Top Chef Recap: Bring on Toby Young!

The ruthless British food critic comes to the table as a judge as the show returns from a holiday break—and hopefully starts to get a bit more interesting.

Please baby Jesus, make this season more interesting pronto!

It’s been three weeks since we’ve seen the bright knives in the big city, and there was just no easing into it: The episode opens with Stefan saying he can “run circles around Hosea.” The Grinch lives on past Christmas.

Is Padma a little self-conscious about her post-holiday-gorging physique? What else could explain the odd choice of Diet Dr. Pepper as the episode’s sponsor? But the contestants don’t even have to use the fake-sugar soda in the quickfire challenge. The only stipulation is that they can’t use any sugar. Maybe I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! will sponsor the next episode and the chefs won’t be able to use fat.

Michelin-star-studded pastry chef Jean-Christophe Novelli is there to judge the chefs’ dessert-making skills. The Frenchman praises Stefan but notes that Fabio’s dessert is partially undercooked, which causes some sideways glances and tension between the infamous duo. Rhadika’s challah bread pudding ends up on top.
Lucky for her, she wins immunity for the group’s first challenge with Toby Young, the ruthless British food critic—and author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People—who replaced the honeymooning Gail Simmons at the judge’s table. The chefs will cook a family-style dish for 12 but have no limits as to what they can make to impress the famously razor-tongued Young. The point is for each chef to make something that represents his or her cooking style, although Young won’t know who cooked what. Oh, and two chefs will go home. That’s the postholiday spirit!

Hmm…what’s my next overwrought zinger going to be?

We know Eugene is doomed the minute he says he’s serving fried whole fish. We’re a little weary of Jeff creating tapas as a family-style meal. Jamie is intent on cooking scallops to redeem herself from the last episode’s “raw-scallop debacle,” when the judges relegated her to the bottom rung for a repulsive scallop ceviche. Fabio grumbles: “This is Top Chef, it’s not Top Scallop!”

When the first group of chefs present their dishes, it’s the other half of the contestants, along with Padma, Tom, Toby, and Jean-Christophe Novelli who play judge. Meanwhile, those whose food is being critiqued head back to the kitchen to find a big-screen TV where they can watch—and hear—everyone’s reactions.

Rhadika is devastated when Toby likens her crab bisque to weapons of mass destruction. Melissa cringes when he says her tuna tacos taste like cat food. And Eugene’s fish? It’s “ like the bland leading the bland.” We’re starting to like Mr. Young.
When the second round of chefs present their dishes, Novelli deems Ariane’s skate wing perfect and the pineapple-and-caper salsa “very original.” Hate to break it to you, Ariane, but didn’t I see that on a menu last summer? The garlic in the gremolata Carla serves over a pea risotto is dissed as too raw, but Fabio praises Stefan’s German-style duck with red cabbage.

See! I can SO look pensive and deep.

Ariane continues her winning streak, with Jamie and Stefan rounding out the top three. Novelli continues to sing the praises of Ariane, saying, “I believe strongly that you’ve done a great dish.” But it’s Jamie who—finally—wins. Turns out it is Top Scallop!

Melissa, Eugene, and Carla are brought to the chopping block, and Carla admits, “I’m not surprised I’m here.” Toby kicks Melissa when she’s down, saying that he “could smell [the tacos] in a way that wasn’t pleasant.” Eugene tells the judges that his fish doesn’t stink, and he surmises that his cooking is too risky for them. Toby lobbies for Eugene to stay, while Tom says that Melissa “showed who she is.” Despite the pity comments, both Eugene (whose “skill has to catch up to his creativity”) and Melissa (whose dish “lacks imagination and creativity”) are sent home. Between sobs, Melissa says the judges just don’t know how creative she can be. But hey, if someone’s crying, we know the show is back in full force.

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