Top Chef Canada recap, episode 6: double trouble
Six weeks into the competition, the gloves have finally come off. The judges are getting pickier, the challenges are getting meaner (see the quickfire below) and the chefs are getting more than a little testy (last week’s blowups with Elizabeth Rivasplata were child’s play in comparison). On top of all that, last night’s episode showcased the always entertaining Restaurant Wars, during which the chefs divide up into teams to see whose restaurant can screw up the least. We were pretty much glued to the screen.
Last week, we wondered aloud how on earth the producers could run a Restaurant Wars challenge with 11 chefs. The answer: a “high-stakes” quickfire, wherein the loser gets eliminated then and there, leaving an even 10 contestants for the main event. The challenge, delivered this time by head judge Mark McEwan couldn’t have been simpler—make a soup and sandwich in one hour. As the chefs scrambled (Gabriell Cruz even hopped right over the prep table), we noted the same look of desperation on each face. No one wanted to suffer the ignominy of going home before the main event.
Once again Jonathan Korecki decided to go the high-risk, high-reward route, trying madly to make a consommé in the scant time allotted (“It’s kind of stupid, but I know I can do it”) and pairing it with a banh mi. Ryan Gallagher, fresh off his embarrassing performance last week, also stepped up, making his own bread for his lobster club. Both were rewarded with a trip to the top three, where they joined Carl Heinrich, who seemed to go in the exact opposite direction ambition-wise, serving a gazpacho with a bacon, cucumber and tomato sandwich (sure, it looked nice enough, but even we might have been able to pull that one off, given two or three hours). In the end, Jonathan was proclaimed the winner—but in a bizarre twist, host Lisa Ray announced (in what sounded like a voiceover recorded via Skype) that this season, Milestones (remember them?) would be “awarding prizes to dishes that feature comfort food with a twist.” And just like that, Carl was awarded $3,000 and a place on a special Top Chef Canada menu at the casual dining chain, while Jonathan got nada.
At the bottom were Trista Sheen, whose chilled tomato soup was judged too smoky, Curtis Luk, who created the world’s first flavourless po’ boy and Gabriell, whose reach seemed to exceed his grasp on his butter-toasted bread soup with rosemary, sending him home. Stunned, his response was “Soup and sandwiches? Holy fuck. That’s how the game goes.”
Okay, so Jonathan didn’t quite get nada for winning the quickfire. Instead, he got to be the captain of one of the Restaurant Wars teams and he got to choose the other captain. In a good, if predictable, bit of reality TV strategery, he went ahead and chose the one chef who couldn’t seem to play nicely with the others: Elizabeth. And for her first pick, Elizabeth chose the chef with whom she’s gotten on the worst: Jimmy Stewart. Fun! In the end, the matchup was Team Fable (i.e. Farm + Table), made up of Jonathan, Curtis, Carl, David Chrystian and Trevor Bird (who got stiffed with front-of-house duties) versus Team True North, Elizabeth, Jimmy, Trista, Xavier Lacaze and Ryan Gallagher (stiffed with managing his dining room). Both teams decided to serve some kind of contemporary Canadian food (hence the names), wisely sidestepping the Asian fusion cuisine that made guest judge (and Jonathan’s former boss) Susur Lee famous.
The chefs took to Lee’s two Toronto restaurants, Lee and Lee Lounge, to bring their restaurant concepts to life. Things started to come apart for True North as soon as the first orders came in—Liz had volunteered to expedite (check out this awesome explanation of what that means), but once the first tickets arrived at the pass, she looked shellshocked. Meanwhile, Ryan was busy awkwardly introducing himself to the judges (“Hellooooo… Welcome to True North,” he said in his best Vincent Price) before abandoning them to find out what was taking so long in the kitchen. When the dishes finally made it to the table, there were countless missteps, like Ryan’s lukewarm, too-sweet corn soup (quoth Lee’s son Kai Bent Lee, who’s also the manager of both restaurants, “is it meant to be room temperature?”) or Jimmy’s sad sack vegetarian option, a “risotto” made out of potatoes (McEwan, bluntly: “I look at this plate, and it’s a disaster.”)
Against such a weak showing, it was no surprise to see Fable’s efficiently run service take the win (in Restaurant Wars, making sure the food shows up on time is half the battle). And while they weren’t without a few clunkers of their own (Curtis’s cherry sherbet melted before it made it to the table), their dishes showed more polish overall. The winner this time was Mr. Milestone himself, Carl, who served a roasted striploin, nicely pink in the middle, over a brown-butter hollandaise, with baby vegetables and beef jus. Like his quickfire win, it was simple but expertly executed (in other words, catnip for McEwan).
At Judge’s Table, it didn’t take long for the recriminations to come out for the losing True North team. “We did have a lack of leadership,” said Jimmy, raising his hand to speak.“I did expect Liz to step up a lot more. Ryan and I did step up a lot more.” Cue hurt glares from Liz, who, back in the stew room, let loose on Jimmy. “I am going home because of what you said is my fault. You come up and say ‘lack of leadership.’ I was leading everybody!” “A leader knows exactly what’s going down,” interjected Jimmy. “It’s going to be me,” she shot back. “You saved your ass. Very smart.” Indeed, when True North returned to learn its fate, Liz (who actually cooked two very strong dishes—grilled octopus with mint yogurt and pork loin with crispy pig’s ears) was told she “failed to understand” her relationship with her team and was sent packing. Her parting shot, delivered to the confessional cam: “Honestly, I’ve never worked with so many assholes in my life.”
Next time on Top Chef Canada
Richard Blais, the modernist chef who won Top Chef All-Stars last year, presides over a challenge involving some kind of “wheel of deconstruction.” Will Jimmy attempt yet another disastrous foam? Will McEwan, the avatar of simple-done-right, hold his nose throughout most of the show? Tune in to find out.
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