Top Chef recap: Cage Match

The contestants form teams to cater a party with dishes based on zoo creatures' diets, coming up with some stuff even dogs won't eat
Ep. 02 | Aired Mar 19, 2008

CREPED OUT Valerie's stale blini got her eliminated.

Aside from increasingly tough and inventive challenges, there are a few themes already developing on season 4 of Top Chef.

Two of them involve things creatures produce. Can you guess? One is fairly obvious: hair. There's an ongoing debate in my apartment about whose quasi peacock hairdo needs to go: Richard's or Jennifer's. We're split down the middle. Richard's drives me nuts. It's a fauxhawk — granted I am no hairstylist — but it's too short for the traditional spikes, and it strikes me as being as formal as his food and personality. Could it be that he uses the same molecular extracts in both? If we had scratch-and-sniff TVs, perhaps last night we would have smelled eucalyptus. Actually, Richard is less of a mad scientist than guest judge Wylie Dufresne. The reason I bring up the WD-50 owner (I haven't made it out to his New York restaurant; have any of you?) in this discussion of hair is that he deadpanned a great line while tasting everybody's quickfire dishes, muttering to Mark, ''Nice sideburns.'' It was just so unexpected. Even Mark giggled.

The second trend — and there's no way to put this delicately — is poop. If you recall, in episode 1, Erik made that terrible nacho soufflé with a streak of refried beans going across the plate. I mean, as a half Mexican I love me some refried beans, but a pretty garnish they do not make. During last night's quickfire, which involved creating an entrée using five ingredients from a green market, Andrew used an unauthorized component: balsamic vinegar. His response when busted? ''Poo.'' Soon after that, Nikki made dried-blueberry-and-cheese-stuffed mushrooms, which looked like — you guessed it! Here's hoping this movement is over.

Onto the food. Is it just me or has there been a lot of red meat? Steak au poivre, sirloin steak, seared rib-eye steak, tenderloin tips, lamb chops. Though my stomach is kicking at the thought of it all (I'm sensitive), I would have loved to try Mark's immunity-winning ''sirloin steak turnips, mushrooms, peaches, butter'' because I love a play on sweet and savory or sour. (My late great-aunt, for instance, used to make an amazing sauerkraut with apples and brown sugar.)

Here's a test of our mutual gullibility: When the main challenge came along, how many knives did they have to pull before you were finally convinced that they were not going to have to cook exotic animals? Even though Antonia wondered how she might braise bear, I was pretty confident by then that there was something more to this contest. (Besides, either PETA or Morgan Freeman would have hunted down Padma and Tom if they had given the order to prepare penguin à la king.) And while we're on the subject, I just can't wrap my head around the creature that is Andrew. Did you hear him growl like a lion? He's a caricature with those facial expressions, that voice, and the things he says. It's 10 p.m. Does Elmer Fudd know where his child is?

NEXT: Eating like animals


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