There was very little drama in the last season of Top Chef, with the exception of the drama of whether or not Hosea’s head would actually transform completely into a giant thumb or if it would just remain thumb-ISH in shape and size. But for the most part, the not-as-talented chefs were eliminated early on and the better chefs remained to battle it out in a legitimate test of skill and/or whatever Hosea was up to. Everyone seemed like friends (or Hosea) and like they respected each other’s talent and hard work. This season there is even LESS drama. Kevin and the Voltaggio brothers have been DOMINATING from the start like a bunch of dominatrixusesii, and although Jennifer has definitely basically gone The Yellow Wallpaper over the past couple of weeks, is still obviously a great chef succumbing to the rigors and pressures of an intensive and invasive reality TV show. And everyone else has basically been left to fight over whose turn it would be to inevitably be sent home this or that week, with the possible exception of Mike, who seems pretty strong, and has been the only “surprise” elimination all season, and even that wasn’t that big of a surprise. To give you a sense of how little drama there has been so far this season, remember that this week there were five chefs left (Michael Voltaggio, Kevin, Eli, Bryan Voltaggio, Jennifer). Now guess which one got eliminated. NO SPOILERS, but I am pretty sure you guessed right. Like the teenagers say in their Facebook status updates, NO DRAMA!
Before the chefs head in to the Top Chef kitchen to compete in the final Las Vegas challenge before the exciting non-Las Vegas finale (what happens in Vegas eventually stops happening in Vegas, apparently), we get a classic glimpse of the nightmare garbage dump that is the Top Chef house. Broken hangers on the floor. Crushed shelves. (Don’t forget Jennifer’s bed.) What happens in there? It’s like Robin and Ash decided to have a wrestling match to prove once and for all who was the less-talented. “We will prove this through the horrifying use of our bodies!”
Meanwhile, Eli points out that his mentor is Richard Blaise. THE BLAISE-ANATOR, BLAISING COPIES! Eli was the best man at Richard Blaise’s wedding? What? For one thing, the delicious molecular gastronomy menu that delighted the guest’s tastebuds and imaginations was the best man at Richard Blaise’s wedding. For another thing: I did not see that coming. I wonder how Richard Blaise and Eli’s mom get along, and whether or not there is a tension there that is tearing Eli apart. “He’s my best friend, mom!” “Well I don’t understand why a married man with a successful career needs to sleep over.” “It’s my room, mom! I can have my friends over if I want!”
This week’s guest judge is 14-year-old Gavin Kaysen, executive chef at Cafe Boulud, and former contestant in the illustrious Bocuse D’or cooking competition. We are then shown scenes of what looks like the rodeo scene in Borat in which people wanted to kill Borat. What is that thing? Nothing says elegant fine dining like people in patriotic sweatshirts waving flags and screaming over the sound of rattling noisemakers. YUM AND ALSO REFINEMENT. Anyway, all the chefs are just like, “Oh man,” and Gavin Kaysen is like, “Yeah, I know.” For this week’s Quickfire Challenge, the chefs will need to recreate one of Gavin Kaysen’s dishes from the Bocuse D’or. Well, kind of. Gavin Kaysen created an elaborate and eye-popping “ballantine” in which crayfish was stuffed in chicken liver stuffed in a chicken, which took him four months to develop. So they have half an hour to put “protein inside of protein inside of protein.” So this is apparently the That Is What She Said D’or.
Everyone starts stuffing their protein into other proteins, and the protein is just flying, getting everywhere. If you took a black light to the Top Chef kitchens, it would look like a Jacks-Off Pollock! (Get it? Yuck, and I’m sorry!) Anyway, Eli makes a scotch egg, Kevin makes fried catfish suffed with scallops and shrimp, Michael makes a poultry terrine, Bryan makes a rack of lamb with sausage and something, and Jennifer makes a calamari steak wrapped around scallops and salmon. When Padma tastes it she tells Jennifer, “Welcome back.” Wait, where did Jennifer go? Oh that’s right: Crazy Town aboard the Flame Out Express. Well she is back now, and she wins the Quickfire. Congratulations, Jennifer! There is no immunity anymore, but she will get an extra 30 minutes to cook in the Elimination Challenge. (Neat?!)
The Elimination Challenge this week will also be based on the Bocuse D’or. The chefs each have to prepare either a lamb or salmon dish with complimentary garnishes that represent the pinnacle of elegance and classic French cuisine, and they will have three and a half minutes to do it. I mean, basically. This show loves taking something that is well-respected and important and turning it into a clownish disaster. I am sure that 83-year-old Paul Bocuse is hard at work building himself a grave to roll in. The chefs will serve their dish on the traditional Bocuse D’or mirrored-platter to 12 of the world’s greatest chefs. Really? The 12th episode of a heavily Las Vegas-themed season and we’re not going to make any cocaine jokes with these mirrored platters? You clearly dropped the speedball on this one, Top Chef.
Everyone is nervous for what is the most difficult and demanding challenge on the show thus far. How will Kevin meld his love of simplistic homestyle cooking with the elaborate presentation of the Bocuse D’or? How will Michael Voltaggio manage to turn this into a passive-aggressive pissing contest with his brother? How will Eli call his mom? There just might not be enough time! Perhaps Jennifer can call Eli’s mom for him with a few of her extra 30 minutes.
Cook, cook, cook. Kevin! Stop staring at those carrots and get cooking!
Kevin decides to sous-vide his lamb but he has never used sous-vide before. If he had been the best man at Richard Blaise’s wedding, he would probably have gotten a sous-vide in his gift bag, but no such luck. Bryan Voltaggio tells him exactly what temperature to set the machine for, because Bryan Voltaggio is a man. He knows that some people might backstab and sabotage, but he knows that in 10 years when his son is watching this on a hover-chip surgically implanted in his frontal coretex, daddy will have done the right thing. I was a little worried, though, that Kevin’s bold use of a completely new and complicated cooking technique might be the thing that got him accidentally eliminated. Let’s just say that doesn’t end up happening. It very much doesn’t at all. Some might say the opposite happens. NO DRAMA.
So, everyone wheels out their silver platters of beautifully prepared cocaine-encrusted lamb and par-boiled (in cocaine) salmon (if I have to do everything around here, Top Chef, I will) and the judges, including Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Paul Bocuse’s son, Cueball Bocuse, casually rip everything apart. Seriously, I think Cueball Bocuse was the basis for the Leon character in The Professional.
“I am going to cold-bloodedly assassinate your self-worth just as soon as I have watered my plant and one true friend, Francine.” There is basically something wrong with everyone’s dish, which obviously has more to do with the fact that this is a hilariously absurd challenge in terms of ambition-to-resources than with any flaws in their abilities to cook a reasonable meal. But sure. Top Chef don’t change its stripes.
So, Kevin wins. He gets $30,000, and a chance to compete to represent the United States in next year’s Bocuse D’or. And Eli loses. He gets to go home where his mom will be waiting for him 30,000 hugs.