What makes Top Chef producers salivate? No, it’s not the tempting dishes that the intrepid contestants create. (And it’s only partially Padma’s, ahem, choice attire.) In fact, what makes producers salivate is the frayed nerves that six weeks of grumpy chefs living together in tight quarters can produce. It’s Marcel’s bed head and scores of irritated eye rolls. It’s Mia’s complete and tearful breakdown. Slurp. (That’s the producers drinking up some tasty drama. Ahhhh.)
Yes, folks, it was an action-packed episode, complete with tears and enough swear words to keep the censors on their buzzers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, there was the QuickFire. And the secret ingredient was… booze! Yes, it was a regular commercial for Bailey’s of all varieties (and silly us, we thought there was only one Baileys). There was a bit of cognitive dissonance as the scantily clad host and guest judge repeatedly referenced the “winter holiday” season while wearing clothing fit for a Mediterranean cruise. But the contestants seemed unfazed and set to work creating one cocktail using the mass quantities of Baileys (and other sponsored products) and one tapas to go with it.
In the end, the usual suspects bubbled to the top: Cliff and Sam made great dishes… and surprise(!) Michael, with his vast knowledge of all things alcoholic also made a great cocktail and tasty ice cream sandwich. (Not shocking. He knows booze, and he knows ice cream.) But Cliff took the prize and immunity.
It wasn’t until the teams divided into two for the Elimination Challenge that the drama really got rolling. Team Black (Sam, Ilan, Betty and Marcel) and Team Orange (Cliff, Elia, Michael and Mia) were charged with feeding 200 hungry revelers using $1,500 each at some swanky LA magazine party. The criteria for judging: taste, originality, leadership and wow factor. Team Black, led by Sam, quickly put together a menu of more than a dozen high-fallutin’ hors d’oerves – and, in a heart warming moment, Betty and Marcel seemed to bury the hatchet (or at least throw some dirt over it) and get along quite well. Impressive.
Team Orange was another story. Cue the dramatic music. Elia and Cliff seemed to have a meeting of the minds and came up with only a handful of dishes (Two? Three? Four?) that they would attempt, though Elia was elected team leader. Mia – who in ham-handed foreshadowing was featured throughout the show – attempted without success to suggest more and less-seafood heavy dishes. Evidently she was ignored, and vigorous complaining and dissecting of decision-making ensued.
The handwriting may have been on the wall when Cliff and Mia argued over cellphone walkie talkie in the grocery store about a menu change, and when the Orange team’s cart contained about 1/3 the food of the Black team’s. Or maybe it was when the Black team’s table looked fantastic… and the Orange team’s looked completely devoid of food. In any case, the judges had to kill some time pretending to decide that the Black team had won. Sam took home the win despite Marcel’s best efforts to suddenly diminish his leadership. The rest of the team confirmed Marcel is a bonehead, and Sam walked away with a crateful of knives and probably some desire to show Marcel how sharp they are.
As for the Orange team? Well we’ll save some of the drama for our Q&A. Suffice it to say that Elia was the team leader and in danger. Cliff was harboring a grudge against whiny Mia but had immunity. Mia was ready with an axe to grind and healthy lungs. And Michael just kept his hands in his pockets and his mouth shut. Smart cookie – clearly we don’t give him enough credit. In the end, with Elia’s head on the chopping block, Mia’s breakdown hit its apex. In a move that looked like “to hell with this show,” she sacrificed herself and agreed to go in (presumably) Elia’s place. And the producers lick their lips. Delicious drama.
Who came off worse at the judge’s table, Mia or Cliff?
Husband: I think Mia. The producers were setting her up from the start. I called it when we were just starting to watch the Elimination Challenge. Yet her explosion at Cliff struck me as over the line; Mia has thrown “under the bus” at least three others – but when the tables were turned, she couldn’t handle it. I don’t think she was absolutely wrong in her feelings, but the sob stories killed me. Though kudos to her for letting Elia off the hook.
Wife: Neither came off smelling like roses. Cliff dropped several notches in my book, and I admit that I was sympathetic to Mia. Through fiendish editing, all of her points about being ignored and slighted resonated with me – though who knows whether the team would have worked better under her ideas, or whether it really all went down that way. In any case, Cliff came across as a bit of jerk… and considering the fact that the main problem was the team’s lack of food, he and Elia – who were in the kitchen and the team’s brain trust – struck me as to blame. But maybe that’s just what those wily producers want me to think. I didn’t think she was such a hero for sparing Elia, though. She looked like she just wanted to get the heck out of there at the end. Massive breakdown.
Winners and next off?
H: I like Cliff now. I think it’s from growing up watching sports; you have to have a little bit of nasty to win. I think Cliff has got it. Next off? I’m thinking Betty. She’s been in the bottom group a good deal and I think she benefited from being on a good team. I only hope the producers are OK with making the show more testosterone-ridden.
W: Sam is the man. Now he has the knives – and the knowledge. Ha! I also like Ilan… and he’s so tan! Clearly the “holiday” weather agrees with him. Next off? Marcel maybe. The animosity toward him is growing… and he has yet to become loveable like our old pal Michael.
Your winner? Your next off? Your thoughts on Mia’s meltdown and departure? And your favorite hors d’oerve for parties this time of year?