<em>Top Chef</em>: The Great Ketchup Insult

I've seen enough reality TV to know when people are trying to make their lack of people skills look like a strategy.
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My apartment is boiling hot and the rain keeps making Bravo shut off! I know I should be thinking about Tre, but I think I might be over it. Was it a girlish crush? Maybe it's because I was home sick today and watched Munich, and I'm now obsessed with Eric Bana. Tre, maybe it's because you "phoned it in" last week on the BBQ challenge.

Join me for Top Chef: The Great Ketchup Insult!

We have the standard waking up shots. Micah is doing push ups and voice-overing about how she came here with a suitcase, $400 dollars and a baby. That's right! In steerage. She heard the streets were paved with gold here. Howie is explaining how he didn't come here to be liked: I've seen enough reality TV to know when people are trying to make their lack of people skills look like a strategy.

The quickfire!

Our guest judge is chef Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill and a pioneer of the "new American cuisine." We also have Ted Allen. Joey says Alfred is known for his "plating techniques" and makes a comparison to the Sistine Chapel. Alfred looks very serious but like he's not above giving good quote.


The chefs have 30 seconds to grab shellfish in a little scoop and then 30 minutes to make...a dish with shellfish.

Hung is excited by shellfish and screams, "yes!" and claps his hands in glee. Brian Malarkey, president of the Silliest Hat in America Club, is nervous about seafood because he's the chef of a seafood restaurant.

No one is annoying me in this episode yet. Have I gone soft? Is my apartment just too hot?

Hung gets to go first and seriously rips the seafood scoop out of Padma's hands. Even she looks kind of surprised by this -- and Padma never changes her facial expression so it must be truly aggressive. A crawfish "falls awry" and people get really annoyed that Hung leaves it on the floor. Really, really annoyed that he isn't "cleaning up after himself." I don't see the big deal here. I guess I just like Hung. It's not like he dropped a lobster on the floor that's scampering around clacking it's claws -- it's a tiny crawfish.

Tre swaggers up to the net...it does nothing for me. Nothing! I would prefer if it were Eric Bana maybe strolling up to the tank. Perhaps in his Hector outfit from Troy. Anyway, Tre's net gives out leaving him with not that much shellfish to work with and Tre is nervous. As he should be! He had a good start to the season but seems to be falling from grace.

Micah is using scissors to frantically crack open some type of shellfish. She looks insane. Howie is making ceviche: boring and lazy, says I. Malarkey of Dumb Hats, Inc., is "doing less" because "the less you do with seafood the better it is."

Hung points out, "it's simple but my monkey could do that." Really? Get me that monkey. Monkey, I would like some lobster bisque please. No watermelon shooters, I don't want to send 50 cents to Joey.

Howie didn't "retaste as much as he'd like to" and says his ceviche will either be "right on" or "totally off"....so, it'll either be good or bad? Okay. That's a safe bet. Alfred tastes the ceviche and says it is "tasty but obvious." I agree, Alfred.

The lowest three of the quickfire: Micah: "needed heat, seasoning," Camille "tea as a flavor profile...it's overpowering" and Tre "your proportions were off...seemed out of wack."

Best three of the quickfire: Howie, Brian and CJ.

Winner of the quickfire: Brian Malarkey! I'm actually happy for him, as I type away. Then I look up and he is wearing a hat.

Howie is "just happy to be an honorable mention." What's going on with everyone this episode? Have people become nice?

THE CHALLENGE: Update an American classic to be low cholesterol.

The dishes? Things like chicken a la king, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, tacos, pork chop with applesauce, tuna casserole. etc. People aren't big on the American classics. Dale, of the loneliest mohawk in the world club, says they are "nasty foods...that we all eat every day." Hung sums it up: "all these dishes look disgusting to me."

I have to admit, these really do look gross. I have no objection to the dishes. My mom actually used to make a lot of these. But, she's a great cook. Her applesauce was always from scratch and the pot pies had homemade pie dough. Which brings me to the chicken a la king debate. What is chicken a la king? My mom's involved a delicious roux, mushrooms and chicken, inside a puff pastry. But I'm hearing things about peas and rice? I actually did some extensive research on chicken a la king which I will go on ad naseum in my own blog.

This challenge depresses me. I suppose we have to have a twist, and I like the updated American classics thing. But low cholesterol? American classics? We get it. Americans are FAT and in an OBESITY CRISIS!

Micah does not go for chicken a la king -- my favorite! You fool! Micah says dismissively, "Meatloaf and mashed potatoes..this can't be too hard to improve upon."

CJ chooses tuna casserole, which I confess I've never had.

Brian Malarkey, who has immunity, picks stuffed cabbage. He's going to wrap lobster in it. Lobster, which even I know is incredibly high cholesterol.

Sarah M goes for my sentimental favorite, chicken a la king.

Lia chooses franks and beans.

Dale chooses chicken and dumplings. He's buying instant mashed potatoes and rotisserie chicken! This is insane, as CJ points out. But Dale of the loneliest mohawk seems to have a plan.

Hung is reinventing fried chicken by using low-fat yogurt instead of buttermilk which seems like a cool idea to me.

Here it is: hot tub time. Or should I say, sexy time: Malarkey is having some wine, people are getting in in bikinis! String bikinis! Malarkey has tattoos! He's not wearing a fedora in the hot tub! Howie is sitting the side of the pool watching, fully dressed, looking sad and talking about how he doesn't need friends. Aww.

We are now at the Elk Social Club in Florida, which I assumed was old people but isn't ALL old people, for the challenge. The chefs are going to make these new classics and serve it to this discerning audience of...Americans. CJ voice-overs about the food: "they grew up with these dishes...they're dear to their heart." This actually makes me teary-eyed. What the hell is wrong with me?

Joey, who we don't see a lot of this episode, is making a veggie lasagna. Eh.This doesn't interest me. CJ is making a tuna casserole. He is making a flaxseed toille for crunch, which seems very creative.

Tom "I'm a judge not a mentor" Colicchio is nervous for people. He's not "really impressed by some of the decisions that they're making."

Sarah M. doesn't want to cook chicken a la king in cream. She skewers and grills it. Which really, is nothing like the dish. Even I note this. I think I would have actually boiled the chicken to keep it moist, or even poached it. Anyway there is a problem, apparently the oven was on cool down. She says somebody turned the oven to cool down....Hung says he turned it off after using it and she should have checked. I don't know if he means while her stuff was in there, or he turned it off after he used it and then she put it in, felt it was still warm, and assumed it was on?

CJ tries to plate his food using a food ring, but it keeps collapsing and looks like a "muddy gross mess" -- he "hates his dish." I like that he is so honest. "It tastes like health food", says Padma. "It's an idea that went south," says Colicchio.

The Great Ketchup Insult of 2007:

Micah does "reinvented" meatloaf and mashed potato. She very stupidly says to the judges, "you Americans like ketchup," the way one might say, "You Americans eat your own feces." Her tone is at that perfect pitch between revulsion and amused condescension. I would say it's a safe bet that Tom Colicchio doesn't douse everything he eats in ketchup. And if he does? It's TOM COLICCHIO. Keep your mouth shut, Micah! The judges looked horribly offended and I don't blame them. Dumb dumb dumb.

Howie makes an updated pork with apple: fennel roasted pork chop with fennel slaw. The pork is "beautifully cooked" and "ramiliar and sophisticated". People are loving the pork! Your blogger think it's kind of boring.

The Top Two? Dale of the dumplings and Howie of the updated pork.

Howie stands there looking very serious. Even Padma says "Howie, you can smile." Howie, whom I have started to like, explains his removal of the applesauce by saying, "applesauce is for babies" which I immediately take umbrage with. Canned applesauce? Maybe. Homemade? I don't think so. He also wants to "lift the palette." Very noble.

Howie is the winner! I'm suspicious of this dramatic arc. He said at the beginning of the episode about how the low cholesterol thing means a lot to him, and now he's won? Howie says he "had negative momentum and now he has positive momentum..(he) has to cook every day like I'm cooking for my life." I hear the strains of "Eye of the Tiger" when he says this. When they announce the winner, I notice that Joey, his nemesis clone from last week, stands up to applaud. Genuine? Savvy? I guess we'll find out! Maybe I secretly like Joey and Howie. The thought frightens me. But I do sort of miss their antics, even though it was mortifying to watch.

The losing five: Micah, CJ, Lia, Sarah M and Brian.

Brian Malarkey is immune because he won the quickfire, but Tom says "we wanted to let you know how disappointing the dish was" because lobster is high cholesterol. Tom lets him go but says something like, "I know you're a seafood person and you love seafood, but if you want to go all the way in this competition you're going to start having to look at meat at some point." This sounds dirty to me for some reason.

They point out that Sarah's dish bore no resemblance to chicken ala king!

CJ's tuna casserole, Alfred says, "was so green.....soooo green." Tom didn't mind the green -- he minded the muddy flavors -- but he was "impressed by the flaxseed."

They think Lia's frank and beans was lazy, because she really didn't do much except cook lentils, which they think were undercooked.

And of course, Micah's meatloaf disgusts them, although we all know they hate her for the dig about ketchup. Now, I know she's from South Africa, but I think that Americans hate people with vaguely British accents acting supercilious and condescending. Just a thought.

Seems to be Micah vs. Sarah M.

"Micah, please pack your knives and go!" Tom bitchily says after Padma tells her to leave, "thanks!" He is still hating her over that ketchup thing.

Micah says she is glad to go. "I wish I could have focused better. But this means I get to go sleep with my baby. So, I'm happy." This annoys me. Micah foolishly continues, "there are some people her who will do anything to win, and I'm not like that."

Micah, this feels vaguely sore-losery. Just saying.

Pass the ketchup!

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