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
May 29, 2008; 2:14 PM ET
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