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'Top Chef' recap, Reviving the '50s for double elimination night

By Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey

10:17 AM EST, November 29, 2012

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We pick up right where we left off last week, with John Tesar mouthing off about Kuniko’s departure. The rest of the conversation reveals Josh telling John he has no tact, and John declaring that “Oh, Oklahoma has a lot of tact”. Gasp! Way to insult Josh’s home state and its 3 million residents, John.

Things get awfully heated right quickly. Can we move on to the cooking now? 

Apparently not. The next scene we see the chefs in their apartment making coffee, and John instigates his own argument again with CJ. Meanwhile, Stefan and and Kristen are engaging in the age-old dance of reality-show-new-housemate-flirtation. There are cigarettes and a foot rub involved. Can we move on to the cooking now?

Yes! The Quickfire is dramatically revealed as Padma yanks away a curtain to unveil two huge slabs of beef. There are cleavers and knives behind them. Each chef must butcher their own cut and has one hour to prepare something. Padma also declares “safety first: only two chefs can be butchering any one piece at one time” — this is a good thing, mostly because I am fairly certain Josh would love to accidentally lop off one of John’s limbs right now.

James Beard Award nominee Naomi Pomeroy (of Portland’s Beast) is our guest judge.

Tyler is still reeling from his grody gumbo last week, and wants to push the envelope with this challenge. Brooke reminds him that he’s not on the bottom anymore, it’s a new day. Tyler rallies and agrees, “I need to just shut the f--- up and cook”.

As time is called, Micah is completely confident his oxtail dish will take the prize.

Naomi lists off her least favorite dishes, including Tyler’s crudo, which she thought was underseasoned. Cut to Tyler’s interview where he quite seriously becomes Charlie Brown, declaring, “I can’t do anything right!” heaves a sigh, and stares at the ground. Holy cow, please don’t let them pull the football away from him during the elimination tonight.

Top dishes go to CJ, John, and Josh. Naomi awards immunity to John for his oxtail dish. The group collectively grind their teeth.

Padma introduces Brian and Mark Canlis — their grandfather opened Canlis restaurant in 1950. The place is legendary, and steeped in history. For this challenge and one night only, the restaurant will revive its original 1950s menu.

The winner will receive $10K, and there will be two eliminations. Stefan is delighted, as cuisine back then had “no frou-frou, no fra-fra, no bulls---."

The chefs pile on top of each other to divvy up the original menu’s dishes. Somehow Stefan becomes menu dictator and starts announcing what everyone is doing. Kristen is irritated she’s gotten stuck with the mushrooms and onions, which don’t leave her a lot of room to shine. Danyele is taking on the ice cream sundaes, claiming she has experience with sundae making in her restaurant. Doesn’t she know the first chef to try dessert in Top Chef always goes home? It’s the sugary kiss of death! Run away, Danyele! Run away!

Carla gets the squab and she’s wary, with good reason. It’s squab.

Chrissy ends up with the only item on the original menu that is still served at Canlis - the Canlis “Special Salad”. Josh smartly points out that that is the riskiest dish, since people have been eating it for decades. “They know exactly what it’s supposed to taste like”.

John volunteers to expedite. Oh boy. CJ says, “John’s going to expedite because he has immunity. And, as he’ll tell you, he’s opened like 96 restaurants and he can do anything”.

As the group leaves the kitchen, Carla ominously notes that this challenge “is so simple, it’s tricky."

Back in their apartment, Josie and Lizzie wonder if the producers will reinstate the “Last Chef Standing” competition from Season 9. Spoiler alert: the commercial break at the end of the show indicates they do. Those competitions are available here. Does this mean I get to see my chef-crush Jeffrey Jew again? Huzzah!

The chefs set up in the beautifully appointed kitchen of Canlis. Kristen reiterates Carla’s point that the simpler the dish the more difficult it can be. She’s making sure her mushrooms come out perfect by baking them in a hot oven before sauteeing them.

Josh tells Bart he couldn’t let the French guy make the French Onion Soup. “The Belgian guy,” Bart corrects. “The Belgian guy who speaks French, whatever” counters Josh. Wow. That, coupled with John’s Oklahoma dig, really have me thinking this crew needs a lesson in diplomacy. And geography.

Carla is frustrated because her squab needs to be grilled, and the kitchen has a tiny grill room, which “only Sheldon and Bart can get in there”. Here I have to disagree. If you really want to get in the grill room, then GET IN THE GRILL ROOM. I would think a personality as brash and confident as Carla’s would be able to tell the boys to move the hell over so she can cook her squab. I’m a little disappointed she doesn’t protest more. She instructs Bart how to to cook her wee birds.

CJ’s shish kebob are not charring like he wants, so he decides to sous vide his meat before he sends it out. My anachronism spidey sense is tingling. 1950? Sous vide?

John starts “expediting” by announcing to everyone how to plate things. Everyone collectively chuckles, rolls their eyes, and continues prepping.

The Canlis brothers and our other judges are seated for dinner, all decked out in full on 1950 Mad Men attire. I am half expecting Tom to light up a Lucky Strike and Naomi to have a gold pen around her neck.

Dishes are served. Tyler’s Dungeness crab salad (served in a cocktail glass!) is a huge hit, as is Lizzy’s herring (served with a saltine!).

One restaurant diner notes that Chrissy’s Canlis Special Salad is “um ... different” - thus proving Josh’s suspicion that taking on that well known dish was a risky move.

Carla’s squabs are being sent back left and right - undercooked, overcooked, inedible. One diner sends it back and asks for mahi instead. She tries to instruct the boys in the grill room but I think at this point her goose is cooked. Padma likes the squab but the other judges are fighting theirs with their forks, Tom recommends the breast bone should have been removed.

Dessert is served. Danyele and Eliza split the ice cream, sherbet, and parfait. Padma loves them all and declares the desserts more than anything “smacked of the 1950s." Back in the kitchen, Eliza says her mint sherbet is “like a menthol cigarette."

The judges call Lizzie, Stefan, Tyler and Kristen as the top dishes. When Padma announces they’re the top four, Stefan grabs Kristen by the neck and kisses her cheek, then she smacks his chest playfully. (Dear Kristen, Really? Love, Mary Alice.)

For her perfectly executed mushrooms and onions, Kristen gets the prize. In his interview, Stefan throws two thumbs up and says, “I’m super happy! Congrats, babe!” And I am officially grossed out.

Worst dish privileges go to Chrissy, Carla, Josh and CJ — and two of them will be going home.  Tom takes Carla to task for not keeping a close eye on her squab. Emeril and Hugh both feel Chrissy’s salad was way overdressed. Josh and CJ blame their temperature problems on John’s inept expediting.

Chrissy and Carla are asked to leave. They hold their own at the judges table but get choked up as they say their goodbyes. Carla leaves us with “It is a game, and I wasn’t playing. I’m not good at games. I don’t even play cards." I’ll miss you, bella!

Up first: The aforementioned preview for Last Chance Kitchen with Jeffrey, Kuniko, Chrissy and Carla. The winner will return in the finale.

Up next week: Tom looks pained and announces an entire team is going home. And let’s hope the whole Kristen-Stefan (Kri-Fan) thing gets nipped in the bud.