Top Chef: Restaurant War Is Hell

There are only three things in life that are inevitable: death, taxes, and "restaurant wars," the annual challenge where Top Chef contestants must create a restaurant in a day. It always ends in disaster.

And last night was no exception, except it was kind of a nice disaster. It's like if your village got bombed by a bunch of German airplanes and you were all sad because your village was gone, but then you look down and the bombing created a hole just large enough for oil to start seeping out. Yes, your home and possessions were destroyed, but now you're rich, motherfucker! Take that, German biplanes.

Last night our story started with a premonition. All the chefs assembled around a table with a crystal ball in the center, and Richard Blais put on this giant purple padded hat that he wore once for a Carnac the Magnificent costume. "Please join hands, and let the seance begin." As they all joined hands and closed their eyes, the lights began to flicker and the French door slammed open as a breeze howled through. The curtains started to flutter violently and Richard said, "Is there a spirit present? Who am I speaking to?"

"It is I, the ghost you all call Antonia. Beware, I am cursed. Whoever should cook with will have their spirit unleashed and go to the other side. I am cursed. I am cursed. WhooooHHOoohoowwwhoooooooooo...."

And then her spirit disappeared and they all piled into whatever car was sponsoring last night's episode and went to world-famous fish cafeteria Le Bernardin. Anthony Bourdain was there. "Hey guys, I'm going to do the Quickfire challenge today. Padma, well, she couldn't make it. We were all set to leave and she started screaming about not wanting to go to anyone else's kitchen and how she likes to be in charge and how she won, and I quote, 'this motherfucking show a motherfucking Emmy,' and she refused to get in the van. She even threw a boot at a PA. Anyway, I'm here and you have to cut up a bunch of fish."

The challenge was to butcher two fish in ten minutes and do it to the standard of Justo Thomas, the chef at La Bernardin who butchers 1000 pounds of fish a day. Chop, chop, chop; boring, boring, boring. And the winners are Dale, Marcel, Richard, and Mike Isabella, who is pretty much the human version of Charlie the Tuna. Now those four have to cook a dish using all the scraps of their fish, and the winner of the challenge will get immunity.

OK, this was a really cool challenge—having to use the scraps and all—but why are they messing with this long-ass, two-part challenge during Restaurant Wars when there wasn't even a Quickfire last week? They just went fishing, that was the "challenge." Couldn't they have had this challenge when they, you know, had to cook their own fish or something? Just a thought.

As they're cooking we learn that Richard learned all his culinary technique at his first restaurant job, when he was a seafood chef at Omaha's premier seafood establishment, McDonald's. Marcel whined and carried on and was a dick. Marcel is like a broken toe. It is annoying as shit, but you go to the doctor and he says there's nothing he can do. So you just have to tough it out until it goes away, so you wince through the pain, day after day, the searing, annoying pain, knowing one day you will finally be rid of it. That's Marcel—you try to tune him out, but he's right there, throbbing in your shoe.

Dale made an impromptu shrine to his fishmonger ancestors and said, "I make a sacrifice to you, great fishmonger ancestors. You were cooking gills and collars and fins and fish livers before it was even cool, and I ask for your guidance." And a plume of steam seemed to ooze out of the floor and take hold of Dale's limbs, guiding his every move as he whipped up two wonderful dishes. Of course Dale wins again, with a little bit of assistance from the spirit world.

Then they return to the Top Chef kitchen to talk to Padma who has been waiting there the whole time, probably in a fit of pique. As they enter the room, the little butcher's block island she's always standing next to is rustling. Two figures quickly rise up. One is a handsome Frenchman with tattoos down his arms and he's buttoning the top two buttons of his chef's jacket. Padma is straightening her dress and tosses her mussy hair back with both hands, she's standing a bit cockeyed with only one boot on. All the chefs are standing there stunned. "What!" Padma says. "We weren't fucking. Got that?!"

A production assistant runs up with a boot in one hand, "Ms. Lakshmi..." "Drop it right there!" Padma yells. The PA drops it on the spot and scampers away.

"Alright, jerks," Padma says. "This is Chef Ludo. I am not going to say his last name because it is strangely devoid of vowels. We were not fucking. Remember. You saw nothing. Oh, you're doing Restaurant Wars. Split into teams." Then she hobbled over to get her boot like no one noticed.

Since he won, Dale gets to pick the other team captain. In a stroke of genius, he picks broken toe Marcel. No one wants to work with a broken toe and forcing five people to be hobbled is basically crippling the whole team. Dale is assured a win. He gets Richard, Carla, Tre, and Fabio. Marcel takes a mallet and breaks the toes of Black Tiffany and Charlie the Tuna. He tries to break Angelo's toe and he says, "Marcel, let me do that for you. I love inflicting pain on myself." Marcel swings and swings at the ghost Antonia's toes, but she is a ghost, and she has none.

Plan, plan, plan; boring, boring, boring. They arrive at the Foundry, which is a wonderful outdoor space. It looks like the scene in a romantic comedy where the hero feeds the heroine under lanterns and they realize for the first time they don't hate each other. We discover that the diners will be eating at both team's restaurants and they will vote to decide the winner, not the judges. Whoop-de-doo.

Marcel's restaurant is called Etch and they're serving Mediterranean-inspired food. Doesn't a team do this every season and always ends up losing. Can't you people come up with a new fucking concept already? Dale's team is called Bodega and it's a spin on food that you'd find at a corner market. I have no idea how this is possible, because their menu does not include Hostess Cupcakes and Bravos, which are they only things I want to eat at the corner market at 4am. Whatever, at least it's original.

The Bodega folks are all getting along and working on their dishes. Everyone is very silent, except for Fabio, who, every five minutes are so pipes up and says, "Are you guys sure you don't need gnocchi? In Italy you only buy gnocchi at the bodega!" They all just roll their eyes and go back to work.

It's quite the opposite over at Etch, where no one is getting along. Team captain Marcel is barking out orders and telling people how to do things and, like Fabio asking to make gnocchi, everyone is just rolling their eyes at him. But then he's getting pissed off and annoying them more. Broken toe, broken toe, broken toe. The squabbling is already beginning. It's sketchy, man. Etch is sketchy.

Fabio and Tiffany are appointed to lead front of house for their respective restaurants. Fabio, of course, knows how to work it, to talk to the waiters, and to make sure everything is running smoothly. Tiffany is just basically stuck with this duty and hates it and you can tell. She has no fucking clue. I hate that someone has to play host. To paraphrase Fabio, this isn't top maître d'.

Service, service, service; boring, boring, boring. And the judges show up. It's Anthony Bourdain, still with the scent of a Thai brothel on his jacket; Tom Cohostio; Padma; and her little boytoy, Ludo. They sit down at Bodega and Ludo is playing footsie with Padma and touching her thigh gently under the table. She's laughing and smiling and playing with her hair and everyone is happy that she's in a good mood for a change. They love all their food. Bourdain even says it's the best stoner food he's ever had, other than Hostess Cupcakes and Bravos. For a man who knows his way around a Thai opium den, that's a high compliment.

Then they go over to Etch and it's a mess. There aren't any waiters, they can only hear Tiffany giggling, and Padma is starting to get a little testy. Tiffany walks over to the table to greet the judges. "Hey! How're y'all..."

"Bring me some fucking food!" Padma shouts, leaning more than halfway across the table.

Tiffany runs back to the kitchen and gets Padma some fucking food. But the problem is the fucking food. The judges hate it. They hate all of it. And it's not just the judges. It's the diner's too. I don't know if they invited every bitchy food blogger in Brooklyn to this dinner, or just most of the bitchy food bloggers in Brooklyn, but they were cunty. We're talking Padma on a bad hair day when her bunyons are acting up and her town car isn't waiting for her outside cunty. They were harsh on everything. I'll admit, I was into it.

And then the bombshell went off. The waiters arrived from the kitchen with bowls with steam coming off the top of them. "Oh, Christ!" we heard someone from the judges table scream, and it wasn't even Padma, it was Tom Cohostio. You know if Tom thinks something is stupid then you are really in for it. Padma, apparently distracted by the deep pools of Chef Ludo's eyes, didn't see what was going on. "What?" she said and whipped round to look at the waiters. "Oh, hell no. I am not putting anything steaming in my fucking mouth. Especially dessert." Yes, this was Marcel's avant-garde dessert that was like peaches and coconut and mint frozen in a bowl. It was stupid.

Off to judging. Team Etch is first. Marcel thinks it's because they won. The ghost Antonia says that he must be on drugs. Ha, maybe if they were on drugs they might have made some stoner food that Bourdain would have liked more. No, of course Team Etch lost. Everyone hated it. The judges cuss them out on just about every dish, but especially Marcel's bombshell dessert and the nasty fish thing that he made. That's when everything falls to pieces. At first the team is silent, trying to gloss over the fact that they lost because they all had broken toes. But then Charlie the Tuna finally goes for it and says everything was fucked up because Marcel was a poor leader and was shouting at everyone. Marcel tries to save himself and says that he told everyone that their dishes were bad but they just didn't listen to him. Oh shut the fuck up, Marcel. You were too busy just cooking and causing a throbbing pain to be an effective leader, and that is why you lost. Tiffanni is also in trouble because her egg dish sucked and she giggles too much.

Bodega comes into judging. They win. Richard wins. The war is over. Win, win, win; boring, boring, boring.

So the judges come back and Marcel, that broken toe you have been walking around on for months, is gone. It's like dipping your toe in the fairy spring and miraculously it's healed. I think the reason they really sent Marcel home is because of the foam. Seriously. If he hadn't made that foam, it would have been Tiffany, because the front of house person always gets the ax. But, no, Marcel had to be a stupid cliche with his foam and his steaming dessert and he just became a parody and they sent him home for that.

On his way out, Marcel can't stop talking about how everyone thinks he's a giant jerk, but he's really just misunderstood. God, that makes him the worst kind of person. At least people who are assholes but own up to it are self-actualized enough to know they have a problem. Some even try to correct it (hello, Dale's anger management classes). Not Marcel. No, he's under the mistaken impression that he's a good guy. The problem must be, well, everyone else. Wrong, Marcel. The problem is never everyone else, it is you. And if everyone thinks you're an asshole then, guess what, you're probably a giant fucking asshole.

Marcel packs up his knifes and on the way out, he thinks about all the awful things he said to the chefs, about all the foams he made, and all the dessert bombs he dropped. He pats himself on the back, thinking that he did a great job. He did the best job and it's just the world that misunderstands him. That is his cocoon, and when he gets home at night, he'll curl up and keep himself warm in the papoose of his delusion. He thinks that one day, everyone will wake up and realize he is right, but he isn't. That day will never come. That constant ache in his lower extremity is worse than any broken toe. It's a shot in the foot.