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Top Chef Episode 4: En Francais, si’il vous plait

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It’s painful because they’re right,” said Ash of the judges’ critiques of the chateaubriand au poivre that sent his partner, Hector, home. “Dead on, balls to the wall, right.”
Photo: BravoTV / Kelsey McNeal

It was either a dream come true or a nightmare come to life: On last night’s episode of Top Chef the competitors were asked to cook French food for some of the best French chefs in the world: Jean Joho of Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Laurent Tourondel of BLT Burger, Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys, Daniel Boulud of Daniel Boulud Brasserie and the man himself, “Chef of the Century” (well, the last century) Joël Robuchon.

Tackling French flavors in front of these five is enough to make just about any chef want to piss his checkered pants – as Tom Colicchio said of Robuchon, “I’m nervous to eat with the man, let alone cook for him.” – and the episode’s Quickfire didn’t start things off much better. Faced with a smartly dressed Boulud and Colicchio at Daniel Boulud Brasserie at Wynn Las Vegas, the chef’testants were tasked with creating a dish using the revered and reviled French protein escargot. (That’s snails, for all you monolinguists.) Oh yea, and Daniel would like it to be something he’s never tasted before. OK?

Top Chef Episode 4: French for the French

Despite the slimy main ingredient, the chefs rose to the occasion admirably. The top three (with nary a Voltaggio among them), Jennifer, Mike Isabella and Kevin, each employed interesting peripheral ingredients to amp up the flavor of the escargot, but it was Kevin’s Southern take on the snail using bacon jam that earned him immunity and a pass from even cooking in the elimination challenge.

And high stakes weren’t just for the winners this time. Top Chef threw a curveball at the chef’testants, making the bottom three return to the kitchen for an even quickerfire bonus round and cook “one bite to save your life.” Jesse’s tuna tartare with fried quail egg was deemed the worst, and one of the most likeable -- if least-confident -- chefs this season was sent packing. I’ll miss Jesse, nervously standing before judges’ table, biting at her lip ring and admitting her mistakes like maybe if she fesses up and says a few “Hail Tom’s” the judges will let her back into the kitchen. Not this time, Jess.

Minus one winner and loser, the remaining chefs pulled knives labeled with traditional French proteins and sauces, which would be paired to create a six-course dinner for the all-star panel of Franco-fabulous chefs. It was time, as Michael Voltaggio dramatically put it, to cook the “most important plate I’ve ever cooked in my career.”

The chefs did so in Robuchon’s black and white checkerboard kitchen at the MGM Grand, and the Top Chef editors did plenty to drive home Robu’s master status to any viewers unaware of why the soft spoken Frenchman had everyone so shook.

“I was pretty much under the impression that he didn’t actually exist and was probably a unicorn,” said Eli. Ashley continuously talked about wanting to throw up.

While those two were busy being starstruck, Jennifer and Michael V., pairing up with on rabbit chasseur, were getting lovestruck.

“He has the rabbit that goes with my sauce perfectly, I know we’re going to do a banging dish together,” announced Jennifer in her usual monotone.

“We feel each other’s movement in the kitchen,” she added later on. And Michael gushed about Jennifer’s talents. "You hope she’s not going to outdo you,” he told Colicchio and co. at judges' table. For the sake of diners everywhere, have babies. Please.

Of course, not everyone was feeling quite so smitten. Out of favor with the judges were Mattin and Ashley and Hector and Ash. The Frenchie f-ed up a velouté by adding everyone’s favorite crutch, bacon, to the mix, and H&A served an unevenly cooked, unrested chateaubriand that not only soaked up all the sauce Ash had made, but also looked like it had been ripped apart by a 5-year-old with a chainsaw.

“Any chef who works a buffet line in this town can cut better than that,” Colicchio proclaimed before making Hector the first guy to get the boot this season. (Between stating her desire to upchuck and stammering in front of the judges, it would seem that Ashley is on her last legs, too. Get a grip, woman!)

Once again a Voltaggio took home top honors this week for a creative take on a classic trout béarnaise. Bryan not only cooked the trout, securing two filets and cooking them sous vide to the delight of Robu and the judges, but also conceptualized the deconstructed béarnaise, which laid out the sauce’s ingredients separately, allowing them to be mixed together for the full, familiar flavor. Mike Isabella served effectively as sous chef, supportive but uninspiring.

As Colicchio said at the judges’ table, “cooking was the issue” with the losing dishes this week, but it was the issue with the winners, as well. In honor of French culinary tradition and its masters, Top Chef got down to the business of cooking this week without any gimmicks, sponsored products or vending machine ingredients. And may we say tres bien!

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