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Top Chef Restaurant Wars

It’s the Top Chef episode we’ve all been waiting for: Restaurant Wars!

This week’s guest judge is Top Chef Masters alum, Rick Moonen. The quick-fire challenge: Top Chef’s first ever tag team cook off- why have they not done this before!? The chefs draw knives and Jennifer and Michael have first and second choice to choose their teams. On the Red team: Jennifer, Kevin, Mike I and Laurine. On the Blue team: the Voltaggio brothers, Eli and Robin. Robin is last to be picked and declares, “I’m their mom here, and I know that’s what they think of me.” Sorry Robin, but I don’t think these guys think of you as their mom. The chefs learn that each team is required to make one dish in 40 minutes. The first chef in line will start the dish and cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes the next chef will take over until all chefs cook for 40 minutes total. And the twist (there’s always a twist in Top Chef!): the chefs cannot speak to each other, and until they cook they must wear blindfolds. The team that creates the most cohesive dish will have a significant advantage in the elimination challenge, along with $10,000 to split because it is a high stakes quick-fire challenge.

After some quick thinking and a little confusion, the 40 minutes are up and the teams are ready to present their tag team dishes to Chef Moonen. The Blue team creates sablefish with sautéed mushrooms, shitake broth and radish salad. The Red team creates pan roasted NY strip steak with whipped miso, avocado puree and pickled vegetables. Despite presenting the dish as trout and not sablefish, the Blue team wins the high stakes quick-fire challenge. They have the option of splitting the $10,000 amongst themselves, or letting it ride in hopes of winning $10,000 each for an elimination challenge win. The team decides to let it ride and Padma presents the elimination challenge: Restaurant Wars.

The teams are told that the challenge is all about the restaurant and menu concept- they are not responsible for the décor. Good thing, we all remember the scented candles fiasco right? As champion of conscientious cooking and owner of RM Seafood, a 100% sustainable seafood restaurant,  Chef Moonen instructs the cheftestants that they must carry the sustainable seafood mentality throughout their menu creation.

The teams deliberate and finalize menu concepts, restaurant names and roles. The Red team comes up with the name Revolt, symbolizing their names and the concept of uprising (yes, Revolt). The Blue team chooses the name Mission and relates it to the mission-style of architecture: simple, understated and not flashy. Because of the Blue team’s quick-fire win, they have first pick and choose the fine dining room over another less formal dining space.

The Mission menu: asparagus and six minute eggs, arctic char tartare, bouillabaisse consommé, seared trout, pork three ways and lamb with carrot jam.

The Revolt menu: chicken and calamari ‘pasta’, smoked arctic char, duo of beef, cod and billi-bi sauce, pear pithivier and chocolate ganache.

In the Revolt kitchen Robin and Michael clash over Robin’s pear pithivier dessert. Michael takes over Robin’s dish and she tells him off for doing so. Bryan tries to diffuse the situation, and later comments that feelings need to be put aside and it’s time to win. In the front of the house, Eli and Laurine are kept busy with their guests and the judges. Both teams experience trouble with the pacing of their courses, but it becomes clear that Mission is having the most issues. Laurine runs off after serving the judges their first and second courses, causing them to call her back to explain the dishes. Temperature issues with Kevin and Laurine’s lamb cause the judges and guests to take notice. Chef Moonen even calls it ‘Jell-O lamb’. Tom also declares that Jennifer’s trout with broken butter sauce is an absolute disaster. Conversely, Revolt serves up a delicious first course. The judges love Michael’s chicken and calamari dish. Despite the bickering between Robin and Michael, it seems as if their food is not affected.

In the end, not only does Revolt win Restaurant Wars, but the Red team takes home the win for best restaurant in all six seasons of Top Chef. Michael is declared winner and decides to share his $10,000 prize with the rest of his team. However, back in the stew room Bryan is obviously upset with Michael’s win, stating that he is annoyed that his brother’s unprofessional behavior is rewarded in the challenge. Nonetheless, put your feelings aside and it’s time to win, right Bryan?

The Blue team is not surprised by their loss. Their decision to have Jennifer create two fish courses and Kevin create two meat courses did not work in their favor. The judges point out that the team needed a leader, and that a kitchen cannot run without one. Ultimately, Laurine is sent home. Did anyone else think that Jennifer could have easily been sent home as well?

Check back next week for another Top Chef recap! Cheers!

Craps, Flash Freezing, and Guacamole Macaroons: Top Chef Week Two

In the second week of Top Chef, Las Vegas extremes are strung through the story line, Mike remains a jerk, and Jennifer continues to shoot laser beams out of her eyes and make magic with her hands.

The contestants walk into the kitchen to find Padma, a craps table, and Todd English. Todd English is a high profile hunky chef with 7 restaurants, a few television shows, and an Iron Chef title under his belt. The chefs are informed that their quick fire challenge will be a roll of the dice. Whatever number comes up on the dice will be the amount of ingredients they are to use (salt, oil, and pepper are freebies) in a dish they have a half an hour to make.

Right before Kevin rolls the dice, he comments that he is not scared of having a low number because he believes in simplicity. Well Kev, I’m glad you didn’t waste your time being scared because you got a ten. He gets a tad worried that it will interfere with his minimalist style. Laurine has the opposite problem and rolls a 3, worried about not being able to work that simply.

As the 30 minutes begin, Michael V. seems to be playing with a fire extinguisher in a corner, but no worries folks, he is just flash freezing with nitrogen!

As a side note, it is absolutely incredible to watch how quickly chefs can work with minimal stress breakdowns (Jesse and Eve’s low self confidence aside).

Todd English split the final verdict into his least favorite and most favorite dishes. His least favorites were: Jesse, whose scallops needed a sear, and less “mush on mush, too much mushy”, Eve, whose blue cheese was too overpowering and had poor presentation, and Bryan, whose dish had good flavors but too strong of a liqueur flavor.

His favorites were: Michael V, who had a classic dish (gazpacho) with good flavors, Jennifer who had many flavors but kept it light, and Kevin, whose flavors worked well together and can cook an egg well. Michael’s gazpacho comes out with the win, power to the fire extinguisher! Michael wins $15,000 dollars and brother Bryan turns green with envy and the brotherly war is on.

The elimination challenge turns out to be catering for a bachelor and bachelorette party. The crew is split into boys vs. girls, the boys catering for the bachelorette party, and the girls catering for the bachelor party. Jennifer doesn’t believe in a difference between boys and girls (probably because she’s beaten them all into a one-sex pulp in her own kitchen) and Ashley feels awkward about the challenge because she cannot even participate in the institution of marriage legally. I completely understand the sentiment, but I feel that Ashley took it a bit too personally.

The bachelor and bachelorette announce part 2 of the challenge, they would like dishes to go well with three shots that they have chosen: Moscow Mule, Tequila, and Golden Delicious.

Although each team has their minor setbacks (Ashley decides to make two dishes and Hector runs behind with his mole), everyone gets their dishes finished on time.

At the end of the challenge, the boys team jumps in the pool with the guests still around and this seemed tacky, but maybe it was just because I don’t want to see any of those men in less than chefs coats.

Bryan, Hector, Eli, and Michael are called in first to find that the boys’ team is the winning team, and they had the favorite dishes on that team. Bryan’s fresh take on chips and guacamole (a sweet and sour macaroon filled with guacamole with corn nuts and corn puree) gave him the win, and the final laugh in the war of the brothers.

The least favorite dishes from the losing team (the girls team) were Eve, Jesse, Preeti, and Ashley. This group of girls seemed to be plagued with a lack of an attainable vision and improper execution. Eve was sent home for her seemingly continuous dreamy ideas proceeded by disappointing follow through. The judges even go as far as saying she doesn’t understand how to put things together. She waddled off the show with her usual deer-in-the-headlights look, but a positive outlook, saying that she is going to keep doing what she’s doing.

The show is definitely getting more intense by the second, revealing flaws and strengths of every cheftestant. Jennifer seems to have a strong hold on every challenge, Mike should probably stop mispronouncing his fellow contestants names and labeling his teammates “The Pickle Brothers”, and Jesse needs some self confidence! She has great vision and a down home vibe that could really work for her. I love how the brothers Bryan and Michael continuously drive each other to be better, as well as Mattin’s extreme concentration on his art. Big thumbs up to Top Chef for having Todd English as a guest judge. He had great input and was definitely easy on the eyes. Here’s to anxiously awaiting a cage match between Jennifer and Mike!

Contributed by Leigh Hermansen