Quickfire Challenge judged by Paul Bartolotta, famed Italian chef, is to take a classic TV dinner and give it a gourmet makeover as inspired by an iconic television show. The top two are Kevin's Sopranos-inspired meatballs, and Bryan's M.A.S.H.-inspired meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Kevin wins, and doesn't get immunity, but does get promised that his meal will be included in the new line of Top Chef frozen foods.
Elimination Challenge: Take over Tom Colicchio's restaurant, CraftSteak. The twist is that one of the judges is Natalie Portman, and she's a vegetarian, so they can't use any meat. Jen has to change her game plan multiple times, first because everyone else is using morels and she doesn't want to, and then she flips Eli for who can use eggplant, and he wins. Mike I. struggles when an equipment malfunction means that his leeks don't cook properly, and Robin inexplicably decides to make a dish she's never made before, despite the fact that she's probably the most experienced with vegetarian food. She also runs out of time and doesn't put garbanzo beans on three of her plates. So here are the dishes they served:
Robin: stuffed squash blossom, beet carpaccio, fresh garbanzo beans, and chermoula. The judges think it looks pretty but is overly salty.
Eli: confit of eggplant, lentils, garlic puree, and radish salad. The judges like it, but some of the herbs he used in his radish salad (like lavender?) are overpowering.
Michael V.: asparagus salad, Japanese tomato sashimi, and banana polenta. The judges are confused and delighted by the dish, which is exactly what Michael was hoping.
Jen: charred baby eggplant, braised fennel, tomatoes and verjus nage. Jen adds the sauce at the table, and her hands are shaking so badly that the sauce goes all over, and the judges worry that the dish isn't substantial enough.
Mike I.: whole roasted leeks with onion jus, baby carrot puree, and fingerling potatoes. The judges notice that that leeks are undercooked and they think perhaps the execution didn't match with the idea.
Bryan: artichoke barigoule, confit of shallot, wild asparagus, and fennel puree. Somehow this dish inspires a lot of off-color dick jokes at the table, which is hilarious, but probably not what Bryan was thinking.
Kevin: duo of mushrooms, smoked kale, candied garlic, and turnip purée. His dish looks like a pile of brown crap to me, but the judges love how hearty it is, and they don't miss the meat or grain.
The top three are Kevin, Eli (!), and Michael V. and the winner is Kevin for being both inventive and flavorful. Wow, I really thought they were going to go with Michael V. Kevin is proud that he's shown he can cook something besides pork. Michael V. has sour grapes because he thinks that the dish was too simple.
The bottom three are Mike I., Robin, and Jen (again!). Mike's undercooked leeks and lack of protein sunk his dish. Robin's dish was scattered and not cohesive. Jen's lack of confidence and insubstantial dish hurt her. Ultimately, Mike is told to pack his knives and go. I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't make me a little happy to see him go before Robin, even though I kind of hate to see Robin stay another week.
Unlike last week's episode, which opened with happy Jen and Laurine hanging out by the pool, everyone seems pretty melancholy and sleepy in this week's episode opening. Michael V. is honing his knives (metaphor?) as Kevin looks on blearily. Jen is getting dressed and lamenting her poor performance in Restaurant Wars. She realizes that she needs to let it go and just start doing better. She's kind of getting the Jamie edit this season: promising start that falls apart emotionally after a while. That was Jamie, right? It's all a blur at this point. Robin interviews that she's happy with how Restaurant Wars went, and even though everyone hates her and no one wants her there, she's holding her own. Or at least, she's not screwing up as badly as the others. If she would win another challenge at this point, then I might start to be impressed.
The cheftestants hit the kitchen to find out about this week's Quickfire Challenge from Padma and Paul Bartalotta, a famed Italian chef. And the challenge is sponsored by TV Guide, who have chosen "seven iconic shows." The cheftestants will draw knives and they must create a classic TV dinner inspired by their designated show in sixty minutes. After knives are drawn, the cheftestants race for the fridge to battle over proteins.
Robin grew up as a hippie eating health food, so she doesn't know from TV dinners. Okay, but you've seen them? Like in a store? Or heard of them? Because you live in the world? Plus, I thought she turned to healthy foods after her cancer diagnosis. Whatever. She got Sesame Street and I don't know how her dish relates to that show. Michael V. had a traditional mom who put dinner on the table every night (me too!) but later moved in with his dad, so there were a lot of frozen dinners at that point. Interesting that both boys became chefs when their father was obviously not a culinary role model. He got Cheers, so he plans to make a version of traditional bar food.
Jen got The Flintstones, and she wanted to make some type of meat with a big bone in it, but there wasn't anything like that in the fridge, so she settled for chicken (?). She says that her favorite Flintstone is Pebbles, because she's got cute hair and a cute boyfriend, although she also thinks that Bam Bam drags Pebbles around by her hair? Which I don't really remember happening in that cartoon. Then again, I haven't watched it in multiple decades.
Eli didn't eat TV dinners growing up and he thinks his show, Gilligan's Island, was on twenty years before he started watching television. Okay, there's this thing called syndication? It's not like I was watching the show on prime time network television. And also, there's this thing called pop culture? Seriously, where do they get these people? You don't have to be an expert on the show; you just have to be familiar with the show's premise and maybe a few characters. So Eli decides to go for a "cheesy island-y flair" and I think he is using Malibu rum, which, yuck. He jokes that it smells like a Jimmy Buffett concert in his workspace.
Bryan got M.A.S.H., so he's decided to make a traditional dish of the times. The '50s, when the show was set, or the '70s and '80s, when the show aired? Well, it's meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and apple pie, so I guess he went '50s. Kevin admits that he has had frozen meals, as he reveals that he got The Sopranos. He thinks of food and families, and explains that his whole family lives on the same street and his grandmother cooks everyone breakfast every day. That is awesome. I wish my grandmother cooked my breakfast every day. Well, not my grandmother. She's not a great cook. But someone's grandmother who IS a great cook. So Kevin's strategy is to make food for "a family spread."
Jen is screwing up her food once again. She leaves her garlic cream sauce on the stove and it burns. What is her deal? Everyone starts plating as Padma and Paul arrive. They sit on a vintage-looking couch in front of an old TV, and everyone had to use divided plates that look vaguely like a TV dinner tray. And that's about all of the connection to television shows you'll get.
Jen serves chicken roulade with garlic cream, pea salad, and caramelized peaches. What does this have to do with her show? Nothing. I can't think of one connection to The Flintstones. She doesn't offer up any explanation either. Jen says that she feels okay about the dish, but doesn't seem too enthused.
Mike I. had Seinfeld, and he claims that he's never seen the show. Do they recruit these people from caves? Especially someone who claims to like comedy and humor, to have never seen one of the seminal sitcoms of television history? That is on in syndication like twenty-five times per day? Or at least be familiar with the characters? I do not understand. Neither does guest judge Paul Bartalotta, which I appreciated. Okay, so if you had to make Seinfeld food, what would you make? Something Upper West Side, New York-y, Jewish, diner or deli food, right? Like a knish or a bagel or a Reuben even? My husband just suggested soup, and that made me think of lobster bisque. So what did Mike make? Sausage and peppers, mushrooms and cheese, and a warm fruit salad with pine nuts. I think he was thinking Sopranos there.
Speaking of The Sopranos, Kevin made meatballs with polenta, roasted cauliflower, and roasted pear. At least he made meatballs, and did the traditional TV dinner thing of an entrée, a vegetable, and a dessert. I would have called mine, "What? No Fucking Ziti?" but I guess it would be tough to make baked ziti in an hour, especially if you didn't want to use dried pasta. I make a really awesome baked ziti, though. Padma comments on how good the cauliflower is, and Paul says that he tastes pepperoncini, which must mean that it's spicy.