Top Chef 3.5 – Best Buddies Finish First

Howie and Joey

The evolution of Howie and Joey from sworn enemies to best buddies is complete. The relationship was sealed when Howie, winner of this week’s main challenge, presented his prize bottle of wine to Joey in a heartwarming gesture. That presentation combined with Casey’s tearful announcement that Chef Lia would be leaving seems the crest of a big warm Miami wave of goodwill among the contestants on Top Chef. It all seems a world away from the battling personalities of Betty and Marcel last season.

This week’s installment of Top Chef kicked off with a QuickFire challenge involving creating outstanding food with frozen pie crust. Padma introduced the product as one of the biggest and most useful innovations in the food industry. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but in the home kitchen frozen pie crusts are one of those few convenience ingredients that actually does usually taste and perform acceptably. The contestants were given a full 90 minutes just in case somebody decided to really make a pie. Guest judge Maria Frumkin just seemed a bit on the grumpy side as she toured the items produced by the competitors. Ultimately, Joey came out on top claiming publicly to have little experience with pastry while he admitted he was concealing some past experience to make his creations that much more impressive. The tarts he created really did look good, and it was a deserved win. On the downside, Hung produced a runny mousse that nothing could safe, not even his dam of cut strawberries along the edges.

On to this week’s main challenge which was to create a Latin-inspired entree for the cast and crew of the Telemundo telenovela Dame Chocolate. Clearly it would be a group that knows their Latin American food. The contestants were given 3 hours (at the time it seemed like a very generous period of time) to create their dish. However, early on in the episode Padma had announced that this week’s challenge was all about timing…so there should not have been any really big surprises when Tom Colicchio walked in and announced that the time for preparation had been cut in half to 90 minutes!

Some shuffling around of preparation commenced, but some of the contestants, most notably Howie, stuck to their guns and decided to keep their original plan while working more efficiently. Ultimately, most of the food turned out this week looked impressive. Some contestants fell victim to difficulties in turning out well-cooked rice and others served dried-out meat probably caused, in part, by the outdoor serving conditions. The two who stood out on top were new BFF’s Howie and Joey. Howie served up a braised pork dish that was outstanding despite the concerns of Tom Colicchio that he didn’t have time to complete it. Joey put together a stew inspired by experiences with past friends and cooks. After Howie was announced as winner of the challenge, he gave the wine he received as a prize to Joey claiming that Joey’s dish truly was the best.

The sad part of the episode was saying goodbye to Chef Lia. She was last week’s winner and, as I mentioned, has the tremendous resume of being sous chef at Jean-Georges. She opted to do a trout dish served over polenta. Unfortunately, the polenta was mushy, and trout and polenta have little connection with Latin American food. As Anthony Bourdain pointed out in his guest blog for Tom Colicchio, there are few things more powerful in a chef’s arsenal than making people feel homesick for an earlier time in life. Unfortunately, Lia was very far off that mark. Casey tearfully announced that her great new friend, Lia, would be the chef going home.

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