“Top Chef” mini-cap: Old McColicchio had a farm

After the double whammy of last week, the chefs feign sadness at seeing Eugene and Melissa leave. But really, the remaining chefs — particularly Hosea and Stefan — are just interested in gaming each other. Stefan does most of the jawing while Hosea prefers to say it with T-shirts.

Gee, you don’t think Bravo would take notice and start selling — oh, never mind.

The chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen only to find tiny, speedy Top Chef Season 3 winner Hung Huynh at Padma’s side. A table behind them is draped in cloth. What could it be? Another aquarium? A produce buffet? A shiny new car? Nope, turns out it’s a bunch of canned, boxed and bottled foods.

The chefs are horrified, as if Padma had just unveiled a pile of fresh, steaming manure. Jeff declares it “a pile of garbage” and Radhika calls it “something a housewife with little time would use.” Padma tells them their Quickfire Challenge is to create the most delicious dish they can in 15 minutes using only these ingredients.

They then proceed to create a mosh pit of chef coats as they all grab for such delicacies as Spam and queso dip. I notice something else, much to my astonishment. For once, Top Chef is not gratuitously pimping its brands. Instead, several of the names are actually taped off. It’s strictly no pay, no play on Bravo.

In the melee for ingredients, Fabio refuses to share his artichokes with Hosea. Then, when Stefan asks (well, takes, then asks) for a piece of Hosea’s Spam, he has a moral quandary. Because Stefan’s “boyfriend Fabio” didn’t give him any artichokes, should he now refuse as well? But Hosea ultimately relents and gives Stefan a slice.

With their 15 minutes of canned-food infamy up, Hung and Padma start sampling. The bad: Leah (too-crispy French toast), Radhika (too-plain bean dip) and Jamie (too little, too yuck). The good: Hosea (pea soup, yum), Stefan (bean soup and grilled cheese, double yum) and Jeff (fried conch; who knew they have canned conch?)

But the winner: Stefan, who celebrates smugly while Hosea rues the day he shared his potted meat.

Padma then tells the chefs their Elimination Challenge will be to create a family-style seasonal lunch based around whatever protein group they draw: chicken, lamb or pork. The chefs draw knives, and the teams break down to: Team Chicken (Jamie, Carla, Stefan); Team Lamb (Hosea, Leah, Ariane) and Team Pork (Jeff, Fabio, Radhika).

Jamie is less than thrilled to be stuck with Stefan. And Ariane is even less thrilled to get between “the lovebirds,” Hosea and Leah. Though considering that “the lovebirds” both have girlfriend/boyfriend respectively waiting for them back home, I’d say their left-behind lovers might be the two least-thrilled folks at the developments.

Predictably, Jamie and Stefan clash over what to cook. Stefan then declares Jamie “so freaking cute” when she is pissed. What is he, 8 years old? Is he going to dip her pigtails in the inkwell next?

That night at the apartment, Jamie approaches Stefan again about changing the menu. Predictably, again, he refuses despite having immunity. At some point, Stefan says something about someone being a douche bag. Jamie thinks it is directed at her and storms off. To be fair, I think he was actually referring to himself. But apparently making people storm off just comes naturally to Stefan.

The next morning, the chefs load into the [brand name excised until I get a piece of that sweet, sweet sponsorship action] SUV to head off to gather ingredients. But wait, this isn’t their normal trip to [name of brand excised; pay up suckas] grocery store. This is a trip to the country to Stone Barns, a nonprofit farm and agricultural center.

Stone Barns is the farm for chef Dan Barber’s acclaimed restaurant, Blue Hill. The cheftestants walk right into the fields to collect ingredients. They virtually have chefgasms as they smell and pick the off-the-vine produce.

As Team Chicken tours the hen house, Stefan makes a crack about being “the only cock in the stall.” Wow, really, Bravo? Really? What’s next, going to a dog pound and then calling all the female contestants bitches?

Their baskets filled, the chefs head into the kitchen to cook. They all get busy with their assigned tasks. On Team Pork, Radhika cleans and grills corn for an hour, which makes me think maybe I have a shot at this Top Chef business.

Over at Team Lamb, Ariane has butchered the lamb and is having a hard time tying up her rolled roasts. Leah offers to help. But then off camera she seems decidedly less helpful: “Ariane doesn’t know how to tie a roast. I probably could have tied the roast a little better, but at that point I just wanted to get it in the oven.”

Surprisingly, Team Chicken is the least dysfunctional, as the chefs have compromised on the menu and are all hard at work.

With time up, the chefs bring their seasonal creations to the table. They prepared:

Team Lamb: Lamb loin, leg of lamb, rosemary new potatoes, heirloom tomato salad and pound cake with berries and cream.
Team Pork: Pork loin, sausage ravioli with pesto, fried green tomatoes, corn salad and lavender crème brulee.
Team Chicken: Chicken cutlet with salad, roast chicken, chicken ravioli soup, and nectarine and strawberry tart.

Dining are the farmers from Stone Barns as well as guest judge Barber and regular judges Tom, Padma and Simon Cowell Toby Young. Team Chicken gets universally praised. Fine, Padma and a few others wonder why Stefan decided to make soup on an 85-degree day. But it all tastes good so all is forgiven.

Not forgiven, however, is Team Lamb. Chef Barber declares the lamb “kind of a mess” and Tom says they aren’t “honoring the protein.” Team Pork is equally derided for its overly pesto-y pasta and failure to cook the meat on the bone.

Dessert is next and Carla gets praised for Team Chicken’s delicious tart crust. But once again, Team The Other White Meat and Team Mary Had a Little One get dinged for their lackluster treats.

Afterward, Padma calls in Team Chicken, which has — no surprise — won the challenge. What is surprising is that instead of picking an individual winner, the entire team gets credited the win. So the moral of this story is the team that fights first, wins first. Jamie and Stefan hug out their differences.

Teams Lamb and Pork get sent to the Judges’ Table as the least favorites. Both teams get scolded by Tom for not cooking their meat bone-in. And both teams get chided for having one member who didn’t really do all that much (Radhika on Team Pork and Leah on Team Lamb).

Tom goes after Team Lamb’s lamb further, chiding Hosea and Leah for letting the admittedly less-experienced Ariane butcher and prepare the main course. They then get sent to stew some more as the judges make their final decisions.

Toby breaks out another of his spectacularly misguided attempts at cutting critique while discussing Team Pork’s dish, saying: “When I’m faced with a beautiful, well-raised piece of meat, I don’t want to stand back and admire it, I want to have full-blown, unprotected sex. I didn’t even get to first base with the pork.” Imagery: Fail.

Still, even after that unfortunate sexual innuendo, the lamb is deemed most egregious. But who will they chop? She who did the chopping or those who watched her butcher the chopping? Who gets PYKAGed? Ariane.

As much as I thought Ariane was an inferior cook to some of the other cheftestants, I can’t help but agree with her exit interview commentary that Leah and Hosea did her no favors. But, hey, what goes around comes around, right? Like, maybe you could call up their respective significant others when you get home. What? I’m just being helpful.

Next Week: Restaurant! Wars! (Programming Note: I will be on vacation next week and won’t be recapping. But you can follow my live Twitter of the episode at twitter.com/dorothysnarker.)

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