“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: The chefs wage Restaurant Wars


Yes, this season has been somewhat lackluster. Yes, the cheftestants’ personalities range from bland to that’ll do, pig. Yes, all of Team Rainbow has already been summarily dismissed. But Jennifer just walked by in a bikini so for the time being all is forgiven.

Also, it’s Restaurant Wars week, bitches! But first, we have to make it through the Quickfire Challenge. Sustainable foods specialist Rick Moonen is the guest judge and for a change the producers’ cockamamie challenge ideas actually works.

Padma explains that the chefs will split into teams of four to tag team cook a meal in 40 minutes. The catch? Each chef will cook a 10-minute segment of the meal. The even bigger catch? They can’t talk to each other and the waiting chefs will be blindfolded until it is their turn. Kevin call it “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of, ever.” I agree. And then as I watch it unfold I change my assessment to “ridiculously genius.”

The chefs picked their teams kickball style with .Jen going first, followed by Mike V. The Blue Team is Jen, Kevin, Mike I and Laurine and the Red Team is Mike V, Bryan, Eli and Robin. It’ll be a high-stakes challenge so the winning team gets $10,000 and a “significant advantage” in the Elimination Challenge.

The great thing about this relay is that you get to really see how each chef thinks through the cooking process. By starting blind, they must look at what each previous chef left behind and deduce both where they were going and what they should do next. It’s great fun to watch because it shows what makes them professionals and us people who know how to boil water.

Time is up and both teams come up with impressive dishes. For the Blue Team it is sablefish (which Jen accidently calls trout and gets embarrassed about) with sautéed mushrooms, shitake broth and radish salad. For the Red Team it is pan-roasted New York strip with whipped miso avocado puree. Both dishes look great and from now on I’m going to demand the chefs where I eat all cook tag team and blind-folded.

Chef Moonen picks the Blue Team as the winner and they get the $10 grand. But, Padma then gives them the option of keeping the money or letting it ride in the Elimination Challenge where, if they win, they’ll each get $10,000. What does our intrepid team do? Lets it ride, baby.

So after the formality of the Quickfire it’s time for the main event. Restaurant Wars is back and this time it is all business. Padma tells the Blue and Red teams that this year they’re doing away with the silly requirement that the chefs design and decorate their restaurant. Thank heavens. Not to get all Star Trek on you, but dammit, Padma, they’re chefs not interior decorators.

This means the front of the house person (an always precarious role, as past PYKAGing will attest) is now also responsible for at least one dish. So off the teams go to get their supplies and ready themselves for all-out battle.

Right away, the Blue Team decides to skip dessert. Now, we’ve all seen chefs fail spectacularly with the sweet stuff. But, I’ve also seen enough Restaurant Wars to know that you catch more judges’ praise by ending a meal with honey than vinegar, so to speak.

The Red Team meanwhile is making two desserts — one by Robin and one by Bryan seeking to redeem his disliked Elimination Challenge ganache from earlier.

The next big hurdle is names. The Red Team goes with Revolt, a play on Robin, Eli and Voltaggio. Pssst, Red Team, try not to name your eating establishment something that sounds like revolting. Just a suggestion. The Blue Team goes with the safer, saner Mission.

The chefs head off the Chef Moonen’s RM Seafood restaurant in the Mandalay Bay. And then, they’re off with htree hours to prep before hungry guests start showing up. Team Mission picks Laurine for front of the house. Um, has Laurine said more than three sentences all season? Weird choice. Loud-mouth Mike I would have made more sense. He’s obnoxious but he can schmooze.

Team Revolting goes with Eli. Back at the house he tries on his big-boy clothes and asks the other chefs if an untucked shirt is OK. Only if you want to look like you live in your parent’s basement, buddy.

Team Mission seems behind from the start as Kevin and Jennifer have both, essentially, taken on two main dishes for themselves. Team Revolting seems to have a better work flow, but only because Mike V is being a bossy britches and telling everyone what they should be doing every single second. Bryan and Robin both bristle at the micro-management. Robin and Mike V have a engaging row about her dessert as well, tat ends in cussing and yelling of “Relax!” Have you ever noticed how yelling “Relax!” never makes anyone actually relax?

The diners arrive and Team Mission is hosed. I’m perplexed as to why such an obviously competent group of chefs is flailing in this challenge, but I think it’s a lack of strong leadership coupled with quiet over confidence. Also,Laurine isn’t helping matters by not being assertive and avoiding the guests.

Chef Mooden, Padma, Tom and Toby (seriously, where is Gail?) arrive at Revolt first. They mock the name, as it should be. And then are pretty blown away by all the dishes. They particularly seem to love Mike V’s chicken and calamari pasta and the desserts by Robin and Bryan. So I guess, name aside, the food was the polar opposite of revolting.

Then they head to the Mission. Padma audibly gasps when she hears there is no dessert. Then she asks for salt for Mike I’s starter and it’s just all downhill from there. Jen’s sauce for her trout has broken. Laurine’s lamb (prepared by Kevin) is too raw. And Laurine doesn’t stick around to explain any of the dishes. Ruh-roh, Rhaggy.

Team Mission Not Accomplished knows it has messed up royally and looks glum and pale in the Stew Room. Mike I sums it up pretty well, telling team Revolting: “If we win you guys did a horrible job because we didn’t do a very god job.”

As expected, Padma calls in Revolt and they are declared the winners. Oadma calls everything delicious and Tom declares them “Best Restaurant Wars restaurant we’ve had in six years.” So, pretty much you can’t beat that. Mike V is declared the winner and he graciously says he will split the $10,000 winnings with his teammates. His brother Bryan, however, is having none of it and says he can keep his portion. Sibling Rivalry over cash, wow.

Then comes Team Mission Not Accomplished to hang their heads in front of the judges. No one throws anyone under the bus, which is refreshing. They all just man and woman up to an embarrassing sub-par performance. When Tom tells Jen her sauce broke (which she apparently didn’t realize before the plate went out) it looks like she might throw up.

The thing about this season, and what possibly is making it less fun than those past, is that most of the chefs here are flat-out professionals. They take their work very seriously, as evident by Jennifer’s violent reaction to her bad sauce. It actually is all about the food this time, not anyone’s crazy hair or charming accent or ill-advised hook up.

This is good, because most of us who watch do so because we love great food. But it’s also bad because the show hasn’t been structured over the years to properly highlight the food. Starting with 17 contestants virtually assures that the food will play second fiddle to personalities, at least at first. There are just too many pots to watch, so they watch the people instead. But this season the people are less colorful and their food is main event.

Kevin, Jen and Bryan haven’t given us much in the way of big personalities. They are relatively low key and almost always professional. But their food has — for the most part — been lights out. Mike V has tried to bring his personality, but despite his instance that he is a really nice guy, mostly he just seems arrogant and domineering. Though, it was a very classy move by him to share is $10,000.

But back to Judges’ Table where it looks like the judges are deciding between Jennifer’s disastrous trout or Laurine’s lack of leadership. So who got PYKAGED? Laurine.

Laurine is mature about her ouster and even comforts the distraught Jen, telling her “You deserve to be here.” See, now that’s good television.

NEXT WEEK: Natalie Portman arrives. Mike I drools. Will he be as excited when he finds out she is a vegan?

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