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Someone Goes Home for a Box Lunch on "Top Chef"

Was I the only one who hoped that the judges would send all three of them home last night?

On this week's episode of Top Chef ("Serve and Protect"), I really didn't see a hell of a lot of potential in about half of the remaining chefs. In fact, most of them irritated and annoyed the hell out of me to the point that I do wish that Tom and Padma would have just stood up, told them all to shut the hell up and pack their knives and go.

I understand that this is a competition. If you're an optimist who believes in the innate humanity of every individual, here's where you would say that people tend to crack under the pressure and do and say things that they wouldn't normally in ordinary circumstances. If you're a pragmatist, you might say that pressure reveals most people's true character. I'd opt for the latter in this circumstance. Last night, we had not one, not two, but THREE chefs who aggressively spoke back to the judges in an arrogant and insulting manner. I understand that these chefs are all on edge after not sleeping and competing under intense amounts of pressure but (A) they should know that they are on camera, (B) they are not coming off well for their arrogance, and (C) they should have their heads checked for insulting Tom Colicchio when he holds their future in his hands.

I'm talking of course about Lisa, Spike, and Andrew. I did think it was amusing that my three least favorite competitors all ended up in the bottom three for their disastrous lunch boxes this week. It's never good to be sent home on Top Chef but that one of these snide individuals was getting sent home for a lunch box definitely made my day and, like I said before, I do wish that we could have been rid of all of them at this point in the competition.

Let's move our focus for a second to the Quickfire Challenge. I was really excited about this Quickfire--in which the chefs had 45 minutes to devise a modern, sexy take on the humble salad--because it's the deceptive simplicity of these types of tasks that prove just how strong and creative these chefs really are. After all, salad is not an easy thing; it's not just placing lettuce on a plate and a great salad can be just that: creative, memorable, delicious, and satisfying. I would have ordered Antonia's salad--a poached egg and wild mushroom salad with bacon vinaigrette and squash blossoms--in a heartbeat. Top Chef 2 contestant Sam (who returned to guest judge this week's episode) said there is nothing sexier than cutting into a perfectly poached egg and having the yolk spill out onto the plate and he's absolutely right. I thought Dale's dish, a poached chicken salad with nori paste, Napa cabbage, radish, and rice wine vinegar, was definitely an intriguing concept, though I do want to see him broaden out from Asian cuisine to embrace another culinary tradition. And, irritatingly enough, Spike's "sensual beef" salad with skirt steak, pineapple, radish, and cucumber did look good.

Spike managed to win immunity for his salad dish... and then completely blew his advantage in the Elimination Challenge. He continually insults the other contestants for what he perceives to be shifty behavior (calling out Richard for his "the question of the day is... do you like burritos?" line) but then engages in that behavior himself time and time again. This week was no different. Given an extra ten minutes' shopping time and the ability to make the first choice from the meat, greens, vegetable, and whole grain categories (which the other chefs couldn't then use) he made the foolhardy decision to try to sabotage the other chefs by selecting chicken breast, lettuce, tomatoes, and bread. His motive was, yes, purely to screw over the other contestants and make it far more difficult for them to fulfill their brief for the Elimination Challenge: to create a healthy, hearty, and satisfying meal for police officers that utilized one ingredient from each category. A rather hard thing to do when you can't use chicken, bread, tomatoes, or lettuce.

Still, many of the chefs rose to the challenge, creating innovative and delicious fare that was hearty and healthy. I thought Stephanie was smart to do something like soup on such a cold day and her mushroom, leek, and meatball soup with barley was perfectly seasoned and just the right thing to serve to cops looking for filling food... and held up well being microwaved on-site. I'm not sure why she made a soup AND a vegetable puree (that's a lot of liquid-type things to serve together), but she did manage to serve three items, giving these cops a substantial lunch. Once again, Dale went for Asian flavors but he didn't disappoint with his lemongrass-mango bison cabbage wraps, with brown rice, cucumbers, radish, and herb salad. Delicious, healthy (thanks to bison being 50% less fatty than beef), and crunchy to boot. He showed initiative in selecting the bison and crafted a dish that would appeal to the cops (red meat) while still remaining true to the challenge terms. Well done.

I wish Richard would have made a fresh salsa to have with his grilled tuna burrito with Quinoa, beans, avocado, mango, and cucumber salad... but there was the whole pesky notion of not being able to use tomatoes thanks to Spike. I liked the way that Richard tried to reinvent the burrito by including grilled tuna in the mix there rather than going for a fattier, more cholesterol-heavy meat. Antonia served up a curry beef with caramelized cauliflower and brown and jasmine rice, alongside a dessert bowl of fresh berries.

Oh, Lisa. I cannot believe that you were complaining about sabotage in the kitchen to explain away your horrific mess of a dish, allegedly a shrimp stir-fry with edamame, bean sprouts, brown rice, and hot sauce (so hot that it scalded the interior of Colicchio's mouth), served alongside Greek yogurt with berries. The shrimp was undercooked, the vegetables seemed more steamed than stir-fried, and the rice was completely undercooked and burnt at the same time. Did anyone mess with her burner? Who can say, other than the editors who pored through that footage and if they found anything would have definitely inserted the footage into the episode. I don't think that the rice was what doomed her dish at all, just one of several errors in the execution. It was no wonder that she ended up in the bottom three... and then threw Andrew right under the bus.

Oh, Andrew. I don't know what you were thinking, you ADD Tasmanian Devil. Rather than follow the directions (which he lost early on), Andrew created a salmon faux maki roll with parsnip-pinenut "rice" and pickled ginger and wasabi. I am really not sure what he was thinking and, with the way that he kept talking about how much he knew about nutrition (and how much the cameras were focusing on him), I knew he was going home this week. Besides for not creating a filling, hearty dish, he didn't follow the instructions and include a whole grain, instead opting to create a messy fake rice from parsnips, bound with some pinenuts. Healthy? Sure, but not tasty at all. The judges had a real problem with this dish, which seemed more like an appetizer or a side dish than the main event at lunch. And yet he had no problem aggressively berating the judges for their failure to understand his dish or what he was trying to teach the cops about nutrition, cuisine, and expanding beyond their preconceived notions. Or something.

As for Spike, he came into this Elimination Challenge with a huge advantage over the other players. He selected four of the most obvious ingredients for the box lunch and should have focused on creating an amazingly inventive and creative... something using those ingredients. Instead, he created an "open faced chicken salad" (um, that term doesn't even make sense) with grapes and olives, wheat pita, and a pathetic crudite of cucumber sticks, carrots, and grapes. The salad was "served" on top of a soggy slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce on a piece of bread. Was he kidding? This was the best he could do? With the most obvious ingredients at hand and the biggest advantage to date? Seriously? This had got to be one of the most pathetic dishes served on this season of Top Chef and then to have the temerity to insult Tom Colicchio for disagreeing with his decision to combine grapes and olives ("sweet and salty" fired back Spike) is just asinine. He should have been sent home just for that, much less for created an unoriginal, sad dish that insulted the nature of the competition ("it's a box lunch for god's sake") and the judges. I cannot wait for him to get his comeuppance.

It was hardly a surprise that Andrew was the one to get cut this week. After his dismal performance and his generally "crazy" behavior, I am certainly not sad to see the back of him, especially after his scary staring at Lisa (whom I loathe as well) in the green room. There's just something offputting about him and I've never really been a fan of any of his dishes so far. I don't think that Lisa should have thrown him to the wolves in quite the way that she did in order to save her own neck, when the judges were already aware of the fact that Andrew failed to include a whole grain in his dish. I'm hoping that she's the next to go though I'd be perfectly happy to get rid of Spike (and his hipster doofus hats) at this point. I think there's no way in hell that either of them could win this competition at this point, so I am all for cleaning house now.

Next week on Top Chef ("Restaurant Wars"), the chefs are forced to work on the line at a diner during the breakfast rush; Jose Andres stops by to put the chefs to the test; the contestants must open and run competing restaurants in one of the all-time favorite Top Chef elimination challenges.


Asta said…
Was I the only one who hoped that the judges would send all three of them home last night

No, you were not. I understand why Andrew got the boot, but I am sick of Lisa's anger issues and blaming everyone else for her problems. And is she unable to uncross her arms unless she's cooking?
Eric said…
Me too. Although I've enjoyed Spike and Andrew for the most part, I think we only need one of them.

Also, the idea of riceless sushi intrigued me. If he had used Quinoa or some kind of moistened Bulger wheat it would have fit the challenge and may have worked.
greebs said…
Andrew is definitely weird - some social issues going on there, and Lisa doesn't seem like a very good cook. I like Spike more than I used to - that is, I don't loathe him - but you are right, they are the three worst in the competition.

This is coming down to Dale and Richard and Stephanie. Anything else will be ridiculous.
Anonymous said…
I was definitely hoping we'd get a random double elimination last night. And I would have liked that double elim to be Spike and Lisa, but I am happy with Andrew being eliminated. He was my favorite of my least favorites, but I don't like any of them, so I just hope they get picked off one by one.

Spike was a total douche for taking those ingredients and basically not using them.

Lisa was a total douche for throwing Andrew under the bus, when her own dish sucked all around.

Andrew was just a douche.
Brian said…
I also would have been more than happy to see the judges throw out all three of them. Not only are they the three weakest chefs, they also have the worst personalities of the bunch.

To the commenter who said the top three will be Stephanie, Dale, and Richard: I think that Antonia also has a good chance. I would say that the only person I'm 100% sure is going to make it to the final round is Richard. Stephanie creates great dishes, but sometimes she is way off the mark. Dale has anger management problems and constrains himself to Asian dishes too much in my opinion (although Ilan was obsessed with saffron and still managed to win, so...). I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Brian that Antonia is a strong candidate. I will be very happy if she or Richard wins.

And I definitely agree with everyone that the three stooges (Andrew, Spike, and Lisa) should have all gone home last night. I knew it would be Andrew but I am so sick of Spike. Not only is he an idiot for being a brat at judging and talking back to Tom but he is also the biggest hypocrite.

I couldn't believe how he got his panties in a bunch over Richard's "do you like burritos?" marketing strategy while simultaneously arranging his table to look almost empty so that people would think his lunch offering was a hot item.

And for lying to Tom about the ingredients he chose, saying he did not select them to make it difficult for the other chefs. Dude, they have you on camera admitting (several times!) that you were trying to screw everyone over.

Are the hats too tight? Are they cutting off the circulation to his brain? Let's hope so because, otherwise, he has no excuse for his ridiculous behavior.
Giulie Speziani said…
I'm back to watching cable, and finally catching up with Top Chef. Boy, did they cast some rowdy hooligans. The bottom three, and Dale are such complainers. They never take full responsiblities of what is put on the plate. They just think it's "your" problem, not theirs. They need a giant slice of humble pie.
PS- Great to see Sam back. I love season 2 and he was one of my favorite chefs. It doesn't hurt that he's cute too.
Synd-e said…
My favorite moment in the episode was when Spike's pretentious wooden toolbox that he uses to tote his equipment in fell off of the cooler when he was trying to transport it.

And yeah, I would have been happy to see all three bottom chefs get booted as well. Lisa is just one of the sourest, meanest, downright unpleasant cheftestants EVER.

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