Top Chef 3.9 – All Hail the Underdogs!

Sara M.

This week’s Top Chef was really part two of what began last week with the opening of “Restaurant Wars.” It all looked so predictable in the beginning. CJ won the QuickFire challenge last week and chose an all-star team of himself, Tre, Casey, and Brian to face down the ragtag remainder guaranteed-to-not-get-along group of Sara M., Howie, Dale, and Hung. Somewhere along the way it all got much more complicated. Last week we wound up with no one getting eliminated and neither team looking good. This week after the QuickFire our ragtag team ended up with a victory and, consequently, a sommelier and $200 extra in money to spend on wine. Things were beginning to look up, and the road started to look a tiny bit rocky for our all-stars.

The QuickFire Challenge was one of the more entertaining ones dreamed up by Top Chef producers. Simple in concept and easy to replicate at home if you are into your own Top Chef style competitions. The Mise en Place relay involved each member performing a common kitchen task before “passing the baton” to the next competitor. The tasks included shucking oysters, chopping onions, taking apart whole chickens, and separating eggs then beating the whites into stiff foam. After Brian took the lead with shucking oysters, it looked like Howie and Co. were doomed. However, Casey fell far behind (according to Anthony Bourdain slower than Ina Garten on thorazine) paired against Sara M.’s lightning onion chopping and the competition was over. The winning team earned the advantage of having a sommelier help select wine and serve the win in their restaurant as well as $200 extra to spend on wine. The big surprise of this award was that the sommelier in question was none other than season 1 competitor Steve.

As the show headed back into the “Restaurant Wars” competition, we were formally introduced to the snarky restaurant customer correctly identified last week by many viewers as designer Christopher Ciccone, aka Madonna’s brother. He met with each team and discussed improvements to be made in both the look of the restaurant and the approach for food. After being put off by Ciccone’s brusque manner (remember last week’s “If that’s a vegetable medley, then I’m a monkey.”), both teams indicated that his input would be helpful. Team Garage really took his message to heart and completely reworked almost everything including renaming their restaurant Quatre.

In the midst of all the action in reworking the restaurants, we did get introduced to a guest judge. Geoffrey Zakarian, executive chef of the restaurants Town and Country in Manhattan, was the guest judge for the evening. Unlike some guests, Zakarian was outspoken and unafraid of making direct commentary on the food. Another change was that Tom Colicchio announced he would be in the kitchen the entire evening instead of eating at the judge’s table to get a look at what was going on behind the scenes.

During the service, it became obvious the competition for the Elimination Challenge would not be any closer than that for the Quickfire. Quatre turned out to be nearly exactly what the judges were hoping for. The new decor was stunningly modern and the food was outstanding. The only complaint, and this was pretty minor if it was the only serious complaint, was that Dale, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, was not dressed up enough for the front of the house and the tone of the restaurant. The service from April had a few high points, but, in general, the food was a disaster. Ted Allen proclaimed that Tre’s salmon dish was the worst he had tasted in a long time. He then set about working to get the taste out of his mouth. Very rarely has a dish on Top Chef been declared this bad.

During final judging it was no surprise that Team Quatre won the night. Also, for leading her team in the victorious service, Sara M. (above right) was declared individual winner of the night. Judging the losing Team April was a bit more complicated as it seemed that any of the 4 team members had reasons for deserving to be eliminated. In the final analysis, 2 food disasters (a major one with the salmon and a just-not-good judgment for his bread pudding) necessitated Tre, an early favorite in the season, being sent home. For some that was a shock, for me, after watching last week (those horrific smoked potatoes) and this week, not so much.

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