January 20th, 2011
01:04 PM ET
Ask most "Top Chef" fans or contestants what the most anticipated challenge of a season is, and the answer will be Restaurant Wars. So while last night's edition might have been the least suspenseful, it was still the most satisfying.
It started with a two-part Quickfire Challenge at Eric Ripert’s renowned seafood restaurant Le Bernardin.
The chefs had 10 minutes to fillet and portion two fish. If that sounds simple, bear in mind they were being judged by the man who spends hours every day doing this job… and it usually takes him 8 minutes.
A quick nod to semi-regular judge Anthony Bourdain, who did a really good job filling in as the host for this challenge. Padma is great, but Bourdain knew what these guys were going through, and I thought it was nice to see him commiserate over their nerves.
His statement about chefs knowing exactly what they had done wrong was just right. Most people would never know the difference between a well or badly portioned piece of fish. But in front of a far superior fish butcher (how often do you get to type that phrase), the chefs were humble, even embarrassed to have not performed up to the standards that they set for themselves.
In that spirit, I won’t call anyone out for being on the bottom end of the challenge. I will compliment Dale for taking another win though. The second half of the challenge was for the top four chefs to make a dish using the remains of the fish they had butchered; his was the best. For a guy who’s probably remembered more for punching a wall than for his food, he’s putting together some strong performances.
Dale won immunity, got to be captain for one of the Restaurant War teams, and got to pick the other captain. “Who do I not want to work with” guided his decision, so naturally he picked Marcel. Using that same guideline, I would have made the same choice. So would most of the other contestants… and people on the planet.
Dale’s Team: Richard, Tre, Fabio and Carla.
Marcel’s Team: Angelo, Mike, Antonia and Tiffany.
Within 30 seconds, two things became apparent: Marcel is a terrible leader, and there was no way Dale’s team would lose, even with the twist that the diners would pick the winning restaurant.
This wasn’t even a fair fight. Other than a minor freak out by Dale at the start of service, his team had zero drama and zero mistakes. The food was universally praised by the judges. The kitchen moved smoothly. And the front-of-house work, which was run by Fabio (of course), might have been the best in eight seasons of Restaurant Wars.
Honestly, Fabio is built for this. His Mr. Personality routine might bug me as a contestant, but it is perfect for this kind of situation. In fact, I’d say he might be better suited as a restaurateur than as a head chef.
Compare that to Marcel’s team, where Tiffany’s front-of-house work consisted of no direction, lots of grating laughter, and a focus on “schnoozing.” (Yes, Padma really said “schnoozing.” I rewound it three times just to make sure. Oy voy!)
Marcel’s kitchen didn’t do much better. Constant bickering and flare-ups. A menu that was roundly panned. And Marcel’s manic energy and inability to lead triggered a fun little fight with Mike. (Angelo, you really would have sent Mike home for that one? Seriously? I just don’t get you.)
The producers didn’t even try to disguise where this one was headed. When Marcel’s antics continued at Judges’ Table, he was thankfully eliminated. It’s too bad, because it seems like Marcel can be a good guy at times, and he’s certainly a skilled chef. I just don’t think he’s suited for these kinds of constant pressure situations.
On the winning team, I thought Fabio might claim victory based on his strength of personality and a killer dessert. But Richard, who I considered the strongest contestant coming into this season, finally got his first win.
Surprised by Marcel’s elimination? Happy with the way Restaurant Wars turned out? Sound off below.
About this blog
Our daily cheat-sheet for breaking celebrity news, Hollywood buzz and your pop-culture obsessions.