“Top Chef” mini-cap: Something smells fishy

Six chefs left and things are getting serious. Stefan feels lucky to still be here. Fabio wants to win for his wife. Hosea proclaims himself the “last American male” chef, which makes me feel less good about being an American and more good about being not male. And Carla feels underestimated.

The half dozen head to the kitchen where they are greeted by Padma and world-famous French chef Eric Ripert who runs the world-famous seafood restaurant Le Bernardin. Hope you like fish.

The Quickfire Challenge is a three-round fish filleting competition. The worst filleters get booted each round with the best knife wielder winning at the end. Let’s just dive right in.

First up, sardines. There’s a reason those suckers come packed together tightly in cans. They’re tiny and they’re hard to fillet. Some folks do well (Leah, Fabio), some people do really not well (Carla, Jamie).

In fact, Carla even tells Chef Ripert as he tries to contain his chuckling over the state of Carla’s poor, wee fishies: “You don’t have to say, we all know what it is.” Gosh, I love Carla. She may be turning into my favorite contestant ever.

The next round (minus Jamie and Carla, obviously) is Arctic char. It’s a big sucker and Leah promptly gives up. No, really, she stops mid-fillet and just stands there. Why is she still on this show again? Leah and Fabio get the boot so it’s a bald-headed battle royale in the final round.

Hosea and Stefan even blow kisses at each other before they start. Who says Jamie is the last member of Team Rainbow left?

And what will the two lovebirds be gutting? Freshly killed fresh-water eel. How fresh? Still flopping around in the bowl even though it’s dead fresh. Um, it might take me a little while to order unagi at the sushi bar again.

Being from Colorado, Hosea doesn’t know eel from Adam so it ain’t pretty as he starts to peel its skin. Stefan, however, knows just what to do. Hammer. Nail. Cutting board.

To quote Carla and Jamie’s faces:

Yep, looks like I’ll be ordering California rolls for a bit.

Stefan wins, thanks to his years of experience filleting eel, and Hosea continues his ugly American routine: “(Stefan)’s been doing eel since he was 3 years old. Just another reason Europe is sooo great.”

Afterward, Chef Ripert invites all the chefs and judges to his restaurant for lunch. I hope the contestants remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Once at Le Bernardin, they are served six different seafood courses. Hey, aren’t there six chefs left? Seriously, is no one suspicious? Also, damn, that’s a lot of fish to eat for lunch.

The chitchat is pleasant and everyone makes yummy yummy noises. We learn that Carla wanted to be a theater major while growing up and I grow to love her even more. Though not everyone is as enthusiastic with their yummy noises.

Jamie: It is delicious, but to be honest I’m kind of bored with this food. It’s not something I’m inspired by.

Oh, Jamie, girl. Don’t insult The Silver Fox Fish. If Tom Colicchio hears you talking like that he will fillet you with nothing but his eyes.

At the end of the meal in lieu of dessert comes the familiar knife block. Each knife corresponds with one of the lunch courses and the chefs draw to see which fish dish they will recreate for the Elimination Challenge. As winner of the Quickfire, Stefan gets to pick his course and chooses lobster, one of the simplest items of the day. Their dishes break down as:

Stefan: Lobster
Carla: Escolar
Fabio: Red snapper
Jamie: Black bass
Leah: Mahi-mahi
Hosea: Monk fish

Man, how much do I wish Carla had pulled “blowfish” so I could make the obligatory Hootie Hoo and the Blowfish joke here?

As luck and karma would have it, Jamie gets stuck with her least-favorite dish from the day: the black bass in braised celery sauce. The chefs get two hours in the kitchen to work on their dishes. Chef Ripert even comes around and tries everyone’s dishes, offering tips and suggestions.

Everyone except Jamie. She didn’t have time for him to taste her dish, apparently. To use a phrase from Chef Ripert’s native tongue: Merde.

Carla meanwhile is proving her own words as she works confidently on her dish. You see, she was classically trained so this is her “comfort zone.”

As the judges arrive, Tom summarizes the challenge as he sees it:

I think this could be a career-changing experience for them. … The mere fact they are in the kitchen cooking (here) is enough to scare the chef pant off them.

Hmm, is there any way we could get Padma in the kitchen then? Because I’d love to see her chef pants come off. She wouldn’t even have to be scared. Ahem.

The dishes come out and each is given the real vs. Memorex test.

Fabio’s red snapper is “a very good forgery.” Leah’s mahi-mahi is overcooked for some, undercooked for others. Stefan’s lobster is “nipping” at Ripert’s heels. Carla’s escolar is “very good” and Hosea’s monkfish is universally underwhelming. So much for being the seafood guy.

Last comes Jamie. Our little chefbian struggled mightily to recreate the dish and accidentally let her sauce over-reduce. So now, in her own words, “The celery is awful.” Gulp.

Upon tasting her dish, I think the judges’ faces speak for themselves.

Double gulp.

Once in the stew room, Padma calls in Fabio, Stefan and Carla. Hosea, Leah and Jamie glumly watch them leave. The judges praise the first threesome’s food, and Ripert makes a point acknowledging Carla’s expertise in noticing ingredients.

But in the end, Top Chef becomes a culinary version of Bill Murray’s film Groundhog Day and Stefan wins. Again. He receives some fabulous prizes/opportunities and I yawn. How did this show get predictable?

The bottom three are next and each gets filleted in his/her own right for mistakes. Hosea, the self-proclaimed “fish guy,” used too much za’atar spice, overcooked the fish and didn’t let it rest before cutting. Leah couldn’t identify what went into the miso sauce. And Jamie, well, she knows her celery was too salty.

Padma tells Jamie she would have sent the dish back if she could. Though, in my mind, this has more to do with Padma wanting to secretly sneak another look at our cute little chefbian than the quality of the food. What? Odds are Stefan’s going to take this whole damn thing so I have to amuse myself somehow.

As the fishy trio is sent back to stew some more, the judges discuss who should go. Hosea should have know better, but didn’t. Leah didn’t know what the hell she was doing, and should have. And Jamie knew she screwed up but couldn’t fix it.

The key question then becomes: What is worse? Knowing what is wrong and not being able to fix it or not knowing what is wrong in the first place?

Um, duh. Not knowing what is wrong in the first place. If you don’t know what’s wrong, how will you ever be able to fix it?

So then who does Padma drop the PYKAG on? Jamie.

An exact transcript of what I yelled at my television: Jamie?!? What the (expletive deleted). This is (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted). For the love of (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) give me a (expletive deleted) break. Total (expletive deleted). I need an (expletive deleted) drink. (Expletive deleted).

Jamie graciously thanks the judges for the amazing opportunity. Padma graciously tells her that it was an honor to eat her food. We’ve reached the end of Team Rainbow with nary a pot of gold in sight.

I swear, if Leah makes it to the final four I might have to stop recapping this show. Who has an old TV she doesn’t need anymore? I need a screen to punch.

Next week: Oh, who cares. Team Hootie Hoo all the way!

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