Top Chef Recap-"Block Party"

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Top Chef served up it’s best episode of the season last week, with the Snow White-inspired challenge and some unexpectedly excellent guest judging courtesy of Charlize Theron.  Who’d of thought she’d take to reality TV like a duck  to water.  In any case, it’s down to the nitty-gritty now, six chefs remain and I’m just convinced that Chris has to go home tonight. Right?  Right!?

Quickfire time, and Emeril and Cat Cora have joined Padma for this go-around.  Padma divides the chefs into teams of two…Lindsay and Sarah, Grayson and Chris and Ed and Paul.  Seriously, have these people had to draw knives even once this season?  The chefs are competing in a slightly adjusted version of the classic Quickfire relay race…each team has 40 minutes to peel, de-vein and butterfly two pounds of shrimp, shuck a crate of corn and make a pound of fettucini.  Once the judges give them the go-ahead, they have the remaining time to cook their dish.  That’s pretty brutal, since I’m pretty sure it takes me a good 5 minutes to shuck a single ear of corn, let alone a whole crate.  I’m guessing there’s an advantage for Sarah and Lindsay here given the former’s experience with pasta…I’ve made pasta and it’s not a short process.  The winners get $10,000, though immunity is now off the table.  Padma gives the go-ahead and all the teams immediately start dealing with the pasta problemSarah and Lindsay are the first two done with prep and finish everything with twenty minutes to spare which I have to find impressive despite my distaste for the two of them.  Paul and Ed finish with ten minutes left, and then Grayson and Chris bring up the rear with 8 minutes to go.  Sarah and Lindsay’s time advantage is clear as they finish with minutes to spare while the other two duos scramble frantically, to the point where Paul and Ed don’t even get the shrimp on the plate.  Ultimately, Sarah and Lindsay’s time advantage doesn’t play out and Grayson and Chris get to split the $10,ooo prize.  Shockingly, Sarah disagrees.  Off-screen, she probably shoves a needle into her Beverly voo-doo doll out of anger.

Elimination challenge, and Padma informs the chefs that they will be cooking head to head against their current teammate.  This is good, because I was truly concerned we would be getting a team challenge at this late stage.  The chefs will each be making a version of the same dish for a block party, where two hundred guests will rank them and choose the winners and losers.  Grayson and Chris decide on a chicken salad sandwich and watermelon salad, and may I just say yuck?  Paul and Ed are going with Asian beef barbecue with pickled vegetables, and may I just say yum?  Finally, Sarah and Lindsay are making meatballs with a vegetable salad…very specific, that.  Padma thinks all of those dishes sound heavy…since the challenge is being sponsored by Healthy Choice and the chefs need to present healthier versions of their food.  Meatballs=Epic Fail.  The winner gets $15,000 which isn’t too shabby.

The chefs arrive for prep, and I’m reminded that they only have 2 and 1/2 hours to cook for two hundred people.  That’s really crazy.  Chris is doing a mayonnaise substitute by making a tofu emulsion…that should sound gross but I’m so repulsed by mayonnaise that I’ve decided that I like it on principle.  Ed is substituting a kimchee and pepper puree for ketchup.  I’m honestly fascinated by these substitutions the chefs come up with.

After the fastest prep ever, the guests arrive and all the chefs appear to be behind schedule, though Ed has one of the better ideas I’ve seen on this show and has made his station a build-your-own-sandwich assembly line.  Seriously, how has no one ever thought of this before?  It’s brilliant.  Grayson on the other hand has decided to do her sandwiches to order to prevent the bread drying; it’s not a bad thing to avoid, but she has a line of twenty people and is probably praying that the judges take their time.  Chris meanwhile is being threatened by bees, which is apparently a real issue for him; I have to say that totally sucks.  It’s a moment where a producer should step in and try to assist, I don’t want someone to go home because they don’t have their Epi-Pen.

The judges arrive, and again there’s no Gail.  The only reason for Gail to be gone for this many episodes is if she’s busy filming more TV for me, and replacing her Dana Cowin doesn’t fly.  They head over to the Asian barbecue table first, and Paul serves up his turkey kalbi to be compare with Ed’s open-faced short break kalbi sandwich.  Paul gets excellent reviews for using simple methods to amp up his flavor, while Ed is criticized for his bread being dry; suddenly leaving the bread out for people to make their own seems like less of a good idea.  The judges head over to the chicken salad station to sample Grayson’s chicken salad on a whole-wheat bun and Chris’ chicken salad with tofu “mayo.”  Grayson’s sandwich is voted as slightly bland but the judges love that she made it to order, while Chris’ is judged to have that pesky dry bread that was plaguing Ed.  Finally, the judges head over to Team Meatball to try Sarah’s Calabrese-style turkey meatball and Lindsay’s Mediterranean lamb meatball.  Oddly no one points out that they’re just being served a meatball; don’t meatballs usually come with pasta, or on a sandwich?  These are just large hunks of meat on a plate.  Sarah’s meatball is deemed good, but Lindsay’s is truly loved.  Lindsay seems to be surging to the top at the right time in the competition.

Judge’s Table is up, and Grayson, Paul and Lindsay get called in as the top contenders.   Usually the winning side is low on drama, but Grayson actually spars with Tom a little when he calls her out on the choice of a chicken salad sandwich being too low-brow.  Her disbelieving response to his calling the other dishes more sophisticated was simply “Like…a meatball?”  I’m with Grayson on this…you didn’t ask for elegant food, you asked for food for a block party.  Shut your cake-hole.  Ultimately, Paul takes the win and the $15,000 which means Paul has won…a great deal of money on this show.  The bottom three troop in to take their lumps, and the judges don’t tip their hands too strongly on the loser, though I’m fairly sure Sarah will be just fine.  I’m still thinking it’s Chris, who served up a pineapple and watermelon smoothie that had chunks of ice in it.  The horror!

As I suspected, Chris takes the fall which he takes with good humor.  However, this leaves five chefs left that all seem extremely strong and I’m not sure who will be heading home next week.  Grayson?

And some final thoughts:

-I don’t mean to be overly harsh on Chris, as he’s obviously a very talented chef…I just don’t think he’s demonstrated the same level of skills the others have.  As Tom said, he has ideas upon ideas, but doesn’t follow through on them.

-Lindsay thinks she’s a very diplomatic person.  I think that people who are diplomatic don’t have to tell others that.

-Padma’s reaction to Paul’s lack of shrimp was priceless.  “WHAT???  Nooo…”

-So apparently Gail is on Watch What Happens Live tonight.  Not good enough Bravo!

-Last Chance Kitchen Update: Beverly successfully defends her crown!

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