Top Chef Six: Vegetarian hijinx »
This episode of Top Chef is actually titled “Meat Natalie,” which is an idiotic pun that Vegansaurus scoffs at. We are above puns. OK, that is a lie. More importantly: Vegetables won! Hooray for vegetables.
Following a TV Guide-sponsored Quickfire, which we will skip over because of its impertinence to vegetables, the chefs are told they will get to cook at Tom Colicchio’s craftsteak [sic] the next day, and dismissed. At home, they discuss the different meats and cuts of meats that they are planning to cook; this isn’t very interesting, except for the part where we already know that they won’t be cooking one tiny piece of meat. Foreshadowing! Dramatic irony!
The following day, the chefs arrive at craftsteak and start running around the kitchen, ogling all the animal carcasses and preparing themselves to start cooking. Then, in comes Colicchio, smiling the smuggest smile in the world, and tells them to hold up a second, because he wants to introduce the guest judge: Natalie Portman! Mike Isabella does a gross thing with his face, as is his wont.
Natalie tells them that she loves food and she is an adventurous eater and hahaha! a vegetarian, so no dead animals in the food pls. Every chef’s little face falls, all Meat meat everywhere and not a fire to cook, or whatever; Natalie and Colicchio grin like cats that’ve eaten two mock-canary canaries and skip off while the cheftestants wail and moan and gnash their evolved-to-eat-flesh teeth. Har.
It doesn’t seem to go terribly at first, actually; according to Colicchio’s blog, the producers had trucked in a ton of produce from the Santa Monica Greenmarket [sic] just for this challenge, and they had a lot of options, including delicious morels and fresh garbanzo beans. Poor Jennifer, already beaten down from her loss in the Quickfire (her TV dinner was not the least disgusting) loses a dried-orange-peel toss to Eli and is forced to use baby eggplants instead of the lovely Japanese ones she wanted. That is tension and drama, you guys: eggplants.
Kevin voiceovers that as he and his wife eat vegetarian during every Lent, he’s familiar with veg cooking, although it’s difficult for him to get enough to eat. “When you eat meat, it leaves you satiated,” he says, his arms full of produce. Let us note here that only three of the chefs included a non-vegetable item on their plates—Eli’s lentils, Michael V.’s polenta, Robin’s chickpeas—and only the polenta looked like it’d be enough for a serving. They weren’t up to Millennium’s standards, is what I’m saying. Kevin, who stars in the beat-the-DVRs montage this week as “Guy who can really put away some food,” may want to consider eating something both plant-based and a significant source of protein next Lent, because no duh if you only eat produce you won’t feel full for long.
First to serve is Robin: she has made stuffed squash blossoms, beet carpaccio and fresh chickpeas with chermoula (a blend of spices from Morocco, made here into a sauce). She didn’t finish plating in time and not all the guests got the handful of little green garbanzo beans she was sort of tossing onto each plate. It doesn’t sound like anyone particularly enjoys it. Eli is next with a confit of Japanese eggplant, lentils, garlic puree, and a radish salad. Mostly they love it, and it does look pretty and sound appetizing. That is the extent to which viewers can judge food on this show.
Thirdly comes the mildly less-dickish Michael, Voltaggio! He has made a fancy plate, with savory banana polenta, three-asparagus salad, and “Japanese tomato sashimi,” which looks like a little dollop of the gel-n-seeds center of a tomato, with a sprig of something green on top. The banana polenta freaks all the eaters out, in a good way, and the asparagus gets praise as well. Honestly though, that tomato sashimi is ridiculous. No one likes the insides of a tomato best, that’s why people don’t eat them like apples. Jennifer serves next, very nervously; she presents charred baby eggplant, braised fennel, and tomato coins, in a verjus nage. She sauces tableside, hands shaking; it’s hard to watch. It’s roundly agreed that her food is tasty, but there isn’t enough of it. Plus, some of the guests are nagent in the verjus, because of the saucing.
Mike I. had a problem cooking his leeks. He wants to cut and serve them like scallops, which I get, but the water didn’t heat in time so they were underbraised, and then he doesn’t even slice them like scallops, just sort of drapes them limply across the plate, parallel to some fingerling potatoes atop a baby carrot puree. It is a pathetic plate of food, and the baby carrot puree is especially unappetizing. Bryan next serves artichokes barigoule, confit of shallots, wild asparagus, and fennel puree, with spring garlic blossoms. There are jokes about little pricks that expand in the mouth, and if anyone threw in a TWSS, the Magical Elves didn’t include it (boo), though there is plenty of giggling because accidental penis jokes make us all 12.
Kevin serves last; he has made a duo of mushrooms (morels and hen of the woods), smoked kale, and turnip puree with candied garlic. They love the “meatiness” of the mushrooms, and the overall heartiness of the dish; it is pronounced “manly,” which means it is the best, just like meat!
At Judges Table, the top three are Eli, Michael V., and Kevin. Gail goes nuts about Eli’s dish, which she continues in her blog, where she also talks about her adolescence as a “pesco-vegetarian”/pescetarian*. Still, Kevin and his mushrooms win! He’s awarded a suite of G.E. appliances, “just like” the ones in the Top Chef Kitchen, ooooh. Michael V. confessionals that Kevin’s food was not impressive at all, and we wonder why he’s started getting the dick edit.
Jennifer, Robin, and Michael I. are the bottom three chefs this week. Jennifer, mostly because there just wasn’t enough food, and what she made seemed like sides instead of a main course; Robin because, as usual, she made a big crazy mess that tasted all right in parts and oddly seasoned in others; and Michael I. because his food gave everyone a sad. He explains with some difficulty the leeks-as-scallops bit, which the judges sort of cotton on to, but they criticize him for not including any protein. Gail straight-up asks him if he understands that a leek is not a protein, which reminds me of the time a friend of mine asked if bananas had any dairy in them. Mike does know the difference between “leeks” and “actual sources of protein,” but he doesn’t seem to care too much that he messed up. It seems like maybe he assumed he would never be kicked out before Robin, so he stayed casual about his mistakes in this challenge, which is too bad because he is, in fact, asked to pack his knives and go. Whoops, there’s his pride!
There wasn’t much controversy this episode, despite the producers’ HILARIOUS bait-and-switch with the steakhouse—but vegetarian food business. No one said anything egregiously stupid about eating veg, and Colicchio was all about how the challenge rang super-true to him, what with all the non-meat-eaters coming into his craftsteaks all the time to eat and how he always caters to them. If you recall, he also chose a vegan recipe as his favorite sandwich in the ‘wichcraft cookbook a few months ago. That said, it was also kind of disappointing, as none of the dishes seemed to-die-for impressive. At least Eli wasn’t wearing his “bacon” shirt this episode! Small favors, you guys. Small favors.
*Obvs pescatarians are not vegetarians.