Top Chef Recap: No More Tears!

By: Kate Nerenberg

Didn’t Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential paint a crude enough portrait of restaurant kitchens to show that the harsh environment is no place for crying? A steamy kitchen with cursing chefs and sharp knives is no place for tears. So what’s with the waterworks this season? As the fourth episode opens, Alex reads a goodbye note from Richard—last episode’s loser (and serial crier)—to Jamie and Carla. You’d think someone had died—they all get blubbery, and Alex can hardly speak. Haven’t these people known each other for, like, three weeks?  

We were bored to tears when we find out that the guest judge is Rocco DiSpirito, the self-promoting chef who’s been on just about every season. At least the Quick Fire Challenge is original: The chefs have 30 minutes to create a breakfast amuse-bouche, a one-bite teaser that often comes before a meal in white-tablecloth restaurants, or as Padma says, “an elegant mouthful.”

Leah bears her mean-girl claws and makes a snippy comment about other people making things that are bigger than one bite. When Rocco comments that her dish, a spiffed-up bacon-egg-and-cheese, is the perfect size, she positions herself as the model student and gives Jamie—who created a three-bite BLT breakfast sandwich—a spiteful sideways glance. Nonetheless, both end up in the top three with Stefan, who creates a mini-helping (but more than one bite) of huevos rancheros served in an eggshell. For following the rules, Leah wins immunity.

Creme Brulee? Seriously, dude?
Self-promotion may trump crying as this season’s theme, and Padma makes that perfectly clear when she tells the chefs, “The more people who know about you, the more books they’ll buy and the more people will come to your restaurant.” In preparation for all that stardom, the chefs have to create a dish for a 2½-minute live TV segment.

Danny’s pysched: He wants to be the next Mario Batali: “I love to act. I can make you laugh. I want to make a freakin’ movie.” He might want to work on enunciating a little bit. Leah’s just psyched she has immunity.

The chefs return from Whole Foods, where Fabio, Gene, and Hosea all ask the fishmonger if they can cut the tuna themselves, and Alex announces his sure-fire plan to win: making dessert. “It’s a free pass to the top because no one expects you to do it.”

Back in the kitchen, the chefs scramble to prep their dish in one hour, which Fabio deems impossible. But Ariane, who cooks first, makes it look like a breeze with her watermelon-feta-and-New-Jersey-tomato salad. She finishes with 14 seconds left on the clock—an impressive feat considering at least five contestants run out of time. Jamie, who claims she’s been on TV before and is “feeling confident,” is just a couple of seconds short on cooking a fried duck egg that ends up with raw whites. Alex’s dessert, a rose-infused crème brûlée, doesn’t get enough cooling time, and Carla and Rhadika had just started cooking when the 150 seconds ran out.

Despite cooking a dish that no one had ever heard of, malfouf (stuffed cabbage), Jeff wins a spot in the top three along with Fabio, whose broken English charmed the pants off the judges, and Ariane, who “hit it out of the park.” Not bad for a girl who couldn’t stop crying in the first two episodes. The bottom rungs belong to Alex’s raw dessert, Jamie’s raw egg, and Melissa’s über-fiery shrimp, which leaves Tom’s mouth “throbbing.” Tom tells the crew to get to bed—it’ll be an early morning. Like a disobedient child, Jamie stomps off to her room, where she cries herself to sleep. Aren’t chefs supposed to throw pots or something when they get mad?

Meanwhile, Alex tries to shake Ariane by telling her a salad is the easy way out (or a sure-fire plan to get to the top?), and he admits he’s distracted by his wedding, which is just 20 days away.

Raise your hand if you won't be making it to the end.


It’s still dark outside when Tom comes into the house to wake up Ariane, Fabio, and Jeff, who says Tom’s black getup makes it look like “Johnny Cash is walking into the room.” Tom tells the three they’ll be cooking their winning dishes for the hosts of the Today show, who’ll decide the winner on the air.

While Jeff is annoyed that he has to cook his exotic ethnic food for three women at 6:30 in the morning, Ariane announces: “I’m ready to take on these kid chefs.” Rawr!

The rest of the contestants roll out of bed to find a big-screen TV set up in the living room—they’ll get to watch as the winner of the challenge is announced.

Although host Meredith Vieira doesn’t like watermelon, Ariane’s salad goes over well. Fabio’s tuna with roasted carrots and asparagus is called a “good breakfast,” but Kathy Lee Gifford spits out Jeff’s malfouf. That’s not as fatal as it sounds: When Padma spat out Ariane’s dessert in the second episode, she lived on.

Backstage, Ariane, Jeff, and Fabio watch as the four female hosts huddle to whisper and gossip like characters in Mean Girls. Ariane, once an underdog, comes out on top, saying, “This is what I needed to get back in the game.” You sure you didn’t just need a good cry?

Rocco: "Oh stop it, Padma. You know how easily I blush."
On the chopping block, Rocco is a tough judge: He won’t let Jamie forget that she not only cooked a raw egg but also “recoiled” and folded her arms when the judges criticized her. He doesn’t believe that Melissa actually tasted her habanero shrimp before serving it. When Alex says that the competition is all about pushing yourself, Tom shoots back, “It’s all about winning.” Gail says Alex lost from the start. He also lost at the end.

But before he can pack his knives and go, we get a quick clip of Hosea and Leah getting cozy in the living room. “They have a sexual chemistry,” confirms Carla. He writes “I [heart] H” on Leah’s leg. We just hope it doesn’t end in tears.