'Top Chef: New York': Alex picked the wrong day for crème brûlée

Alex_topchefnewyork_240 Top Chef: New York takes a bunch of chefs on TV and challenges them to become... chefs on TV. Apparently, it's a lot harder than it looks.

This spoiler made Kathy Lee Gifford choke
.

Rise and shine, cheffies! It's time for a breakfast quickfire, with TV chef Rocco DiSpirito as your guest judge. I'm no great fan of Rocco, but I do appreciate how he sings the praises of bacon. I'll give you a pass this time, TV boy...

The cheftestants can't just whip up some flapjacks, of course -- they need to create a breakfast amuse bouche, a delectable bite-sized goody that shows off the chef's exquisite taste. Jeff continues his streak of overthinking, creating two dishes instead of perfecting one. Daniel does a cornflake-crusted zucchini flower, which sounds kind of nasty to me. Fabio does an espresso crème thing that seems more like dessert than breakfast -- a no-no, considering the Rocco indicated he preferred on the savory side of breakfast when he praised bacon.

Ariane's stuffed French toast is lovely, with chili-maple syrup that gives jus the right hint of sweetness without going overboard. Stefan has a spiffy toy that removes the top of the eggshell, allowing him to do huevos rancheros in the shell. Jamie does a breakfast BLT with nicely layered favors -- but it's not one bite. Leah did a bacon, egg and cheese bite that's the perfect size, and tastes fantastic. Leah wins, and Jamie's a little pissed -- that's the second time Leah has beaten her out at the quickfire!

The elimination challenge takes place at the intersection of cheffery and publicity whoredom. The chefs have to create a dish for a two-and-a half minute demo for a live TV audience. They need to be able to assemble the dish in an hour, then be relaxed and happy as they cook and chatter to hosts and come up with a photogenic final presentation. Alex chooses to do a crème brûlée. Because no one else is doing a dessert, he reasons, he'll stand out! Yeah, but... can a crème brûlée actually be completed and edible in an hour? If not, what are you thinking?

The demos are varying degrees of amusing and painful.

The good
Ariane makes a beefsteak tomato salad with watermelon and feta. She's got a good handle on the time, plus she shows a pleasant personality. But oh, her voice! She's nervous, so it's incredibly grating. Jeff has a relaxed, easy, and very, very pretty presence in front of the camera, but I fear his dish -- a Middle Eastern malfouf roll with muhammara sauce --  is too exotic for TV demo cheffery. Fabio charms with his accent and malapropisms -- "I am fresh out of the boat" -- and his food is good, too. Hosea has a decent interaction with the judges, but we don't really see what he's making, except that it involved wasabi peas. OK, then.

The bad
Jamie goes in feeling confident, but her egg doesn't cook all the way through. The judges are not pleased with the raw egg, and Jamie looks PISSED. Daniel cooks a decent skirt steak, but the massive amount of smoke coming off the searing meat looks scary. Also, he's not half as charming as he thinks he is. Stefan does a good minestrone soup, but he has no personality and there's very little interaction with the judges. Eugene gets flustered by the judges' questions. Melissa nearly kills the judges with her spicy shrimp -- Tom actually spits her food out.

The lengthy
Carla, Rahdika and Leah all run out of time in their demos. Leah is a wreck -- she never wants to do TV demo cheffery again! Good thing she has immunity. But the one person with the worst time is Alex: he goes over time, and the crème brulee he'd prepared ahead of time hadn't set yet. 

The judges pick Ariane, Jeff and Fabio as the best of the bunch, and as a reward, Tom wakes them out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night to drag them to the Today show studios, where the hosts will try their dishes on air. Jeff is a bit put out -- I'm making an exotic dish for women with unsophisticated palates to try at 6:30 a.m.? You should have thought of that possibility when you chose what to make.

The rest of the cheftestants gather 'round the TV to watch Meredith, Kathy Lee and the rest dig into the winner's meals. The ladies love Ariane's salad, and seem very impressed with Fabio's seared tuna as well. Jeff's dish... well, Kathy Lee Gifford spits it out. Ouch. The chefs watching back at the apartment have a good laugh about that.

The Today Show hosts pick Ariane's tomato salad as the prize-winning dish, and she gets one heck of a prize: Not only does Rocco go knife-shopping for her, but she gets to do a demo on the Today show the day after this episode airs. Go Ariane!

At the judges' table, things get ugly fast. Melissa swears that she tasted all her food, and that she didn't think it was too spicy. Considering the judges basically qualify it as chemical warfare, that's a tough sell. Jamie acknowledges that she made a mistake by serving the undercooked egg, but swears that she's learned from her mistake. Too bad she comes off as so defensive while she's saying it. Alex admits that he made a bone-headed decision by going with crème brulee -- there was no way it was going to end well.

Speaking of not ending well... When the judges ask if anyone has anything else to say, Melissa pipes up that she really, really, REALLY wants to be there... unlike SOME people. See, Alex is getting married soon, so maybe his head isn't completely in the game. So Melissa throws Alex, his fiancé, his extended family, and his 18 closest neighbors under the bus. Nice. I'd kick her out just for being so blatant about it -- and for trying to kill the judges with habenero -- but they choose to give Alex the boot.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • Fabio is unimpressed by the guest judge -- "he's not a REAL Italian" -- but he grudgingly admits that for an American, Rocco cooks decent Italian-esque food. Gracious of you, Fabio.
  • I love that Fabio, Eugene and Hosea all ended up behind he counter at Whole Foods, cutting up their own tuna. A friend swears to me that anyone can do that -- which kind of freaks me out. I don't know that I WANT random people behind the meat counter!
  • Daniel bugs the crap out of me: "My career dreams are sort of similar to Bobby Flay -- my own TV show, my own restaurant, I'd love to act, make a freaking movie. I'm very charismatic and I think I light up in front of the camera." Dude, if you have to TELL people you're charismatic, you're obviously not. And you've been in front of the camera for weeks, and I've yet to detect any increased luminosity from your person.
  • Fabio worries that his imperfect English will handicap him in the challenge. On the contrary -- the judges say he's a dream guest, because the fractured English makes him adorable.
  • After the challenge, some of the cheftestants gather to diss people who did something easy, like a salad. Guys? It was in the instructions --"The recipes should be very easy to follow, so the home cook can follow along, and also to set yourself up for success," Rocco said. "If it's difficult, there are more opportunities for you to make a mistake." So shut it!
  • Alex apparently doesn't recognize Melissa's actions a perfidious until they're in the stew room, awaiting the judge's decision. Once there, Melissa tells the rest of the room that she emphasized how much she wanted to be there -- unlike other people. Melissa? He's sitting right over there! He can hear you! Shut up!
  • Hosea is thrilled Melissa is staying (is Hosea building a harem or something?) Melissa notably does not hug Alex on the way out. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our designated villain!