Our top 5 are in N.Y. for the penultimate episode where the challenges are suddenly more worthy of the show. At this point, though,there’s a missing ingredient: a villain. Sure, Hung can be a selfish jerk, but he’s no Marcel. He never pisses anyone off enough to throw them off their game. Hung wins both the quickfire and elimination challenges this week as Sara packs up her knives and goes.
GALLO: If anything, “Top Chef” has found a subtle niche. Week after week it sheds all that has come before and turns a marathon effort into a sprint. The pretension of Marcel last year and Stephen the sommelier in the first season gave the show identifiable personalities that were tough to like, making the dividing line between chefs easier. While Hung’s me-me-me attitude can grate, his skills and ambition are never in doubt, making him easier to respect than prickly characters of the past.
LYFORD: As the show opened with the cheftestants buying snacks from a street vendor, I was convinced that the quickfire challenge would be to create something that could be served and eaten on the street. Thankfully the producers had loftier goals, challenging the top five to re-create one of Le Cirque’s signature special dishes, a potato-wrapped bass. The ante was upped by forcing the contestants to do this in an unfamiliar kitchen with the Le Cirque staff in the middle of service working right next to them. As judged by the restaurant’s chef Sirio Maccioni (with Padma simply mimicking everything he said), Hung did the best job of copying the dish and won, with Casey a close second. Sara served raw fish and was the loser. It doesn’t seem that tough to me to re-create something you’ve just been served, but then I’m not a chef.
GALLO: Re-creating a dish can be VERY tough. The chefs need to deconstruct what they were served and then reconstruct it. Is there demi-glace in the sauce? Is the fish seared and then baked? Is it all done in a sautee pan? There was a great piece of advice in there: Cut the potato too thin and the whole dish burns, too thick and the fish stays raw.(They left out the fact that if it is took thick it will not be pliable). This was a technique challenge. Wrapping a protein is a standard technique — that’s partially why all the know-nothings on “Hell’s Kitchen” have to make Beef Wellington. Sara’s dish was a mess.
LYFORD:The Elimination Challenge took place at the prestigious French Culinary Institute as the contestants were tasked with creating a sumptuous dish based around chicken, russet potato and yellow onion. Hung gets an extra half hour due to his Quickfire win, but still has the audacity to complain that nobody helped him plate. Casey probably would have won the challenge had Tom not gotten so caught up with nomenclature, penalizing her for serving “coq au vin” made with chicken and not a rooster. Seems to me she could have called it “shit on a shingle” and still won since the judges all seemed to agree that it was the best-tasting and best-presented dish. So Hung wins by default for his advanced technique on the chicken even though his potatoes where not up to snuff. The best part of the elimination challenge was the chefs serving their food to the deans and chefs of the French Culinary Institute — including one lucky individual nicknamed “Mr. Chocolate.” (Can I be “Ms. Chocolate”?) It turns out that the more experts you surround Padma with, the less she says… and that’s fantastic.
GALLO: Did you notice that Padma affected Sirio’s accent in the Quickfire? And that one cheftestant “The legendary Sirio … he’s a legend?” She’s rubbing off on people. The priceless moment was Tom Colicchio’s look of shock when he stared at Brian’s soylent green shepherd’s pie. That food was glowing.
LYFORD: Sara again lands at the bottom for serving undercooked meat for the second time in an episode. And Dale is beside her for overreaching on his attempt at a duet dish and forgetting to serve one of his sauces. Will this poor kid ever stop sabotaging himself? Padma mangles the English language by telling the pair “One of you ARE going home and one of you ARE going to the finale in Aspen.”The judges (along with the Institute’s Andre Soltner) decide that poor conceptualization is less a sin than poor execution and Sara must go. I can’t disagree with the decision but I’m sorry to see her go. She was always gracious, always self-aware and always the first to admit her errors. She also had a talent for communicating her thought process with each dish.
GALLO: I would have been twice as upset to see Dale leave. He has a lot of good ideas and a solid base. Sara needs a few more years in the kitchen. Besides SHE’S A CHEESE MAKER! I was disappointed when Colicchio got no response at the judges tables to his question of which is the worse sin, poor concept or poor execution? I don’t believe the question was rhetorical. It seems like it is something that should be answered when the contestants arrive; Tre was canned for questionable leadership skills and yet Brian remains despite having zero. Further proof that this is a collection of sprints.