Crudo Is The New Pork Belly or Not Another Team Crudo
This week on Top Chef, it was part two of Restaurant Wars, meaning someone was going to win, and someone was going to get sent home. Hurrah for closure! Unfortunately, this also meant Padma got to put away her low-cut, just-keeping-the-viewers-from-flipping-the-channel dress from last week. Oh, how I will miss that dress.
Now, I know that Restaurant Wars is the most famous challenge in all of Top Chef and all, but do we really care about how well these people can, say, run a dining room or manage a wait staff? I understand the cooking part of the challenge. Being able to not just cook something yummy, but prepare that same yummy thing consistently, and timed to go with the rest of a course, over and over for an entire evening, that part I get. That’s part of being a chef (and probably a big part of what separates your average home cook jackass like you or me from a true pro). The other stuff, not so much.
Mostly, I come for the cooking and the hilariously specific chef burns (“Nice crudite, bro. 1998 called, they want their truffled sunchokes back”). If I wanted to watch people dressed down over customer service, I’d watch Kitchen Nightmares or Bar Rescue or one of the other thousand shows where some awful unbearable loudmouth dresses down a room full of minimum-wage earners (note to food show producers: Can we get a version of Bar Rescue without Jon Taffer? That guy is almost as hard to listen to as he is to look at. I honestly don’t think listening to a jowely psycho scream is the reason most people tune in. Anyway.)
That said, the front-of-the-house part of the challenge was valuable for getting Phillip in front of a captive audience, which allowed Phillip to be his most Phillip this week, explaining to the guests his sick neck tats and describing the concepts behind his many Los Angeles-area restaurants (does he have one where all the food comes plated on dirty things he just found lying around the parking lot, I wonder? “Hi, waiter? Yes, I will have the seared foie gras a la crack pipe, si vous plait.”)
Phillip eventually managed to annoy everyone, starting with his wait staff. This guy should win an Emmy for reaction shot face.
Was Phillip created in a lab by reality show producers? He’s perfect. He’s like the Ivan Drago of not being here to make friends.
Additionally, this week’s episode included a badly-cooked risotto, an unnecessary foam, and not one, but TWO crudos. If you were playing the Top Chef drinking game, rest in peace because you are dead. Anyway, this week was a big shake-up, so the rankings are a bit of a mess.
Restaurant Wars Team One (District)
Amar (executive chef), Kwame, Jeremy, and Phillip (front of house)
Restaurant Wars Team Two (Palate)
Karen (front of house), Marjorie, Carl, and Isaac (executive chef)
1. Marjorie (+2)
Marjorie didn’t win this week, but she cooked like a million things (bread, dessert, a cheese plate) and seemed to get positive reviews on most of them. With the exception of her “California berry soup” dessert (do chefs know how bizarre “berry soup” sounds to anyone who isn’t a chef?), which she inexplicably decided to put champagne in without telling any of the diners. Here’s the thing about putting raw booze in your food: if you tell people, they might love it. If you don’t, they just wonder why it tastes weird. Also, if you serve it to a sober guy like Rad Chad, he’s going to have to call his sponsor. Anyway, I put Marjorie on top because Tom is clearly impressed with her, and that kind of momentum goes a long way. It’s the other side of the Phillip coin.
Nickname(s): Mike Ms.abella, Sheyore, The Dark Horse
Dish: Parmesan parsley garlic bread.
Review(s): “I love that Marjorie comes here, and they’re not allowed recipes, and she bakes.” “This is like savory monkey bread.”
Dish: California berry soup with buttermilk panna cotta, vanilla, and macadamia nuts. Aka “Really sexy champagne berry soup,” as described by Carl, yet another terrible use of the word “sexy” to describe food.
Review(s): “There’s a strange flavor in Marjorie’s panna cotta dish — I’m not sure what it is but I don’t like it.” “I’m getting a fizz off this.”
2. Isaac (+6)
CORNBREAD IS DA BIG WINNAH! All season I’ve been waiting for Cornbread to finally lock it down and cook food as good as it sounds, to finally make Grandmammy Toups proud again (Cornbread wears a foot from the alligator who ate her around his neck to remember her by). And this was finally his week. Also, he played it smart. You know what’s easiest to cook consistently over the course of an evening? Stews and braises (they usually taste better too, slow-cooking ftw). I’m not quite ready to put Isaac at number one after his first win, but if he keeps this up, he and his imaginary lizard sidekick Peppah could really make a run at this thing. “Putcha spats on, Peppah, we inna big time now!” (*Peppah paddles their river boat towards the fancy country club while zydeco music plays*)
Nickname(s): Cornbread, Roux McClanahan
Dish: Braised lamb and couscous
Review(s): “Isaac loves to stew and braise.” “Nicely cooked, tons of flavor.” “This is definitely the best piece of meat that’s been served.”
Notable Quote(s): “Carl’s about as erratic as a caffeinated squirrel.”
Not bad, but to be honest, I was hoping for a simile a little more… folksy? Overtly Cajun? “Aw, biscuits, Peppah! Dis here Cahl boy hottah dan a crawdad belly on a lava rock, ooo wee!”
3. Karen (-2)
Karen won kudos for her front-of-the-house management this week, and for her beautiful tortellinis in Carl’s soup. Hey, who doesn’t love a beautiful tortellini? (Your mom?) I’m not sure how to rank her though, considering this isn’t a restaurant manager competition, and other people were responsible for preparing her food. Also, does “coconut rice-stuffed trout” actually sound good to anyone? There’s no upside with trout. Absolute best-case scenario, you’re going to hear “well that was pretty good for trout, I guess.” Adding Thai dessert rice to the mix doesn’t change that equation in my mind.
Nickname(s): Rosie the Riveter, Hot Topic
Dish: Coconut rice stuffed trout.
Review(s): “I hate to be mean, the trout might be the worst thing so far.” “The rice is quite mushy.”
Notable Quote(s): “Time, Carl? …Not enough!”
Ha ha ha, good one Karen.
4. Amar (-2)
This week, Amar cooked an avocado gazpacho with king crab and fried tortilla (which is just baaarely not a crudo or a ceviche) for an appetizer, which Tom disparaged as “crab nachos.” I feel like that’s borderline racist, but also a good nickname for Amar, aka Big Sleazy, aka Crab Nachos. Anyway, Big Sleazy took a llaisez-faire approach as executive chef, which probably cost his team the victory (“victory”). But just like I said last week, it was probably a smart strategic play. If this team lost, did anyone really think the judges would kick off anyone but Phillip? Kwame would’ve had to stab Gail on camera to get kicked off before Phillip. Of course, that strategic approach doesn’t excuse Amar for apparently braising his pork belly in rock salt and lemon concentrate. The judges went around the table comparing pucker faces, talking about how terrible it was, until Tom piped in that actually, “it wasn’t that bad” if eaten with the pork belly. Which was… how it was intended to be eaten, no? Between this and his gazpacho that was apparently tasty but overly nacho-like (judges getting hung up on nomenclature is another food-show staple), it was a weird week for Amar.
Nickname(s): Big Sleazy, Crab Nachos
Dish: Avocado gazpacho with king crab salad, lemon pudding, and fried tortilla
Review(s): “Crab nachos?” “Best nachos I’ve had all night.” “It was odd, but… I kept going back for more.” (That’s what my ex said, HIYO!)
Dish: Slow-braised pork belly with BBQ sauce consomme
Review(s): “Bad.” “It’s like vinegar.” “Rough.” “It’s more concentrated than pickle juice.” “The pork belly with the sauce, not so bad.”
Notable Quote(s): “Don’t teach people how to eat.”
For all his lack of leadership and whatnot, Amar telling Phillip not to try to teach the diners how to eat the food might be the best advice a chef has given another on this show. Not that it actually stopped Phillip from doing it, of course.
“We might be the winners of restaurant wars, who knows.”
Hahaha, nope. Not even close, man.
5. Jeremy (-1)
I love making fun of Jeremy because he’s exactly like half my friends. On that note, did Jeremy seem drunk for this week’s interviews? He seemed… slurry. Anyway, Jeremy drops a few slots again this week for committing a sin that would’ve rightly gotten him kicked off any other week.
You cooked risotto in water, bro? Maybe Amar was right when he was busting Jeremy’s balls for always doing raw dishes. Cooking risotto in water is like something someone who’d never cooked before would do. I actually thought that when Padma said “This tastes like it was cooked in water,” that it just was a particularly hurtful risotto burn. I had no idea it was actually true. It’s like, bro, do you even risotto? Also, NEVER COOK RISOTTO, WHAT HAVE I BEEN TELLING YOU PEOPLE.
Nickname(s): Frat Dad, Totino
Dish: Artichoke and lemon risotto
Review(s): “I can just look at the risotto and tell you this is a problem.” “It looks gluey.” “It feels like Jeremy cooked the risotto in water rather than broth.” “It’s definitely flavorless.”
Dish: Dry-aged ribeye with celery root miso pureé
Review(s): “Fine. It’s not gonna win a blue ribbon at the county fair.”
Notable Quote(s): “I’m, like, so pissed right now.”
6. Kwame (even)
Oh, man, what is happening to you, Kwame? Kwame had everything. A positive attitude. An inspirational story. Food that was actually good. And then this week, he made a foam. A FOAM! It’s like every contestant this week had to tick one box of my “ways to get kicked off Top Chef” post. Oh, you can call it an “emulsion” all you want, we all know it was a foam. Same with the “beet-cured hamachi.” EVERYONE KNOWS THAT’S JUST ANOTHER GOD DAMNED CRUDO, KWAME. Bring back the old Kwame.
Nickname(s): Wormser, The Prodigy
Dish: Beet-cured hamachi with avocado mousse and cucumber-lime emulsion.
Review(s): “It’s horrible.” “This is technique over substance.” “What was the foam?” “It was sort of like spittle.”
You know it’s bad when Padma not only trashes your dish, but seems to pity it. Look at her face. This is the face a woman gives a man the first time she sees his penis and is disappointed by it.
…Uh, so I’ve heard.
Dish: Roasted Amish chicken thighs with cauliflower. I really wish they would’ve explained what an “Amish chicken thigh” is. Is it covered in heavy black fabric? Extra lean from raising its own barn? I need more information.
Review(s): “I don’t think much of it. It was kind of bland and boring.”
This was Tom responding to Padma asking, “Tom, what did you think of Kwame’s chicken thigh?” This has happened so many times now that at this point, we all know that the question is just a transparent set up for a diss. On that note, you could do better, Tom, you probably had 10 minutes to think of something bitchy to say.
Notable Quote(s): “I’ve learned that Phillip is so set in his ways that there’s no point in even trying to make something good here.”
“…It was cucumber foam.”
7. Carl (+1)
Carl theoretically got good reviews on his food this week, which might make you wonder why he’s all the way down at number seven. That is, assuming you remembered Carl was ever on the show in the first place, which seems unlikely. Well, here’s the thing, Karen made the tortellini in their soup that everyone loved, and consomme doesn’t seem like the hardest thing to prepare (unless you were Amar this week), and it surely isn’t the most interesting. And what else did he cook? A GOD DAMNED CRUDO. So basically, this week Carl made consomme and crudo. I get the feeling he’s going to get kicked off this show as soon as the judges remember that he’s still on it.
Nickname(s): Ol’ Whatshisface, Charlie White Guy, Him?
Dish: Oxtail consomme with tripe and tortellini.
Review(s): “I’ve actually never had tripe cut this small, and it’s a very smart idea.” “The oxtail was also really nicely cooked.” “It’s a great way to start.”
Dish: Snapper crudo with cucumbers, ginger, and grapes. (NO MORE CRUDO)
Review(s): “I am loving Carl’s snapper.” (Does anyone else constantly think of snapper as a vagina euphemism? Just me then?) “I like dish a lot, but another crudo?” (*eye roll*) “It’s the new pork belly.” [Editor’s Note: Oh snap!]
8. Phillip (-3) ((Eliminated))
Ahh, poor Phillip, the judges finally put him out of his misery this week. Like every week, this week in Phillip was a mixture of “why do they hate him so much?” and “my God, he’s so hateable.”
As front of the house manager, Phillip seemed to employ the “get Padma drunk” strategy, which seemed like a smart play. Only it backfired when the judges dinged him for filling Tom’s wine glass too full (who in their right mind complains about this? Also, isn’t that the waiter’s fault?), and they seemed weirdly hung up on the fact that the server pulled the cocktail carafe out of the server’s stand. Jesus, judges, have you all gone Hollywood? Stop looking gift booze in the mouth. You people act like you’ve never licked powder off a stranger’s hand at a music festival.
It kind of seemed like they showed up drunk wanting to dump on Phillip and they just got drunker and drunker having more and more fun dumping on Phillip. Not that he didn’t sort of deserve it. As soon as I heard “strawberry salad” I knew he was going home. What the hell was that?
Phillip was pissed to be going home the same week a guy cooked risotto in water, which is understandable, but at the same time, at least risotto is a thing. Fruit salad on top of a gazpacho puddle is just bizarre. (“Served in a man’s hat.”)
Kind of a bummer though. This show won’t be the same without The Weez to kick around.
Nickname(s): Chef Top Knot, The Weez
Dish: Strawberry salad, with pickled cucumber, roasted beets, arugula, and strawberry champagne gazpacho.
Review(s): “Take the onions off and it’s a dessert.” “It’s also totally unseasoned.” “I’m kind of angry.” “It felt stupid.”
Notable Quote(s): “When you add acid to olive oil it turns acrid.”
Can anyone confirm that this is true? I make bruschetta with lemon and olive oil all the time and I’ve never noticed this, but I don’t pre-mix it either. If you leave it too long, does it turn into those two liquids from Die Hard With A Vengeance?
“You’re welcome to use your fingers if you want, but… fork is recommended.”
I love that Phillip’s interpretation of Amar telling him not to tell the diners how to eat was “but maybe passive-aggressively shame them into eating the way you want?” Also, if a guy told me this at his restaurant, he’d get a shrimp fork crammed in his assh*le. Sorry, pal, I decide what’s finger food (your sister).
Next week: They teased a scene of Carl rapping to MC Hammer, so maybe losing Phillip wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Will Carl come out of his shell with Phillip gone? Will Isaac and Peppah make Grandmammy Toups proud? Will Jason win last chance kitchen and come back to shame everyone into being less bro-y? Tune in next week to find out. Or, just read my power rankings afterward.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.