As we wander into the dangerous middle of this Top Chef season, huddling closer and closer together because everything around us is getting dark and scary, we can expect more meanness. We can expect the dead weight to begin to fall off in large chunks. Which is exactly what happened last night. Say it with me, just once. Send it softly into the air. Zatarain's.
Yes our rolypoly, hurlyburly friend the Zatarain's commercial guy, nee Hap Blapgood, was sent hippo'ing off into the bleeding Nevada sunset, followed by a mournful troupe of Mardi Gras (or Carnevale) clowns, a brass band playing a winsome dirge, and the ghosts of all the cheftestants that had fallen before him. There was large Hector, arm and arm with Achilles, sworn enemies, united in death. There was Eve the squawky Northerner, playing her little piccolo flute and crying softly for some mysterious, probably annoying reason. There was pretty Preeti, wheezing and angry but still strangely peaceful, wandering down the lonely lane with Hap Blapgood, delicately Googling herself. There were the two pierced and ear-gauged girls, their hardware glinting, shuffling along side by side. This is all to say that the Zatarain's guy represented the last in a long line of shitty contestants who were never going to win, like ever. And now the real competition can begin. Because everyone who's there deserv--
Wait! Ohmygosh, I totally forgot about Edie Falco (and Ash and that other lady). Just like that one time I forgot about Dre. Sheesh. Yeah Edie Falco is the older lady with fiery fuchsia hair who never really makes anything very good but somehow always squeaks by. Perceptive little fudruckers that they are, the rest of the Kooking Kids have figured this out and are real frustrated about it. Especially because of last week. See, this is what renewed my faith in humanity last night. Everyone liked Mattin as much as I did. Well OK, probably not quite as much as I did (there's a certain aspect to my liking him that perhaps goes, um, beyond the culinary), but still! They were all sad to see him go. So sad, in fact, that they all donned beautiful flourishy red scarfs, just like our darling pickled frog used to sport, in his honor. Oh it was as moving as the scene on Dawson's Creek when all the football players wear makeup because Jack McPhee is a homo and everyone finds out about it but they don't mind. Or! Like the scene in Glee last night when all the football players do the "Single Ladies" dance. Um. Right. You know. It was just nice.
But not that nice, because everyone was mad at old Edie Falco there, with her thin Cheshire Cat grin and that red, Tintin swoop of hair. She asked to wear a scarf and Ari Gold grudgingly forked one over and instead of making a glorious hopeful sail of it around her neck, she just shoved the damn thing in some sorta weird chef-uniform arm pocket and there it sat. Grumble. Everyone grumbled. I'm not sure if extra malfeasance with Edie went down off-camera or what, but alls of a sudden ey'body just really hated her and wanted her to go home. Though, bum for them, they'll have to wait another week.
See what happened was this. Michelle Bernstein is a famous ladychef from Florida who looks exactly like Celeste from 90210. She likes to occasionally show up on Top Chef and say things in that honey-coated tone of hers, toss her sproingy curls, and titter at the boys. But she's not all manbait moxie. No, she has some solidarity with the sisters too. Or maybe just with disease. Bernstein and Padma (licking her chops as Michelle shook her bubbly head) presented the QuickFire challenge and it was this: Angel on your left shoulder, Devil on your right. You know, that old thing. So make two mini-dishes, one of which represents temptation, the other representing you at your goodest. The Lady Who Will Likely Kill You immediately thought to take a baster and some frosting and draw two pictures. In one of them she was killing you with a tire iron. In the other she was running your car off the road on a narrow cliff side. It's up to you to figure out which of those images was the Devil and which was the Angel.
Everyone else just did scallops. That's what it seemed like. Everyone made scallops soaked and frittered and fried for their Devil bit, and then just plain-ass scallops on a delicious, leafy bed of nothing for their Angel portion. I don't know why or how trends ripple through the Top Chef kitchen like they do (remember the ceviche-heavy earlier portions of this season?), but for whatever reason scallops were the name of the game that day and Michelle Bernstein beamed her beamy grin and said "Mmmm, sea gunk." Padma nodded slowly, still eying the delicious round melon of Michelle's brain container. "Mmmm... gunk," she said softly in assent.
When the wee judges panel came up to Edie Falco, the real schnitzel hit the fan. See, as we all knew--not because she repeatedly told us but because she just told us once in the first episode--Edie has been dealing with some serious cancer scary stuff, which is sad. And she chose, for some mysterious reason, to bring this cancer stuff up last night during the Quick Fire. She told Michelle and near-drooling-at-this-point Padma that she'd undergone cancer treatments, so was supposed to eat healthy foods, but didn't always want to. So she made a simple salad and some sort of cobblery dessert and Michelle loved it. "Mmmm," she moaned. "What delicious gunk." Unable to help herself at this point, Padma had taken a large bite of Michelle's brains and between chews she echoed, "Yeth. Delishith gunk." A lot of the other chefs raised their eyebrows at this whole cancer disclosure thing and, again, there was grumbling.
And then the grumbling reached such a fever pitch and such a volume that the cosmonauts in the space station they got up there in space could hear this grumbling. Because Edie Falco won the QuiF. Edie Falco who had talked about cancer to Michelle Bernstein (brains dribbling out of the gaping Padma bite at this point) and then she won and now she has immunity and isn't that unfair. Welllll... look. A lot of us were thinking it. Because Bravo wanted us to. A lot of us thought that oh, sure, she won because she told a sad story about cancer and how could Michelle Bernstein (not much more then a soup of tendrilly hair and blood and bits of bone as Padma delicately wipes her mouth with a napkin, smiles, laughs like an impish girl, and says "Gunk!") say no to that. How could she not let Edie Falco win? We'll never really know the true reason for the victory, though some, or at least one, of the chefs was willing to publicly muse about it.
That dubious honor fell to Eli. Eli is a big fat loudmouth 25-year-old jerk who no one likes and has barely been on the show before, mostly because he's a big fat loudmouth jerk who no one likes. Anyway, this bespectacled asshat squeaked up to the cameras and said "I'm the best chef here, and she says 'cancer' and she wins, and I mean... krufffff." That "kruffff" is that sort of bewildered scoff that annoying adolescent men make to denote something that is ridiculous and unexplainable. You know what is ridiculous and unexplainable Eli? Your hairdo. Honestly. Kruffff.
Sorry. I don't love Ms. Falco. But srsly Eli, there are things a civilized person does not say. To barter away a little piece of your soul and blame cancer for you not winning a stupid TV cooking QuiF is just the colony at Lamestown, Virginia. Anyway. Pressing on! Chuffed with her victory, Edie swept her little dollop of hair up even higher and set off to the Real Challenge. The Real Challenge consisted of magic. Yes that dark and black and foreign and evil witchery that is practiced by mages and sorcerers and teenage boys with hairy palms and no plans on a Friday night the whole world over. Two of those teenage boys managed to grow up and become very famous magicians named Penn and Teller. Penn and Teller are a comedy magicks duo that has made an inexplicable whoresgrab of money and now wants to talk turkey, and other foods. So they ambled out of the inky shadows of the kitchen and announced themselves as the guest judges for this episode. Well, in addition to Michelle Bernstein, who was safely being digested in Padma's churning zombie stomach.
Penn and Teller did some sleight of hand stuff with tin foil balls and a cup and a lime, and then sorta deconstructed the trick to show how it's done. Sorta. Anyway, that was a weak enough throughline to the meat 'n tin foil balls of the competition: Deconstruct a famous dish. Everyone had to draw knives (with crayons and little pieces of paper... no, I kid) and printed on each knife was the name of a classic recipe. Something like paella, which fell, perfectly, to Hap Blapgood. I mean, what a perfect pairing for him, right?? I mean Zatarain's is rice! But no, he wasn't happy about it. He wasn't happy about much on this show, was he? It was always something. The only time he was happy on this show was when he was tearing down whole tree limbs bare-handed and making voodoo snake detectors. He was happy then. That was all. So yeah, more grumbling. Um, that Lady Who Will Trap You In Her Marathon Man-Esque Dentist's Office got meat lasagna and she was pissed. Partly because she's always pissed, all the time, and partly because she's "classically trained" and thus not trained to "deconstruct" things. Right. Because being a classically trained chef means opening the refrigerator and just pulling out a dish, already whole, already cooked. Cheffing has nothing whatsoever to do with taking disparate ingredients and putting them together to make something good. Think about it, Lady Who Will Introduce Your Face to Her Friend, Professor Hacksaw. Just think about it.
Phew. Anyway. Everyone was all running around like it was the bombing of Dresden, terrified of these deconstructed foods. If you deconstruct fish and chips, will it cause a terrible nuclear explosion, like what happens when you open a golf ball? This was something that Lurleen, or whatever that brown-haired lady's name is, had to ponder, in annoying fashion. She was especially annoying last night because she, the little snake-in-the-grass, was being kind and congratulatory to Edie but then a toe-up bitch about her behind her back. Grow up, Random Lady Who Will Never Win! Just grow the F up. Though... heh, that said? Edie is really annoying. Mostly because she narrates everything she does. "Just gonna walk over here to the oven, doo doo doo." "On my way to the frying pan, wah wah wah." "Gonna go poop and cry in the bathroom for a few minutes, cha cha cha." Things like that. And it must really grate. I only had to watch it for like 15 seconds last night. These other MFers have to deal with it alllll the damn time, even when they are sleeping: "Just gonna go into a REM cycle now, woo woo woo." It must get very frustrating.
So basically everyone hates each other. Everyone hates each other and everyone knows that the Big Five (the Brothers Grim, Ari Gold, your bacony Uncle Applewood, and the Lady Who Will Slowly Leak Chemicals Into Your Water Source Over a Period of Decades Until You Die of Some Strange Disease) is going to be the Top 5, so why is anyone else really trying anyway? We're at wonderful that tipping point on this show where things start to get really red and drunk and bleary and teary all the time. Man oh man, remember the first season of this ish? And that gay dude who was always shitfaced and weeping? Oh that was so funny and horribly scary. I miss that. I miss the old days. I want to go back. I'm the Emily Webb of Bravo reality shows.
Once everyone had taken jackhammers to the Julia Child canon and blown up The Joy of Cooking with TNT and control demo'd the Silver Palate (RIP Sheila Lukins), it was time to show the judges their masterfully deconstructed heaps of food. Michelle Bernstein, long gone, had been replaced by a lookalike robot. Padma was there, of course, nursing a jaw wound she'd suffered from trying to bite the metallic Bernstein. Papa Bear Tom was there, all glowery and head-glowy. Pen and Teller were there. Teller kept up with the inane shtick where he doesn't talk ever and it was just total Lameson Irish Whiskey. And you know who else was there? You know who crawled his way out of hell to come snipe at everyone in boring and ridiculous and downright embarrassing fashion? Toby Young. Yeah the skinnier, Britisher, crueler, but still just as bald version of Tom Colicchio was back to wreak terrible and stupid havoc on everyone. This was an especially timely return because 1) Gail Simmons was passed out drunk on the floor of her hotel room and wouldn't wake up even though Padma had called her like six times and 2) there were some English dishes being delicately torn apart.
One of those dishes was Shepherd's Pie. The guy who drew the Shepherd's Pie knife was a guy named Ash who I don't much talk about. You know why? Because he's one of the nincompoop bad chefs, like Edie, who has somehow slid by in the boring middle. He's dumb and annoying and none of his food ever looks good, even though he talks about it like it's the most delicious, craziest, most inventive thing you've ever seen. His version of Shepherd's Pie (a dish that is basically a crock of mashed potatoes with some meat and a few peas and carrots swirled in) was some meat on a plate and a tomato full of something and NO MASHED POTATOES. Srsly, guy? Just go home. Just go now. Leave. Just please leave right now. No mashed potatoes. Grumble.
Speaking of Ash, there is also Ashley. Ashley who did well last week, after royally shitting the bed on pretty much every challenge before that. Ashley who, gulp and gasp for you Top 5!, did well again this week. Might she be a late-blooming dark horse? That would be interesting. She also might just be lucky. It'll be interesting to watch. Speaking of interesting to watch, you know who's not interesting to watch? Ari Gold. The toothy bastid was tasked to deconstruct Eggs Florentine. Only problem was that he had no idea what Eggs Florentine was. Um, aren't you supposed to be a serious chef, Ari? Have you never, not once in your life, been to brunch? That was ridiculous. So he made something called "Eggs Foreign to Me" which is not clever, despite what you may think, you toothy bastid. Ugh. He's the worst. Get ridda him. The good news is that he's slipping. He's losing some of that early momentum. He could have been a contender. But he's not.
On the bottom were Shepherds Die (that is as unfunny as Eggs Foreign to Me, I know), Lurleen Lumpkin's Fish Jell-O 'n Single Chip, and poor master Zatarain's himself, Hap Blapgood. See, he just never did figure out that whole "deconstruct paella" thing. It is really hard to take something that has a lot of ingredients and then separate those ingredients, I understand. My viewing partner reminded me last night that Ilan Hall from season 2 had deconstructed a paella with some sort of rice custard or something and that he had beat Sam with it. The judges loved it. Time to brush up on your history, Blapgood. (If you do go back to early Top Chef and come back with some things, could you please bring that weeping drunk guy? He was a hysterical mess.)
ANYWAY. This is getting too long and I am sick of writing it. So let's just say that Edie Falco also made a crap dish but she couldn't be sent home, so yes, Zatarain's was sent to that great steamboat in the sky and he grambled off into the desert with his menagerie of ghosts and whispers and brass music and cheering following him. Edie, Lurleen, and Ash? Your days are terribly numbered. Ash, you should consider taking a bath in mashed potatoes to think about what you've done wrong. Edie... just stop telling us what you're doing all the time ("Over to the sink to wash off these horrible feelings of inadequacy, fa fa fa.") And Lurleen? Stop talking trash when you yourself are also milling about the landfill. It's unbecoming.
OH AND ELI. You can stuff it with biscuits, for all I care. Get a haircut. A different haircut. You look like Sonic the Hedgehog.
OK, one more time. Say it loud and say it bright. Clap your hands and bellow once into the night: Zatarain's!