Bonjour, mon petit chou. Grab your beret and be careful where you put that baguette, because today Top Chef goes totally French. This week the chefs are greeted by none other than acclaimed contemporary French chef Daniel Boulud and head judge Tom Colicchio. Wait, no Padma? Where is Padma? We demand Padma! See how perplexed the cheftestants look?
Still in the absence of our foodie beauty, the chefs push on. The Quickfire is to cook snails. Before they get escargot-ing, Tom tells them this will be a high-stakes Quickfire. But instead of being one of those take home $15,000 challenges, it will be a go home empty-handed challenge. The loser gets PYKAGed. Guess if you’ve got to make an exit, make it quick like pulling off a bandage.
They get started and Jennifer rightly notes about the challenge’s key ingredient: “Whoever thought that a snail looked good to eat had to be really f—–g hungry.” The chefs move at a decidedly un -snail like pace, rushing around to create their little, slimy concoctions. There are varying degrees of worry about cooking with escargot from Robin, who knows nothing about them, to Mattin who apparently grew up pounding them back like tequila shots.
The 45 minutes slithers by and then it’s time for Tom and Chef Boulud to judge their offerings. Everything apparently tastes “interesting” because that’s all he says after tasting almost every dish. Most “interesting” were Mike I.’s sautéed escargot with the flavors of Crete, Kevin’s escargot fricassee with bacon jam and Jennifer’s escargot with yuzu. Wait, hold up, bacon jam?
Yes, bacon jam. And our favorite red-bearded
On the flip side, Chef Boulud says the least “interesting” dishes were from Jesse, Robin and Ashley. Man, the women really have to step up their game. This is getting embarrassing. But instead of sending one of them packing right away, Tom gives them a chance to make “one bite to save your life.” The three race into the kitchen for an Amuse Bouche-Off. The cooking is fast and furious. Heck, just sitting on my couch and watching makes my heart race.
But in the end, Jesse’s lack of confidence and creativity finally creeps up on her and Tom tells her to PYKAL. Yes, he says “leave” not “go.” See, this is why we need Padma.
Jesse and her lip rings tell the camera that she is “pissed, disappointed, embarrassed” and that “I want people to know is that I don’t suck this bad.” Poor dear, I don’t think she sucks. I just think she was just way out of her league.
Jesse’s Quickfire exit behind them, the chefs brace for the Elimination Challenge. They draw knives, each with a traditional French protein and sauce written on the blades. Mondieu, it’s a Francophile dream challenge. The chefs must pair their proteins and sauces together to make a six-course French feast to be served to, who else, a panel of all-star French chefs.
But wait, there’s more: The biggest all-star of them all, Chef of the Century Joël Robuchon, will grace them with his presence, too. And they’ll be cooking in his kitchen. The cheftestants all look alternately awestruck, frightened or like they’re going to vomit.
Tom sums up his feelings succinctly, “I am actually nervous to eat with the man, let alone cook for him.” Eli, meanwhile, sees this as an opportunity to spot a rare, mythical beast: “I was under the impression that he didn’t actually exist and he might be a unicorn.”
In the kitchen, the chefs pair to make:
Kevin gets to sit out the challenge and dine with the all-star panel. Hope he brought a tie.
The chefs’ attitudes go from confident to cocky to very, very concerned. Jen thinks she and Mike V will make a “banging dish together.” Ash worried about the “Puerto Rican and gay guy” pulling off classic French. And Mattin thinks they made the challenge just for him “so really this should be no problem.” Famous last words, Frenchie.
While shopping for ingredients, Mattin tells Ashley not to add asparagus to her sauce velouté, as she had been considering. She concedes and says she is “letting Mattin take the lead.” Enjoying a somewhat more egalitarian pas de deux are Jen and Mike V. In fact, Jen says they can “already feel each other’s movement in the kitchen.” First they’re banging, now they’re feeling each other’s movements? Welcome to Kitchen Dirty Talk 101.
The all-star panel arrives and it includes Tom, Chef Boulud, Gail Simmons, Hubert Keller, Laurent Tourondel, Jean Joho and that rare unicorn man Chef Robuchon himself. Also there is Padma. Finally, Bravo, I was half way through my strongly-worded letter.
Service starts and first up are Ron and Robin with their frog legs. Ron had fretted about Robin’s focus on the salad instead of the sauce all challenge. And Eli can’t contain his glee at seeing their clunky,wilty looking dish. Just wait, snarky boy, your time is coming. The panel is less than impressed, but they seem more unhappy with the over-breaded frogs legs than the sad salad.
Next up is the trout béarnaise from Bryan and Mike I. They all agree that the deconstructed sauce is a hit, and Chef Robuchon says he likes the dish a lot, which gets a mouthed “wow” from Gail. It’s like watching The Godfather where all the lesser dons pay deference to the Grand Père Robuchon.
That is followed-up by Eli and Laurine’s dish. The lobster gets called too tough and the sauce too bitter. See, Eli, told ya. They’re also less than impressed by Mattin and Ashley’s poussin and sauce velouté. They say the sauce particularly has too much bacon. As Tom jokes, “Everyone lies to say it’s better with bacon; this is one of those cases where it’s not.”
Then it’s time for Jen and Mike V’s rabbit, which everyone calls perfect. It’s very clear, if it wasn’t already, who has risen to the top this season. In fact, it’s as if there were two entirely separate tiers of chefs competing. You’ve got the pros like Jen, Kevin and the Voltaggio Brothers and then there’s everyone else.
As if to illustrate the point, next comes Hector and Ash’s dish. Hector had problems cooking the steak and then rushes to cut it with two minutes left until service. The result is overcooked, sauceless hunks of beef that Gail says “looks like it’s been hacked with an axe.”
In the Stew Room, Kevin returns to wait with his fellow chefs. They grill him on what the panel said but he, wisely, plays it close to the vest. But they find out soon enough as Padma calls in the teams of Bryan/Mike I and Jennifer/Mike V. The judges call them their favorites and then have to remind the chefs to smile. It’s telling, because these guys are serious about both their food and the competition. If these three, plus Kevin, aren’t in the final four then it’ll be a major upset in my book.
All the cheftestants are gracious about their partners work, even Mike I who is just happy to ride on Bryan’s coattails. Mike V says of Jennifer: “It’s hard when you work next to someone that talented. You hope she is not going to outdo you.” See, other Mike, that’s how you talk about a talented female competitor – with respect. In the end, Bryan’s trout is singled out and he is declared the winner.
Next to face the judges are the decidedly less happy teams of Mattin/Ashley and Hector/Ash. Mattin and Ashley get called out for dried out poussin and overly bacony velouté. Tom asks Ashley why the asparagus weren’t incorporated in the sauce and she tells them that it had been considered. Tom then asks Mattin if he shot down the idea and he said, “No, I didn’t.”
You lie, Mattin! See, Rep. Joe Wilson, that’s how you properly call out a liar. In fact, Frenchie’s big fat lie has prompted me to rethink the use of the phrase “Freedom Fries.” Sacre bleu!
But it’s Hector’s dry steak and not Mattin’s lies that ultimately get judged most egregious. And so exits the first male of the competition after four females.
NEXT: Roughing it outdoors in the Nevada desert. Don’t forget your sunscreen.