'Top Chef: New York': Double elimination for Eugene and Melissa

Eugene_topchefnewyork_240 Top Chef: New York finally complies with Reality Show Law and introduces the Obligatory Acerbic Brit to the judging table. Plus, the cheftestants get to do some judging of their own -- and boy, is THAT going to lead to some uncomfortable conversations back at the house.

The Quickfire
The chefs have to fix a yummy dessert without sugar. Ariane immediately works the product placement angle (the challenge is sponsored by a diet soda) and uses that to sweeten her dish. OK, way to suck up to the sponsors (and get screen time), but I have to think that making crepes for guest judge Jean-Christophe Novelli -- an opinionated French chef known for his pastry -- could really come back to bite her in the butt.

Carla decides to make a dessert with several components, which necessitates  freezing bananas. Carla, it's a quickfire -- that means you may not have time for actual freezing, especially when several other people are opening -- and occasionally forgetting to close -- the freezer. Sure enough, the bananas don't freeze, so she has to improvise at the end, frying the bananas instead of making ice cream.

Jean-Christophe calls out Carla for her bland bananas, Ariane for her blah crepes (which he doesn't even dignify with that name -- he calls them "pancakes"), and Jamie's napoleon, which was completely overwhelmed by the mascarpone. He praises Leah's crepes with a balsamic reduction and Jeff's spiced baklava spring roll with frozen yogurt, but it's Rahdika's  bread pudding with peach and honey-roasted cashews that takes the prize -- and wins her immunity again.

The Elimination Challenge
Tom tells the chefs (1) they get to go wild and create a dish that showcases their personality and creativity, and (2) it's going to be a blind tasting, so the judges won't know who made what. The chefs are divided into two teams, and will be making a family-style meal for the judges and some unnamed food experts. Two chefs will be eliminated after this meal.

The dubious decision-making starts immediately. Jamie goes with scallops, again, because she wants to redeem herself with that particular mollusk. I think she needs to move on. Melissa picks tuna tacos -- snore. Eugene makes fried red snapper with daikon fettuccini, which sounds... odd. Jeff does an overly complicated dish of many parts, again, some more. Jeff, will you ever learn? Leah decides to do something she's never tried before, fried fish with fried beans. Is now really the time to do something completely new?

Other chefs start out well, but things go awry: Fabio goes with a sous vide lamb and homemade ravioli, but he neglects to keep up with the lamb, and it ends up undercooked. Rahdika has made the crab bisque he's serving at her restaurant, but this time the seasoning goes wonky. Carla wants to make a vegetable risotto, but she fears the judges won't respect her if she doesn't have a protein, so she adds scallops.

The rest of the chefs look pretty good:  Hosea wraps his halibut with bacon, and we all know that everything is better with bacon. Stefan goes with a classic German duck breast with cabbage and dumplings, which is food from his childhood (because he was born in the Czech Republic, and good lord, where HASN'T this man lived?). Ariane does a pan-seared skate wing with pineapple and brown butter. Plus, she lights things on fire, which I always respect.

When Group B arrives at the venue, they learn that they will be judging Group A's food. The serving chefs come out, see that their competition is judging them, and return to the kitchen -- where they discover they can watch the meal in progress. Then Group A returns the favor with Group B's food.

The Judges' Table
Ariane, Stefan and Jamie are the top three. Stefan's duck, cabbage and dumplings were beautifully flavored and perfectly German. Ariane's skate was expertly cooked and seasoned. But it's Jamie who wins with her scallops -- the flavors blended perfectly, and the scallops were cooked well. Jaime's response? "Finally!" That's a bit arrogant...

Melissa, Eugene and Carla are the bottom three. Carla knows what she did wrong, and figures out exactly what she could have done to fix it. Too bad she didn't do that... Melissa is dinged for serving bland, boring and stinky food, and she has no real response to that. Eugene's red snapper was gorgeously plated, but tasteless. Eugene defends himself as being a creative force who overreached, Melissa talks about how much she wants to be there, and Carla says her dish was perfect except for the scallops. The judges decide to give Carla another chance -- Melissa and Eugene are going home. Eugene is classy as he leaves -- I did my best, and I have no regrets. I like him. Melissa gets whiny -- I am SO creative! If you were, perhaps you should have showed us before now.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • New addition Toby Young is working the cutting British judge thing: He classifies Rahdika's crab bisque as a weapon of mass destruction, compares Melissa's fish tacos to cat food, and describes Eugene's fish as "the bland leading the bland."
  • Toby is equally over-the-top when describing dishes he doesn't hate. He says Hosea's food reminded him of British thespians cast as supporting actors in Hollywood films and then overshadowing the leads (a long way of saying the veggies were better than the fish), compares Jeff's avocado sorbet to Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder ("an unexpected treat"), and waxes rhapsodic about Stefan's dish transporting him to a wood cabin in the Alps. I hope he dials it back a bit -- a little Toby goes a long way.
  • Tom, to Carla: "I don't think risotto makes a good garnish. Risotto's a dish." Heh.
  • Carla tries to defend herself by saying "As a chef, I may not wow you with " -- insert wild jazz hands -- "Pizzazz!" Oh, the look on Tom's face. Hee.
  • Possibly the most cutting bit of criticism: Tom: "Part of the challenge was to show us who you are, and I think Melissa did that with her fish tacos. That's who she is." Toby: "Isn't that precisely why she should go?"
  • Stefan and Jaime were the harshest critics of their peers. The other chefs tended to lead with something nice, even when they didn't like the dish.
  • When Jean-Christophe isn't thrilled with Fabio's quickfire offering, Fabio blames it on the fact that Italy beat France in the last World Cup. Um, ok...
  • Ariane, on Jean-Christophe judging the quickfire: "Whatever, dude -- he's literally picking apart everybody's dessert." Um, yeah, Ariane -- that's his job. And I TOLD you not to make crepes for a Frenchman!