Top Chef: 'Big, Honking Hunks of Beef'

This episode determines which four chefs go to Puerto Rico -- the site of the finale -- and is it any shocker that this week it really turns into a battle for last between Lisa and Spike? Who will go home -- the whiny, annoying, finger-pointing complainer or the arrogant, obnoxious hat-wearing guy?

Hat Boy, aka Spike, starts off well, when the cheftestants get dragged to a butcher's warehouse, where they each have to cut and french seven chops from a monster dry-aged ribeye rack. The grandson of a butcher, Spike cuts a beautiful chop. (Stephanie, meanwhile, makes it look as though the beef is going to wrestle her to the ground). But that's not the end of the challenge. Then the chefs have to bring their mounds of meat back to the Top Chef kitchen and cook a perfectly done medium-rare tomahawk chop for Chicago guest chef Rick Tramonto.

Tramonto doesn't even taste any of the steaks when they are done; this one is all about how it looks, specifically level of doneness. A couple of chefs underdo it a little, their meat all dark-red and cool to the touch, but Antonia and Spike pretty much nail it, and Lisa, we must admit, isn't half-bad. Spike gets the Quickfire victory.

His prize? He gets to choose his proteins first when the chefs go to Tramonto's restaurant to each cook an appetizer and a main course for the dinner shift. And what an idiot Spike is on this front. Yeah, he goes with the tomahawk cut for his meat course -- everybody's doing beef because the place is a steakhouse -- but then he chooses scallops for the appetizer even though they are frozen. Frozen. Everybody else is initially a little disappointed that Spike snags the scallops, then utterly horrified that he sticks with them even after he knows they are a frozen mess.

Stephanie and Richard each take tenderloin, Lisa the N.Y. strip and Antonia the ribeye. Lisa decides to get all creative and make peanut butter mashed potatoes which, let's face it, sound absolutely gross. Much hope blooms at that moment over the possibility of her departure.

Joining the judges for dinner are Howard, Ilan and Hung, the first three "Top Chef" victors. They all give the cheftestants advice, cautioning them not to go shave anybody's head (remember Cliff's fateful decision to buzz Marcel in Season Two? Marcel kept his hair and Cliff lost his chance to keep cooking).

For appetizers, Lisa makes a cold shrimp concoction with lemon; unfortunately for her, everybody likes the lemon and hates the fact that the shrimp is not warm. Richard does a duo of hamachi and sweetbreads that earns raves, Spike has those scallops (which he had to dry, and dry, and dry, in a desperate attempt to keep them from falling apart), Stephanie does more sweetbreads and Antonia (who clearly has a thing for eggs) makes a salad with mushrooms, artichokes and a poached egg on top. No one is much impressed with the last one, save for the excellent poaching of the egg.

Then it's time for the parade of beef. Richard's filet is so rare it's still bleeding, which seems a bit off-putting to Hung. Lisa's infamous potatoes turn out to be not bad, but apparently she spent so much time making them she forgot to season her meat. Spike's tomahawk chop is fine, but his sweet-potato puree doesn't do him any favors. That leaves Steph and Antonia, who both get raves for their hunks o' meat, Steph's paired with mushrooms and an apple sauce and Antonia's with some classic potato gratin that Tramonto all but licks off his plate.

On to judges' table, where Spike gets called out for using the frozen scallops, given that any good chef would have sent them back where they came from. Unable to control his innate obnoxiousness, this leads Spike to lay the blame on Tramonto for letting them in the door to his kitchen in the first place. Smack! Tramonto is taken aback, as he should be, but quickly says he'll take the shot and Spike still shouldn't have used them. As Spike's idiocy sinks in, he makes a point of shaking Tramonto's hand as the chefs head back to the waiting area. There, Spike starts berating himself for what he said, while the others wonder out loud if it's going to cost him Puerto Rico.

Back in front of the judges, little time is wasted naming the three obvious finalists. Richard's in for the best appetizer, Antonia for the best main course, and Stephanie for the best overall performance, which earns her a brand-new kitchen. Off they go to open the wine and start planning for Puerto Rico. Richard and Stephanie, who have clearly bonded, are all happy-happy, and Antonia, who has had a nice implant the past few weeks, is also in hug-hug mode, so thus far it looks like a cheery old finale combination.

Of course, there still needs to be either a whiner or a jerk to round out the four. Tom points out that Lisa has been at the bottom of judges' table five times, which sounds awful until he also notes that Spike has been there seven. Lisa is criticized for poor technique and not much soul to her cooking (Tom calls her "apathetic," which is just what I want in my chef, you know?); Spike is criticized for choosing those *&$% scallops. In the end, though, Lisa's bad attitude isn't as damning as Spike's bad decision and she's off to Puerto Rico as well, where, judging by the preview clips, she's going to honor poor Spike by spiking her hair. Or maybe that's not the reason.

Anyway, look out on the island, because it's time for an unprecedented Top Chef chick invasion: three women in the finals, along with Richard and his pretty pink Crocs.

Time for a poll, me thinks.

-- JENNIFER FREY

Jennifer Frey  |  May 29, 2008; 2:14 PM ET Top Chef
Previous: 'Grey's Anatomy': The One Where Everybody Learns a Lesson | Next: 'Top Chef': Hogtied in Puerto Rico

Comments

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I really, really like Stephanie and have since the beginning but I read somewhere else that Richard just opened his own restaurant in Atlanta, which leads me to believe he won. Antonia has grown on me - I guess somebody tipped her off to what a witch she looked like in the beginning and she took the advice and ran with it. Spike and Lisa - what can you say. I wish they could just have offed them both and been done with it.

But all in all, the episode just made me want a really big steak.

Posted by: mcwolfe | May 29, 2008 2:37 PM

I think Richard and Stephanie are both talented, though their styles are different, I like that Richard is edgy. However, I think Stephanie will win because it's about damn time a woman won, Casey was great last season but was clearly no match for Hung in the end. I think Stephanie has a legit chance this time.

Posted by: U street girl | May 29, 2008 3:28 PM

The producers want Stephanie to win (me too), and she is coming on strong lately. That Richard just opened a restaurant is not dispositive for me, he had one before. If this season is like last, they don't know who won -- the winner will be determined and announced live on the finale.

Posted by: mark | May 29, 2008 4:47 PM

I really want Antonia to win... with Steph a close second. That said, I think it will be Steph. Her skillz are just too mad.

Posted by: Left of the Pyle | May 29, 2008 5:07 PM

Who's Howard? Methinks Jennifer meant season 1 winner Harold.

Did anyone catch the weird cut to Ilan while he was eating, as though he was gagging or even ralphing up his food? It was only a 1 second reaction shot to him, but I put it in slo-mo on my Tivo, and it clearly shows him suddenly moving his hand to his mouth as if to stifle an upchuck or perhaps a sneeze. If it was a sneeze, I don't know why the producers would splice in that clip. If it was vomit, it was left unexplained. I can't remember whose dish was being eaten at the time, but it clearly was made to seem as though he had foul reaction to the food.

Posted by: Doughboy | May 29, 2008 5:15 PM

I guess I am ridiculously ignorant, but what do you mean Antonia's "nice implant." Implant of what, where?

That reminded me I needed to google laksa and hamachi. More evidence of my ignorance. Laksa I could see on the show was a soup, but I had no idea of its provenance. Hamachi I had no idea period, and am now disappointed that phrases such as "Back off Spike, or I will kick you in the hamachis" would not work, though I can imagine Lisa saying them.

Posted by: Leila | May 29, 2008 6:25 PM

I think it is Stephanie's to lose. But I would be happy for Antonia or Richard as well. Just not, dear God, Lisa.

Posted by: Leila | May 29, 2008 6:28 PM

Yes, thank you for the catch. It would of course be Harold not Howard!

Meanwhile, Doughboy, if you have Tivo, please tell me the minute when you see the nausea. And I'll check it out.

Posted by: Jennifer Frey | May 29, 2008 8:53 PM

I'm not sure i get the whole focus on the significance for women to be in the top, or for a woman to win for that matter. Does that really mean anything? Is that breaking some sort of glass ceilings for women competing in cooking competitions? I know in the restaurant/cooking industry there is some definite challenges/unfairness unique to women, but this is a cooking competition judged by 3 or 4 individuals. Unless you think some or all are sexist, who cares if it ends up as all women or all men in the top four. I dunno i'm not trying to be insensitive, i just think if you're gonna root for (or even make a point to emphasize) a woman, because of her gender, do it because she's advancing in an environment where she is likely to fail due her own gender rather than due to her abilities (props to Hiliary). Unless you think Top Chef is bias towards women, it doesn't really do much other than make you look bias yourself. Sorry a minor rant, not directed to anyone, just feels like i hear this talk (especially from Bravo) how much a woman should win, or how significant it is for there to be more women than men in the final, blah blah blah. Supposedly they get there because of their cooking skills, and their ability to play the game, not much else... or so i'd like to think...

Posted by: foodie | May 29, 2008 10:23 PM

Jennifer, please explain your reference to a "nice implant." What are you referring to?

Posted by: Curious | May 29, 2008 11:04 PM

I think "implant" refers to Antonia's sudden nice personality. FWIW, I think she is made more snarky by the editing than she actually is. I think that in person she is actually one of the friendlier cheftestants. So what if she says more colorful things in her interviews, isn't that the point?

Posted by: Doughboy | May 30, 2008 12:42 AM

The Ilan nausea moment took place somewhere around minute 32 on my recording. It was during Antonia's appetizer tasting and Gail makes her comment that the egg is cooked perfectly. They cut to Ilan who is sitting there motionless and then suddenly he thrusts his hand to his mouth.

Posted by: Doughboy | May 30, 2008 12:59 AM

To set the record straight: Cliff was the one who was sent home for the assault on Marcel, because Cliff's the one who actually laid hands on him. But Ilan and Elia were also ring-leaders, with Sam a cowardly bystander. Regardless of how obnoxious Marcel was, tackling someone who's asleep and forcibly trying to shave his head is assault. Ilan has never seemed to grasp that, and while perhaps his remark about not doing it was meant somewhat apologetically, he still seems to be smirking about it.

Posted by: katnap | June 3, 2008 10:12 AM

The only two who deserve to be in the finals are Stephanie and Richard. Antonia should have been offed way back; same goes for Lisa. Dale should have been bronze medalist--though he comes off as a tool.

Richard has it all won. He is far and away the most talented.

Posted by: CRD | June 5, 2008 3:12 PM

Did anyone notice Ilan scooping up the egg and licking his fingers? It was a quick shot--thanks to DVR I could rewind a few times, but I still have no idea what the hell he was doing. He also comes up out of his seat as he does it. What the hell???

Posted by: Lkp | June 6, 2008 4:03 PM

Ooops..missed the comments left by Doughboy. At least I'm not the only one wondering about it!

Posted by: LKP | June 6, 2008 4:06 PM

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