Lobster and vanilla. Suddenly, this is the pair that's everywhere! Okay, I've already said that I don't find the flavor combo appealing in any way because I don't ever want to confuse my seafood with my desserts, but I just don't know why this has come so suddenly into our Top Chef lives. During the 4-Star All Star challenge, two dishes took on this flavoring pairing. Tonight, two dishes (one Quickfire, one Elimination) also work it. Apparently, Emeril was doing this back in 1999, but I just have never seen it on a menu or heard of it before this season of Top Chef. Admittedly, I'm willing to try this seafood dessert at least once to see how it all works, but what I really can't get over is how, in three episodes of Top Chef, the combo has become ubiquitous with a serious quickness.
But onto the actual episode. The Quickfire is a fairly easy one that has the cheftestants making dishes that incorporate all manner of Florida citrus. That's it. No twist, no hand behind the back, no surprises. No "Use every citrus here." No "Use every part of the citrus." Just make a dish using citrus. I know it's only the second episode, but I found this challenge painfully easy for these particular chefs. The top three are CJ (in spite of leaving some citrus seeds in his dish), Tre, and Hung, who is the ultimate winner and comments, "I didn't expect anything less." You have to admire someone who can haul around such a fat and dimpled self-esteem. Even if it's an irritably grudging admiration. And frankly, he's not just blowing sunshine; he really does appear to be pretty freaking good.
The Elimination Challenge, which is gourmet barbecuing for a Champagne shindig hosted by Lee Schrager, is overtly sponsored by Kingsford Charcoal. Okay, they're going to have product placement up the kazoo on this show, but Kingsford is fine. Kingsford is respectable. Kingsford isn't Chili's. Joey From New York, who makes boring and decidedly un-gourmet chicken, vents his feelings of inadequacy all over Hung, who just happens to have made a drink using watermelon. See, Joey From New York made a watermelon drink for the Quickfire, and clearly no one else is allowed to make watermelon drinks in the summer except Joey From New York. He has a patent pending on it.
The winner of the hot and sweaty Elimination Challenge is Brian (MALARKEY!), whose crazy ideas actually worked for him this time when he created a Chino-Latino dish of chili-glazed handmade seafood sausage (incorporating scallops, shrimp, and sea bass) with a ginger slaw and an Asian chimichurri. The bottom four of the challenge are Sandee, Howie, Joey From New York, and Tre. I was sort of despondent about Tre, because he fell prey to the same problem he had in the first Quickfire -- he didn't have enough acid with his fish and avocado. He also both under seasoned and oversalted.
I can't forget about the drama queenery between Howie and Joey From New York. While they're waiting to find out who of the bottom four is going home, Joey From New York attacks Howie for not shaking his hand or something. But this was after Joey From New York said that Howie should go because he heard his pork was all dried out. There's lots of swearing and yelling and "Be a man"-ing and then Joey From New York demands to know if Howie wants him to go home right now and then he says that Howie's lucky that he lives in Florida and Howie tells him he doesn't give a shit what he does and laughs about the Florida thing and then it's all over.
However, Sandee, with her vanilla butter-poached lobster, pancetta-wrapped date, and black truffle slaw, is the one to go home for not really barbecuing anything. Her lobster, which was braised (according to CJ) the night before, never made contact with the grill. Instead, it sat on a plate on the grill to, well, reheat basically.
It's early morning and the cheftestants are rising in various forms. I don't see anyone doing morning yoga this year. At first I thought Sandee was doing something yoga-ish, but then I realized she was just sculpting her morning mohawk. Micah is a late riser and, while flipping off the cheftestant-stocked kitchen, proclaims herself "not a morning person." Sandee concerns me when she says that she is on the show to learn. While I don't have any problem with that goal, because I think even if you're top of your craft, you can still learn from others, it's not really why people come on Top Chef. They come here to win, not learn.
Padma and Norman Van Aken are waiting for the bleary-eyed cheftestants in the GE kitchens. Hey, GE owns NBC and NBC owns Bravo! I just picked up on that! And now, a few seconds later, I had a dastardly thought. What if GE, seeing Kenmore as their competitor, allowed them to sponsor the last two seasons just to perpetrate a public smear, counting on them to shoot themselves in the foot with their reportedly karmicly kraptastic kitchens?! I know it's not like the show itself ever featured the appliances on the blink, and we did only find out about it from ousted blabbermouths like Emily and other cheftestants, but maybe they KNEW the cheftestants would blabber. They could TRUST them to do exactly that. That would be very dastardly. A bit far-fetched, even for a big conglomerate, but still. It's something to ponder. Okay, so Norm Van Aken -- "Hey, isn't he the same guy who played the dad on Eight is Enough? I didn't know he was a restaurateur now. Of course, there are lots of actors who become restaurateurs, right? Britney Spears, Becks and Posh, Lisa Loeb…" The Evil Dr. Mathra babbles excitedly. After I carefully explained that Norm Van Aken and Dick Van Patten are two different people, that Britney, Becks, and Posh are not actors and that Lisa Loeb, also not an actor, never had a restaurant, just a dumb food show and then an even dumber dating show, I settled him down with looking up Morgan Freeman's restaurant and mixed a drink to collect myself.