All righty, now -- that was a juicy one! Piping-hot drama, some great performances by our cheftestants, and some serious screw-up's!
But first, let's start with a quiz: Who said what?
1) "You have to do whatever you have to do to survive here. If that means throwing somebody over the bus, it's gonna start happening." (*Over* the bus?)
2) "I'm a little bit more of an academic in a lot of ways; I'm a thinker." (In a minute, you're gonna want to picture this person impersonating the Rodin sculpture -- it's good. Really good.)
3) "You got Padma looking at you looking all sexy today, and then you got this asshole right next to her, and your mind just goes blank." (Is that a yucca in your pocket, or are you just happy to see Padma? Also, did you just call Rocco DiSpirito an asshole on national television?!)
4) "It's not difficult to identify bowtie pasta." (True. You also don't have to be Mario Batali to recognize tomato paste.)
5) "I wouldn't hire her to cook in my kitchen. I wouldn't hire her to wash dishes in my kitchen." (Mee-frickin'-yeeow!) A
ctually, things started off pretty jolly, with a really smart and simple Quickfire Challenge for our ten remaining competitors. No tricks, no BS, just a test of their ability to pick out common ingredients -- and while you'd expect professional chefs to nail this one cold, it proved to be deceptively tough. Think about it: even if you've seen chayote in the market, if you've never cooked it, you're probably going to draw a blank. (Fortunately for Casey, she didn't.)
n aside: How about that Rocco? I ran into him shortly before he taped this episode, and he told me he had just shucked 30 pounds training for a triathlon. He was great when he guested on "Queer Eye" back in the day, and he was great on TC -- authoritative, encouraging, and straightforward. His cookbooks are great, too, by the way: forget the hype that came out during NBC's "The Restaurant" -- his mama's meatball recipe is killer, and a staple in our house. Mmmmm!
Another aside: Props to Amuse-Biatch.com for coining "cheftestant." Or was it BloggingTopChef.com? I love ya both, possums! Back to the quiz: As they have been for most of the season, the stars of our quotathon are, of course, Howie The Thinker and Joey Pickles (caveat: these quotes were taken from a rough cut of the show, and may or may not have made it to the final episode -- but all of them are verbatim). Howie gave us numbers 2, 4, and 5 (it was his partner in the elimination challenge, Sara M., who need not apply for work in Howie's kitchen -- not that she would). Joey is the one who announced his preparedness to hurl fellow contestants into the air as public transit approaches, who loses all blood flow to the brain at the sight of Padma, and who apparently loses wood at the sight of Chef DiSpirito. Yet another aside: How funny was it that Howie called tricolor pasta "the cheesiest pasta you see on every buffet table in every schlock house," only to be followed moments later by Joey in the grocery store selecting - yup -- tricolor pasta. Now, girls -- you're *both* pretty!
Herein, some random questions and observations about this elimination challenge, in which the chefs were charged with pre-cooking an entree that they would reheat the next day and serve to the public. First, kudos to the producers for this one. Every chef and every home cook needs the freezer to minimize waste and get the most out of their ingredients. Giving the chefs a chance to deconstruct a high-quality frozen entree was such a great idea: the best among them quickly figured out that Bertolli cooks each ingredient separately to just the right partial doneness, and cuts sauces into little pieces, so that when they're all reheated together, they'll be as good as possible. This is really useful info for home cooks like us. Here is some more: Freeze things like sauces in thin, flat sheets in plastic bags, or in ice-cube trays, and they be much easier to defrost. It's better to form hamburger into patties and bag them separately before you freeze them than it is to freeze five solid pounds of meat. And, as came out in the show, freezing your pesto is a great thing to do; all that basil that's growing like crazy on your back porch can be stored deep into the winter. (Got any freezer tips or other cooking tips of your own? Share them here, so I can take credit for them later -- thanks!)
Knowing all of this, as most of our contestants did: Why on earth did Hung allow Joey to glop his hot red sauce right onto their pasta, causing it to get mushy overnight? Was it a deliberate strategy on Hung's part to let Joey hang himself? (That would be really risky). Why the hell couldn't two chefs as talented as Sara M. and Howie put aside their mutual dislike long enough to cook a simple pasta dish? How hard is it to have a conversation? All they needed to do was to take a quick glance at the other teams, all three of which were inspiring to watch.
Dale and Casey kicked ass together! I love Dale's instinctual tendency to take risks, to try to stand out from the crowd (it doesn't always work, but I think it shows artistry, passion, and leadership). Their performance here was about their commitment to making great food, and it was fun as hell to watch. And how great does it feel to have Rocco tell you, "that was one of the most balanced and beautiful pestos I've ever seen." Nice! Ditto Tre and C.J. -- finally, the big guy busts out and wins a big one! You wanted to high-five the two of them when they nailed that trip to Italy.
Now, Joey: I am really sorry to see him go, mainly because it was such a blast to watch him and Howie blow up at each other, and later, to kiss and make up. (Thank god we still have Howie -- a terrific chef, if a little too stressed-out, and by far the most entertaining character in the cast.) I was impressed by Joey's plan to give the Italy trip to his mama and sister, were he to win it. And during his exit interview, I teared up like a sensitive Eye-Talian guy my own self when he said, "My whole life people tell me, 'You're not good enough to do this,' and out of all the people in the world I made it to "Top Chef 3." I'm gonna go back to New York with my head held high." He promised it, and my money says he will deliver: "You haven't heard the last of me."
And then there were nine. I'm back at judges' table next week. See you then! -- Ted