‘Top Chef’ Recap: Holiday Blues

By: Kate Nerenberg

Uh oh. Martha, why are there cops on the set?

For this holiday-themed episode, it was like the Grinch came in to steal everyone’s talent and the show’s drama. The only great comment comes in the opening scene when Stefan says, “I pulled a shoe out of my ass. Was it Tom’s or Padma’s?”

First, Martha Stewart arrives—does the camera intentionally get in a shot of her ankles so we know she isn’t on house arrest?—to judge the Quickfire Challenge. The chefs have 45 minutes to prepare a one-pot holiday meal with Martha’s advice: “Make it simple but not too simple.” Such words of wisdom.

Most of the contestants interpret “one pot” to mean they can cook their ingredients one by one, putting the completed parts of their dish to the side, and then composing them on the plate. Only a few actually make something that’s meant to be a one-pot wonder, as Padma calls it.

Although Eugene follows directions, his Korean stew “could have been much more delicious” according to Martha, and it lands in the bottom three, alongside Jeff’s potato risotto and Fabio’s grayish polenta. Hosea, another one to follow the directions, wins a spot at the top with a paella, and Jamie’s “perfectly cooked” scallops and Ariane’s cauliflower puree earn them winning praise. Martha gives the trophy, a copy of her newest book, to fellow New Jersey girl Ariane. Three in a row, cougar!
Gail, don't I look nice? Soo nice.
To announce the elimination challenge, Padma enlists the Harlem Gospel Choir to sing to the chefs as they draw knives numbered one through 12. They’ll be catering a party for 250 people and their dishes have to be an interpretation of one of the 12 days of Christmas.

Fabio has to interpret “nine ladies dancing,” and Jeff’s stuck with “ten lords a-leaping,” while Leah gets off easy with “three french hens.” The chefs are prepping in the kitchen after a shopping trip to Whole Foods, and we expect Tom to show up with some sort of curve ball. But nothing exciting happens except Hosea filling the kitchen with smoke when he over-sauces his pork tenderloin.

The next morning, the chefs arrive in the kitchen to find that one of the refrigerator doors has been left open and Hosea’s pork and Radhika’s duck breasts are inedible. Of course, there are tears—Radhika wants to just pack up and go home. Hmm... did the Bravo producers open the fridge doors themselves? Miraculously, there’s extra pork for Hosea and Radhika saved the remnants of her butchered ducks.
In the true holiday spirit, everyone pitches in to help the pair pull something together in an hour. “It was an organic thing that happened,” muses Carla.

Padma, Tom, and the guest judges —chef Michelle Bernstein and actress Natasha Richardson— don’t have many kind words for the chefs: Jamie’s scallop crudo is slimy and Michelle snaps that Eugene’s poisson cru is way too sweet. Jeff and Hosea unabashedly flirt with every female guest and win the crowd over.
Cheers to the lamest season of "Top Chef" so far! Yeah!
It takes a village of chefs to raise a winner: Hosea comes in first place with his last-minute smoked pork, and Radhika’s braised duck with pear chutney also gets her a thumbs up. Jeff’s “island-hopping” cheese is also on top along with Stefan’s chicken pot pie. Michelle decides to give not only Hosea, but the whole crew a copy of her new book.

Although Jamie, Eugene, and Melissa are the only ones on the chopping block—Melissa’s gorgonzola cheese overwhelmed her dish, Eugene’s five golden rings of pineapple were way too sweet, and Jamie’s scallops were warm—the judges decide they were disappointed with everyone. “I didn’t find deliciousness,” says Michelle.

Tom sits down with the group to express his dissatisfaction and tells the chefs to “cook food that makes you win.” He nods at Ariane: “You don’t win with a deviled egg,” he says about her “six geese a-laying dish.” So, he says, as a “holiday gift from us to you,” no one’s packing their knives.

Tom, what’s gotten into you? By the end of his little pep talk, we expected him to invite everyone to sit on his knee and tell Santa what they want for Christmas.