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Shave and a Haircut: Cliff Sent Packing on "Top Chef"

Call it a hunch, but I had a feeling that was going to happen. Reality series are extremely strict about the "no touching" rule and as soon as I saw the (protracted) footage of Cliff manhandling Marcel, I knew it was over for Cliff. If there's one thing reality producers don't like, it's lawsuits and Cliff clearly violated the terms of his contract with Top Chef.

It's sad that he made it this far and threw it all away over an inanely juvenile prank to shave Marcel's head. Despite how I might feel about Marcel (and clearly the others, with the exception of Elia, feel the same way), I can't imagine being put into his position. At least Cliff had the sense to apologize in the end for the attack and the severity of the (ouch) rug-burn.

I think it would have been all the more upsetting and foolhardy had I felt as if Cliff had a shot at making it to the finale in Hawaii. But after seeing his performance last night during the Elimination Challenge, I already felt as though his fate was sealed even before his little impromptu sneak attack on Monsieur Marcel.

But first, the Quickfire Challenge, which tasked the chefs with creating either a sweet or savory dish using one of two flavors of Nestle's new artisanal chocolate line within a 90-minute timeframe. The guest judge this week is none other than famed chef and restaurateur Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, an Olympian god among chefs.

The results brought some unexpected (and predictable) results: Elia created a dish of poached chicken topped with a chili-chocolate sauce and caramelized pecans... and a dessert as well: cremeaux mousse of ginger and chocolate with strawberry and mint on a crumble. Eric Ripert did not like her take on mole, which was far too chocolaty and overpowering, especially when presented with poached chicken, which is practically ethereal, it's so light. (Sadly, if Elia had JUST done her dessert, she would have won this challenge hands-down.)

While Ilan clearly horrified Eric Ripert with his chicken liver chocolate ganache with fried ginger and sherry sauce (a dish that Ripert said could not ever be served in a restaurant), Cliff's dish was a tasty study in contrast: braised chicken with piquillo pepper, potatoes, and rosemary and chocolate sauce. Marcel created an inspired dish of potato cannellonis filled with coffee whip cream and chocolate mousse with vanilla powder that also seemed to impress Ripert (even if his girlish giggling upon meeting him did not).

Meanwhile, Sam offered shrimp and banana with chocolate-chipotle, black bean, and cilantro pesto sauces, easily one of the most ambitious dishes there... and it was hardly surprising then that Eric Ripert named him the winner, earning him first right of selection in the next challenge.

During the Elimination Challenge, the chefs would each have to create one dish each during a romantic five-course dinner in Santa Barbara for 30 diners and pair their dishes with wine. Probably one of the toughest challenges yet (though I still think that opening a restaurant in 24 hours was a more Herculean task), as it required not only creating a romantic dish for 30, but also working within the confines of what the other chefs were doing as well. As Sam won the Quickfire Challenge, he won the right to select the course of his choosing, along with the protein he desired; the other chefs would not be able to use the same proteins as a result.

Wisely, Sam went for the first course and created a beautiful dish of seared scallops with lobster, plum sauce, beets, and Asian greens. The scallop was cooked perfectly and Sam completely fulfilled the brief: it was gorgeous, lush, romantic, and memorable and all of the elements fused together into a stunning dish that the diners clearly were over the moon for.

Next, Ilan followed with fideos (a toasted pasta) with clams and saffron. I wasn't quite sure how this would go over, especially after one seafood dish, but Ilan clearly redeemed himself after the disaster of the Quickfire Challenge: the saffron was completely balanced and his dish was deliciously rich while not overfilling. (Hell, even Padma wanted more.)

For the third course, Marcel served Alaskan King troll-caught Salmon with beets, celeriac, and an herb salad. I'm a huge fan of celeriac (it's never used all that much here in the States) but I'm glad that some of the diners called Marcel out for using beets again, especially after he knew that Sam was also using beets in his dish. Not cool. Eric Ripert and the other judges noted that Marcel's salmon was in dire need of some acidity, as Marcel decided not to go with lemon juice or anything to "freshen" the fish a bit. Hmmm. Plus, I thought that the little potato hearts perched atop the salmon was more than a little twee.

Cliff served a dish of seared grass-fed sirloin with lentil puree. garlic confit, pearl onions, and plum sauce. I don't think that there was anything incredibly romantic or inspired about this course and I think that he failed completely to meet the brief that the judges set out for them. Eric Ripert in particular was put off by the lentil puree (why serve lentils if you are going to obliterate them?), while Padma was repelled by the rareness of the beef. (Personally, I'd have to agree as I like everything cooked medium rather than blood-rare.) Cliff seems to want to skate by rather than take a calculated risk, not a good sign when there are so few chefs left in the Top Chef kitchen.

Finally, Elia served a version of her "The Kiss" dessert from the Quickfire Challenge: chocolate mousse with a chocolate heart, served on a pastry heart. Except for the fact that she made one crucial error with that chocolate heart and was unable to cut the hearts off of the sheets. Ultimately, a distraught Elia decided to break up all of the pieces and use it as a garnish. I agree that the idea of the chocolate heart was overkill, but then again, I don't think she should have been as specific as she was on the menu. As it was, Tom called her out for failing to deliver, though if she would have been sent home because of the absence of a chocolate heart, I would have cried foul.

All in all, I thought that the chefs did an incredible job at preparing a five course dinner that the guests of the restaurant really seemed to enjoy... as did the judges themselves, who couldn't help but remark upon how well the chefs fulfilled the task and created a memorable meal.

If only they hadn't destroyed that goodwill (and embarrassed themselves in front of Eric Ripert and the home audience) by taking a drunken prank way too far. I think all of them were stunned by what transpired and were a little too far gone to put a stop to the shenanigans once they realize what was actually happening. Still, it casts a little bit of a pallor over the proceedings. That said, I did think that Elia looked fantastic with her shaved head (though I loved her luscious locks and can't imagine what possessed her to shave them off) and that Ilan also gained an edgy, provocative new look with his close shave. Glad that Sam wisely didn't follow suit and remained outside the fray. It definitely seemed to resonate with the judges that he is definitely a leader there and not a follower.

More embarrassing, however, was the paltry attempt at forced drama when Padma seemed to indicate that Marcel and Elia would be packing their knives... for about 30 seconds. Lame.

Next week on Top Chef, it's Part One of the two-part season finale as the final four chefs (Sam, Ilan, Elia, and Marcel) pack their knives and head to Hawaii, where all sort of misfortune occurs for one chef, two chefs are cut from the competition, and one edges closer to being crowned the winner of Top Chef 2.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (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); 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: Ugly Betty.

It's Televisionary's favorite new show. On tonight's episode ("In or Out"), Betty tries to get Daniel back to work after his betrayal (on live TV) last week by Sophia... by setting him up with a supermodel. Meanwhile, Wilhelmina's plans come to fruition with Daniel (temporarily) out of the picture as she makes a grab for power and decides the fate of several Mode staffers.

8 pm: My Name is Earl.

On tonight's episode ("Kept a Guy Locked in a Truck"), newly married couple Randy and Catalina (oh, yeah, remember that?) look for an apartment together to start their new life of, er, platonic wedded bliss, while Earl learns that a man whom he once locked in a truck has died.

8:30 pm: The Office.

Over on The Office ("The Return"), Dunder Mifflin's prodigal employee Oscar finally returns, while Andy tries to get closer to Michael, now that Dwight is gone, and Jim convinces Pam and Karen to stage a prank on a new target. Gee, wonder who that could be? Cough, Andy Bernard, cough.

9 pm: Scrubs.

Finally! Scrubs is back on NBC's schedule, where it belongs. On tonight's episode ("My Musical"), the cast of Scrubs does it once more with feeling as the hospital becomes the stage for a full-scale Broadway musical with Patti (guest star Stephanie D'Abruzzo) checks in, complaining of hearing neverending music.

9:30 pm: 30 Rock.

I can't get this show off of my mind grapes. On tonight's episode ("The Head and the Hair"), BFFs Liz and Jenna try to get serious about their romantic lives but strangely find that they've switched their typical roles. I blame Jack Donaghy. Just because.


The head-shaving incident was strange but even stranger was Padma's outfit that she wore during the Quickfire Challenge. The cropped jacket and shirt? Wasn't it Padma who said that this competition was supposed to be about food? Hmm...not sure where her midriff factors into that.
Anonymous said…
Is it wrong that I wanted Cliff to go thru with it and shave Marcel's head? That guy is a douche.

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