Top Chef Season 10, Episode 8 Review: “Jalapeno Business”

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Top Chef’s eighth episode of the season marked one of its best, giving us more contestant backstory, a little cheftestant drama, and roller derby!  That’s right, the elimination challenge was centered around Seattle’s top-notch Rat City Roller Girls and their cheeky, trademark derby names, so this was definitely one of the more fun installments that we’ve had in a while.  I also love it when we get to see the judges dress in casual wear, like hoodies (I’m looking at you, Hugh Acheson).  But let’s see who jammed in this culinary bout, shall we?

The episode begins with Stefan having had it up to here with Josie, which doesn’t seem completely out of line given what a spazz she was in the last episode.  She doesn’t appear to be holding her own against the other chefs, either, so we can’t even point to talent to excuse it (like we can with John).

Anyways, the chefs find a note in their apartment telling them to go to a specific location to harvest the main ingredient for their Quickfire Challenge.  As they approach the location, they realize that they are most likely going to be harvesting oysters.  When they go to the shore, we learn that Micah grew up eating kosher so he didn’t get exposed to shellfish until much later in life.  I swear, I want to read this guy’s autobiography.  The more I learn, the more I must know!  We also learned that John LIVED shellfish when he was younger, and I begin to think that if John ever gets asked if he’s ever had fish sperm sashimi that he would talk about his extensive experience with it going back to when he cooked his first fish sperm sashimi breakfast when he was three years old.  Is there anything this guy hasn’t done?  Anyways, the chefs spend the rest of their time on the beach collecting oysters, joyfully eating them raw, and staring down Josie with annoyance because she’s obnoxiously laughing and screaming while getting stuck in the mud.  I’m beginning to see why Josh looks at her like he’s fantasizing about setting her on fire and serving her up in the next Quickfire Challenge.

Quickfire_Getting_Oysters

Quickfire Challenge:  Create an oysters-on-the-half-shell dish for Emeril Lagasse.  Since there are 10 contestants, five will prepare a cold dish and five will prepare a hot dish.  They have 25 minutes (!!) and the winner will get $5,000.

Micah is just plain stoked to be cooking for Emeril, who he’s idolized since he was a kid.  At this point, with so much focus on Micah’s backstory, I’m beginning to think that he is going home at the end of the Elimination Challenge.  Just sayin.’  Oh but wait, they’re also spending a bit of time on Bart who we learned during the oyster harvesting that he went to cooking school at 12 (dang!), and during the Quickfire, we learn that he’s made oysters in champagne sauce at his restaurant, so that’s what he’s making here.  Good, safe call you’d think.  But how many times have we seen a chef say they’re an expert at something then fail miserably at it?  Like Josie, who LOVES spice, so she’s going to do something with chorizo!  Yeah, Man!  Whatever sauce she’s making looks like movie theater nacho cheese, but I’ll let Emeril and Padma tell me if it’s good or not.

After Padma and Emeril went through and tasted all the dishes, Emeril selected Bart, Josie, and John for the bottom.  The only surprise here was John because his oysters with garlic butter, swiss chard, and garlic-parmesan foam seemed to be the safest, least exotic dish there.  But that’s exactly what did him in – Emeril was looking for more punch from the dish.  I swear, a part of me thinks that Emeril gargles with tobacco sauce before bed.  The man certainly likes his spice!  As for Bart, Emeril thought that the reduction of the butter and the cream in the champagne sauce lost the champagne.  Josie’s gross-looking nacho oyster (sorry – oyster with chorizo and cilantro cream) overdid it on the chorizo to the point where Emeril couldn’t taste the oyster.

Quickfire_Tasting

In the top were Lizzie, Micah, and Brooke.  Lizzie took a chance by putting currant juice and pink peppercorn on her oysters, and the risk definitely worked (even if it looked a little janky).  Micah’s fried oyster exploded with flavor and was perfectly fried, while Brooke’s salsa verde had wonderful flavors, as well. The winner was Micah who seems supremely jazzed that one of his idols thought his food was the best.  Aw.

Elimination Challenge:  In teams of two, create a dish inspired by one of the Rat City Roller Girls’ names.  You will be making food for their wrap-party, and you have 2.5 hours to prep and cook your dish.

After the chefs awkwardly choose who to work with, five Seattle Rat City Roller Girls skate into the Top Chef Kitchen and announce themselves to the chefs:  Teriyaki Terror, Jalapeno Business, Eddie Shredder, Kutta Rump, and Tempura Tantrum.  Since Micah was the winner of the Quickfire, he gets to choose first, and he chooses Jalapeno Business.  Sheldon and Josh select Tempura Tantrum; Stefan and Brooke pick Eddie Shredder; John and Brooke select Kutta Rump; and Josie and Bart get stuck with Teriyaki Terror.  And each other.  Bart isn’t too psyched about having to work with Josie, but he’s such a pro, he’s gonna make it work!

To get inspired to cook, all of the chefs will get to go to a roller derby bout.  The chefs all think this will be super fun, until they realize that Josie will be there, too.  Seriously, this woman acts like she’s under the influence of weed, booze, and cocaine at the same time.  Absolutely nutty.  And LOUD.  And everyone notices and is totally annoyed by it.  At the game, Josie’s incessant, unnecessary cheering and hollering gets the best of most of the chefs as they roll their eyes at each other and wait for that clown from the Apollo Theater to come and remove her from the stage.  Josie starts to notice that everyone is thoroughly miffed by her grating personality, and she in turn calls them “boring” as she shuffles off and kicks a baby panda.  I don’t remember Josie being this crazy in her previous season.

The_Roller_Girls

When the chefs return to the house, Josie lays down on the couch and the other chefs go outside to rag on Josie behind her back/within an earshot.  Josie overhears them, comes outside, and starts getting defensive.  When Micah tries to take it down a civil level by saying that there’s no need for name-calling, Josie reminds Micah that “boring” isn’t a name and that she knows who she is, unlike Micah who’s in the closet.  Or something that makes about as much sense.  Either this is some seriously shoddy editing, or Josie was drunk, or Josie doesn’t make much sense sober.  Either way, it was weird, but everyone just kind of awkwardly laughs it off like you do when your crazy uncle does something crazy again.  There goes crazy Uncle Josie!

Onto the cooking!  During prep, we find out that Lizzie and Micah are doing a crap-stuffed jalepeno.  YUM!  Even though they haven’t ever cooked together, they both seem to have a calm, agreeable temperament, so I’m not worried about any drama between them.  Brooke and John are making a rump (Thai beef) with a Thai slaw ans lobster rice (holy frak) and have never worked together before either, but they seem to get along quite nicely.  We find out from John in confessional that Brooke reminds him of his daughter, who his estranged wife took away from him when she was a year and a half old.  John chokes up a bit as he talks about how much he misses her, and I’m right back to really empathizing with him.  I hate these complex feelings I’m having over this guy!!  Stefan and Kristen seem to be having kind of a blast with each other.  They are doing a deconstructed chicken, made of a chicken liver, corn puree, and a sunny side up egg.  This sounds kind of disgusting, but I’m sure it’s delicious.

Josie and Bart seem to be tolerating each other, but Josie realizes that Bart’s components are under seasoned, and that the rice is a little bit mushy.   And when Josie notices that something is wrong, you know it has to be terrible.

TASTING

First up was John and Brooke’s Thai beef with lobster rice and Thai slaw.  The judges universally seem to like it, saying that the flavors build well and that there was the right amount of acid.  Up next was Josie and Bart’s beef teriyaki with beet’s “blood” and green papaya salad.  Roller girl “Teriyaki Terror” first called the dish “interesting” before getting honest by saying that it was a little too “earthy” for her.  The rest of the judges weren’t as forgiving with their criticisms, saying that there was no seasoning and the rice was too mushy.  Sounds gross.  Third was Lizzie and Micah who prepared a crab salad-stuffed mushroom with onion and pepper relish.  The judges seem to be somewhat in love with this dish, saying that the crispiness and the flavors were both great.  I’m imagining eating an obscene amount of these things if left alone in a room with a plate of them.  Fourth up was Stefan and Kristen who cooked a corn puree, chicken liver, and sunny-side-up egg.  Once again, sounds unappetizing, but from the response, all of the judges loved it.  The liver was cooked perfectly and the flavors were there, but Tom notes that there was a missed opportunity to put shredded chicken on the plate (get it?  Eddie SHREDDER??!).  And fifth was Josh and Sheldon’s tempura yuzu curd with shiso, fresno chili, sweet potato, vanilla, and “tantrum” sauces.  Now, this sounded like the most fun and inventive dish of all of them (okay, maybe besides the deconstructed chicken), but unfortunately the tempura wasn’t up to par.  The judges seemed to admire the idea of the “tantrum” sauces, but it failed as a complete dish.  When the judges asked the roller girl “Tempura Tantrum” what she thought, she said “I thought it was DELICIOUS.”  Just goes to show that there must be a mighty chasm between what us civilians usually get to eat, and what Tom, Padma, Emeril, and Hugh consume on a regular basis.  Our lives suck by comparison, just so you know.

Elimination_Rump_Lobster_Rice

JUDGES’ TABLE

Padma first calls in Stefan, Kristen, Micah, and Lizzie.  We can only assume that these are the winners, although I was surprised that Stefan and Kristen didn’t make the cut.

The judges tell Brooke and John that their beef and lobster were cooked perfectly, and that the sauce was delicious.  As for that jalapeno (that I’ll obviously be dreaming about), Emeril complimented its crispiness, and the jalapeno didn’t overpower the crab.  And the winners are… John and Brooke!  I have to say, their dish did look might tasty.

John goes into the back, faking humility about the win, saying that the judges need to see Josie, Bart, Sheldon, and Josh.

The judges first set their sights on Josie and Bart, asking if they had a chance to taste the food before it went out. Josie says that they made one plate of food, but that the rice kinda tasted like a risotto and that she didn’t taste it after Bart re-seasoned it.  She said that she thought the flavor from the beets would seep into the rice and make the whole thing seasoned…like magic!  Unfortunately, the laws of seasoning physics don’t work that way and Tom impatiently reminded them that just because you pair an under seasoned element with a seasoned one that it doesn’t make the whole thing seasoned!  Yikes.  And onto that tempura.  Josh readily throws the tempura under the bus, which was Sheldon’s responsibility.   I swear to God, Josh can be a real sniveling chump sometimes.  He will throw anyone under the bus to save his stupid non-pork-cooking hide, and it seems to be a habit with him.  He simply can’t help himself!  It almost makes him worse than John in a way, but John can be full of excuses, too.  When the heat gets turned up on Team Tempura, Josh says that he “hopes he’s not pulling a CJ,” but calls into question the quality of the jalapeno that Lizzie and Josh made because it was like simple bar food.  Tom said that they didn’t turn in some canned jalapeno with the seeds and the stem in, but a finely roasted jalapeno with a beautiful crab salad and that all of the components worked.  Padma then reminds them that their components…. Didn’t.  Love the shut-down, Tom and Padma!  Hopefully, this is the last time that one of the contestants pulls this crap.

Judges_Table_Judges

In the end, the losing chef was Bart.  Which is sad because I’d just begun to get a sense of his quirky personality and it was really growing on me.  But then again, he never really found his footing by winning any challenges (except for the Farmer’s Market one).  He’ll be missed!

Frontrunner Update:  Kristen is still in the lead since she hasn’t had any serious missteps all season.  But John, Brooke, and Micah are close behind.

Dark Horse:  Quiet little Lizzie.

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-Kristina