“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: That’ll do, pig, that’ll do


The chefs are all regrouping after the untimely PYKAGing of our little chefbian Ashley. Mike V assures himself that even though he was in the bottom, “Babe Ruth struck out once or twice in his career.” So, you know, he’s being quite humble with his comparisons. Meanwhile 25-year-old Eli and 43-year-old Robin are pictures of contrast. The latter is doing pilates on the lawn, one of her rituals since her cancer diagnosis. The former is talking about how he still lives with his parents and loves it because “I don’t pay rent.” Maturity, meet Moocher.

In the Top Chef kitchen Padma greets them with kicky white boots and a crazy white belt. Was this the week she found out about the proverbial bun in her oven and this belt was some sort of overcompensation to keep it secret? In which case, way to draw even more attention to your midsection, honey. But I digress. Standing with her and her belt is also American chef Charlie Palmer.

Turns out both the Voltaggio Brothers have worked for Chef Palmer in the past, but he promises that he will remain “completely impartial.” I, however, made no such promise and will say that Chef Palmer’s mustache looks a little scruffy — like it aspired to be but couldn’t quite pull off the full Magnum P.I.

Padma tells the gang that the Quickfire Challenge is to pair foods with Alexia snacks. No word on whether the Glad family of products and GE Monogram collection were jealous at this week’s gratuitous plug. Perhaps Toyota Highlander can take them for a ride to comfort them, poor dears.

The chefs scurry off to make their chip combinations. Eli smugly notes that “a lot of people don’t understand what works with what and why it works with what.” I don’t understand why a 25-year-old executive chef is still living with mommy and daddy. Jennifer has her own set of worries having started her pork too soon. She says if Padma and Chef Palmer don’t visit her station first, it will be overcooked. So where do they start? Opposite her, ensuring her dish gets tasted dead last.v

They make the rounds while making the standard non-committal comments like “spicy,” “tang” and “mellowness.” One day I’ll gather all these adjectives and make a wicked awesome reverse Mad Libs.

Chef Magnum Not-Quite P.I. picks Robin, Ash and Jennifer’s dishes as his least favorite. The other two look resigned while Jennifer is “ridiculously embarrassed” to have served over-done pork. His favorites, on the other hand, were Eli, Bryan and Kevin. But who won? Eli. Figures the guy who lives in his parents’ basement won the junk food challenge.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are again asked to pair their food, but this time it’s considerably more high brow than just salty snacks. The chefs will cater the Pigs & Pinot fundraiser, an annual event that pairs pork dishes with pinot noir. The chefs draw knives to find out what part of Wilbur they’ll be cooking. Jennifer draws the wild card and gets to pick her part. She goes with belly because “it’s nice and moist,” which means she won’t be in danger of repeating her Quickfire pork pas.

The challenge is particularly near and dear to Kevin’s heart or, more accurately, forearm. The prolific pork product preparer has a tattoo of a pig on his arm and calls it “the best thing in the world.” Then as the resident “Pig Guy,” Kevin says he “would be a little embarrassed with myself if I didn’t (win).” In my book, the man who made bacon jam deserves every pig-related honor available.

The cheftestants head to Chef Palmer’s Mandalay Bay restaurant, Aureole. The eatery is home to the famous “wine angels,” who fetch the fancy grape juice from a three-story vertical wine cave. It’s like Mission Impossible, but with hootch. They get to taste several varieties of pinot and pick their favorite to pair with their dish. Eli scoffs at some of the chefs’ picks and their “amateur palates.” No one who brags about still living with his parents should call anyone else amateur.

Later that night at the house, the chefs are cooking dinner. Kevin, ever the diplomat, says he tries to get along with everyone in the house. But even he says while Robin has “the best intentions, she is driving some people in the house up the f—ing wall.” To illustrate, Robin gives us one of her patented stream-of-consciousness babble sessions. Jennifer says, “Oh, Christ” and looks around in vain for a wine angel.

While Eli is preparing scallops, Robin hovers and then makes a comment about cleaning up after him. He gets his big-boy underpants in a twist and snaps, “You’re not my mom, cut it out!” to which she replies “I don’t want to be your mom, believe me. I want to be your civilized housemate.” Look, people, I know Robin yammers, but we’re all adults here, right? Oh, wait, I guess not — Eli.

Eli seems very proud of himself afterward as he runs down to serve his scallops — out of the pan, I might add — to the cool kids. Someone change this boy’s diaper, it’s stinking up the show.

Robin seems acutely aware of her odd-woman-out status among the “clique of the young kids” and says “some of the other chefs are pissed I’m still there because didn’t love me as much as Hector or Mattin.” Nail, head.

The next day the chefs arrive and start cooking in a little segment I like to call Top Chef: Civil War — Brother Against Brother. The Voltaggio boys go at each other. Mike brags that he is faster to take a risk than Bryan. They then cuss at each other about using the cling wrap. Wow, Thanksgiving must be fun at their house.

Mike V then explains why he will win Top Chef: “I bring to the table what no one else has: I want to be Top Chef. Anything less than the finals for me is unacceptable.” Gee, you think it never crossed any of the other 16 contestants’ mind that they wanted to be Top Chef, too?

The contestants finish up their work in the kitchen and arrive at the event site to begin set up. And with that a stream of dinner guests starts shuffling in like zombies, seeking pig instead of brains.

The Elimination judges will be Tom, Padma, Chef Palmer, Toby Young and Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin. Sigh, I miss Gail.

They start making their rounds. Mike V’s root beer braised pork cheek on a truffle bun gets called “really good.” Ash’s chilled pork tenderloin (which was Mike I’s idea, by the way) gets called “clammy.” And Eli, who snickered at all the amateur palates, gets his choice of wine called a bad pairing by Chef Palmer himself. Smug can turn silly in an instant, can’t it mama’s boy?

The rest of the dishes go from “great” (Kevin’s pork leg pate) to “liked it” (Bryan’s spare ribs) and “mmm” (Jennifer’s pork belly). Laurine and Robin meanwhile elicit “cat food” and “sliminess” respectively as their descriptive words from the judges. So, um, you tell me which group did better. Robin, once again displaying an astounding level of obliviousness, says she feels she “could be on the top.”

Back in the Stew Room, Robin and Eli again spar as each say they feel confident their dishes were favorites. Padma comes in as ultimate tie-breaker and picks neither, instead calling in the Voltaggio Brothers, “Pig Guy” Kevin and Jennifer. Say hello to your final four, Top Chef fans.

They praise the Voltaggios for their great pairings and call everything about Kevin’s dish successful. Toby then gets in his requisite pithy comment for the night and calls Jennifer’s pinot “the difference between a shaved armpit and a hairy armpit.” I think I could have lived my entire life without that particular gem. But who won? Pig Guy! Kevin’s prize is to be a guest chef at the 2010 Pigs & Pinot event.

They return to the Stew Room and call back Ash, Laurine and Robin. After they leave Mike I says, “I hope they make the right f—ing decision tonight … I hope grandma goes.” Just in case you might have forgotten, Mike I is still an insufferable pig.

The weakest links stand before the judges. Robin attempts a lame “I stand by what I put out tonight” before Tom calls her sauce “weird” and “gummy.” Ash then reveals, once again, that he second-guessed himself onto the chopping block by going with Mike I’s chilled pork suggestion instead of his warm pork on polenta.

Laurine then gets thoroughly schooled on how to make rillettes by Chef Palmer. Apparently you poach it in fat. From the look on Laurine’s face, she had no idea either. After that smack down, they spare her the “cat food” comment. You can only be so cruel, I guess.

As the three chefs are sent back to stew with their tails between their legs, Ash jokes “I forgot flavor!” But the judges think it’s even worse than just forgetting because during their deliberation Chef Palmer says, “I don’t think he understands how to develop flavor.”

So who got PYKAGed? Ash. As so ends Team Rainbow. This was, apparently, not the season of the gays. Well, there’s always next time.

NEXT WEEK: Restaurant wars! Restaurant wars! Restaurant wars!

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