Top Chef S09E02: This Show Is On The Bubble

As you may recall, this season started with 29 chefs, rather than the customary 16, for no discernible reason. It kind of reminds me of when I was a kid and I asked my dad to buy me a toy robot for Christmas that served you drinks on a tray, because I was a Young Gentlemen and I wanted my drinks DELIVERED BY ROBOTS, as was the custom in Downtown Space Abbey. Instead, my dad got me some stupid fucking box of Legos with the explanation that he thought it would be better to get me a gift that we could enjoy together. (In his defense, it was still a better gift than the year before when he literally handed me a shopping bag full of DISGUSTING BOOKS, including, no joke, Anna Karenina and Bleak House. I was nine.) The reason this season of Top Chef reminds me of this is because it’s very annoying when someone gives you something you don’t want and pretends like it’s some kind of generous gift. It’s not OUR fault the producers couldn’t narrow the field down to 16 in time, or that the advertisers were demanding that they expand the season by an extra 100 hours, and yet we are the ones who are punished, under the guise of being lucky. What a treat! Anyway, at the end of last week, the judges had selected 11 of the 16 contestants, and put 4 on the bubble (don’t ask). This week we are down to the final 10, of the original 29, to decide who will even just be on this goddamned show already. Who’s exhausted? Sorry, I fell asleep, did anyone say whether they were exhausted or not? Whoops, fell asleep again.

We are introduced to our other regular guest judge, Hugh Acheson. There are almost as many guest judges as there are would-be contestants. (Annnnnnd we’re asleep again.) Hugh Acheson seems cool, but also kind of like an android. I’m not sure what it is (just kidding, it’s his head), but he gives me the sense that if you talked to his close friends they would all say that they loved him, but that they also didn’t know a lot about him and that he was a really hard person to have a serious conversation with. (You can make a lot of opinions about what someone’s really like from looking at their head for two seconds on TV.) Also, I’m a little worried about Padma? I think this show is hiding something about Padma. Like, last week, there was that one awful dude who said he needed to stay on the show just so he could keep looking at her. And this week there’s a dude who says that he is in love with Padma and he used to keep a picture of her in his locker at school (?!?!?!?!). The thing is, I thought we were all on board with Padma being hot stuff, so now that they’re over-hyping how hot she is it makes you wonder. Is she sick? Are they worried we won’t think she’s pretty unless a bunch of weird, slobbering strangers say dumb things about her face and body and perfect hair? Stay tuned for her next move.

Acheson explains the new Quickfire: there are 10 different ingredients on the table. The chefs have three minutes to decide who will cook which ingredient. But also there are cloches on each tray that the chefs aren’t allowed to look under until their decisions are made. Pick pick pick. Anecdote anecdote anecdote. This guy’s wife is Italian American. That lady’s husband is Filipino. There’s a game of rock paper scissors to determine who gets the mushrooms and who gets the oxtail because we’re all adults here. (Please pack your playground and go.) When they finally lift the cloches they find kitchen timers. Some people get 20 minutes to cook, some people 40, and some people 60. Everyone is freaking out now. And by everyone I mean the people who only get 20 minutes. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Everyone seems to have something to bitch about. One person even says “I wish I had more than an hour to cook this.” Right. You seem fun.

As usual, some people seem better at cooking than others. Like, if you own three food trucks that have been featured on television and you deliver a perfectly pan seared trout on a bed of Asian tomato salad, you probably know what you’re doing. If you’re 25 years old and you can’t get the pressure cooker lid on (and then later can’t get the pressure cooker lid off) in order to make oxtail the way your husband’s grandma showed you one time and you think you remember how she did it, then I’m nervous for you. One guy cooked risotto but it never even made it onto the plate. Risotto FAIL!

I do love the added indignity of making him present empty bowls to the judges.

Gotcha! A couple people get to stay. A couple people go home. A couple people are put on the bubble. Sorry if that’s vague, but there’s too much going on! I feel like you would need aspberger’s to write a genuinely comprehensive recap of the show so far. If you want to get more in depth, just watch it. Don’t worry about being a week or two behind. You have plenty of time to catch up as apparently this season is going to last forever.

People this week have really conflated being on this show with actual success as a chef in really intense and weird ways. For one thing, any time someone wins a chef’s coat, they talk about how they feel like they’ve overcome a huge obstacle. Really? Huge? You got on the show. You are now going to be on the show instead of not being on the show. 15 of you will definitely be going home. Easy does it. One woman shows a sign that she keeps in her wallet that says “I Can. I Must. I Will,” which is totally a reasonable Who Moved My Kim Chi motivational tool, but You Can, You Must, You Will WHAT exactly? At a certain point (and that point is the division between actual life and reality TV) it’s no longer a matter of hard work and will power. You’re now in the producers’ and editors’ hands. You can’t The Secret your way to victory. (Although, she does get into the house, and if she wins the whole thing–she won’t–I will print a full retraction and invest all of my money in The Secret.) Then there’s the guy who is already my Least Favorite Cast Member, Edward. He’s on “the bubble.” He keeps interviewing from the stew room about how he would be willing to murder all of the other chefs in order to get in the house. Right. That sounds like a very good plan! (I’m not against murdering all of the chefs. I just think Edward should go to jail afterwards so I never have to see him again.) Later, when he is cooking for Team Bubble, he cuts himself very badly but doesn’t want to stop cooking and says that if he could cut off his arm and give it to them to fix it (already some problems with this new plan) he would cook one handed “for the rest of this challenge.” Let’s hope Edward understands the principles of cooking better than he does criminal law and/or medicine. Eek!

The chefs from the stew room are brought back in to cook. Six people on “the bubble” (so excited to not have to say that anymore after this episode, I hope?) but only two spots left in the house. They have 45 minutes to use anything in the pantry to make one dish that will convince the judges that they deserve to be on the show. The lady from the cruise ship who seems to have turned her Face Switch to Poop Smell and then snapped off the lever:

She explains that this is a daunting task because it’s so much harder to just be able to do whatever you want than to work within specific constraints. I would almost understand what she was talking about if she hadn’t already blown it trying to work within specific constraints? If that’s so much easier, then maybe you should just go home, because you apparently can’t do that either? Cook cook cook. Chefs chefs chefs. Everyone’s dishes look OK, except for Cruise Ship, who overcooked her shrimp and served it over a thin, yellow dribble of sauce. You are needed on the Poop Smell deck, sailor! Please pack your knives and go walk the plank. Edward is IN. He tells the judges that he will not disappoint them, which is something people on this show say sometimes that is always hilarious. How could you disappoint them? They don’t care. It’s a TV show. They’re getting paid to be here. He also says that he feels like he’s already won something major just to get here. Well, you haven’t. You lost. And then you won something minor just to get where everyone else already is. Hush now.

Personally, I am kind of pulling for Janine because her scallop looked good enough but more importantly her sob story about her girlfriend of nine years getting married to her and then two months later telling her that she didn’t like her vows and then breaking up with her over the phone was a bummer. EEEEK! I know that has nothing to do with cooking, and I would be fine with Janine getting kicked off the following week, because at the end of the day this is Top Chef not Top Sad Break Up Story, but girl could clearly use a little good news. Oh well. Grayson takes the final coat. She explains that she doesn’t want the other chefs thinking that she and Edward are the underdogs because they had to cook again. Well, tough. You ARE the underdogs. Because you had to cook again.

“We are down to the final 16,” Padma says, hyping up this season. Right. Good use of the word FINAL. We only have ALL of the chefs of a normal season left to go. I’m telling you, guys, something’s up with Padma. She’s off her game. I’ll marry her just in case she needs someone to take care of her during this difficult time because I’m a good person, but I’m really worried!