'Top Chef' recap, Chefs at sea

  • Elizabeth Binder shows off her butchering skills.
Elizabeth Binder shows off her butchering skills. (Bravo )
January 31, 2013|By Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey

The final five have a group hug and exhale in relief. Big news from the party boat: Padma and Tom unexpectedly interrupt them mid-sigh to inform them they the next day they will be setting sail on a cruise to Alaska. Josh’s immediate concerned is that he doesn’t have appropriate outerwear. The gang heads home to pack. Brooke is deathly afraid of water travel and is trying to psych herself up and be a stronger person — for her son and for the sake of the competition.

The gang boards the Celebrity Cruises Infinity ship, which looks decidedly posh. They toast themselves with some very fruit-laden drinks and we see the ship’s decks filling up (clearly the Top Chef budget wasn’t big enough to rent out the whole ship). The band is kicking, dancing starts and Stefan shimmies up to Brooke who gently pushes him away, instructing, “You’re too close.”

Below deck, the chefs enter the kitchen, greeted by Padma and guest judge Curtis Stone. Lizzie is delighted to see Curtis, she’s clearly crushing on him. For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs will be cooking for the ship’s Welcome Aboard party. They have two hours to prepare 200 portions of an amuse bouche highlighting iceberg lettuce. Stefan thinks this is a Titanic joke. I thought it was simply a reference to their Alaskan destination.

Either way, iceberg lettuce? Yikes. The chefs get to it, struggling to find everything they need and adjusting to the ship’s kitchen (no open flames allowed on a boat!). Sheldon seems particularly stumped, as iceberg is mainly utilized for “crappy filling for a taco, or a lame salad.”

Stefan is braising pork to be served with cooked iceberg, like cabbage. “They’re freezing upstairs and I think Padma should have something warm in her mouth.” he announces, absolutely intending every possible entendre.

After a commercial break featuring a spot for the Top Chef Celebrity Cruises Cruise from Miami (natch), the iceberg bites are served. Stefan’s braised lettuce and Sheldon’s Vietnamese wrap seem unique. Lizzie, Josh and Brooke all seem to have done the same thing: variations on the wedge salad, with bacon and blue cheese.

Curtis announces that though he and Padma enjoyed all the dishes, the one that used the ingredient in the most successful way was Sheldon’s Vietnamese lettuce wrap with pork, shrimp and pickled iceberg hearts. He will be given an advantage in the elimination challenge, to be revealed later.

The chefs have the rest of the afternoon off to relax. Lizzie and Sheldon hit the spa for manicures. Sheldon’s manicurist is from South Africa and she and Lizzie bond over their mutual homeland. Lizzie shares that she recently lost her father and gives us the first real look into her personal life all season. Meanwhile Brooke, Josh and Stefan are on the lido deck and knocking a few drinks back (prepared by, I can only hope, Isaac the Bartender). Josh’s wife is due to give birth that day and he’s on edge about that.

The gang reconvenes for dinner at “Q-Sine”, the unfortunately named wacky-theme restaurant on the ship. Josh and Brooke engage in some playful sparring over who has won more challenges (answer: Brooke) but when Josh points out that Stefan hasn’t won any elimination challenges, things take a seriously catty turn. Lizzie and Sheldon practice looking at their napkins. 

Thankfully the food comes, which is plated in the most god awful cheese ball schticky ways. Sushi lollipops! Disco shrimp with blinking lights! I am half expecting someone with extra flair to offer them some Pizza Shooters or Extreme Fajitas. Padma and Curtis interrupt their dessert (chocolate tombstones!) to explain the Elimination Challenge. The chefs will be running dinner service at Q-Sine tomorrow night. Each must take the concept of surf and turf and “turn it on its head.” Sheldon gets first pick of the proteins as his advantage. Padma leaves and advises them, “Please, be creative tomorrow.”

The next day, in the walk-in, Sheldon selects the rather pedestrian pairing of beef tenderloin and lobster tails. Brooke decides to go bold or go home and takes frog legs and mussels. Yes! Lizzie wows everyone by expertly butchering an entire suckling pig (Josh in particular seems to be suddenly seeing her in a different light. If you know what I mean).

The gang races back into the kitchen and fights over the spread of non-traditional serving vessels. Gimmicks galore.

As prep moves forward, doubts creep in. Brooke is struck by amphibian ambivalence and wonders if the frog legs count as “turf” or not. Josh’s scallop-based “pasta” has not set at all, and Sheldon seems totally despondent, resigned to the fact that he’s not making a playful dish and that he missed the mark when selecting his predictable proteins.

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