Top Chef Episode 13: Puerto RicoJune 5, 2008
And then there were three. And what a three! But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
After a few months break, our four intrepid contestants reunited in sunny Puerto Rico for the penultimate episode of Top Chef. Little had changed, except Lisa had also joined the ranks of “Top Chef contestants sporting spiky hair” (whose membership continues, disturbingly, to swell). Even our infant son has gotten in on the act: You can see him sporting “the Blais” (au naturel) below.
But we digress. The Quick Fire called on the contestants to take on a Puerto Rican favorite, frituras (aka fritters) and use the ubiquitous plantain in their dishes as well. Richard stumbled on slimy raw bananas in his salsa, as did Antonia in her plantain jam. Stephanie, looking relaxed and confident, and Lisa, looking smug and prickly, rose to the top with their superior tostones (fried green plantains). Ultimately, Stephanie took top prize and won the honor of assigning sous chefs for the elimination challenge.
What is astonishing, however, is that anyone could cook with guest judge Wilo Benet staring them down. Yes, Wilo is a frightening Tom Colicchio doppelganger without a soul (patch). Some may criticize: “What? Do all bald, pale, portly, middle-aged, white male chefs look alike to you?” And we answer: “Um, yes. They look like freakin’ twins.” Top Chef producers wisely kept Gail and Padma sandwiched in between the two Mario brothers, but to little avail. We viewers were continually confused and disoriented by the surplus of bald, white, male judges on the panel.
Anyway… Despite declaring that she would team sous chefs and chefs to ensure a harmonious kitchen, Stephanie paired Lisa with her nemesis Andrew, while pairing herself with Dale; Richard with Spike; and Antonia with Nikki. The challenge? To butcher an entire pig and create at least three dishes using local ingredients. And while a few sparks did fly between Lisa and Andrew, the drama really came when Dale left Stephanie’s pork belly out in the kitchen all night. Where it’s hot. And where pigeons (apparently) live. Stephanie wisely chose not to serve the tainted pork belly, and she and Dale cooked up an ultimately popular alternative third dish of fruit salad with chicharrones (crispy pork skin).
After guests of the Puerto Rican first lady had dined on their dishes and the judges and savored their flavors, the winners were declared. Richard and Stephanie (natch) were tops, with Richard taking the prize for his restrained and simple pig fare. And what was his prize? (Insert Price is Right voiceover) A NEW CAR! His confused and surprised reaction said it all. Hello, Richard, don’t you watch TPIR? You’re supposed to lose your mind when they throw you the keys.
By process of deduction, Antonia and Lisa were deemed the losers of the challenge. Antonia’s rustic dishes were underwhelming and ran together on her single-service plate; also, her pigeon pea beans were woefully undercooked. Lisa’s Latin offerings were patchy, her plantain puree was cloyingly sweet, and she committed other unnamed offenses. Who would be kicked off? Well, according to Bravo’s phone text challenge, 91% of viewers thought Lisa should be.
Hmmm, say the Top Chef producers.
In that case, fan favorite Antonia gets the boot.
Yes, the tearful farewell was very heartfelt — and the corresponding spike in dislike of Lisa predictable. But those producers are wily… before the door could even hit Antonia in the backside, Lisa had stirred the drama pot by acidly asking Richard and Stephanie where her congratulations were. The muttered, “Congrats,” can only whet our appetites for the Top Chef finale. What will they cook up next?
And now, Q&A with the Husband and Wife…
Q: In dramatic fashion more in line with an episode of CSI: Miami, the judges revealed the dead body of… a pig? And not even a big pig. And then the trained chefs cringed, but the question really is, are you afraid of the dead pig?
Husband: No. I like the pig. In many places, including a couple I worked at while in NYC, you stroll into the meat walk-in and there it is: Old Porky hanging upside down, waiting for minions such as myself to take sharp blades to its flesh. There are so many useful parts out of one pig that there is little limit to its potential — if you have the space and time. Also, it’s delicious. I can point to many postings on this blog to verify this belief.
W: I’m not afraid of a big dead pig; I readily consume portions of dead pig on a regular basis. Now, could I butcher said whole animal? Not on your life. Not even with a road map and a sharp knife.
Q: After her most excellent pity party, the big question: Is Lisa insecure or simply cocky?
H: Well, I’ll be nice. Richard had the best line of the night with his statement, “Congrats for winning the f—ing bronze medal.” In a four man race, when you finish third, you aren’t exactly tearing up the track. So, my feeling is she is insecure. She knew she wasn’t well liked, she knew she screwed up. Her survival was only a surprise because the judges spent a huge amount of time on how bad her dishes were. Therefore, she was lashing out, trying to fine some refuge. Though, the teaser for next week has her claiming to kick Stephanie and Richard’s butts. So I’m probably wrong.
W: It’s possible she’s insecure; aren’t we all? Maybe this was a crazy strategy to get them to like her. Something like, “You guys are so mean for not saying congratulations… now feel guilty and like me better.” Despite my attempts, I have yet to crawl inside my TV — much less the minds of the people on it.
Q: So, if you are Richard, in this time of high gas prices, would you take the car, trade it for a Prius, or hope for a cash deal?
H: Cash. He lives in Atlanta. Traffic is nearly as bad as here in DC. And he uses all those culinary chemicals so I’m not sure the Prius will help his standing with the environmentalists.
W: Keep it. It’s a Toyota… it will run forever.
Q: Who’s going to win?
H: Richard. I’ve a feeling he’s got more toys than neon green tape. And toys are fun.
W: Stephanie. You go girl.
Who is your winner? What do you think of Lisa? And what was with that dramatic pause at the party — Padma was dancing, then slow motion followed by a voice over of contestants sounding like they were going to a funeral?