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Review Wed May 21 2008

Top Chef, Episode 11: Let's Get the Egg Outta Here

It’s down to six chefs in the Ikea-furnished Lakeview house … three with an actual future on the show, one hanging by the skin of his ego (Spike) and two surly backstabbers, one of which will surely be packing his or her knives within the viewing hour.

But first, it’s the Quickfire Challenge. At the crack of dawn. This week there’s no time for shots of the chefs brushing their teeth and mourning the loss of last week’s loser. Tom Colicchio tiptoes into the house at 5:45 am, and gets the sleepy chefs out of bed so they can go to Lou Mitchell’s to fry some eggs.

“Eggs,” says Spike to the home audience. “That’s one of the most precise cooking techniques.” At the restaurant, the cheftestants are introduced to Helene, the restaurant’s owner and judge for the challenge. Each chef spends a little time in what Helene calls the Hole, taking orders for egg sandwiches and butterflied sausages. Spike mentions three times that he was once a short-order cook. Stephanie loses an egg in the soupy poached egg pot, and Lisa accidentally grills a Styrofoam to-go box. Antonia wins, partly for remaining so calm, and partly because she can flip eggs single-handedly. Tom then gives the chefs an address where they’re to go meet Padma for the Elimination Challenge.

The address, which even the Chicago chefs don’t recognize, turns out to be a big empty warehouse space. Restaurant Wars is on. The chefs break into two teams of three, with Antonia getting the first pick of teammates since she was the morning’s winner. She taps Richard and Stephanie. That makes it an exact rematch (minus two chefs) of the teams from the wedding wars. And that means Dale and Lisa are reunited yet again. Bravo cuts to a commercial (it’s that lady who rubs her Glad baggy full of pasta on her cheeks, again), and Lisa and Dale sharpen their nails.

Each team gets $1,500 for food and $5,000 for décor from Pier One Imports. But before heading out, they spend an hour conceptualizing. Antonia, Richard and Stephanie dub their gastropub Warehouse Kitchen; Dale, Lisa and Spike, who each have a background in Asian food, decide on an Asian-fusion themed restaurant called Mai Buddha. The teams pick their executive chefs (Antonia and Dale), and their front-of-the-house managers (Stephanie and Spike). It looks like the infighting that hurt the Mai Buddha team in the wedding wars might not be a problem this time: Spike says it’s time for the three of them to rise to the challenge and work together. But then he leaves to decorate the space, leaving Dale and Lisa to yell at one another for the next several hours.

As the chefs are preparing their three courses, Anthony Bourdain walks into the kitchen and tells them that he’s going to be filling in for Tom, who had to be at another event. He asks each team about their plans and the division of labor. The fact that he’s eaten his way across Asia puts team Buddha on edge. When Lisa says she’s making a shrimp laksa, Bourdain says he takes his laksa seriously. Yikes! He then goes outside and says the difference in comportment between the two teams is striking. Warehouse Kitchen is modest, creating modest expectations. Mai Buddha says Asian; Bourdain says Asia is huge. His expectations are high.

To help in the last frantic hours before the restaurants open, the eliminated cast members are brought back in. Each team gets an extra pair of handsd. The Buddhas tap Jenn to help them; the Warehouse workers pick Nikki, who is once again saddled with pasta duty. In the final few minutes of food prep, the Warehouse Kitchen team notices that there’s still grit in the clams they’re using with their appetizer. The team bands together, pulling clams from plates and rinsing them again. Meanwhile, the Mai Buddha team members each taste the highly anticipated laksa. No one likes it; it’s too smoky. Both Dale and Spike throw their their hands up. What can they do? It’s not their dish.

The camera loves both restaurants. Warehouse Kitchen is decked out in orange tablecloths, with lots of dark wood on and around the tables. Mai Buddha has silver tablecloths, with purple napkins, prompting Bourdain to say he feels like he’s in the back of Prince’s van.

The judges (including guest judge Jose Andres) love the food served by Warehouse Kitchen. And they love the presentation. Until the servers bring out Richard’s banana scallops for dessert. “I’m not a fan of the brown smear,” says Bourdain.

They don’t love Mai Buddha’s laksa: “too damn smoky.” Or its scallops with butterscotch-miso glaze: “like Willy Wonka scallops.” Or its mango sticky rice: “baby vomit with wood chips.”

The judges make fast work of complimenting the Warehouse Kitchen staff. Stephanie wins a trip to Barcelona … yadda yadda yadda. This leaves lots of time for Dale, Lisa and Spike to point fingers at one another and snort. As each dish is criticized, the chefs all blame one another, saying things like, “Well, yeah, it was my recipe, but I didn’t make it.” Dale says the team is only as strong as its weakest link. Lisa says the team is as strong as its leader. When the chefs leave so the judges can talk, Bourdain mentions Lisa’s body language—something that my family often imitates on Thursday mornings. She gets another week to stand in front of the judges with her arms crossed, her head tipped back and her eyes half closed. Dale, as the leader, is asked to pack his knives. He does so with tears in his eyes.

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Dave! / May 22, 2008 11:24 AM

A travesty... I'm not Dale's biggest fan, far from it. The right teams won and lost. But I'm so sick of Lisa and her whiny, finger pointing, bad attitude that I don't think I can watch again until she's gone. She deserved to go last night. I hope she knows her days are numbered, she can't hold a candle to anyone on the winning team...

Ben / May 22, 2008 11:35 AM

Nothing worse than a whiner and a blamer. I'm so completely tired of Lisa, watching her fuck up dish after dish and blaming it on everybody else.

Taylor / May 22, 2008 11:48 AM

Lisa doesn't appear to be able to season anything properly. Her attitude totally sucks and I'm way beyond tired of her bitching and moaning every episode.

Michelle / May 27, 2008 9:09 AM

I found it very odd that Stephanie didn't recognize even cross streets of the secret location. The right team totally won. Dale should have dunked Lisa's head in the laksa instead of serving it to guests. She's such a creep.

ab / May 27, 2008 1:34 PM

For those who are at all interested, the restaurants were set up in the space at Gallery 1028, and the kitchens being used were those of Calihan Catering.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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