The one episode of Top Chef that everyone wants to win is always Restaurant Wars. It's no surprise the best cheftestants in Top Chef history bring the best restaurant. This week was all about teamwork. We open with Mr. Sustainable Seafood (applause) Rick Moonen judging a blind relay cook-off — a very clever concept with 10 minutes of cooking per person and each chef not knowing what was happening before they take over. Jennifer leads her team to a win with sablefish with sautéed mushrooms, shitake broth and radish salad. They all had $2,500 in their paws and let it ride to gamble for the chance to win $10,000 each. A good chef friend of mine said, only go to war if you know you have a good chance of winning ... or was it Sun Tzu? Anyway, when going against both V bros, I would've banked that cash and not let it ride!
At first glance, Jen's team looked like they were the team to beat in restaurant wars. No ego, all easy going, even-keeled team. But a lesson is to be learned here. You can have all the talent in the world of restaurants, but a restaurant doesn't run itself.
The key words this week, boys and girls, are "in the weeds". And I don't mean the type that pop up in the garden and you-don't-know-where-the-hell-they-came-from-and-how-the-hell-they-keep-multiplying kind. I'm also not talking about the sexy green trees that you stuff into a bowl, apply a little fire to and then use to pay homage to fragrant, life-giving smoke. I'm talking about the no-bull kind where you have just smashed out 500 covers in a non-stop eight-hour day and there are 500 more behind it and eight more hours to go. And did I mention, the dishwasher is down; you are quickly running out of mise en place with no prep help; you don't have enough servers on the floor; your ticket rail is jammed with 20 tickets and that damn ticket printer is unrelenting; why did we schedule that new green jackass of a culinary student to work the line; and your executive is walking the kitchen wondering why it looks like a bomb went off? This, boys and girls, is just a taste of what "in the weeds" feels like.
Two things that help keep you out of the weeds: strong leadership and excellent communication. These are two things Jen's Mission restaurant didn't have. Even though the sum of their parts were strong, nobody took charge and said, "F**k you, get it done!" The gung ho, I-don't-care-about-your-feelings-attitude made the Revolt Team true champions. You might look at Revolt at first glance and say, "Oh no, too many egos and strong personalities," but often chef's egos and arrogance come from confidence and experience. A restaurant is like a dictatorship at times; you can't have five different opinions for every decision. You choose a leader — the exec chef in the BOH (Back of House) and the GM in the FOH. Good or bad, they set the pace and make the rules. And you live or die by those rules.
This week was a V bro turning point week for me. I know we've all gotten use to seeing the V's throw down and go Hulk on everyone about every little detail, but seeing them in a restaurant setting gave me a new respect for one and disdain for the other. Huge props to Mike V this week for the "yes, I'm driven and totally crazy about food and winning, but I'm only a dick in the kitchen" demeanor. I definitely saw some cute cuddly chinks in his armor. All season he has been the aggro-centric guy who will do anything to win, and F anyone who is in his way. But that was far from the truth this week. The restaurant setting gave us a looking glass into his restaurant personality. First chink in the armor for me was the openness to Robin's dessert, even though he tears into her for lack of plating skills. Second was the warm moment between he and Tom when Tom was doing his traditional blue-chef-coated walkthrough. He always humbly calls each chef/guest judge by "chef" and gives them the respect they deserve. Then after winning, he doesn't even flinch as he says he wants to split the cashola with the rest of his team. This week was a game changer for me; I think Mike V should go all the way! Mike, you are this week's "real American hero." Cue the Budweiser raspy throat singer music here.
Bryan, you get the I'm-a-sore-loser-and-spokesperson-for-"Haterade" award! Dude, you were a straight-up jerk. Your bro wins, doesn't rub it in your face, wants to give you part of his money and you still pull the "I don't want your money and you don't deserve to win because you are unprofessional and curse too much" attitude. Two words, dude: "Weak. Sauce."
OK, OK as obvious as it was, this week's fashion standout moment was — you guessed it — Jennifer in the bikini coming out of the pool at the show open. I know what a lot of you are thinking: she's aight, nothing to write home about. But dude, in our profession it's not easy to maintain a swimsuit body because we're tasting and eating all day long! So Jennifer you are a bonerfide … uh, I mean, bonafide chef hottie! You go, girl. Not many of us can pull off a two-piece! Some jobs lend themselves to being fit — bike cop, gym employee, camp counselor — not being a chef. It's kinda like someone who works in a mine, or parking structure — our profession can kill us and is not flattering to the physique. You definitely would rather see 100 naked lifeguards over 100 naked chefs.
Finally, we say goodbye to our Sandra Bernhard's sister lookalike, Laurine! We saw her team Mission completely self-destruct. It started with poor menu choices — two fish and two meats, not easy to execute — and it finished with Laurine's poor FOH skills. I fell out of my chair when she, without a smile, dropped the food on the judges table AND DIDN'T EXPLAIN THEIR FOOD??? Hello??? Laurine, it's bloody Top Chef, dear. It's a competition. They need to know what you cooked for them. (This is another classic example of Laurine being totally "weeded," the bad restaurant kind.) All chefs, cooks, servers and managers can tell you there is a definite fog of war that happens when you are weeded. You need to do about 10 different things as the wheels are falling off the bus. You get hazy and it gets difficult to focus and time turns inside out. This is exactly what happen to Laurine and the rest of her team.
So far, everything is going as expected, Robin should fall off the turnip truck next week, but then it gets unpredictable. The final four is going be wicked. I'm pretty sure we'll see V vs. V, but who is going to join them in the top three? There will be laughs, there will be tears and all in a world we love called Top Chef.