Top Chef

Season 2 Episode 11

Sense and Sensuality

Aired Wednesday 10:00 PM Jan 17, 2007 on Bravo

Episode Recap

Morning dawns at the loft, and there's been a room shuffle; Elia, feeling lonely, asked Ilan to sleep in her room and Cliff is sleeping on the floor in the living room. Everyone is focused on who's going to Hawaii, and Marcel comments that he always felt his biggest competition are the chefs who still remain.

At the Kenmore PRO kitchen, the chefs find that Eric Ripert is the guest judge. Everyone is stunned and a little in awe of having to cook for such a renowned chef. Cliff calls him a "demigod" and says even Ripert's own cooks probably get "nervous cooking in his presence". Padma speaks of eating as a sensual experience and believes that the mark of a great chef is knowing how he wants his diner to feel and making it happen. Chef Ripert agrees, saying a great chef must have an "artistic vision, be a great technician, have a great palate to create harmony." The QuickFire Challenge gives the remaining chefs 90 minutes to create a sweet or savory dish using either the bittersweet or dark chocolate flavor of the Nestlé Chocolatier bars and chips provided. As always, they have full access to the kitchen pantry and cooking ware to create their dish. Marcel cannot believe he has to use chocolate, the ingredient he has the least experience with, in a dish for Ripert � the chef he's most excited to cook for. The contestants get started.

Padma walks in at the end of the allotted time, and she and Ripert start tasting at Elia's station. Elia's two dishes, one sweet and one savory, get a mixed review. Chef Ripert believes her mole sauce has too much chocolate and it overwhelms the chicken, but her chocolate crémeaux mousse with a crumble is perfection. Ripert calls Sam's use of bananas surprising. Cliff's braised chicken is declared "tasty" and "well balanced." Ilan's sautéed chicken livers in ganache has Ripert diplomatically saying it could be mistaken for a dessert as the livers are lost in the chocolate; Padma say's he's brave. Marcel is last and his potato cannelloni get good comments from Chef Ripert, who says there's an earthiness to the flavors. Discussing all the entries, Ripert says it was a bit of a challenge to use chocolate when the dish is not a dessert and he felt some missed the mark. He says Sam used very little chocolate, but what he did use balanced the dish; Marcel had a very original idea and Ripert was surprised the potato went so well with the chocolate; Cliff is praised for an excellent mole sauce, but Ripert felt it wasn't creative enough. Elia and Ilan are the bottom two. Chef Ripert feels Elia should have done only one dish; her "Kiss" showed off her refinement and skills, and if she'd only submitted that one she would be the winner. Her chicken, he says, "looks like an accident happened. You had chicken in the fridge, and chocolate sauce on top and something fell on top of the chicken." Ripert tells Ilan that he finds nothing sexy in combining chicken livers and ganache. He names Sam the winner for his originality.

With immunity no longer the prize, Sam gets to choose which course and protein he wants for the Elimination Challenge and no one can duplicate it. The Elimination Challenge is a five course romantic dinner with paired wines in Santa Barbara for a group of 30 couples celebrating anniversaries; there is no budget for any of the courses or wines. Everyone starts making notes of what he or she wants to do, and the other chefs wait for Sam to make his choices. Each of the other chefs comments they'll be fine� as long as Sam doesn't choose shellfish. Sam chooses to make the first course using scallops and lobster. Ilan wants second or third course and clams, Cliff takes sirloin, and Elia says she'll probably do a dessert. Sam thinks anyone doing a dessert will get high marks, and Elia says she knows she doesn't have to do a sweet course, but a "beautiful, romantic dinner should end with a good dessert". With lobster eliminated, Marcel is still agonizing over his decision because there is so much at stake.

At Wild Oats Market, another conflict occurs when Sam and Marcel realize they are both using beets. Marcel says he refuses to rework his dish a second time and keeps the beets in his dish, salmon with root vegetables. Ilan is pairing his clams with fideos, and Cliff is using lentils to accent his sirloin. Elia is doing an amped version of her QuickFire Challenge dessert because Chef Ripert really liked it. With the shopping done, they head to Santa Barbara, a couple hours north of Los Angeles.

Once they reach Santa Barbara, the chefs stop at the Wine Cask wine store to select the wines for each of their dishes. They finally reach the restaurant, Epiphany, and are a little amazed at how small the kitchen is. There are only ten burners and limited prep space, so they'll need to be very organized. Chef Colicchio sets the timer for five hours and the cooking begins. Marcel gets on some of the other chefs' nerves by staking out space and being fussy. Sam asks all the other chefs if they will help him at 15 minutes before service, and all but Marcel say "yes."

Out in the front of the house different guests are shown telling which anniversary they are celebrating. The first course is served and guests and judges alike declare Sam's dish wonderful. Ripert feels it's fresh and very powerful, Colicchio says the sauce is seasoned well, and Gail calls it a perfect first course that goes well with the chosen wine. Ilan's fideos and clams dish is finished just in time, but once served is a hit; diners are feeding each other, and Padma is stealing from the other judges' plates. As Marcel's course comes up, Sam leaves the room saying he's not going to help with the plating. Marcel has even more to worry about when he loses some of his salmon after the tray tips onto the floor. Marcel asks Cliff for help with cooking but doesn't get a response. Sam comes back in to help, saying he's not "that guy," but he wants to be. Marcel solves the lost salmon problem by cutting the larger pieces in half, and his course is served with the plating assistance of everyone else. Some of the diners don't like the beets, but others love the dish. The judges think his little potato hearts across the salmon are just too cute, but even more significant is the lack of acid to combat the richness of the salmon. Although the wine is citrusy and a good pairing, it is not enough to do the job -even simple lemon juice would have improved the dish. Cliff's sirloin steak with lentils is met with a bit of perplexity; lentils don't seem the obvious choice for romance and sensuality. Colicchio feels the greens are useless, and Ripert says it's very much like hotel food.

Back in the kitchen, Elia has a crisis. Her drizzled chocolate is sticking to the pan so she's not able to cut out the chocolate hearts that are on the menu as part of her dish. As she's not able to get enough hearts for the plates, Sam says they need to break the hearts and remaining drizzles up and serve the pieces on the plate. Trying to comfort her, Sam says it looks better; the hearts were cheesy anyway. Elia says she doesn't care when the judges' plates are prepared, and that she gives up. All the couples love the dish and its title, "The Kiss." Over at the judges' table, Chef Colicchio immediately comments on the missing heart. At the end of the meal, Colicchio isn't impressed with the romance of the dinner, but Padma thinks the dessert was very romantic, and Ripert talks about the scallop being feminine and thus romantic.

Back at the apartment, and recording with a hand held video camera they've borrowed, Cliff, Ilan, Sam and Elia are still up at 2 am. They're celebrating the end of the last challenge by drinking and horsing around. Elia says she's always wanted to shave her head and Sam and Ilan agree to do it with her. Sam says she "doesn't have the balls," and hands her a running electric shaver. Once Sam sees them both shaving their heads, he says there's no way he'll do it. Cliff says he's "never seen a woman with a full, luscious, head of hair just do away with it." As Elia is shaving the remnants of her hair, she says she'd like to see everyone like this and mentions Marcel. Cliff walks into the darkened living room where Marcel is sleeping on the couch, and drags him up off the sofa. Marcel begins to struggle, but Cliff holds him down. Ilan, filming, calls for Sam to bring the shaver, but Sam is reclining on another couch laughing. Ilan then calls for Elia, who says she can't, and Ilan is heard saying, "he's holding him down for nothing?" Marcel breaks Cliff's hold and goes to the bedroom. Sam tells Ilan to follow him in there, and when Marcel sees him, he punches the camera and locks himself in the bathroom.

Morning brings packing for home - the finale will take place after a three-month break � and reflection on the night's misadventures. Marcel is quite ready to go home and "not have to live with these people," Ilan says he thinks Marcel was manhandled and treated unfairly, and Cliff feels bad for what he did. Tom Colicchio comes into the apartment during breakfast and says he needs to talk to Cliff. He tells Cliff he's sure no harm was meant, but what started as a prank crossed the line and in so doing broke the rules. Cliff is asked to leave before Judges' table. Colicchio goes to the room the others are in and says Cliff is out, but the contest is still on and Judges' Table will be later that evening. Cliff comes in, says goodbye to everyone, and apologizes to Marcel. Marcel shakes his hand.

Night falls on Los Angeles, and the judges take their places at the table. Tom fills everybody in and says Cliff is gone. Padma says, "Ironically, his food was the least favorite of that meal for me." There's general agreement, and Colicchio says it's likely he would have gone home anyway. All of the judges are surprised by the events of the previous evening, and sad that it happened. Padma says they need to bring everyone in for some questions, and Tom says he thinks she's going to be surprised when she sees them. The chefs file in and Gail and Padma are stunned by the shaved heads. There's talk about their behavior, and everyone agrees it was very bad and not a good model for a Top Chef.

Discussion finally turns to the food, and Padma says it's the best they've sampled all season. Chef Ripert says the meal, overall, was excellent and technically well executed. Gail agrees and mentions that the wines were very well paired, bringing out the highlights of each dish. Attention turns to Marcel's dish: Ripert says it lacked acidity and Marcel says his last minute decision not to use lemon juice was probably wrong. Colicchio asks if the dish qualifies Marcel for Hawaii, and he only says he's proud of his dish. Elia is asked about her missing chocolate hearts, and Tom says he expected a little more for the five hours she had to create a dish. Ripert says the dessert's lightness was a surprise and he liked it. Ripert then says the execution of Ilan's dish was perfection. Sam is told his sauce was too strong by Gail, and Ripert says the dish could have used more lobster. The chefs are sent from the room so deliberation can begin.

Gayle begins by saying if Cliff were still here, he would be the one going home so the question is do they send another chef home. Everyone agrees Sam and Ilan's dishes were good - Sam's very sensual and Ilan's, although at first glance seeming too much, left them wanting more. Marcel's dish is labeled "not awful", but it needed something more. It tasted okay, but it didn't come together and could have been more interesting. It's felt Elia's dessert, although good, could have been so much better with the addition of a few things; it didn't seem she put a lot of work into it. Chef Colicchio asks if maybe both Marcel and Elia should go home. Gail says Marcel's dish was uninspired, but Padma says she wants him to go to Hawaii because she finds him a very interesting chef. Colicchio is not sure why Elia did a dessert when it wasn't required, and it isn't one of her skills. The chefs are called back in, and Padma says that both Sam and Ilan are moving on to Hawaii. She pauses, and then says, "I'm very sorry. Elia, Marcel� I'm gonna have to ask you both to pack your knives� and go to Hawaii."
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