn't do anything for anyone. Bland and unoriginal, despite his protestations to the contrary. I'm glad that Tom called Hung out for his inappropriate knife-wielding during the cooking portion of the Elimination Challenge. Hung was running around like a headless chicken while swinging an enormous chef's knife and came thisclose to cutting Casey. Hung has got to take a step back and try and control himself. He has no sense of anyone else around him and, let's be honest, no sense of his own skills. Arrogance can only get you so far and there's something still to be said about humility. But, alas...

Sadly, it was only fitting that Lia was the one who got cut this week. I really did like her and she brought a sense of calm to the proceedings but she did fail to meet the brief and this wasn't her first time at the bottom in the last few weeks.

On the next Top Chef ("Watch What Happens"), it's a reunion as Bravo maven Andy Cohen sits down with past and present contestants of Top Chef in an attempt to stretch out this season.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Brother 8 (CBS); My Name is Earl/30 Rock (NBC); Smallville (CW); Ugly Betty (ABC); Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?/Don't Forget the Lyrics (FOX)

9 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); The Office/Scrubs; Supernatural (CW); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX)

10 pm: Shark (CBS); Victoria Beckham: Coming to America (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America.

Missing a softer side of Chef Ramsay? Catch the third season of the original UK Kitchen Nightmares before FOX launches an American-scented one this fall. On tonight's installment ("The Fenwick Arms"), Gordon heads to rural Lancashire, where he attempts to save a completely mismanaged pub from ruin by forcing them to get back to the basics. Will he succeed? Find out tonight.

8:30 pm: 30 Rock.

It's Televisionary's favorite new comedy from last season and one of my favorite episodes tonight. On tonight's repeat installment ("The Baby Show"), Liz is forced to think about both her marital and maternal future while Jack has to deal with Mommy issues of his own.

9 pm: The Office.

On tonight's repeat episode ("Ben Franklin"), Michael decides to throw Bob Vance a bachelor party as the women of Dunder Mifflin organize a bridal shower for Phyllis, but ends up hiring a stripper (and a Benjamin Franklin impersonator) as entertainment. Meanwhile, Karen confronts Pam about her feelings for Jim.


Anonymous said…
After last season's childish antics (trying to shave Marcel's head) it's been refreshing to see a group of chefs be mature and supportive of each other. Even Howie and Joey who appear to be new BFFs. (Of course, judging from the preview of next week, that might not last!) And I was very impressed with not only by their newfound respect for one another but also by their excellent looking dishes this week. Way to go, guys!
Anonymous said…
Andy Cohen is the biggest tool in the business. I'm sure to skip next week.
Anonymous said…
I was sad to see Lia go - I really liked her. It's tough to go from winner to packing knives from one week to the next. I really thought Sara should have gone - she didn't really complete the brief either - she made a dip, and from what they said - not a particularly good dip.

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