Top Chef: France, Baby, France!

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Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

It was Le Petit Prince’s 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 (“that’s 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 he’s literally a Cretan!) but it was Michael I., Jennifer, and Kevin (whom we’re 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 Boulud’s 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 fricassé 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), Jöel Robuchon. For the elimination challenge, the cheftestants who’ve drawn knives representing popular French proteins pair up with those who’ve selected popular sauces (only one of which is one of the four mother sauces, curiously), and off they go into Robuchon’s 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 it’s Bryan who takes the win (moving ahead of his brother two to one) by preparing a trout à 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 béarnaise topped with pickled shallots, raw egg yolk, tarragon purée, and fennel pollen.

For all his Frenchness (well, Basqueness), Mattin goes up for elimination after he shoots down Ashley’s suggestion of an asparagus velouté (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 velouté-cum-bacon-cream sauce does nothing to save Ashley’s 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 didn’t 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 week’s 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 wasn’t 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 meunière was too floury) looks like she’s in over her head, as does Laurine. But with only four women left, do the powers that be really want to cut another one? We’ll see!