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Top Chef Recap: Are You Ready For Some Cookball?

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Top Chef: New York is upon us. To honor the occasion, please welcome Max Silvestri, who'll recap last night's episode. We feel for him, too.

2009_01_top_chef_episodic_510_05.jpgWe're heading into the home stretch of Top Chef, and this is generally when the show gets good. Because only great chefs remain, right? Oh hey, Carla, totally forgot you were still here. "My major strength is I'm classically trained." In what, the recorder? You learned cooking by the Suzuki method and are maybe on Book 2. And everyone is still talking about how there was making out on last week's show. Leah says the phrase "hooking up." Embarrassing. I am going to start watching Chopped. If you've seen that show, you know that the secret ingredients are always presented in a black leather picnic basket. Weird, right? That's the sort of picnic where everyone drinks Scotch and snorts Valium. Creepy. Anyway, Eater is not not-paying me to recap Chopped, so on to Top Chef.

Scott Conant of Scarpetta is guest judging this week. He makes good spaghetti and also owns a beard trimmer! For the Quick Fire, the chefs write their names on a chalkboard grid, exactly like if you were betting on the Super Bowl. I feel like I'm actually at the Super Bowl watching this episode. Go sports! Also, I'm pretty sure you are not allowed to say "Super Bowl" on television and have to say "the big game" because of trademarks. These guys can simply not wait for the big game, in July, which is when they are. I am so excited for all the awkward sports terminology that's going to be thrown around this episode, thrown a football! Hahahahah. I am really getting into the spirit of things.

Each chef gets a food group, and then they each find out they have to make a dish with that food and also oats. When I think football, I think Quaker Oatmeal. "You just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do?" "I am going to Oatmeal World!" Remember that classic commercial? Everyone is disappointed save Carla, who eats oats four times a week, obviously. She cannot wait for the Carob Challenge. Fabio says, "There is no reason to eat vegetable when there is meat and fish around." Correct! Man's a prophet.

Leah, ever brainy, decides to put "some crust, on some fish." Girl loves fish bones. Remember Fishbone? I bet Hosea loves punk-ska. Those guys have so much in common it's spooky. Chef Conant, after tasting everything, says that Leah, Fabio, and Jeff "fumbled." Oh I see what you did there, Scott. The victor? Stefan. He is so fake-surprised and sincere-happy. "Whoopsie!" Hosea is fuming. "His head just got another inch bigger." But it's still not as big as yours, Hosea. Literally, not figuratively. You have a big head is what I'm saying! It's cool, I understand, I too find it very hard to buy pork pie hats in my size. (Just like your favorite band, Fishbone.)

Top Chef surprises the chefs with football jerseys with their names on them. They are so excited! Like, crazy excited. Are they in seventh grade? I mean, those iron-on letters must have cost them upwards of tens of dollars. Leah says she doesn't know much about football, but she LOVES Tom Brady. Settle down. How about taking a week off from being man-crazy?

This week's Elimination Challenge is a head to head to competition with "all-stars" (losers) from Top Chef's past. The "all-stars" are introduced and there is clapping. So much clapping. Why is everyone clapping so much? Because these not-winners made themselves available for being on TV? How gracious. Carla goes all carla (crazy) over Andrew because a thing they have in common is being nuts. Nikki is introduced as a "human pasta machine" and hey that's gross I don't want to eat any pasta that comes out of her and also let's not guess where it comes out of. Camille! Camille, I live in Williamsburg, let's hang out. Private message me.

Padma reveals that each chef will face an all-star cooking the cuisine of a different NFL team's hometown. This year's Super Bowl teams, Arizona and Pittsburgh, are not represented. Arizona is clearly not there because no one would have ever guessed 8 months ago that the Cardinals were going to be in the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh is not there because towels, steel and despair are notoriously hard ingredients to cook properly.

Each chef gets a city and competitor. Fabio, faced with Green Bay's cuisine, says "Welcome to the country of portunities. Portunities for me to make a something new." Fabio also says something about how he could win making "monkey ass with fried banana." He talked about that last week too. Fab really wants to make monkey ass. He couldn't make it any clearer. "I-a cook anything they-a throw at me. You want-a me make monkey ass, fine-a with me. Bring it on. Please, bring it on. I know-a so many way to cook monkey ass. With fried banana, on empty clam shell, please to do this for me." This is Top Chef, not Top Monkey Ass, Fabio. Also, Andrew lets everyone knows that he will be peeing on their bodies. Good to know! For warmth? Guys, nobody go camping with Andrew. Miguel says, "They ain't never gonna be able to outbeat, uh, the grandfathers." Guys, nobody go to language camp with Miguel.


As they get ready for the competition, Carla meditates. Of course. Stefan yells, "What are you doing, meditating?" which is by far the most hilarious thing to yell to someone trying to relax. I love this guy. Stefan then tries to throw a lemon or something, and, yikes, stick to cooking.


One by one, each pair enters some sort of low rent kitchen stadium. Each judge will pick their favorite, and the chef who wins gets a "touchdown", but then either chef has an opportunity for a "field goal" if the audience picks their dish, but also if the judges are tied then both the touchdown and the field goal are decided by the audience. Huh? This is so infuriating. These rules were made by someone who had never seen a football game but had its rules whispered to them over the telephone by a third grader. But luckily Padma is wearing an amazing ref shirt, redeeming this entire conceit. "Get off your knees, ref, you're blowing the game!" No one says that, nor are there any particularly terrible "calls", I just love that joke.

This whole football thing is so ridiculous I am not going to bother going through it one by one, but in the end the only current chefs who lose are Stefan, Jeff, and Fabio. One of them will go home. Yikes! Those three are all very good at cooking. This could be awkward.

The winners all get congratulations from the judges. But in some cases, such as Leah's, the win was decided not by the judges but by the audience, so the judges have to praise something they already had said they didn't like. Nicely done, Leah. Carla wins! Two tickets to the Super Bowl! She flips out. Weird, that's so unlike her to be outrageously nuts. Nicely done.


On the losing side, Fabio argues with Chef Conant about the intent of his dish. Conant, clearly a proponent of the mid-century trend of New Criticism, is not interested one bit in the authorial intent. Jeff thinks because he worked really hard and made emulsions and stuff he shouldn't be going home. Everyone reminds him that all that matters is flavor. And then they send him home. Aw, geez. That guy was so good at stuff! Fabio thanks the judges for the second chance of a lifetime. Jeff, who is apparently an expert at estimating the length of his emotional responses, says that this loss will stick with him for at least a decade.
— Max Silvestri
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