09/27/2007 11:19 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Top Chef: To El(k!) With It

Well, hello. It's been a while. Check out my blog for last week's Top

We're at the semifinals in Aspen. We have some lovely shots of
mountains, smoky streams, and....AGH! retinas explode.

Malarkey is sporting a totally loud argyle sweater. Seriously, that
sweater is loud. Talk to the sweater, people. He is, however, sans hat
which is good because my poor nerves can only take so much. Dale, by
the way, is in a heartburn-inducing combo of lime green and banana

We have our gratuitous sponsored car-porn shot, and then we come upon
a hot air balloon! The chefs are taken aboard, plied with Champers
(clearly a sponsor) and taken to a secluded mountain area. I also like
to be plied with champers when I fly.

On the trip over we have some dramatic voice-overing from our "Queen
for a Day" Cheftestants, who tell us some sad/inspirational back
stories. Apparently before Dale signed up for Top Chef, he'd just
gotten dumped, his restaurant closed, etc. Then, Dale went to Jamaica,
hooked up with Taye Diggs and got his groove back.

So the Chefs land in the mountain valley by a gorgeous stream, and
standing there is some hag (in comparison) to... BE STILL MY HEART!
ERIC RIPERT! The man is gorgeous. And he's a famous famous chef. Chef
of Le Bernadin, a 4 star NY Times restaurant. I'd say he's right up
there as one of the most prestigious chefs on this show - with Thomas
Keller and Daniel Boulod. But, who cares about his silly puttering
around the kitchen? I'm here to objectify him. The man's a dreamboat.
Better than Tre. Better than Tom. Gorgeous! Ah, French men. I'll be in
Paris from Oct. 13th-20th. Eric, email me.

The quickfire challenge is to make a trout dish with fresh, uncleaned
trout. They have 20 minutes, a little campfire to cook over, a frying
pan, and a few pantry ingredients.

Hung makes a fillet of trout 'dusted' with curry. He finishes with 7
minutes to spare and sort of sits there, forgetting to put on his
lemon sauce. He remembers this right before judging.

Malarkey makes trout cooked in rendered bacon fat, trout eggs, red
pepper, brown butter and probably a panoply of other ingredients
including a caramelized kitchen sink.

Casey makes a trout fillet with crisped skin.

Dale makes a fillet of trout with cayenne, bacon, apple and fennel.

Malarkey doesn't do that well, and he says that "when chefs consider
seafood they don't consider trout seafood at all." Um?

Eric loves Casey's and Hung's the most. He says that Hung was "very
precise" but Casey's "has a soul." Blech. That seems to fit into our
storyline of Hung as the Robot and Casey as the heart and soul of
cookery (which is how they get around the fact that she can't cut

But wait! Maybe he's NOT a robot. We get some more back-story from
Hung about his Dad escaping from Vietnam -- Hung didn't even meet him
until he was 9! Hung grew up cooking with his mother, sleeping in the
kitchen, and learning so much from her. I actually tear up again --
which I suppose is no great feat since I cry during cotton commercials
-- when Travis interrupts saying, "He's very precise with his
well-placed sob story." Cynics!


The challenge is to create a dish, on a ranch, to appeal to some rodeo
riders. Eh. Basically it's just cooking I think. Casey, as the winner
of the quickfire, can use some of the ingredients she brought from
home in the finale.

Hung is perplexed as to what cowboys and cowgirls (cow people to you)
will eat: "Baked beans and baked beans and baked beans?" he asks,
dramatically, as if he were saying "Tomorrow and tomorrow and

Dale remarks that he's never cooked for cowboys but he's "slept with a
few." Ah, the age of over-sharing. Unless you slept with Tre, I don't
need to know.

So the "protein" is going to be Elk. Apparently Elk is extremely lean
and strong in flavor. Almost gamey. Dale says that "understanding the
ins and outs of those kind of meats, I'm in a good place." He also
talks about his 'saucework.' Seriously, after his comment last week
about people being able to tell if the chef got "laid" from tasting
the main course, everything he says sounds dirty to me.

Malarkey is attempting to do a 3 hour braise of the Elk meat (Dale
thinks Elk would need more like 10 since it's so lean.) Malarkey wants
to "put everything into this one dish." Uh oh, classic Malarkey. Hung
is doing a seared Elk (bold!) saying that "cooking for cowboys and
cowgirls does not mean anything to me. I'm going to cook great tasting
food for the judges." See, now if someone else did this, they'd say
the chef was staying true to their vision -- with Hung, I bet they see
this as a weakness.

I actually shriek with excitement when the "cow people" show up. I'm
expecting some dashing, rugged cowboys until I see it's just a lot of
old people in matching, frilly outfits. They're probably all from New
York. Ugh. Padma hits the triangle and the cowpokes pour in for
dinner. Or, as we say, CHOW!

Casey, working her "down home" accent harder than a miniature pony at
a children's birthday party, drawls, "Y'all come on in!" Mad Hatter
Malarkey is also working the folksy angle, wearing an enormous, creamy,
10-gallon cowboy hat. Malarkey is making something called "Honkey Tonk
Whiskey River Drunken Elk." Of course he is.


There were no huge flops. The Judges (Tom, Gail, Eric and Padma) liked
everything, except Malarkey's. Although Malarkey's wasn't a flop so
much as unfocused. Still, I'm pretty sure he's going home, because
Dale also had a "carnival" on his plate, but they really loved his.

Eric Ripert praises Hung's dish as "technically perfect, but his
flavors were almost too controlled." What do they want Hung to do? Go
to Jamaica and get his groove back? Cook drunk? Cook sloppy? Cry?

Malarkey is getting criticism for his totally overloaded plate - the
fact that he then topped this dish with a choice between two cheeses
"put it over the edge" for Padma. Eric Ripert also finds this very
wrong: later he goes on about the wrongness of letting the diner have
a choice which I do think is funny of him -- wasn't Tom Colicchio's
Craft known for that at first? Until they ditched the idea because
diners didn't want a choice?

Casey is getting some criticism for turning out some very, very rare
Elk, but Eric Ripert is loving her smoky tomato butter.

Tom says to Hung, "You are technically the best chef up here."


Interesting slip, Tom. A producer off camera stares daggers at Tom.
Tom continues. "TECHNICALLY. But we don't see that in the food.
Somewhere we need to see Hung." What's this mean? He has to cook
Vietnamese food just because he is from there? Please. Hung fervently
swears that if they send him to the finals, he can prove himself.

Malarkey's fate is not looking good. Padma jokes, "Brian, is there
anything in the pantry that you didn't put on the plate?"

Then, in order to make the decision, the judges ask each chef to tell
them why they should go. Basically, they're being put on the spot for
some emoting. Give it to us! American demands a grossly emotional
display of personal back stories!

Dale gives it up first, talking about how before he started Top Chef
he was in one of the top 20 restaurants in the country, when the owner
retired and it fell apart. It "slipped through his fingers...I fell
apart...I entered this to find myself again...I have been
I'm a chef again." Who knew!?

Casey gives it up next. "I bust my ass to make my restaurants the
best...coolest, cleanest" (huh?) " to be..I'm a young chef..." Tom
looks emotional. Tom, you bear icon. Who knew?!

Hung emotes with the best of them: "I cook with so much love and I get
that from my mother. I grew up in the kitchen. Sleeping in the
kitchen! I don't see myself doing anything else in the whole world! My
mother, my aunts, my cousins, everyone in my whole bloodline is in
this industry. This is what I love to do. For the love of food." Who

Malarkey is the least compelling. Something about how "I've cooked for
cowboys, everyone under the sun, but I haven't cooked MY FOOD."

The winner? Dale.

Brian, please pack your knives (and hats) and go.

Brian says (paraphrased): "I've enjoyed the entire ride. I've cooked
great dishes. I was a little cutting edge and maybe a little ahead of
my time."

(huh? He was? I didn't notice him being particularly innovative?) But
as much as I've mocked old Marlarks, I do like him. I kind of think he
should be in the final three. However, as a back-seat cook, I think
maybe he should streamline his palate.

And then, Malarkey of the Fedora, Malarkey of the Newsie Cap, Malarkey
of the Knit sleeping Cap, Malarkey of the billion gallon cowboy
hat...Malarkey of the Toppers Gone Wrong, is gone.