Top Chef Week Seven: The raw, the open pit, and Frank washes out.

December 7, 2006

Behold, the power of estrogen. Yes, women flexed their substantial cooking biceps on tonight’s Top Chef – and the man who uses the most hair product didn’t do too shabby, either.

The show began, as usual, with the QuickFire challenge, where we were quickly made to remember that this show was taped long ago on the West Coast. Our intrepid contestants had to concoct a meal using only ingredients bought for $20 from the well-stocked Redondo Beach Farmers’ Market. The twist? They weren’t allowed to cook said ingredients. Yawn.

The contestants rose to the occasion and arranged their fresh ingredients (and not a small amount of seafood) admirably. And in a trend that continued during the episode, the top three weren’t the usual suspects: Elia (concise and simple tuna), Frank (excellent presentation) and Marcel (cool concept, dude). Marcel won for really using his ring mold – I mean, brain – in creating a “watermelon steak” and some other very nicely plated veggie/fruit stuff. In victory, he uttered a word we’d never heard before, not dissimilar to a pig call. (Swaniet? Help us. Does anyone speak Marcel?)

The Elimination challenge tasked the contestants with coming up with a delicious breakfast item to feed unnamed athletes at an unnamed location using unnamed cooking implements. Head scratching among the chefs ensued. Trolling the aisles of Wild Oats (thank you, obvious product placement), they gambled on whether there’d actually be a place to cook all those eggs they bought. They drove up on the beach in Malibu in their shiny Toyotas (another winning placement as it emerged from behind the rocks with Elia waving out of the sunroof) to face cooking over fire pits and serving hordes of surfers.

Some had chosen dishes that could be adapted to this sandy medium… some had not. To make a long story short (too late), the people who did not were surprising: Cliff and Sam struggled, and the three cooking beauties Elia, Betty and Mia turned out the top dishes. Surfers loved Mia’s crab cakes Benedict, the judges dug Betty’s eggs in a ham roll, and everyone enjoyed Elia’s savory-sweet waffle/egg creation. There was even a heart warming moment were everybody gave Michael some eggs – except Frank, who was very disturbingly gleeful at Michael’s distress. (Even we thought it was mean, and we pick on Michael all the time.) Elia rode the wave – to use the show’s forced surfing metaphors – and Cliff, Sam and Frank wiped out. Guess who got booted? Not hard, right? Goodbye, Frank. It’s been real.

Did Michael just become more loveable?

Husband: Yes, Betty Crocker and Charles Manson’s boy had my favorite line of the night. As Frank was “vigorously” grating some sort of vegetable, Michael’s watermelon napoleon kept toppling over – leading him to observe in frustration that Frank was “humping some gorilla on the prep table.”
: Chef Boyardee has become more loveable (although where was my favorite chef’s hat tonight?). When he was rooting around his cooler looking for eggs that he had, no doubt, left on the counter at the dorm, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the big lug. And clearly, other people felt the same way… Yes, he’s grown on me.

Favorite consequence of having surfers as judge?

H: Obviously, it was the “surfer lingo” rodeo between Marcel and Michael. Both seemed to fairly fluent in stoner, so I doubt surfer was too hard for them to pick up. Also, the beach setting set the scene for Tom Colicchio appearing to flirt with surfer girls in bikinis.
W: In addition to the totally bodacious vocabulary we picked up, I enjoyed the opportunity of seeing Marcel’s lower-back tattoo (that was a tattoo, wasn’t it?), and his strange attempt to “toss” Elia into the water – which looked more like misdemeanor assault.

What’s with the girl power?
H: I guess I’m a cynic or a misogynist. They seemed to go on about Ilan’s food and not even mention Mia’s, yet there was no Ilan in the end. Part of me thinks it’s a ploy.
W: Clearly my husband is a she-hater. (I kid.) It was refreshing to see the women in the winner’s circle, even if one of them may have taken Ilan’s spot. It was also nice to see Sam and Cliff humbled a bit, if only for this week, since they had been cruising for most of the show. Will it last? Have I sold Elia short in the past? Who knows…

Winners and losers?

H: I’m finally going with the glasses (Ilan). I said during the QuickFire that there is something about him that just seems to nail it every time. I’m edging toward the wife’s favorite now. The next off? Michael. I know I said I wouldn’t pick him again to avoid the split in the space-time continuum, but I’m running out of folks to kick off and the judges may not want to kick any of the ladies off if they can avoid it. I’m risking a black hole and saying Michael.
W: How about Sam? Sure, he stumbled this week, but maybe it will motivate him to tighten that samurai bun and sharpen his sword. I think Mia may be next off. Despite the fact that her food looks like something I’d eat, her presentations never seem artsy enough for the judges.

Winners? Next off? Would you eat scallop carpaccio? What would you have cooked for a fire-pit breakfast on the beach? And how about Padma’s outfits?



  1. Padma is definately the eye candy. Nothing more. I find it a bit distracting; I actually found myself wondering this week which guy she found attractive: Sam, Cliff, Elian…although Tom’s probably closer to Rusdie’s age.

    Thought the quick fire was good. Love the use of sashimi as a item; scallops were riskier, yet looked beautiful. Marcel is definately growing on me. His ingenuity far surpasses the rest of the bunch. Watermelon steak? Way to sell a dish!

    I was shocked by the final three. Tom summed it up with his comment that they did not recover well.

    I was relly surprised by the mentioning of Elian’s food and no Elian at the end. And, how bad they thought Sam’s food…no taste, horrible presentation, surfer’s worst dish, etc. yet Sam gets a pass. Lost a bit of credibility in my book, as it was a beauty contest at the end.

    I dug it that the women ruled the day — though I’m thinking that none of them will be there at the end. The cockiness of Elia and Mia may be their downfall.

    Still picking Sam or Cliff to win.

  2. Mmm… scallop carpaccio – you gotta try the scallop sushi at Kotobuki – melty and delicious

    swaniet = soigne: Showing sophisticated elegance; fashionable

    I like Elia more and more with each episode, not necessarily to win. But I like her personality more, she’s pretty honest, but not whiny.

    I feel like Sam didn’t really stand up for himself and mention that he had to continually rework his dish, since it was originally meant to be green (or maybe he had made a rookie mistake throwing the eggs with the basil?)

    I don’t think that was a tattoo on Marcel’s back, I think it was hair. A soul patch for the rear end. Haha… otherwise it’s a rather girly place for a tattoo.

    I think Cliff still understands the challenges the best, despite his failures this week. Ilan has the Harold way – somewhat under the radar, but not really a big drama queen either.

  3. So glad I found your blog. Pretty funny. And great observations. I think Mikey, Marcel, and Elia’s stock is improving. Betty’s has come down. But I believe Sam will probably win, despite this week’s poor showing.

    I’ve linked your blog to mine. I recap TC2 once a week. But if you’re hungering for more fun recaps, check out Blogging Top Chef, Top Chef 2, Amuse Biach, and Eric 3000. You can link on them from my blog!

  4. We love you folks. Sorry about not responding this week. I’ve been in a funk trying to get my mind wrapped around some new ideas I’m working on for the site (all good ones I hope), or being lazy. I can’t decide which.

    Anyway, the best part for us, as we are madly putting together the post, is the ideas everyone else contributes afterwards. We get more than a few chuckles from the insights of other people. Also is a nice reminder that other people are definitely watching it and seeing things the Wife and I don’t see. Please keep them up.

    I see the scallop thing is an odd one. I get the idea that they don’t need to be 100% cooked. The best scallops have that nice crusty exterior and cool center. Yet, I guess it’s from growing up in the middle of the country where seafood was rare to begin with. I do love me some sushi or oysters, but for some reason scallops just struck me as one of those items that you don’t serve straight up raw.

    The concern was freshness, and this is perhaps where you more seafood minded people can chime in. I can see eating raw oysters because they tend be caught and eaten within a short time period. I can see eating raw tuna because they are such large animals and they are caught and flash frozen. I’ve always thought of scallops as not being local to anywhere near me and if dive caught then might be a problem of timing. But alas, I clearly need insight if this is actually a more common thing to eat raw then I imagined.

    By the way, Synaethesia gets my prize for vocabulary. I love your definition and explanation. I don’t actually have a prize, but our gratitude. Usually that comes with a side of cookies, but alas I have no culinary-cyber skills.

  5. I noticed we both live in DC. I believe that makes us close enough to do some cookie claiming. hehe.. and btw… that is dictionary.com. So I can’t claim all the credit, and perhaps cookies.

  6. P.S. Most sushi is frozen to kill bad things. It’s apparently illegal to not freeze it according to this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/08/nyregion/08SUSH.html?ex=1396756800&en=14403a1246cf158f&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND
    I think there’s also something special in the freezing process so that ice crystals are smaller, thus less prone to damage the protein fibers. Or maybe I am just making this part up in my head. Anyway… Kotobuki does the scallop sushi right. They cut across the fibers instead of cleaving them with the grain. For some reason that’s a lot better.

  7. Synaesthesia, you are working on being my new best friend. Well, my wife will object of course, but seems that you are bringing me lots of gifts all the time, and she is just eating my food.

    But in all seriousness, that is an awesome link. If you fiod and share more of those, I appreciate it. There are few columns that I always look for because of things you seem to just learn from them–when ever Harold McGee writes (NY Times last week) or when Robert Wolke writes Food 101 in the Washington Post.

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