Top Chef: All chefs wanna be rock stars


Thing No. 1 - My god, Ariane eats like a horse! Did you see the size of that spoon?

Thing No. 2 - Did you know Richard's gay and has gay friends and has a crush/fascination with Tom Colicchio?

Thing No. 3 - The Foo Fighters have done benefit concerts for Alive and Well, an activist group that believes that HIV doesn't cause AIDS.

That last thing is as good a segue as I can make to the Quickfire, which features Chicago (hey, weren't we there last season) chef Grant Achatz, owner of Alinea, as the guest judge. Grant's a cancer survivor; wonder what the Foos think about cancer.

(Incidentally, Alinea is the subject of a very entertaining blog written by Carol Blymire entitled Alinea at Home. Carol, after having tackled the French Laundry cookbook, is just starting the process of preparing every dish in the Alinea cookbook. She's a great writer, and a competent cook. ; ) It's good stuff. Read it.)

The chefs draw knives, which reveal unusual numbers. Padma says they're page numbers, and reveals the Top Chef Cookbook. Open the book, find your page, and put your own spin on the recipe found therein.

There are some interesting ones, like Tre and CJ's frozen food, Dale's Colorado lamb. And it would be intriguing to see the chefs struggle to adapt them, except then Padma and Grant pop back in and tell everyone to stop what they're doing, take their work so far, and turn it into a soup instead. Please use the SWANSON BROTH surrounding you like a fortress.

Now Leah has to turn tuna tartare into chilled white asparagus soup with a floating tartare-topped brioche. Actually, that sounds pretty good. Grant likes it too. Carla likes to use love as her secret ingredient. This isn't Iron Chef: Battle Gramma's House, Carla.

Daniel creates perhaps the first ham and egg soup, which also goes over well with the critical mouths. Fabio does someting with smokéd trout (gotta love his , Shakespearean pronunciation), and Jamie turns deconstructed falafel into a nice soup with mint and cilantro. Ultimately, Leah wins the Quickfire and this week's immunity. No losers were announced.

She also wins the ability to choose her team for the Elimination challenge, which is this season's first catering event. The Foo Fighters, tired of road meals, will have the chefs craft two competing Thanksgiving menus for their regal enjoyment. The entourage makes up 60 people, with almost a third of them vegetarians. Don't worry, chefs. They've given you their rider. They like their water bottle tops loosened but not removed. A quarter-twist.

Leah picks Fabio, Stefan, Hosea (duh), Radhika, and Melissa. Fabio goes on and on about Europe some more (time to stop that, bud), and the stakes are announced: winner gets to see the show, losers have to do dishes. Alex, at least, has a good outlook on the challenge: all chefs want to be rock stars, he says, and now we at least get to cook for 'em.

Top Chef drops the ball by not getting a release to play any Foo Fighters songs during the following segments, but the chefs make their way to the concert anyway. Oh, Padma and the Foos failed to mention that they'll be cooking outdoors, with microwaves, toaster ovens, and one burner. That seems a little absurdly arbitrary, but whatever. Do the Foo Fighters believe that microwaves lead to cooked food?

The all-star team immediately starts annoying each other: Stefan thinks he can knock out two sauces all quick-like on the one burner, Jamie disagrees. They name themselves Team Sexy Pants for no apparent reason. The sucker team, meanwhile, decides to live on the edge and assign turkey duties to Ariane. They take on Ariane as their mascot, and name themselves Team Cougar -- yes, for that reason. The way Ariane rushed to the front of the crowd when they met the Foos' roadie, I'm thinking they're not that far off.

Everyone takes their $1200 and spends an hour at the grocery store. Once again, Prettyboy has stepped up to organize the children. They all start packing their carts with BUTTERBALL TURKEY PRODUCTS.

Back at the venue, Eugene wins some fans by crafting a smoker/grill out of a chafing pan. Smart! Both teams are doing the usuals: turkey, sweet and standard potatoes, stuffing (although the SP's do a vegan stuffing). Team Sexy Pants adds fruit cobbler and pumpkin tiramisu, Team Cougar adds bacon mac and cheese, maple smoked pork, banana s'mores, and pumpkin-berry parfaits.

(Unintentional line of the night, from Ariane trying to get her team off her back about cooking time on the turkey: "Guys, it's a breast." Team Cougar, indeed.)

As the chefs finish up, Fabio realizes he's left his dessert out in the rain (oh no!). Okay, it actually starts raining with about 40 minutes to go. The operation gets hurried indoors, and before long the judges and Foo Fighters arrive. Again, Richard goes on at length about Tom's sexiness and "gay bear icon" status. Ugh.

The deal with catering challenges is that the dishes get hard to assign to specific chefs. Not so this week, although the show still didn't focus on them very much. As such, I can't really give you detailed analysis.

Team Cougar's dishes are inconsistent. Jeff's spoonbread stuffing is dry and overcooked. Alex's mac and cheese has bacon, and is thus tasty. Mashed potatoes are "al dente" to put it nicely, while the turkey and smoked pork (and the jury-rigged smoker) are both delightful. Only Carla's dessert passes any sort of muster; the s'mores and parfaits ("barfaits," by a Foo's estimation) both have a spitty consistency that equals a cream that hasn't held up during service. Yum.

Team Sexy Pants' dishes are at least less awful; the commentary wasn't as plentiful for this menu. But Radhika's vegan stuffing is great, the yams are good, and Fabio's tiramisu is a smart and impressive Italian twist on pumpkin pie. Hosea's cobbler, for which he was not particularly effusive, is equally well-received.

The voting is pretty evenly split, and spitty dessert isn't necessarily going to sink the boat of Team Cougar. Daniel, who is clearly not gay, tells us he's wearing his party hat and party underwear, and wants the win. Sadly, he will have to party in those undies on his own, because the Foo Fighters give the win to Team Sexy Pants. It has to have been the most humiliating and demoralizing defeat in Top Chef history, because from all indications, the losers could hear the music from the makeshift dining room in the staging area.

Daniel opens the stew room segment by flipping off the winning team after they return from the concert. Classy. Strangely, this episode ends with no declared Elimination winner, after beginning with no declared Quickfire loser. The judges go straight for the kill.

They don't have much to say to Alex and Eugene (call it the Pig Clause: cook with pig, and you're most likely to survive), and they're excused. Same with Carla, whose mediocre dessert was still the best of the three, and Ariane, whose moist and well-carved turkey was a clear redemption.

That leaves Daniel, Richard, and Prettyboy. The panel appreciates Jeff's natural leadership, and it looks like his stuff wasn't bad enough to cancel that out. Richard's un-s'morey s'mores and Daniel's bad potatoes seem like an imbalance against Big Gay Rick, but I thought his defense of his dish was eloquent and well-reasoned.

The decision, however, will have to wait until after another interlude mid-break. This time, Daniel's eating peanut butter sloppily, spills some on the floor, and gets taken to task by Jamie. Daniel says something about Jamie's hormones, and then it's back to the advertisers. Strange. Kinda fun, mostly just strange.

Anyway, after the break, the judges reconvene, and declare that Richard is indeed going to have to make a weepy exit. And he doesn't disappoint. So ends an unusual episode of Top Chef.

Prepare for the Apocalypse, because next week appears to feature Rocco DiSpirito and Kathie Lee Gifford. What have we done to deserve this?