Top Chef: France, Baby, France!

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Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

It was Le Petit Princes birthday last night (watch him puke in some bushes!), and just by sheer coincidence, it was also the French episode of Top Chef, starting with Daniel One of the Baddest Mother[bleep]ers Boulud asking the cheftestants to feed him something he had never tasted before, using escargot. We saw some tension between Ron and Robin (thats my snail, baby, he scolds her in a who moved my cheese moment). Naturally, Jersey Mike was stoked (Greeks like snails, and it turns out hes literally a Cretan!) but it was Michael I., Jennifer, and Kevin (whom were starting to think of as a red-bearded Dom DeLuise) who once again came out on top.

The bottom three Ashley, Jesse, and Robin are given a chance to prepare amuse-bouches using anything from Bouluds pantry, and Jesse bites it and gets sent home, thanks to a mini-sandwich of tuna tartare with sorrel and gooseberries, fried quail egg, and fried bread. (Curiously, Robin makes a soup, but it seems the judges decided to be less rigorous about their definition of an amuse than in previous seasons.)

After acing the Quickfire with an escargot fricass with mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and candied-bacon jam (Colicchio admits to being so enamored with the latter ingredient that he stole it for Tom: Tuesdays), Kevin is granted immunity and gets to dine with a dream team of Frenchies: Hubert Keller, Daniel Boulud, Laurent Tourondel, Jean Joho, and a judge who needs no introduction (but receives endless kowtowing), Jel Robuchon. For the elimination challenge, the cheftestants whove drawn knives representing popular French proteins pair up with those whove selected popular sauces (only one of which is one of the four mother sauces, curiously), and off they go into Robuchons kitchen.

Again, some familiar faces end up on top: Jennifer and Michael V. work hand-in-glove to turn out an impressive rabbit chasseur with mustard vermicelli and shiso. But its Bryan who takes the win (moving ahead of his brother two to one) by preparing a trout la Thomas Keller, gluing two top fillets together with meat glue and cooking them sous vide. He also teaches a baffled Jersey Mike how to make a deconstructed (or broken down, as Mike puts it) eggless barnaise topped with pickled shallots, raw egg yolk, tarragon pure, and fennel pollen.

For all his Frenchness (well, Basqueness), Mattin goes up for elimination after he shoots down Ashleys suggestion of an asparagus velout (and then is apparently too hung-over to remember having done so when asked about it). He goes overboard on bacon instead, perhaps trying to baconate the judges the way Kevin did in the Quickfire, and his velout-cum-bacon-cream sauce does nothing to save Ashleys bland and dry seared poussin. But the real dunces are Hector and Ash. Once again, Hector faced elimination thanks to his steak. His chateaubriand took so long to roast (hey, at least he didnt fry it) that he had to carve it sloppily at the last second, leaving Ash to haplessly sauce some bloody nubs, and leaving poor Gail Simmons in a state of shock. Said Colicchio, Any cook who works a buffet line in this town can carve a piece of meat better than that and so it was written.

Next weeks episode will involve cooking at what looks like a dude ranch with the one and only Tim Love. Of course, Jen, Kevin, Michael V., and Bryan are probably safe. As for who might go well, it wasnt a good sign that Ron trumpeted his French training yet overcooked his frog legs to the point of blandness. Jersey Mike is leaning on his bros way too heavily. Robin (whose sauce meunire was too floury) looks like shes in over her head, as does Laurine. But with only four women left, do the powers that be really want to cut another one? Well see!