Top Chef recap: Fifties Food Fight

This week's flashback challenge shows what all the cool cats were eating in the '50s
Ep. 04 | Aired Nov 28, 2012

MEATHEADS After this frustrating challenge, I finally get why Carla yells so much. Male chefs are infuriating.

David Moir/Bravo

Now for the good column: CJ, who's been incredibly jumpy and visibly desperate to win this season, talked up his top round tartare, proclaiming himself to be the best chef in the competition. Luckily, his dish lived up to all the talk — Naomi called his knife cuts "exact" and "perfect." Josh's meatball with polenta also won Naomi's compliments, but it was his nemesis John who took the win for his braised oxtail with potato gnocchi, causing CJ's face to spasm in displeasure.

So John had immunity going into the Elimination Challenge, which was a cool, retro throwback. Two well-dressed brothers, Mark and Brian Canlis of the popular Seattle restaurant Canlis, came by to explain the challenge. The chefs had to revive Canlis' first menu from back in 1950. A lot of pop-culture representations of 50s cuisine center on tuna-noodle casserole, congealed gravy, and TV dinners, so it's interesting to see fine dining from the era. I apologize in advance for the forthcoming 50s slang terms, all misused.

The Canlis kitchen got pretty heated during the challenge. I sympathized with Carla more than I did last episode when she blew up at Stefan for calling her "sweetie" and "honey," which seemed like an overreaction. But now I see her point because the men did seem to to be talking down to her — Stefan barked at Carla to take the squab dish seemingly against her wishes. I was surprised she didn't fire back. Other drama: John was being super passive-aggressive to Josh about making French onion soup, and Stefan's schoolboy crush on Kristen was getting a little too obvious. John took up expediting duties in the kitchen, which no one seemed to appreciate.

Yet the appetizers went out on time, more or less. First up was Tyler's crab cocktail, which looked like a delicious, shiny dessert. Mark Canlis appreciated that Tyler kept it simple and let the Dungeness crab shine. Next came Lizzie's marinated herring, which couldn't look more 50s. Tom said it was nicely marinated and liked that it had a ton of acid.

Josh broke the winning streak with his French onion soup, which the judges trashed, calling it salty, cold, and hard to eat. His rival John did better with the steamed clam bordelaise, but Chrissy stopped the dinner in its tracks with her totally grody Canlis Special Salad, which is the only dish that's on Canlis' current menu, which allowed everyone to draw comparisons. Judging just from appearance, it looked like an average, wilted Caesar with too much pungent dressing. Emeril thought the whole thing was way over-dressed and the croutons were soggy. Brooke washed the bad salad taste out of the judges' mouths with seafood salad a la Louis — a known palate cleanser (not really) — which was voluptuous and juicy.

NEXT: A question is raised about how pigeon meat should be cooked. I question whether pigeon meat should be ingested at all.

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