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Top Chef Recap: Monkey Ass In Empty Clam Shell

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With former Eater LA editor Lesley Balla having moved on to greener pastures, we can no longer delight in her Top Chef recaps. In her stead, however, we've imported Max Silvestri from New York to judge the state of affairs. And away we go.

2009_01_tc9.jpgThis week's Top Chef concerns itself largely with the concept of spacetime. While superfans have had suspicions for seasons now, last night's episode confirmed the central question of the show is not WHERE the Top Chef Kitchen is, but WHEN it is. Does time move the same for the Cheftestants as it does for the Others? Does Padma age? Oh wait wait. I'm all mixed up. Last night was the season premiere of Lost. Plus we have a new president. I guess I better buckle down and write about scallops before they put me in Eater Jail.

We're halfway through season five, and only eight contestants remain. The house is now mercifully Ariane-free, but Leah feels responsible. Good! At some point, Hosea mentions four hundred times that he and Leah have chemistry but that they both have significant o's outside the house. I bet you are both very wonderful lovers.

Mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr arrives with Padma to announce that it's time for Restaurant Wars, one of the most important challenges in the history of Top Chef challenges. A chef who wins Restaurant Wars can get him or herself a job anywhere he or she wants assuming said job is a restaurant that doesn't charge its customers any money and only offers two options per course.

Starr will pick his two favorite dishes from the Quick Fire, and those chefs will get to be the two chef/owners during the Wars. As they say, Restaurant Wars is hell. I bet veterans watch Top Chef (duh) and are like "these guys know what I went through when I was in the Persian Gulf War and lost my hearing because of chemicals!" Fabio says, "In love and in war, you are allowed to do everything." Hahaha, what? One great thing about love is that you are allowed to do everything. I am going to text my boss "In love, can't come to work anymore" and he'll write back "Understood. Take as much time as you need because congratulations re: love."

Because it's wartime, Fabio's restaurant concept is a place that serves lunch. Smart. Starr isn't impressed. Fabio: "It's not a cheesesteak. It's a filet mignon sandwich. End of story." To be perfectly honest, Fabio, that isn't that great a story. Jeff's salmon is mushy, and Carla continues to hate seasoning. Carla probably uses steel cut oats and Almond Breeze to garnish her food like normal chefs use salt and pepper. Starr picks Radhika's Indian/Middle Eastern cuisine and Leah's "clean flavor" cuisine. They are going to be the two generals in the Restaurant Wars! I don't know which is Rommel and which is Patton but maybe both are neither.

Stefan gets picked dead last when it comes time to make teams. Aw. He is going to grow up to murder people. He's on Leah's team, and she wants a kinda-Asian restaurant. Fab takes the front of the house because everything he says makes people melt. While running around and picking out decorations, he says, "I start to go around and grab everything. And this is the feeling my wife have all the time." I guess he is always grabbing her all the time, but that's OK, she can't call the police because in love you are allowed to do everything. Including naming your restaurant Sunset Lounge. Luckily, this is Top Chef, not Top Don't Pick the Worst Name Ever.

Meanwhile, Radhika has chosen "Sahana" for her restaurant, Sanskrit for strong, and powerful. Jeff is insistent about not working the front of house, and Radhika relents and takes it herself. She is not being a good leader! This doesn't bode well.

Leah butts heads Stefan, who is being Stefan. He says he wants the restaurant, or the food, or something else to be "pretty, small, tight and sexy." He is put out the dessert ghetto. Leah blows off some steam by having the ultimate make out sesh with Hosea. Oh man, they are just so comfy on that couch kissing and stuff. Jokes aside, my TV's closed captioning said "[kissing noises]". They must have been kissing for hours. Hosea's the total makeout king.


The next day, Hosea and Leah are comically awkward. They seem tense and talk about how much they l-u-v their partners at home. You guys are totally the worst. For reals. Grow the shit up. When Leah cuts the bones out of the cod, Hosea says, "Never portion it before you bone it." I think he is trying to tell us something.

Fabio is very confident in his front of house skills. "We can serve monkey ass in empty clam shell." He's right, and he's making everybody feel better, certainly better than the food at THE SUNSET LOUNGE. The amuse bouche is bad, though not as bad as Leah's raw fish. The judges don't even want another portion! But they are saved by Stefan, the Clown Prince of Dessertcrime.

Toby Young, whose feelings I hurt, was very subdued this episode. At one point, he begins the slow ascension up his terrible bon mot roller coaster with "This dish reminds me of the career of Elvis Presley. It started out very well and--" and Starr cuts him off mercifully with "and ended up dead in the toilet?" Awesome. Are we talking about Toby's career or Elvis's? I am kidding, Toby! You are doing great and I'm sure you are surrounded by people who love you no matter what.

Over at Sahana, the food is going over well, but Radhika is a terrible host and terrible leader. She wanders around looking very tense and ignoring problems in the kitchen. She just wants to go home, take her shoes off, and go to sleep. Maybe she has mono? Carla serves some yogurt soup that looks as bad as it sounds, and Radhika puts a cherry on top of it all by not even giving Tom a fork with which to eat it. (She would have been better off actually giving people cherries on top of everything.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the judges choose Sunset Lounge as the winner. While most of their food seemed like a mess, Fabio's dazzling charm and Stefan's pitch perfect dessert were enough to put them over the top. Leah is told that if it weren't for the fact that the rest of the team saved her from a loss, she would be the one going home. Stefan's the winner, and he gets a ton of appliances. How's THAT for last pick, am I right?

Team Sahan just barely lost. Jeff and Jamie's food is praised, while Radhika's leadership and Carla's dessert are ripped apart. Radhika doesn't offer up much of a defense, and she already seems defeated. Carla gives a completely infuriating and nonsensical explanation for why she thinks she did a great job despite her terrible desserts. "Yeah, my food was a mess, but I had fun out there. It's important I had fun. I am sending out smile vibes, and I know that the fact that I'm smiling in the kitchen can be tested in my yogurt soup. That's my belief. If I just put a little dash of fun and smiles into everything I cook horribly, the people out there can tell how those vibes they are tasting are happy smile vibes. I keep my pee in jars in a fridge I hide in my mind and I can smell ghosts. I'm so crazy."

Tom looks like he wants to throw a giant glass of wine which is almost certainly just off camera at her. When the chefs leave, Starr says he wanted to shake her really hard. You are the voice of the nation, sir. But despite all that, Radhika was even worse at her job and is going home. I will miss her!
—Max Silvestri