By Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey
9:18 AM EST, January 17, 2013
It's Restaurant Wars: The episode so big, one hour can't contain it!
In our boys vs. girls battle royale, Team Y Chromosome (Josh, Sheldon, and Stefan) will be creating Sheldon's modern Filipino "Urbano," while Team X Chromosome (Kristen, Josie, Brooke, and Lizzie) will be staging Kristen's French "Alterlier Kwan."
Stefan's main concern is simply that the boys are outnumbered. Brooke admits she's worried that Kristen's youth and lack of experience "running the whole show" will be to their detriment.
The chefs hop into Toyota Avalons (powered by Bing!) to the Georgetown Ballroom to see the spaces they will be dealing with. They are all impressed with the beautiful, wide-open dining space, and then start wandering about looking for the kitchen.
"Where’s the kitchen?" Brooke asks. The boys look at a blueprint in their dossier and see the kitchen is in "the courtyard" -- as they are standing in a completely empty courtyard. Ah, there's the rub: This year the chefs will not only be building a restaurant from the ground up, but their kitchens as well. Well played, Bravo puppetmasters. Well played.
Let's get shopping! Kristen goes with Lizzie to shop for ingredients, and pairs Josie with Brooke to pick up rental equipment because "Josie's personality and my personality are complete opposites." It's the nicest way possible of saying "I rather don't like you."
As they are shopping, Brooke admits "I have a very different disposition than Josie." There it is again ... these girls are awfully tactful. Brooke wisely steers Josie away from selecting some hideous tangerine orange napkins.
On the boys' side, Stefan goes flower shopping (insisting this does not make him gay) while Sheldon and Josh take on the Asian market. Josh is nervous as neither ne nor Stefan have any experience with Filipino cuisine, and one can't "take something to the next level" if one has never done it to begin with.
Kitchens are delivered and set up on the patio and the chefs commence prep. Sheldon and Lizzie both start roasting their meats so that they can have everything ready to begin their stocks the next morning.
Josie was to have roasted her bones to do the same, and on two occasions said she was "getting to it," but at the end of the day it isn't done. Josie is all easy breezy about it (I think she is the Matthew McConaughey of "Top Chef," "Alright alright alright!") while Kristen's neck veins are already starting to bulge.
Back at the apartment, Brooke receives a letter from her 4-year-old son and wipes away tears and shows it proudly to everyone. She hates that she's left him but says that this competition is "99 percent to give him better opportunities." I was already pretty firmly camped out in Team Brooke's side but this sweet moment sealed the deal for me. Brooke for the win!
Each team confabs about tomorrow's showdown. Josie implores Kristen to think about having some dishes pre-plated but Kristen puts the kibosh on that, insisting they can handle each plate to order.
Josie storms off to the patio to smoke, where the boys are having their meeting, and blabs her worries to Stefan and Josh. After she steps aways Josh mutters, "If they cook the fish to order they are going to go down. So hard."
Game day: Prep commences and the chefs really have their work cut out for them. Brooke will be taking on front of house for the girls' team, as she and her husband "have opened four restaurants." Which makes me wonder: All these chefs are constantly touting how many restaurants they've opened, but they never actually mention of any of them are still open.
Stefan takes front of house for the boys and within moments, one of their dishwashers is assisting Sheldon prep in the kitchen. Smart move, as the boys are understaffed as it is.
As time ticks down, Kristen realizes that because Josie has taken so long preparing her bouillabaisse stock that there is no time to add gelatin as she wanted. She makes a quick decision to thicken it instead with cream and soy milk, but is highly perturbed Josie's slow pace has forced her to adjust her recipe.
The swelling bongo music tells us that it's almost time for service. Brooke and Stefan change into their fancy host outfits. Stefan asks his wait staff if they have "the candles ready for sexytimes" and suddenly realizes he has no idea how to properly pronounce any of the of Filipino words on the menu. Times up! Doors are open.
The judges walk in, and Brooke's face says what all of America is thinking: Holy COW that is a short skirt, Padma! She and her mile-long legs are joined by Tom, Emeril, Gail Simmons, and Danny Meyer. They are immediately impressed with Alterlier Kwan's atmosphere and menu.
Lizzie's first course is a twist on charcuterie -- rabbit, pickled turnips & yellow beets in chicken & rabbit broth. The judges are delighted that it's not what they expected and are all smiles as they slurp her broth. In the kitchen, Kristen is exasperated that Josie hasn't tested the syphon on the bouillabaisse broth, which is unacceptably flat, and Kristen declares she would "prefer a dishwasher over Josie" at this point. Ouch.
After a much too long wait, the judges receive Josie's dish: halibut, dungeoness crab, bay scallops with the aforementioned, foamless shellfish broth. The dish is not well received -- though Tom's crab is delicious, Emeril's scallop is undercooked and Gail leans over to note that Tom "has some sort of foamy substance on your dish that I didn't get." The other restaurant guests are equally confused.
Kristen's lack of experience with a large restaurant is starting to show, as her tickets stack up and the servers get confused as to what goes where.
Kristen's dish is up next, a beef bourguignon with braised short rib, garlic puree, mushrooms & carrots. The judges love it but think it's missing more sauce and the deep wine flavor that makes that dish so special.
Brooke introduces up her own dish: baked gougeres, St. Agur blue cheese, roasted radish & stone fruit compote. They think it's fine but have trouble with the chewiness of the pine nuts. Danny is worried someone is going to lose a crown chewing on it.
Kristen's dessert rounds off the girls' presentation: Almond cake macaron with coconut custard & caramel buttercream. Gail is perturbed that there wasn't an actual macaron involved, as it's her most favorite food item. And once again, other guests are similarly puzzled.
The judges agree that Lizzie's was the best dish at Alterlier Kwan, and move on to take in Sheldon's Urbano.
On the boys' side, Stefan is facing the enviable problem that none of their restaurant guests are leaving and he has hoards of guests waiting for their second seating. He flits from table to table asking, "Done?" in an awkward attempt to get his satiated diners moving. Of course, the judges walk in while he's still with no open tables. Stefan gets them seated while ignoring many other diners.
Urbano's first dish is Stefan's kilawen -- a raw yellowtail with cilantro, spicy chili & white soy sauces. This is one of the best-sounding dishes I have heard all season and I am refraining from licking my television screen as I watch this.
Up next is Josh's balut -- this dish is traditionally a boiled duck embryo served in the eggshell. Thankfully, Josh has adapted the recipe a bit and serves a poached egg, duck confit & foie gras mousse in the shell. Stefan doesn't take the time to explain what balut is to the judges, and while they all know the traditional preparation, they are left cold by his curt table manners.
To make matters worse, their third course is served while Stefan is distracted up front, and he fails to come over to introduce the dish to the judges. They have no idea what they are eating. They all look at each other, dumbfounded, and commence to eat.
Stefan even walked by as they were working on the dish and didn't notice. My jaw is agape, especially because Stefan has already done Restaurant Wars before.
After the dishes are cleared he finally comes by and asks if everything is okay, and Padma asks about the dish. Stefan is nonplussed that they weren't properly schooled. "Miki is a tapioca noodle with a Filipino paprika" Stefan spits out, then turns and walks away. The judges are seriously shocked by his rudeness. "The way he just made us feel is way worse than [Josie's] bouillabaisse." Emeril pronounces. Yeee-ouch.
The next dish is also by Sheldon -- Adobo, a pork belly with mung bean puree & pea shoot salad. The judges are all thrilled with it. Tom declares it the best dish he's had all day.
Finally, Josh's halo-halo, a coconut sorbet, avocado mousse banana & shredded coconut. This is paired with Stefan's ginger tea and dark chocolate, macadamia, ginger & peppermint oil dessert.
Tom says the tea "helps wash the taste of bad service out of your mouth." He notes that he learned from Danny that "people go to restaurants for the food, but return for the hospitality. And I don't know if would come back to this restaurant right now."
As they head to judges' table it's clear that Josie's "awful -- just awful" bouillabaisse and Stefan's offensive service are the two biggest sins of the evening -- and that they are most likely up for elimination.
At judges' table, Kristen' team is praised for their dishes and Brooke especially for her exceptional handling of the house. Josie's bouillabaisse is panned by the judges and she puts the blame solely on Kristen, saying that she would have put more broth in the bowl and added gelatin but that she was just following orders. Josie is clear -- it was Kristen who plated the dish and sent it out.
The judges turn to Sheldon's team and Tom lets him know his food was very successful and that Sheldon's dishes in particular were modern but still carried the Filipino flavor. They then ask Stefan about the poor service, which he admits to, but says was because "I'm a chef, not a server." There is a lot of eye rolling up front.
Apparently Stefan's lackluster manners were not enough to send him home, as Urbano is declared the winning restaurant. The boys seem greatly relieved and Sheldon's pride is palpable. Sheldon is declared the winner, and Tom says he has done his Grandfather proud. He will be taking home a Toyota Avalon for his efforts.
The judges ask Kristen and Josie to explain more clearly how the bouillabaisse fail went down. Kristen admits she made the call to not add the gelatin but doesn't really explain that it was because Josie was taking way too long. "Bite my tongue, bite my tongue ..." she whispers as she rocks back and forth.
Gail eggs her on, telling her that she's falling on her sword, but she still takes the high road. During the judges' private hash out session, Padma and Gail are in opposite corners of the ring, Padma squarely blaming Kristen and Gail fed up with Josie's "skating by." Tom and Emeril are torn.
The nice chef finishes last: Padma asks Kristen to pack her knives and go. You can hear it in her voice that even she is shocked by this decision. Brooke covers her mouth in disbelief.
As the chefs bid Kristen goodbye, Stefan whispers that he loves her (which makes her laugh, thankfully). She says that at least she's leaving with her integrity intact, having not backstabbed anyone along the way. I am gobsmacked not only by her dismissal but at the absolute grace and class with which she conducted her exit interview. You're an inspiration, Chef Kish.
Coming up next week: Sushi and fried chicken! And hopefully, some antacids.