Top Chef Puts The 'War' Back In 'Restaurant Wars'
Come for the food, stay for the epic battle of a-hole chefs!
Our Candidates For Elimination?
After we rehash Jamie's decision to give up his immunity, and John's bafflement at such, we go back to the house. Emily is seriously bummed out, probably because she hasn't been making the best showing in her hometown. I mean, I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe that she's actually a decent chef. After all, she did make it onto Top Chef, which isn't easy to do. But it's just that…well…she hasn't made a single dish yet that has made a positive impact on the judges. Yet, somehow, here she is in the final eight. "I'm done," she says, seemingly shooing the camera crew out of the room. "I'm done!"
John explains that his team last week didn't gel and he doesn't know exactly why. On the flip side, Shirley acknowledges that her team of Sheldon and Sylva pulled out the win because they worked together. She doesn't really feel like celebrating, though, because Emily is so bummed out, and now that the numbers in the house are really dwindling, it's getting a bit awkward. Could it be that Shirley has actual human feelings? A talented chef with empathy? Seems like something from a science fiction novel, but maybe it's true.
The ominous message of this week's open seems cloudier than most weeks. John definitely seems like he could be on the chopping block, and Emily too. But Shirley? That would be a big surprise.
Elimination Challenge: Restaurant Wars
It's no surprise, now that it's down to eight chefs, that Padma announces Restaurant Wars. The chefs meet Padma and Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, of Eleven Madison Park fame, at the Charleston restaurant they'll be taking over for this challenge. The twist this time is both teams will use the same space and will cook on different days. After drawing knives, Katsuji and Shirley end up captains and schoolyard pick their teams. This style of team-choosing doesn't sit well with Emily, who knows she's going to be the last one picked…because she should be. She's terrible. And she's a bummer. And she keeps getting hit by lightning and Biblical plagues follow her around. Figuratively speaking of course. Although it wouldn't surprise me…
For the Blue Team, Katsuji picks Sheldon, Casey, and (because the other remaining choice is Emily) John. "John is a very difficult guy," Katsuji says. "But he's a hundred times better choice than Emily. That's for sure." It's harsh, but also accurate. That means Emily joins Brooke and Sylva on Shirley's Red Team. Padma flips a coin to see who wants what night of service. Katsuji wins the toss and chooses the second night. "This is not about a bunch of individuals cooking individual dishes," Chef Humm says, which is a warning I'm sure everyone will totally heed.
Building The Perfect Restaurant
The Blue Team sits down to decide on executive chef and front of the house, the two lightning rod positions in this challenge. "I like a woman in the front of the house," John says. "I do, and I'm not being sexist." That's right, John. It can't possibly be sexist if you say it's not. Casey's reaction is pretty hilarious, because at first she's offended. But immediately after, she's like, "I do think I am a good hostess, though." Sheldon offers himself up as executive chef, but because he does it in such a laid-back island-dude way, it opens the door for John to steal it from him. "I'll expedite and do at least one solid dish," John says. Sheldon rolls with it, because probably he's high? Or maybe he's just naturally super-mellow. Katsuji suggests the restaurant be family-style. John suggests low country cuisine. So Katsuji counters with "low country Mexican," which gets the kibosh from the group. "So let's all agree that we disagree," Katsuji says.
Over on the Red Team, Brooke agrees to take front of the house. She's done it before and done it successfully. Shirley takes on the executive chef role. As a team, they decide on the menu focus (seafood) and name (Latitude) very quickly. Already, there's less time spent on their machinations than on the Blue Team. The Blue Team struggles a little with their name. They want "Southern" in it. "I like Southern Comfort," John says, though it's unclear whether he was floating a potential name or just making a declaration. They eventually land on Southern Belle.
Normally, the picking out of the linens and silver and glassware and plateware is the biggest waste of time on the Restaurant Wars episode, but it serves as a perfect segue here. Sylva tells the story of how this was the stage he was in with his restaurant Maison 208 when it was torched by an arsonist. "It really almost destroyed me," Sylva says. "I went into a really dark depression. So I'm still digging myself out of that hole." He sees this challenge as a way for him to put the fire behind him. And I think it would be super-dark of the producers to drop this story on us and then eliminate him. But maybe that's where this is headed?
During the shopping, the producers try to manufacture some drama by having it seem like Shirley is trying to take over Emily's dish. But that conflict is swiftly resolved once the two of them are face-to-face. While watching the Red Team prep and work together, it's hard to have any takeaway other than "harmonious." Shirley seems to be doing a pretty good job of leading her team. Loud and bossy, yes, but fair. The only negative against her might be that she said "amazeballs." With sincerity. That's a real black mark. Then, out of nowhere, Sylva goes blue. "That's why Shirley has a brothy snapper," he says. And I'm so out of the loop, I don't even know if that's a positive or a negative thing to say about a lady's snapper.
Southern Belle Prep
Sheldon reiterates that he doesn't mind letting John have the executive chef job, because he feels like he can lead from any position in the kitchen. He is definitely the most laidback chef ever on Top Chef. Meanwhile, John shops for fresh jumbo lump crab meat, which they don't have. He needs it for his dish. "I'm doing a crab dip in the style of pimiento cheese," John explains. But he has a lot more explaining to do about that dish. Firstly, what does that even mean? And secondly, why? Begrudgingly, John takes some pasteurized crab meat instead of fresh, and he thinks he can hide the flavor of it in the dip he's making. This is a mistake and everybody knows it. Everybody except John.
At this point, we get Casey's backstory, about the restaurant she opened and named after her two grandmothers. But how the partnership she had in the restaurant was so shitty, she had to walk away from the restaurant. Sheldon describes the dish he's making as like the eggplant stew he made a few challenges ago, but with acorn squash. And Katsuji lays out his bonkers decision to make three courses plus a bunch of roasted nuts. He tells his story about how he almost got deported as he was finishing culinary school. So, lots of big backstories tonight.
While the Red Team methodically puts the finishing touches on their dishes, Sylva asks Brooke about her last Restaurant Wars experience. It was sort of bittersweet, because it was during Restaurant Wars that Kristen Kish was eliminated…only to earn her way back on the show over a month later through Last Chance Kitchen and beat Brooke. So, you know, maybe not totally a great memory. The upshot, however, is that Brooke feels like she's naturally calm, or at least she appears that way. Shirley tinkers with her panna cotta (hey oh!) one last time. I feel like panna cotta never comes out well on this show, but I could be wrong. Also, it's Shirley, and Shirley consistently makes good food. Before the customers begin to arrive, the Red Team shares a group hug.
Brooke's and Emily's dishes come out first. The judges love Brooke's dish. Then Padma asks Tom about Emily's pasta. Tom says, "The texture is not that great, the butter sauce is a bit heavy, and there's not much flavor." Sounds like Emily hit the trifecta!
Next thing you know, Brooke is talking dirty. "This is Shirley's snapper," she says. And guest judge Will adds, "I think Shirley's snapper is nice." Which seems off-brand for him, to compliment a lady's snapper like that.
The desserts come out, and in a shocking twist, it's Emily's dessert that gets the raves, while Shirley's panna cotta underwhelms. More like "panned-a cotta," I guess! Boom! Nailed it!
Southern Belle Service
From the moment the Blue Team hits the kitchen, things begin to unravel. It's exactly the same kitchen the Red Team worked in, and they have exactly the same amount of people working there, yet somehow they make the kitchen feel about thirty percent smaller. Katsuji is immediately in the weeds, because of his decision to make four things: three dishes and roasted nuts. He's mad because people said they would help him, but now that they're all working on their own dishes, it doesn't seem like anyone's helping him. Well, duh. Everyone's got dishes to make. John has his disgusting pink gloop to dollop into bowls, his crab dip in the style of pimiento. Nope, that phrase still doesn't make sense. It still sounds like a guy who just had a stroke trying to communicate what he's doing for karaoke.
When Tom and the guest judges arrive to touch base, the kitchen is a disaster area. None of them can really get past the lack of cleanliness in the kitchen. The floor needs to be swept. There are dirty pots and trays everywhere. The wash sink is heaped with unwashed stuff. Casey goes out to the front of house and by the time she talks to the servers, she already seems frantic, even though they have a couple hours until service. Katsuji starts digging at John, complaining that John is not helping him enough. "The whole point of being executive chef in Restaurant Wars," Katsuji explains in a confessional, "you're cooking as well. You're not being the 1970s chef, who's having a drink, expediting, and flirting with the servers." Sheldon keeps trying to calm the storm between Katsuji and John, but neither one will listen to him. Sheldon says, "You cannot cook with hate in your heart. Your food is going to suffer for it."
The judges arrive and immediately compliment the design of the space. As customers begin to file in, John brags about how the system he's devised for expediting is working pretty great. From pretty much that moment on, it's all downhill. John's super-confused as an expediter, yet blames the servers for his problems. The Blue Team commits the key mistake of making the judges wait for their food. And then when it comes, it doesn't exactly fit the description of "family-style." Tom nails it when he asks, "Why are we sharing small plates?" John's crab is a big fail. "It's bad," says one of the guest judges.
Customers around the restaurant wonder where their food is, and the judges also chime in that they feel neglected. And this is what happens during Restaurant Wars. One or sometimes both of the teams start to falter, and the shit just snowballs. Sheldon's dish is mushy. Casey has to abandon the front of the house to figure out what's happening in the kitchen, and once there, has to plate seventeen desserts. As a result, customers wait at the door with no one greeting them for ten minutes. To top it all off, the judges aren't liking most of the food they're served, and the flavors are all over the place. Tamales, crab pimiento dip, acorn squash stew. "This entire meal does not read southern to me at all," Tom says. "Why are we doing this?"
Back in the kitchen, John tries to console Casey. "What's wrong?" he asks.
"I just feel like they didn't get the concepts," she replies, definitely saying the plural instead of the singular.
"It is what it is, you can't be nervous," John says. Casey scoffs. "Sure I can."
Obviously, the Red Team wins Restaurant Wars. Which means that Emily gets through one more week. Shocking. Also: Annoying. Brooke takes down the win for her front of the house work plus the appetizer.
Then it's the Blue Team's turn. Chef Daniel jumps in to talk more trash about John's crab dip. "It was fishy. It was slimy," he says. "I didn't know what I was eating." Kudos to Sheldon for reacting properly when Tom says his stew didn't work. "I was disappointed with my dish today," Sheldon says. Yep. That's what you say. Sheldon does add that he believes his stew suffered because of the chaos in the kitchen. The judges gravitate mostly towards blaming Katsuji and John, because both could have been assertive and taken control, but neither really did. Katsuji tries to posit that he wanted John to be the executive chef because of John's extensive experience opening restaurants. But Tom calls him on it immediately, saying, "When you were in the kitchen you said, 'I want to do three dishes because I want to win this. I want to win this.'"
One of the guest judges asks John, "Isn't it the job of the chef to make sure all of the work is distributed evenly?" John hems and haws before saying, "There was pushback." Tom calls him on this bullshit answer, saying, "There are two people in the kitchen. Who are you talking about?" But before he can answer, Katsuji detonates. "He was the chef, but he didn't cook," Katsuji says. "What did you plate?" John fires back that he helped Katsuji all day. Katsuji scoffs at that suggestion. And everyone kind of sits back and watches the fray. One of the guest judges sizes up Katsuji pretty accurately by saying that he felt Katsuji was only out for himself today. And during most of this, John wears the expression of a beached trout.
The Stew Room is TENSE. John can't believe that Katsuji is being such a dick. Katsuji tells John to relax. John won't. John complains that Katsuji was filthy in the kitchen and that he washed his pots and pans all day. "Somebody befriends you, rat-fucks you, then has to win so badly," John says. "If you want to win that bad, you know what? I give you my spot." Katsuji stares daggers at John and gives him The Slow Clap. John says, "See what a condescending motherfucker you are?" So Katsuji gives him The Slower Clap. For a long time. It's truly amazing for the sheer dickishness of it. Compared to everything else that has ever happened on Top Chef, Katsuji's Slow-Then-Slower Clap is easily the biggest dick move.
And after all that, Padma asks Katsuji to pack his knives, which is a fucking shock. I thought for sure John was on the outs. And from the look on John's face, so did he.
Restaurant Wars is always worthy of a look, but the Dick Battle between Katsuji and John really pushes this episode over the top. Sad to see Katsuji go, because the drama may leave with him, but I can't wait to find out what random event will keep Emily from being sent home next week!