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Mikey Doesn't Like It: The Mayo-Eating Chef is Cut on "Top Chef"

Wow. Last night's episode of Top Chef ("Unhappy Customers") was pure chaos, pretty much start to finish. And nothing was messier than the contestants themselves, many of whom continue to show their ugly sides down that the competition has been whittled down to a mere six contestants (five now after last night's show).

There's the running vendetta between Ilan and Marcel, neither of whom can seem to let go of this petty feud that's been going at a full boil since the season's opening minutes, when Marcel asked to compare knives with Ilan. Both are being extremely petty, but it's brought out a weak character in Ilan especially, who seems completely unwilling to drop his fixation with putting Marcel in his place (i.e., the foam) and concentrate instead on his own food, his own dishes, and his own place in the competition. I like Ilan and I think he's a talented chef, but the past few episodes haven't exactly portrayed him in a positive light.

That said, Marcel, I understand why you'd withdraw from the group and take refuge on the roof of the lofts building. But to use your time to write what must be the whitest rap ever created? That just showed you to be just as juvenile as Ilan. Effing soignee? I don't think so.

And Cliff once again showed himself to be a first class Type A bully in the kitchen. I think Cliff has a lot of potential, but time and time again he ends up not being able to play well with others on a team and continually tries to take control of the situation, even when he's meant to be in the front of the house. He did not come off well at all last night.

The Quickfire Challenge was, once again, an exercise in blatant product shilling as contestants had to devise a "snack" using Kraft mayonnaise, barbeque sauce, or Italian salad dressing for guest judge Mike Yakura (he of the rather aerodynamic and terrifying hairstyle) of San Francisco's Le Colonial restaurant. I thought that some of the guests understood the challenge: essentially to create a small taste of something around the size of an amuse bouche that was in no way an entree-sized dish. A tough challenge, especially as one had to consider how to work in one of those three tough ingredients.

Two winners were awarded, rather than one, and I was so terrified by Mike Yakura that it was difficult to pay attention to what everyone had done. Marcel's dish--a lamb kebab with endive, tomatoes, and a curried mayonnaise--fit the brief perfectly and I have to congratulate him for not cluttering the plate with unnecessary ingredients and for staying far, far away from any foam. Sam too turned in an outstanding dish of a Southern po'boy with tempura shrimp, pickled peaches, and BBQ aioli. (He was the only one too to manage to use all three of the ingredients and turned in a subtle dish that perfectly melded the sweet and the salty together.)

Honorable mention goes to Cliff for his steak tartare with mayonnaise, plums, and cornichons, served aside toast points and Elia for her fig raisin toast with yogurt, honey, almonds, grapes, and barbeque sauce; that sauce added a wonderful smoky sweetness to the almonds.

Ilan, I fear, was far too concentrated on poking fun at Marcel (who from the looks of next week's previews seems to be in a little bit of jeopardy, or his hair is, at any rate) than on wowing the judging, turning out a smoked salmon napoleon with Italian dressing. Meh. Certainly nothing inspired or creative in terms of the "snack" distinction here. Ilan admitted that he hoped to create an Italian dressing foam (an idea which made Padma crack up) but honestly, man, why did you spend all that time trying to poke fun at Marcel (especially when you only had 20 minutes) rather than whip up something ingenious? Especially, when you then failed to create the hilarious foam that would have put Wolf Boy in his place? Color me disappointed.

I fully expected either Sam or Marcel to win the challenge (who knew it would be both?), but Mikey failed miserably on this front, creating a brie and crab quesadilla topped with chipotle and "mayonnaise salad." Dude, first of all, that quesadilla was HUGE and could hardly qualify as a "snack," at least not in the guidelines of this competition. Second, I thought that the combination of cheese, shellfish, and mayo was one of the most nauseating things I'd ever heard, even coming from someone who "eats mayo right out of the can." (Er, can?) Third, plopping a large dollop of mayo on top of something does not count as "mayonnaise salad." Poor, poor Mikey. You were doing so well last week too and even won both challenges. You've sunk way down this week.

Having won the Quickfire Challenge, Marcel and Sam were tasked with selecting teams for the Elimination Challenge, which was their toughest task to date: each would head up a team to oversee the creation and execution of a full-service concept restaurant inside a raw space (that would itself one day become a concept restaurant called uWink). Marcel chose Elia and Cliff; Sam picked Ilan and Mike. They had less than a day to create a concept, devise a menu, purchase settings, and food, and set up their restaurant; they'd have the help of a designer to "finish" the raw space (or at least somewhat disguise it).

Marcel's group came up with Medi, a Mediterrean-style concept restaurant, but after meeting with their designer, decided in the end to throw everything out the window and focus instead on a concept for a high end diner called MEC (aw, their initials), based around an amazing burger than Elia had made for the chefs with prosciutto and truffle oil. Diner fare is hard, especially in an upscale setting, and I wasn't totally convinced that they would be able to pull it off. They created a menu consisting of an amuse bouche of barbeque coffee chicken wings, tempura vegetable stack with mozzarella, Elia's burger, and an Oreo lemon pie for dessert.

Sam's team on the other hand decided to open Italian concept restaurant called Lalalina (after their three girlfriends) and created a menu with some Tuscan influences, including a starter of a meatball perched atop of a parsley pesto on a toast point, spaghetti with parsley walnut pesto and mushrooms, roasted pork with sofrito sauce and polenta, and a dessert of watermelon "gnocchi" with a blue cheese cream sauce. (Um, right.)

Sam's team immediately made a few missteps: deciding that their budget couldn't accommodate serving wines (a HUGE miscalculation for an Italian restaurant); not purchasing (or even thinking to purchase) bread plates or little bowls for the olive pits (they offered complimentary olives), leaving diners to place their bread and pit out their olive pits directly onto the tablecloth (and Padma was none too pleased to discover that a pit from a previous diner was still sitting at their table); and having a menu (particularly dessert) that wasn't really awe-inspiring. The dessert, in fact, was said to be inedible and sounded particularly repulsive. (Watermelon and feta for a salad? Definitely, but watermelon and a cheesy sauce for dessert? Ick.) Mike didn't help matters by leaving the setting store with nearly $100 remaining from their $500 budget, claiming that he stuck to the list they had made ahead of time. Um, okay, but didn't you maybe think that there were other things you could have used? Why waste nearly a fourth of the allotted funds?

Marcel's team didn't do much better. Cliff volunteered to head up front of the house, even though Elia wanted to do it (and would have been lightyears better than Mr. Sour Puss); his demeanor with the customers was standoffish and rude, and he neglected most of the guests (including--hello!--the judges themselves) for far too long. Marcel should have put his foot down and placed Elia in charge of the customers. (Mistake #1) The food was not good. Marcel, um, "cooked" the chicken wings; I should say that he actually served them nearly RAW, which could, you know, actually KILL people. Come for the food, stay for the salmonella! The vegetable tempura stack, however, was probably the best dish of the night. The "best burger ever" wasn't that at all; it was mediocre and certainly didn't impress the judges. And the Oreo Lemon Pie was pretty meh, but the judges had to give Elia credit for making it, given everything else going on.

So it was hardly a surprise that neither team won the challenge and they all ended up before the judges. But in the end, it was hardly a surprise that Mike was sent home. Despite his stellar performance last week, it really was time for him to leave and he can't compete in the same category as the other chefs still in the competition. He brought nothing to the table this week, didn't seem to cook anything (and had to be babysat by Sam), and made a huge error that contributed to his team's loss.

Ah, well. Five chefs remain, all competing for a spot at the Hawaii-set finale. Who will make it to the end? And which chefs will get the unkindest cuts of all?

Next week on Top Chef: there's a challenge that looks to be "shocking," but what we really want to know is what Cliff and the others do to a sleeping Marcel... a "prank" that someone transforms what the assembled chefs looks like. Gee, do you think they cut off Marcel's bizarro hair? Tune in to find out.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Armed & Famous (CBS); My Name is Earl/The Office (NBC); Smallville (CW); Ugly Betty (ABC); 'Til Death/The War at Home (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); Scrubs/30 Rock (NBC); Smallville (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: Ugly Betty.

It's Televisionary's favorite new show. On tonight's episode ("Sofia's Choice"), Betty discovers that Sofia's intentions might not be completely altruistic; Wilhelmina unnerves the staff with her suddenly softer side; Ignacio has problems bonding with his new immigration co-worker.

8 pm: My Name is Earl.

On tonight's episode ("Buried Treasure"), Earl discovers that some treasure he happened to steal... and hid is no longer where he buried it.

8:30 pm: The Office.

Over on The Office ("Traveling Salesmen"), Michael pairs up his sales team and forces them to hit the road for sales calls, while Dwight helps Angela cover up a potential scandal and Karen gets some surprising news. I'm counting down the hours!

9 pm: Scrubs.

Finally! Scrubs is back on NBC's schedule, where it belongs. On tonight's episode ("My Friend With Money"), J.D. enjoys the luxuries that Elliot's new private practice buys, but becomes rather, er, insanely jealous when she won't let him watch the 60-inch plasma-screen.

9:30 pm: 30 Rock.

I can't get this show off of my mind grapes. On tonight's episode ("The Rural Juror"), Jenna awaits the release of her tongue-twister titled independent film The Rural Juror, while Tracy attempts to create his own celebrity product to endorse.


Anonymous said…
The product placement was out of control last night. It was making me a little crazy. It went beyond the Kraft. There was something else later in the show that really made me cringe.

I can't believe I find myself rooting for Elia. And I still like Sam, but I am done w/Cliff and Ilan.
I'd actually like to see it come down to a battle between Sam and Elia. I think they are the two most talented chefs in the kitchen. I like Ilan too but his chidish antics regarding Marcel are getting old. And, from the looks of next week's promo, things are only going to get worse.
BooM said…
I'm really glad I didn't come here before watching it.

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