Maybe it’s the fact that Top Chef has been off the air for what seems like years, but… who were these people? When we last left this gang of vagabond chefs, Michael was a loveable but underachieving slacker; Marcel was unforgivably annoying – with weird hair; Betty was wearing out her welcome; we were unsure whether we liked Elia; and Cliff, Sam and Ilan were our favorites to win. Well, not anymore. The only constant, it seems, is that Marcel still has weird hair.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night: The rise of Michael. It began inauspiciously with an interview that showed the poor kid sporting what Sam called “a huge, herpes-like sore” on his lip, the result of an apparently ham-handed teeth pulling. But the painkiller appeared to actually sharpen his culinary skills… beginning with the QuickFire. Our second-favorite guest judge Ted Allen (in fact, if Padma wipes out in her six-inch heels, they might ask him to take over) presided over a 30-minute contest where the chefs had to design a meal around a color. The losers were Betty (green, which, um, should have been easy), Marcel (brown, stumbled on a dirty coffee lake), and Ilan (red, taken too literally with steak tartar). Hmmmm… this bottom three seems prescient. The top three? Sam (killer yellow foods), Cliff (purple pleasure, despite his colorblindness!) and – dum, da, da, dum – Michael (orange triumphs with awesome carrot chips). Sadly, for him and his aching jaw, he does not get immunity for winning.
With Michael surprising us, the producers plied us meek viewers with more emotional turbulence. Exhibit A: Marcel gets mad screen time, and surprisingly, we start to feel a little sorry for mini-Wolverine. Everybody keeps picking on the kid, and you can almost see his little doe eyes blinking back the tears. Does all this face time mean he’ll be kicked off (as is the case with every other “featured” chef before him)? We’re not exactly on pins and needles, but still. Exhibit B: Sam and Ilan take out their knives … and use them on Marcel. (Along with Betty and Cliff, who feel no love for him or his hair products.) For those looking to feast on reality-show drama, this is all delicious stuff. For us, it spurs some indigestion – we don’t watch for schoolyard scuffles and name calling at the kitchen supply store. Where was the food?
Oh, yes. It was in the Elimination Challenge, which asked each contestant to draw a knife and choose one of the seven deadly sins to prepare. Their concepts would make up a seven-course meal served to a handful of famous people we (sort of) recognized. Here are the results in a quick rundown: Sam, wrathful in a spicy ceviche with biting popcorn; Betty, slothful with a trio of slow-roasted soups; Michael, working envy with salmon and trout; Cliff, greedy in a seafood bouillabaisse; Elia, prideful of roasted chicken; Marcel, lusting after some cherry gelee and foam; and Ilan, gluttonous over chocolate cake, funnel cake and macadamia brittle. To make a long story short (too late) Michael’s was the dish that the judges wanted to devour, though Sam’s and Elia’s weren’t half bad either.
The apex of the evening’s drama came when Marcel, Ilan and Betty were on the chopping block. Although Betty and Ilan’s dishes seemed to fair the worst with the judges (chunky, weird soups and soupy weird dessert), those two quickly focused on Marcel and his annoying personality as deserving to go. The judges picked up on this bullying tactic, noting, as wise Ted Allen put it, this has nothing to do with the food. Conclusion: Betty “packs her knives” and leaves (with a few more parting shots at Marcel), leaving Marcel to cope with the awkwardness of no one liking him. Sniff.
Are we surprised about Betty?
Husband: No. While I think Betty is a good cook, a very good cook, the show is now thinning out. With her gone, it appears the only comfort food type is Michael. What remains is the elite effete and urban type cooks. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s what I think most people think of as Top Chef.
Wife: I’m not surprised, either. Betty had been sinking to the bottom over the past few episodes, and her nerves seemed increasingly frayed. I’m drawn to her comfort-cooking style, but it hadn’t shone of late.
What was the dish you most wanted to try tonight?
H: I wanted Sam’s popcorn and ceviche. He said something about the popcorn being traditional, but it caused my brain to fry. I think of ceviche as Old World Italian and popcorn as New World Popped Maize. Now, I must admit that I’ve never ordered ceviche in a restaurant, so I may be wrong, but these are not what I think of as a traditional match. Plus, Sam had wrath as his sin and I love me some spicy food!
W: I wanted to try the dish everyone raved about: Michael’s. Tom Colicchio’s surprised comment, “Our little Michael made this?” sealed the deal, and expressed exactly how I’ve come to feel about that furry goofball. It was disappointing that the judges didn’t articulate better what made the dish so tasty.
What is up with Michael?
H: Seriously, wow. I mean ‘WOW.’ Michael has his tooth pulled, is on drugs (no comment about whether this is a usual state for him), and wins both the QuickFire and Elimination. And while I might think it was sympathy, both his orange colored dish and his envy dish come off as the real deal. I was uber impressed and really felt it was about time! Go Michael! Congrats and I’m somewhat sorry I’ve made fun of you over the last few weeks (Only sort of sorry because you make it so easy to get a laugh.)
W: Michael does like to keep the expectations low, which I can sympathize with. If you don’t expect much, you can’t be disappointed, no? But clearly the kid has some talent. Let’s see if the boost of confidence that comes with winning can buoy him to greater heights, or if the added pressure (and fading Vicodin) will be just too much for him.
Winners and Next Off?
H: Despite the explosion in the kitchen supply store, Sam is the man. I think the samurai is showing both leadership and creativity. I think Cliff not being in the top group a couple weeks in a row knocked him down, and Ilan’s actions this week hurt him ,too. As for the next off, I’m thinking its very tough. Marcel’s presentation is keeping him alive, so I’m thinking we might see Michael go. I know he was awesome this week, but the doctor may have him off the hard stuff by next episode. Also, I think the judges don’t like his style of cooking in general. Let’s hope I am wrong!
W: I like Sam to win, too, although I think he should keep his temper in check. Reality shows aren’t kind to temper tantrums. I think Marcel’s days are numbered, if only because he’ll start to welcome elimination if the unending ribbing of him continues. That, and the fact that the judges seem to be catching wise to his never-ending “foam” and “gelee” tricks. If he doesn’t have something more up his sleeve next week, it may be curtains for him.
Who is your next off and winner? What happened with Ilan’s quiet cool demeanor? And why is Elia the only one who wants to talk to Marcel?