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Top Chef Episode 11: Slap the Jet Lag Out of Me

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To thoroughly enjoy the glory that is Top Chef, we welcome back comedian Max Silvestri, who is here every week to take us through season six.

2009_11_topchef11.jpgAnd then there were six! Chefs, I mean. There are six chefs left. I was just referencing that famous Agatha Christie novel "And Then There Were None." Did you know that book was originally titled "Ten Little N-Words"? That is a crazy fact but entirely true. It is intense how casually racist people used to be. "What's a good title to make people want to read my book? I think 'Missing The Ten of Them Like I Miss Having Slaves' is too long." It was very smart of them to change that title. It was also very smart of me not to call this recap "Six Little N-Words," but probably less smart of me to even bring this up in the first place. Now is not the time for a discussion on race, or gender, because Ashley has been eliminated. Let's move on!

The cheftestpants prepare for the final stretch of the competition. They have made it so far! Bryan misses his wife and son every day. The cameras keep flashing to a picture of his son he keeps by his bedside. (I assume it's his son. If it's just another young boy or that's what his wife looks like: weird!) His son's face in the picture is buried in his hands in grim seriousness as if he just remembered that the deadline passed to contact Vanguard and adjust his 401k plan back to Low Risk for this quarter. Like father like son. Why so Voltaggio? Meanwhile, Jennifer is still a total head case. She has been dangerously close these last few weeks to torpedoing the competition with an insane breakdown. "Your roast chicken was good, Jennifer, but all of us were a bit surprised you chose to put those clumps of your own hair on the plate and then spray vomit and mucus all over the Judges' Table." Jennifer says that to win she needs to "start worrying about myself." Oh, yes. Clearly the issue was you were not doing enough worrying. This problem is definitely solved. You should celebrate by turning bright red and apologizing a lot. Perfect.

For this week's immunity-free Quickfire, the chefs head to "a kitchen deep in the catacombs of the Venetian," according to Eli. Wait: Catacombs? Venice? What an erudite allusion, Eli. Have you read lots of books on Renaissance architecture? Or maybe your mom brings you bowl after bowl of ice cream with hot fudge while you watch "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" in the living room way past your bedtime? "Just this once, Mister." That's what she says.

The chefs get a call on the ol' kitchen phone. It's Padma, and she wants some room service. Everyone needs to prepare her and Nigella Lawson, the gorgeous British cookbook author, television host and billionaire's wife, breakfast in bed. Bed? They are in bed together? And in robes? Keep it together, Silvestri. I am already missing Mike Isabella. He would have been smiling so widely and elevator eyeing and raising his eyebrows so fast the top of his head would have fallen off. I'm sure he's at home watching this episode "with his yogurts and stuff." He would have served them a video camera with a fried egg on top. "This dish is a play on recording you. The best way to eat it is to have the fried egg first, and then just leave the camera on the sink across from the shower. The red light means it's turned off."

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The chefs have only thirty minutes and cook in waves of two. No one decides to cook Padma what she'd really like, which is a tall glass of vodka. Piping hot vodka. Robin prepares a goat cheese blintz and gets nervous serving it to the two famous women in their (intensely disappointingly) separate beds. "I got stage fright!" Does that mean you had trouble getting hard? Because I don't think that's true, Robin. Look at your hair! You could cut glass with it. (That could have come in handy during her elimination dish, but more on that later.) Eli serves a fried egg Reuben Benedict, which sounds like the name of a Motown act, but looks incredible. I want to eat it very much. Eli says he doesn't cook breakfast very often because he's rarely up by then, but really we know the answer is because Mom's got it on lockdown. "Mommmmm, there's no butter on these toast fingers!" That's what he says.

Kevin the Red gets cooking steak and eggs because he is not satisfied with a meal unless an animal died for it. Michael finds himself "in the weeds" and spends a fifth of his allotted time cleaning up Robin's mess in the kitchen. He can barely focus on his Cuban huevos. Robin comes in to help tidy up, and he snaps, "I'd rather you just be gone right now." We all agree! That is what we have all been thinking this whole season. Robin's feelings are hurt, and she packs her knives and storms out. Unfortunately she stops before she gets to the street.

Jennifer prepares creamed chipped beef, or shit on a shingle as it is more commonly known. My dad was in the Army a million years ago and still talks about and has nightmares about this dish. It was more or less another form of punishment in the service. Why in the world would Jennifer choose to make this? "Happy Veteran's Dish! My dish, which has 'shit' in the name, is meant to remind you of being away from your family and having to do push ups in the rain. Enjoy." Bryan does a very fancy four minute egg with a vanilla thing I can't spell and asparagus spears and polenta. It looks beautiful, but Nigella is clearly turned off by finding vanilla in a breakfast dish.

Bryan's va-smella lands him on the bottom, as does Robin's all-around amateurishness. Nigella's favorites are Kevin's steak and eggs and Eli's Reuben Benedict. She says, "the tang of the sauerkraut slapped the jet lag out of me." Despite me thinking she wouldn't want a chef to come down where she works and slap the jet lag out of her mouth, Eli wins. His prize is to be the only recipe from this season included in the new Top Chef Quickfire cookbook. That is a nice honor, but also who would want to buy that book? Quickfire dishes are by definition rushed and unplanned and made with ridiculous restrictions. "I can't wait to get cooking with Alexia Crunch Snacks and Swanson Low-Sodium Cod Broth and without using anything brown!"

The chefs are to take inspiration for this week's Elimination Challenge from the crown jewel of Las Vegas, the strip. Each chef draws a knife to find out which casino will inspire their food, food they have to cater to 175 people at a party at the World Market Center. 175 people is a lot of people. What if they all fail? And all of them are eliminated, and the show ends? I hope that doesn't happen.

The chefs each head to their respective casinos to be inspired, in a segment that would fit in better in a promotional video that plays on repeat in your hotel room. Seriously. "Thank you to our sponsor for this episode, the Las Vegas Tourism Bureau, which was kind of enough to keep delivering grocery bags full of cash to us." Michael explores New York New York, and sees the Statue of Liberty and a fire department boat. Two classic New York things all of us New Yorkers are always seeing and experiencing. Much like the casino's, Michael's vision of New York seems inspired by a movie shot in Vancouver. "Welcome to New Yawk, go fawk yourself in the East River! Here's a slice of famous spaghetti bagel pizza pie!"

Jennifer sits by herself and watches the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur, a depressing medieval dinner theater show in a mostly empty auditorium. She hilariously tries to talk it up to the camera. "It's just a cool place you can go with your cool friends, and have fun, and laugh, and eat cold garbage with your fingers and drink warm beer and smell pee and feel sad." I have a feeling this mediocre-fest is going to influence her dish a little too much. Bryan conveniently finds a note on sustainable fishing in the Shark Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay, handing him his inspiration. He also buys a small plush toy for his son, who will surely appreciate it. I wonder if his son is a tiny robot version of his robot dad. "Thank you, father, for this toy, with which I will commence playing immediately. May I excuse myself to the designated joy area?"

Robin takes in the gross ceiling art at the Bellagio. She says she considers herself "an artist more than anything." Oh I don't know about that, Robin. I definitely consider you more of an "anything." I wonder if she designed her own neck/base-of-skull tattoo? I hope so. Kevin explores the Mirage while explaining that he's all about simplicity. The irony of Kevin talking about simplicity while steam comes out of a fake mountain and water explodes and other weird Vegas bullshit is delicious. "I like to take a subtle hand with my cooking, and then have a dolphin pop out and spit fucking fire on it."

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Eli is assigned Circus Circus, which should rename itself Sorry Sorry. It is too depressing to even describe. If that Jigsaw puppet actually worked at a carnival before it started teaching people lessons in the Saw movies, it is Circus Circus.

The chefs have just three and a half hours to cook before they head to the World Market Center to set up for the party. Eli says the room they are in is a "massive, George Orwellian, 1984-style place." Another totally killer allusion, Eli! And again, you are right on the money. Remember how "1984" was filled with large rooms, with 6 tables and windows and a view? That was definitely the defining feature of that book. "The Ministry of Catering says he doublethinks we don't have enough steam trays."

Padma, Nigella, Toby and Tom begin to make their way around to the chefs' tables. First up is Jennifer, who doesn't have food ready for them. She explains that her beef dish was inspired by Excalibur, which allows Nigella to make about thirty too many stupid jokes. She and Toby should have a move-back-to-England competition. (It is cool if they tie.) "I need Excalibur to cut this. And this beef is the stone. I felt ready to be in wench mode when I saw this dish. And lots of knights raped local women while on the Crusades, and that is how I felt eating this!" Kevin's cured salmon with cabbage and tomato broth wows the judges, especially Tom. They can see a sea of people tilting their heads back to clean out their bowls.

Despite Michael seeming more inspired by the rarely mentioned "Buffalo Buffalo" casino, the judges really enjoy his boneless chicken wing confit with blue cheese disc. Robin can't execute her big vision for stained glass-like candied sugar on top of her panna cotta and leaves it off the plate. The judges do their best to pay her a compliment, but the panna cotta itself isn't even made properly. She couldn't catch a break if it came glued to the mitt when she bought it. (The other reason is she is terrible at cooking breaks.) Bryan makes another fancy and difficult to spell dish, this time with halibut. And there are garlic chips too? It looks good. Eli serves literal clown food. There's a peanut soup with pulverized popcorn and raspberry foam and all sorts of other weird sugar trash. Padma makes quite a face while eating it.

Kevin, Michael and Bryan head to the winner's circle. I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of the three of them. You know what I'm saying? (I mean I think they will get triple married in real life.) Michael is paid a very high compliment, that his dish managed to improve buffalo chicken wings. Toby, while making some inane and serpentine point, calls Michael's food "effeminate." Bryan laughs, probably because he used to also call Michael that. But he promptly stops laughing when Michael wins. Michael's prize is a Padma-sized bottle of wine and a trip to Napa.

Jen, Eli and Robin all head in to face the judges. Jennifer and the judges all acknowledge that her dish was kind of mediocre and short on inspiration. Toby says it was more "Spamalot than Camelot." Shut up, Toby. To be fair to Jennifer, Spamalot set Broadway box office records and won lots of Tonys and was a critical and financial success. And all the mirrors in Toby's apartment are cracked because sometimes he gets so sad he gets violent. Robin didn't really do anything right with her dish, and she wasn't even aiming that high. Eli's merry-go-round of garbage gets dragged over the coals as a textural failure. Padma chimes in that she also hated the flavors. But at least he had a neat idea, and that's enough to finally, at long last, send Robin home. Thank God. Eli did dodge a bullet here, but Robin has dodged so many bullets she is like Neo from the hit film from ten years ago The Matrix. She weeps, so much. It is a little sad but also a lot not sad. Finally.
—Max Silvestri

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