Welcome to the latest episode of Top Chef. Or, as I'll call it tonight: How to condescend to both middle America and Mexican Cuisine, brought to you by Soggy Corndog Inc.
It starts with our Little Top Chef darlings at various tasks, including jumping rope and wrestling with each other. When does the head shaving start?
Richard, who I do like, is saying that "it's all about the food." I agree. Andrew, however, is talking about how "part of being a chef is being an entertainer." I detect a theme for this episode.
QUICKFIRE: Reinvent the Taco as a Fine Dining Dish.
Padma comes in with Rick Bayless, purveyor of fine Mexican dining and winner of many James Beards awards.
Stephanie says, "My first thought is, oh crap, Mexican food."
Erik, who is wearing a "hat" along with shiny earring and a necklace (clearly he never heard the rule to put on all your jewelry, and then take a piece off), says that Mexican is "soulful" and to put fine dining in it, "It just kind of bugs me." Erik kind of bugs me, I feel this is just a bit patronizing of him. Erik, guardian of all that is Mexican and true, makes a chicken taco.
Spike is another person struggling with the challenge: he's "keeping it street food, that's what the taco is all about." Maybe, but it's not what the challenge is about. He goes with ground pork.
Andrew is going with plantains and duck, and Richard is doing Jicamma as a taco shell: "fine dining is my game," he says.
Ryan is making squash tacos, which I would support if he would call them Squashos.
Bayless, judging, points out that he got a lot of street tacos. He picks Erik as a "train wreck" but Erik voice overs that he doesn't care - he doesn't think Mexican and Fine Dining go together. Annoying!
Ultimately Richard is the winner, for his Jicamma, avocado, papaya and cilantro taco, which will go on the menu at Rick Bayless' restaurant. Richard also has immunity this episode.
The chefs divide themselves into Red and Blue teams, before trotting off to the suburbs. The challenge is to prepare food for a Block Party, using food from kitchens of people who live on the block.
I am kind of bored by this challenge. And, the part where they have to run up and down the block "shopping" in the houses, out of the blue except clearly planned, feels fake to me.
Andrew says that "We're running around like NYC rats, just trying to get as much shit as possible." The rats here hardly scurry. They are fat, insouciant and obnoxiously casual about trotting around in broad daylight. And, during the Transit Strike, when I was walking 8 miles to work, I actually saw a great big fat one crossing the street by the Brooklyn Bridge, which I found hilarious: Hey, the subway was closed!
Richard's team decides to go "upscale." Team blue, Spike's team, decides to go patronizing, saying: "that's what they like here" - a menu of classic Americana.
"We're cooking for the people," says Ryan.
Team blue, is making: paella, slaw, bbq pulled pork, bean salad, mac & cheese, a fruit thing and something called a "sexy drink" - which is something I'd like to avoid. Please keep your sexiness out of my drink.
Team Red is making: sliders, corn dogs, pork skewers, Waldorf salad, pasta salad, a taco salad and s'mores and Sangria. Erik is doing the corn dogs (he makes them at his own restaurant) and Zoi is making pasta salad, which she knows is a bad menu choice.
Tom comes in to look around and Erik tells him about how they're "putting their hearts into everything." Spare me! I would say that the Chefs shouldn't think Tom is so easily manipulated, but then I remembered last season when it was Robot Hung Vs. All Heart Soul Chefs. And lo, upon arrival, Erik realizes his corn dogs are soggy from the transport.
The judges arrive, and it's Rick, Tom, Padma and Ted Allen. I object to this. I don't dislike Ted, but where is Gail? Where is my Gail? Although Ted delivers a great line while sampling Richards' paella: "Well thank god we got some sausage in here somewhere."
Continuing the theme of Soul Vs. Food, team red is plating the food while Team Blue, led by Andrew and Spike, is careening around the party, playing B-Ball and entertaining children. Spike says that the blue team is more charismatic. Richard says, "Little hamburgers aren't that great. Whatever."
Spike continues, "We were the life of the party...keeping it SIMPLE for the locals on the block!"
The blue team goes in first, and they've won! But Tom says, "It was fairly close, there were some things we really didn't care for...I was expecting alot more from this team." Namely, they thought Nikki's velveeta Mac & Cheese was gross. They also don't like that Richard's paella was missing a delicious crunchy crust or something.
Stephanie gets the win, for her delicious fruit and cinnamon tortilla chip dessert. Win number 2 for Stephanie!
The losery Red Team goes in. They are ENRAGED and STUNNED to be the losing team. After all, they played basketball with the kids and everything.
Spike: "We thought we kicked thier ass, to be honest."
Padma: "You didn't." Ha.
Zoi: "We just decided it was middle America, block party, kids," says Zoi. Tom points out that they didn't need to dumb everything down.
Spike continues: "We were cooking for the neighborhood...I think I speak for everybody that we're pretty surprised that we're here...we kind of made the block party." I'm really confused that this team thinks it's all about the entertainment and schmooze factor, not just the food.
Andrew does some sort of ridiculous interjection which I have attempted to transcribe but probably can't: (buy me DVR please): "The effort and the team work that we showed today! Done! I ain't going nowhere. This is my house." What? Tom looks disturbed. I long for Top Chef Bouncers.
After they leave, Padma, who may well be a comic genius, deadpans, "They were certainly surprised to lose."
In the end, Erik is sent home for his soggy corndogs.
This morning I decided to chat with Max and found out that we can no longer be friends:
Max: Richard's jicamma winning that quickfire? That was obnoxious.
Me: See, I like Richard. I stand by this.
Max: Can't stand him.
Me: At least he got the challenge and didn't go off on the beautiful soul of the humble taco and how he refused to fancy it up.
Max: But I find Bayless to be kind of obnoxious too, so maybe it works. Whatever, I'm now firmly on team Spike-and-Andrew
Me: ! omg can we be friends?
Max: You are just mad that you can't pull off wearing a jaunty hat.
Me: I can't believe you like Andrew! Um, "This is my house, I ain't going anywhere?" That was insane.
Max: OK. Yeah, well, I like Andrew's cooking and he's a character but I find some of his speeches unbearable. And I thought he was embarrassing, such that I almost had to turn it off in front of the judges.
Me: that was so strange! Tom looked appalled. Okay so you like Andrew and Spike. My question: do you like Richard?
Max: No. Not at all.
Me: Historically, I like the contestants that everyone else in America Hates. E.G Hung and Marcel.
Max: I loved Hung. But I don't think Richard has been that good at anything
Me: Can I help it if I like my chefs to be a little more proper with a little less schmooze?
Max: What's proper about Richard? How much wax he puts in his faux hawk? What is it with Top Chef contestants? "I'm going to be on TV, this is definitely a good idea. I should maintain this the whole time."
Me: And yet! It usually works. Hats, personality disorders, a tendency towards nudity...reality TV 101!
Max: I guess. It's still embarrassing.
Me: So, in summation. I am Team Richard, You are Team Andrew. Farewell my friend. I hardly knew ye.
Max: NO. Let's say Team Mark
Me: Who ISN'T team mark? That's like Team Switzerland pick a side, my friend!
Max: Spike, then. I still like Spike
Me: Oh, so you're team Statement Hat.
Max: And you are Team Ugly Haircut from 4 Years Ago.
Me: I'm team hair product. See you next week: here's hoping Andrew Grinds his teeth to little bits.