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"I Will Throw You Over the Bus": Confusion and Frozen Fusilli on "Top Chef"

Um, did anyone else get a little choked up at the end of last night's way-too-long episode of Top Chef? 'Cause I certainly did.

Last night's installment of Top Chef ("Freezer Burn") presented us with one of those typically annoying product integration challenges, this time in the form of a Bertolli frozen dinner. Oh and the now terrifying visage of fame whore Rocco DiSpirito (now with fake tan and bleached hair!). I'm not sure if the need for constant commercial breaks pushed this episode to an hour and 15 minutes but I think that the producers could have really trimmed this episode down a bit to its regular length.

Usually, I am rarely surprised with who the judges decide to send packing, but I was shocked (shocked!) with the fact that they decided to cut Joey. Especially as I was convinced for the last half of the episode that Sara was going to be the one to pack her knives and go. Her passive-aggressive energy during the challenge and judging table belied a real weakness in a chef; she wanted control without creative input, leadership without vision, and this will ultimately prove to be her undoing.

It wasn't a surprise to find the two most contentious teams (Hung and Joey; Howie and Sara) in the bottom two last night. What did surprise me is that except for Hung and Tre and CJ, all of the chefs completely missed the instructions for the elimination challenge, which had the chefs create and cook their own Bertolli frozen pasta dinner that could be reheated quickly and sold to customers at Fresh Market. So what went wrong? Only one team actually listened to Padma when she said that the teams would have one hour to pack their 15 dinner portions the following day. Seriously, why would the judges give you an hour to take bags out of the freezer and throw them into cardboard boxes?

Only Tre and CJ understood the brief; like the Bertolli frozen dinners, each individual item in the dish had to be frozen separately. Especially the sauce, which instead of being absorbed into the pasta or congealing into a brick, was meant to be frozen and chopped into pieces. Hung understood this IQF principle but failed to put it into action when Joey insisted on putting the sauce atop the pasta. Guess what? For once, Hung was in the right; overnight their pasta absorbed their sauce, turning the starch into a soft, mushy, mess. (And, oh, their dish sucked too.)

Does anyone out there use products like these for dinner? I can't say that I've ever used one but just looking at what's inside the bag should have showed the contestants exactly what to do. It was clear, even to me at home, that things were individually frozen and not a solid brick of foodstuffs, which prove impossible to reheat quickly.

But onto the dishes themselves. I thought it was only fitting that Tre and CJ win this round--and the trip for two to Italy--as their dish was the only one that elevated the humble frozen dinner to new heights, keeping their fine dining aesthetic and palette and reminding people that just because something is simple to cook doesn't mean it shouldn't taste fantastic. Their dish, black truffle and parmesan linguine with Tuscan kale, tomato confit, and grilled chicken, was a brilliant combination of Mediterranean ingredients that remained fresh and juicy (thanks to the IQF process) with intense flavor profiles and an elegance unseen in the other dishes. (Also novel use of the truffle butter, which was a brilliant tactic, despite what Tom Colicchio might say.)

I did also like Casey and Dale's turkey and pork meatball with orecchiette pasta ("it's also called ear pasta!" Casey enthused to guest judge Rocco DiSpirito), spring vegetables, and almond pesto. Kudos to them for not using chicken or shrimp as the one teams did and creating something was unique, tasty, and interesting. Their risk-taking paid off but the dish could have been even better had they used the IQF technique. Also wanted to say that I appreciated the thought behind Brian and Sara N's dish (chicken rigatoni with kalamata olives, peppers, sundried tomatoes, and rosemary) which was packaged with a separate "flavor envelope" that included herbs and parmesan.

Still, it was only fitting that Hung and Joey and Sara M. and Howie end up in the bottom two. It's telling that no one actually purchased Hung and Joey's frozen meal but I was surprised that Joey missed the point on an Italian-themed challenge. It might have had something to do with why the argumentative and stubborn chef broke down into tears after Padma announced his dismissal. Still, I would have booted Sara but it's only a matter of time before the Jamaican-born chef gets called out again. As for Joey, I did feel bad for him but at least the guy is cooking at Cafe des Artistes in New York and not some roadside shack; I have no doubt that he'll land on his feet.

Next week on Top Chef ("Guilty Pleasures"), nerves fray and tempers flare as the chefs are tasked with preparing the perfect "hangover" snack. But who's that dreadlocked guest judge? Why, it's none other than Table 8's Govind Armstrong.


Anonymous said…
it should have and would have been sara, but i think the producers saved her because they are running low on women.
Tillie said…
I too thought Sara should have left. And I have to say that I was surprised that a lot of the dishes they created where very similar to ones that are already out there for Bertolli. I cook it at home and it's a life saver for nights I have school. I don't understand how SOOOOOOOO many of them missed the mark completely!!!
rockauteur said…
Sara totally should have left - it made no sense that Joey was eliminated, especially since he did create story, just like Hung and Howie. Sara has not illustrated any displays of being a good chef, nor has she brought anything to the table to the show. She sucks; Joey is a talented chef that won some challenges and should have been kept.

In fact, the one thing I hate about Top Chef is that they don't take into account what you have done in the past. Which is why Lia could win one week, and then get sent home the next. I guess they had a good point at the reunion, that going to a restaurant and having a bad meal - just once - will make you never go back to that restaurant again. So I suppose I can understand that.
Joey certainly wasn't my favorite top chef but I was still sad to see him go...especially as it seemed certain that it would be Sara packing her knives. She really adds nothing (creatively or emotionally) to the show.

Rocco looked positively frightening at times (what was with all the pancake makeup and the orange hair?) but I did like how he defended Tre and CJ's addition of black truffle to their dish to Colicchio.

And I LOVED that Casey not only mispronounced orcchiette but then felt the need to explain to Rocco, one of the world's top Italian chefs, that it was "ear pasta" as though he wouldn't know what orcchiette was. Hilarious!
Brian said…
Supposedly Hung and Joey didn't sell a single serving of their dish. I have a feeling that the show was edited to make us feel like Sara should be going home (and then we'd feel bad for Joey when he was "wrongfully" sent home). I'm a little sorry to see Joey go. Even though I thought he wasn't particularly smart and he took everything personally, he made for some good TV. And he had some pretty great quotes (such as the title of this post).

Casey is such a ditz, but I think it's really cute. It was kind of ridiculous that one of the items she got in the quickfire challenge was bowtie pasta, but the fact that she told Rocco about ear pasta made it okay.
Anonymous said…
::looks at the last note:: - yes, it was totally ridiculous that bowtie pasta and oatmeal were two of the items in the quickfire, esp seeing as how bowtie came so late in the challenge.

I was SO sure it was going to be Sara going (with howie my second thought) that i almost fell off the couch when Joey's name was called. Bad decision.

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