Top Chef: “Tender or Not, That Motherfu*ker is Headed to the Table”


Finally, it’s the beginning of the end. After a long, existentially arduous slog, the Top Chef gravy train pulled into Napa last night, new haircuts and hubris in tow. Jen opted for a blow-out; Kevin opted for longer locks that, combined with his turtle neck, made him look like an earnest high school English teacher; Michael opted for a backwards baseball cap that further exposed him for the vindictive frat boy he is, and Bryan — well, Bryan’s hair is as impervious to change as his two facial expressions.

The chefs were met at the Napa train station by a train big enough to carry both Padma and her alarming bangs, as well as her burgeoning baby stomach, which was defiantly shrouded in virginal white. Somehow Michael Chiarello, “acclaimed owner and chef of restaurant Bottega and Top Chef Master,” also squeezed in, and informed the chefs that for the Quickfire Challenge they’d be cooking with “Napa’s signature crop.” Cash? No, grapes! And as an added bonus for Kevin’s motion-sensitive stomach, they’d be cooking on a moving train. And someone would win a Prius, which made Jen reveal, Tiny Tim-style, that she’s still driving a 2000 Chevy Cavalier with her high school mix tapes.

As the train rumbled through the vineyards, Kevin managed not to vomit and instead produced a honey and fromage blanc mousse and a blatant product plug for a Calphalon non-stick pot (apparently, that’s the true cost of winning a bunch of pans on national TV). Michael stuffed some grape leaves with couscous and ras el hanout and paired them with a vinegar-glazed grape and scallop kebab. Jen sauteed some chicken livers and served them with clams, cabernet grapes, and wild mushrooms. And Bryan was forced to use non-native Concord grapes in his roasted hen with Brussels sprouts with bacon and grape verjus.

Chiarello, explaining that he was looking for the chefs to tell a story with food (the story of what, exactly?), awarded Michael the Prius for his exceptional storytelling skills, leaving poor Jen to her old mix tapes and worn-out floorboards.

The next day, the chefs were ferried from the Heritage Resort and Spa to the Rutherford Hill Winery and Caves, where they were informed that they’d be catering a party for 150 people; each would make one vegetarian dish and one dish using a local protein. Despite the fact that they’d already spent the bulk of the season effectively catering parties to benefit the Bravo brand, the chefs treated it as a novel challenge, with Kevin and Bryan proclaiming their dedication to local agriculture and Jen proclaiming, yet again, that she didn’t know what she was going to do. Whoever could be going home after the party?

At this point in the episode, Michael removed his baseball cap and effectively revealed that he’d spent more of the season gelling his hair than cooking. But that hadn’t stopped him from coming up with some plans for an egg custard. His brother, who had plans for grass-fed short ribs, confessed that he didn’t “know if Michael puts this much thought into local agriculture.” It was perfectly obvious that Michael only puts that much thought into styling products. That, and wanting to send Bryan packing. “Would I feel a sense of relief if he leaves? Absolutely,” Michael said, giving the camera his best dead-fish stare.

Tom appeared, soul patch regrettably intact, to see what the chefs were up to. Bryan was making a goat cheese ravioli with delicata squash, and fig-glazed short ribs; Michael, a vegetarian “pis-TOH” with heirloom tomato coulis and 63 degree F egg, and turnip soup with foie gras terrine, glazed turnip, and poached pear; Kevin, roasted beets and carrots with a carrot top puree and San Andreas cheese, and a grass-fed brisket with pumpkin polenta and root vegetable salad; and Jen, a chevre mousse with honey, mushrooms, basil, and butter-braised radishes, and chargrilled duck breast with a delicata squash puree and brown butter foie gras vinaigrette.

Unfortunately, Jen didn’t pay attention to the wood-burning oven’s dying flames and had to confit the duck breasts, while Kevin worried that his brisket wouldn’t have enough time to braise. “Tender or not, that motherfucker is headed to the table,” he crowed. Here, here!

The chefs readied their catering stations. A bunch of bald white men in sunglasses appeared, ready to gorge themselves. Padma showed up wearing a dress from the Star Trek Maternity Line. And Gail showed up with her boobs, which seemed to be enjoying their own two-part finale.

The judges loved the flavor of Bryan’s squash but bemoaned the slightly bland sauce, and carped that the short ribs needed more salt. Michael’s egg wasn’t cooked enough for Padma, who probably shouldn’t have been anywhere near underdone eggs at all, while Gail didn’t like the bitterness of his soup. Kevin’s roasted beets and carrots were a hit, but his brisket was, sure enough, a bit too stringy. Jen’s chevre mousse was deemed a bit too salty, and Tom proclaimed her duck “ducky.”

After a short promo for the Terlato winery, the chefs were summoned to face the judges, who looked so serious and unhappy you would have thought they were a war crimes tribunal. Although Bryan was chided for his seasoning, or lack thereof, and Michael was taken to task for his runny eggs, and Kevin was forced to defend his stringy brisket, it was Jen who was led to the altar for sacrifice for being “scattered and unsure” of herself. And was anyone really surprised? At this point, the show has to keep milking the Voltaggio sibling rivalry to the bitter end, and Kevin needs to stay for the sake of his beard’s Facebook page. And so Jen was left to pack her knives and drive off into the sunset, presumably crying behind the wheel of her Chevy Cavalier.

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