Crispy skinned black chicken, perfectly moist, claw still attached, over fois gras and tiny cubes of beet, their blood-like juices splattered on the plate as though the unusual dark poultry underwent a brutal execution -- all topped off with a quail egg, symbolic of the chicken's unborn chick. That was Grayson's evil dish, not a winner but surely a stunner.
I'll go ahead and say it: Last night's Top Chef elimination challenge was the best in the show's history -- yes, ever. Charlize Theron, who plays the evil queen who's "pretty much a serial killer" in the new Snow White, inspired the challenge: prepare a gothic feast fit for a queen.
Ridiculously whimsical, dark and incredibly inventive dishes resulted. There wasn't a bad one in the bunch -- unless by bad, we're talking evil. Tom's clever zingers ran high in what appeared to be a fun adrenaline rush from plate after successful plate of evil fairytale food. "You put good and evil together and you end up with a politician," he said eating Ed's tartare with visually battling (but deliciously complementary) sauces.
Judges giddily gobbled pieces of perfectly cooked lamb heart, a salad arranged around a bloody handprint, a poison apple bursting with cherries, and sauces that conjured a war between good and evil with tuna tartare as the battleground.
Theron was impressed repeatedly by the chef's creations: "I loved this meal. I really, really loved it," she said at the end.
And now: COA's highlights!
Most Disappointing Quickfire Near-Win: Bev's sockeye salmon Bev's curried Rice Krispies, prepared to adorn her sockeye salmon over saffron tofu sauce with black-eyed peas, never made it to the plate. "Had you been able to get all of your ingredients on the plate," Padma said, "you would have won this by a mile." Heart-wrenching in the moment; heartbreaking later on.
Best Plating ... Ever. Period.: Paul's enchanted forest and bloody hand dish Dipping a hand in blood-like beet sauce, then smacking it on a plate like a kid fingerpainting, is a ballsy move, especially when you're serving Eric Ripert, an extraordinarily retrained French chef. But Paul went for it. His risky move turned out as a truly beautiful and bright splotchy hand in the center of a stark white plate with his "enchanted forest" of foie gras with bacon, pumpernickel, pickled cherries and beets framing it all like an elegant crown. "I have to say I love this because that is so beautiful and that is so scary," Theron said. The flavors and the plating were a winning combination.
Most horrific description of a plate of food: Grayson's black chicken "My plate really looks like a slaughterhouse," she told judges, presenting her black chicken dish, claw still attached and murderously clenched. "I wanted it to symbolize a chicken that got slaughtered on the plate, and the quail egg symbolizes the baby that was in her when she got slaughtered," the chef explained, with a "teeheehee" look on her face. She's never one for understating. Remember the time she told Tom her dish would be like sex in his mouth? Oh, Grayson.
Highest Compliment from an Evil Queen: Charlize's comment at judges' table. "If I was a queen and I had a castle, you would all be coming with me and I would torture and inspire you to create these kinds of dishes every single day. It was spectacular." Yep, given the setting, it doesn't really get much better that that.
Best Stew Room Performance: Kitchenwear Drum Circle Usually the stew room, where the chefs wait in the kitchen as judges deliberate, is the hot-spot for self-deprecating regretdom when chefs beat themselves up for things like not adding an extra pinch of salt to the pasta water, or for undercooking the venison -- anything, really. Last night, though, after an all-around kick-ass dinner, Chris Jones lead the group drumming on some green circle of a kitchen gadget. Sarah joined in, gurguling Fuji water and dancing, Ed shook the granola like a tambourine, even Bev chimed in on the pot tops. Now that's some solid teamwork.
Worst Post-Quickfire Turn of Events for a Chef: Bev's Loss Bev was on a roll. She won last week's elimination challenge, then nearly won this week's Quickfire, if it wasn't for, you know, the Rice Krispie incident. Judges even praised her dish as they ate it, lauding her perfectly cooked halibut (an especially complimentary note after Lindsay accused Bev of overcooking the same fish last week).
Then, when chef's slight mistakes were tabulated at judges' table, it worked out that Bev's minor mistakes landed her on the bottom. There were tears and inspirational words, yes, but despite whether you may be on Team Bev or not, the whole thing was just plain sad. Bleh. But Paul won, and he rocks, so don't let the sadz get the best of you.