Finally! It’s time for Restaurant Wars!
It’s always one of the most anticipated challenges for both viewers and cheftestants. No gimmick, no promotional tie-ins, just straight up cooking and hospitality.
|In Chang We Trust|
With that said, it’s time to bring in the big gun. In walks none other than mister no muss, no fuss, just make delicious food, bad ass and my personal hero, David Chang!
For those of you who don’t know David Chang (you’re probably not here reading this then) he is arguably one of the founding fathers of modern day food culture. His first restaurant, Momofuku, was a closet-sized ramen joint in the lower east side of New York City. Now the brand Momofuku is a global empire, with restaurants in Toronto and Sydney. His influence on food culture extends beyond the kitchen. He has won Beard Awards not only for cooking, but for his television show “The Mind of a Chef” and his magazine Lucky Peach. Ok enough gushing about him.
His advice, “Plan on everything going wrong.”
|This team's got ALL the wins.|
They will divide into teams of five. Time to draw knives.
Right away the teams seem lopsided. The Green Team consists of Carlos, Sara, Justin, Nina, and Shirley. That’s a helluva lot of wins and talent on one team. Meanwhile, The Purple Team’s got Nick, Carrie, Brian, Travis, and Stephanie. Not exactly cream of the crop here. Even Nick’s worried. He compared his team to the Bad News Bears. Hey, didn’t the Bad News Bears win? #Foreshadowing?
They will have only 24 hours to build their pop-up from the ground up. That means, fixtures, menus, even the kitchen itself. The twist this season? Each team must name an executive chef and a general manager (front of the house). It’s interesting because in past seasons the judges and teams kinda figure that out as they went along. This time the position will be named, and whoever takes the title will have a bullseye on their back if the team goes down.
|"How the hell are we going to beat them?"|
Wait. What is this? Ugh. I spoke too soon. Apparently there will be a VIP table of Chase Sapphire Card members who will also get to eat at both restaurants. In this day and age where a restaurant’s emphasis is “everyone’s a VIP,” it’s totally hypocritical for the producers to pull something like this. Shameful.
The Green team decides on the concept of “Modern American.” I’m rolling my eyes because that the most vague concept title you can come up with nowadays. However, in a way that is smart because you can pretty much throw anything on the menu and still be considered “Modern American.” Sheesh.
The Purple team quickly decides on a seafood theme. They’re gonna call their joint, “Fin.” Travis jumps in and volunteers to be the general manager. He felt the need to stereotype himself by stating that “gays belong in the front of the house!” I have no idea why he’s so creepy.
Over on the Green team, the four people who can cook decides that Sara should be the general manager. Um, that’s right Sara. They don’t want you anywhere NEAR the kitchen. #Womp
|Sara, I don't trust you or your hair.|
Instead of discussing their dishes, the Green team decides to focus on the “feel” of the restaurant. They’re talking about what kind of plates, types table cloth, wrought-iron accents and flowers. Carlos is confused. Hell, I’m confused. This isn’t HGTV people! Justin steps up as the executive chef. He’s been preparing for this since he was 16 years old. Um dude’s 32 years old. Top Chef hasn’t been around that long!
The gang travels to check out The Foundry, their space for the pop-up. The Foundry’s basically a giant warehouse equipped for weddings, receptions, parties, and yes, pop-up dinners.
The Purple team still needs an executive chef. Anyone?
Not all at once guys! Heh. So this is a competition to find the TOP chef and peeps in this group is shying away from even being the executive chef of Restaurant Wars. Might as well go home now kids!
The only person who’s qualified is probably Nick. Good thing he decides to step up. Travis has the nerve to ask if Nick’s done this before. Jesus, how can you be on Top Chef if you’ve never been an executive chef before??
After checking out the venue, the chefs head over to their event planning place where they can pick out chairs, plates, etc. Yeah, this is where you have to make some very important decisions. But you know what else is important? Your menu! While discussing what serving dishes they need, the Green team realizes that they have no idea who’s making what. But Justin doesn’t want to talk about that right now.
Dude’s got a short fuse.
|Here's...your executive chef!|
We saw this last week when he got angry at other chefs for using the fire he built. Nina thought he was going to “choke somebody out.” Yeah, as the season goes on we’re finding out a little more of each chef’s personality. I guess all work no play makes Justin a dull boy. Yes, you're welcome.
As per past seasons, half of the teams head off to Whole Foods for the dainty stuff while the other half heads to the restaurant depot for the cheap stuff.
Brian tells us he’s making scallop crudo and serving it with purple corn gel. Ooooh boys and girls, he’s going to use agar agar for the gel! He feels this dish is very “new and different so it’ll definitely stand out to the judges.” Somewhere, Wylie Dufresne is laughing his head off. Wylie’s got Eggs Benedicts older than you, son!
Time to assemble their kitchen and start cooking.
|2006 Top Chef called. They want their phone back.|
It’s funny. Carlos just asked Justin what he was going to make. This is not a good sign. Usually the chefs plan out a cohesive menu. This has a “every man for himself” kinda feel to it. Still, on paper the Green team is super strong. Nina’s making a pork tenderloin, Shirley poaching fish, Carlos is making snapper, and Sara ended up with dessert. She’s making a butter cake with a five spice mascarpone cheese. If they just make the food they’ve been making all season long, this should be a cake walk.
However, Justin and Sara is not getting along. Miss Bossy pants over there is playing armchair chef as usual. That combined with Justin’s short fuse makes...let’s just say an uncomfortable working environment.
|Body language experts...go.|
Meanwhile, Richard Blais wanna be (Brian) over there picked up xantham gum instead of agar agar. His “gel” is going to be less of a gel and more of a “paste.” Think the difference between jello and toothpaste. Yeah, it’s gonna taste like (pick your expletive).
Day 1 is over. The chefs retreat back to the house for more strategizing for tomorrow’s “war.” At night, Justin explains to Sara exactly how he wants the ordering tickets written, “It’s going to be about communication tomorrow. And executing.” Good luck buddy.
Next day. They have 4 hours to set up the entire restaurant, cook the food, and train the servers. That’s a LOT to get done in that short amount of time. Both Sara and Travis are setting up the tables and talking to their servers. Right away you can tell that Sara’s “sunny” disposition is contagious. Her servers are looking around, not paying attention, and generally lost. While Travis seems to have been assigned a different team of peeps. They’re attentive, taking notes, and having a great time.
Back in the kitchen, Justin is about to lose it. After spending all that time talking about plates, dude doesn’t have the plates he need for his consume. The rest of the team’s just kinda looking away and keeping to themselves. Not a good sign.
Here comes the guests. Time for war. Any predictions Mister T?
Egregiousness of the day. Restaurant and Hospitality God Danny Meyers is joining the Chase Sapphire card member’s VIP table. Of all people Danny Meyers knows that there are no such thing as VIPs because his philosophy is to treat everybody like a VIP. I’m sure he’s there under protest. Note to self: Get a Chase Sapphire Card for a chance to dine with Danny freaking Meyers!
|Our Chase Sapphire Ad has been more fun than the show!|
The Green team’s restaurant is named “Found.” There were no explanations as to why it’s named that. I suspect they didn’t really care what the name was and just took it from The Foundry. They couldn't even bother to copy the entire name. See, they’re taking this “team” thing very seriously.
Here comes the judges. This week we’ve got the core group of Tom, Padma, Gail, and guest Judge David Chang. They hit up “Fin” first. Gail seems to like the name. She thought was catchy and quick, “You know you’re getting fish and seafood.”
First dish from the Purple team.
Scallop Crudo, Corn and Squash Relish with Purple Corn Gel.
|Somebody tell Venkman they caught Slimer.|
David Chang said this dish is just “too snotty.” That’s all you need to know. Oy.
Meanwhile over at Found, the initial cracks are beginning to show. Danny Meyer’s VIP table didn’t get any menus. They’re just sitting around staring at each other. And when one of the VIPs asked for something in additional to the menu, Sara simply walked away before the diner could finish his request.
Also, remember last night's instructions on how to fill out the ordering ticket? Yeah just throw that out the window. Nothing is done the way they discussed. The judges aren’t even there yet and they’re already in the weeds. Not good.
Back at Fin, things are running smoothly. Tom noticed that food is coming out of the kitchen at a good consistent pace.
Second course from the Purple Team.
|When in doubt, add caviar.|
Sautéed Gulf Shrimp, Chickpea Puree, Oregano and Lemon.
Linguini with Caviar, Oyster Cream & Fennel.
Though not perfect, judges liked both dishes. Stephanie must have done her homework because her pasta is cooked perfectly al dente, just the way Tom likes it. Plus, caviar and oyster cream couldn’t hurt.
And Fin’s service is rolling along great. Tom notices that all the diners are happy, and even pointed out Travis’ sneaky chef move of kneeling down to chat with customer at the table so he’s on their level. Things are looking pretty good so far the the underdogs.
Here comes Purple team’s main course.
|The little piece of kale makes this a healthy dish.|
Roasted Black Drum, King Trumpet Mushrooms, Oxtail, Kale & Hibiscus Reduction.
By far the best dish so far. You know when David Chang says the word “delicious” in his special way, the food is delicious.
Now for the Purple Team’s Dessert.
Olive Oil Cake with Greek Yogurt, Cherries & Pistachios.
Though not the moistest of cakes, it passed the mustard by presenting a decent cherry gel. Much better gel than Brian’s. Dessert’s always an afterthought in Restaurant Wars anyways. That’s why the front of the house person usually do a dessert.
|We want our money back. Wait. This was free. Nevermind|
Fin is now finis. Judges moving on to Found.
Ugh. What a terrible name.
On their way in Padma swings by the VIP table and yeah, feedback is not so good. Now they’ve got a biased opinion even before being seated. See how important a restaurant’s reputation is?
The following is a public service announcement for future Top Chef contestants who are lucky enough to participate in Restaurant Wars.
Rule number 1 in Restaurant Wars. Don’t ignore the judges’ table.
I can’t believe that has to spelled out as a rule. Since sitting down, no one has come over to chat up the judges or to take their order. Unbelievable.
|I will NOT be ignored.|
Things are going down fast at Found. Before the first course is even out, Tom’s already made the painfully obvious “lost” joke. Sara “verbally” ordered the judges dishes but didn’t give Justin a ticket. Thus, food is not ready and the judges are left to wait.
Rule number 2 in Restaurant Wars. Don’t let the judges wait for food.
Judges are not patient people. You keep them waiting for food and you’re going to face sassy Padma. You don’t want none of that.
Rule number 3 in Restaurant Wars. Explain the dish to the judges.
|No really. My face is just stuck this way.|
Judges like to be talked to. And everyone likes to know what they’re eating and how it is made. That’s kind of an important part of the dining experience.
I’m not sure if Sara has a hearing problem or what. Because just like before when the VIP diner called out to Sara to no avail, Padma tried to call Sara back to explain the dishes. Sara just kept walking, seemingly deaf to Padma’s voice and blind to the S-storm of a showing in Restaurant Wars.
Finally, the food. Here are Green team’s appetizers.
|Knife work by Gollum.|
Red Snapper Crudo, Avocado Mousse, Pickled Baby Carrots & Fried Platano.
Roasted Parsnip Agnolotti, Mississippi Rabbit & Collard Greens Broth.
Yeah we’ve got problems. Carlos’ snapper is not properly slice. David Chang thought it was almost “hand torn.” And Justin’s rabbit is overcooked. Oh remember that plate he wanted but didn’t have? Yeah it did end up biting him in the you know where.
David Chang propose that him and Tom go back into the kitchen and take over. Now THAT would make this an interesting episode.
Green team’s second course.
Olive Oil Poached Cobia, Blanched Ong Choy & Salsa Verde.
Finally. Some good news for the Green team. Tom thought Shirley’s fish is assertive without being over the top and has lots of flavor. Will it be too little too late?
|Hmm. Medium rare pork.|
Pork Tenderloin with Sunchokes & Trumpet Royale Mushrooms.
Once again Sara just dropped the plate and left without explaining the dish. I’m starting to think she’s doing all this on purpose. Not to mention every time she bring out food she’s instructing the other server to “smile!” Then she puts on that incredibly plastic fake smile.
As always, Nina’s dish is delicious and considered the best dish of this group. She’s so far and away better than the rest of the competition it’s hard to see her not winning this whole thing. Unlike odds on favored Kristen Kish from last season, Nina didn’t step up as chef in this Restaurant Wars. So unless she falters in future team challenges (which will be scarce because of dwindling numbers) this is pretty much her title to lose.
Back in the kitchen, Sara’s 5 spice mascarpone is broken. They can’t serve it. So Sara is going to have to serve her dessert without a major component.
Summer Nectarine Brown Butter Cake with Moscato Nectarine Salsa.
|This is not the expression you want from judges.|
Guess which dish Sara voluntarily explains in detail with enticing adjectives and all? Yup. Her own dish. Sassy Padma puts the smack down right away and calls Sara out in front of the other judges. And yeah, they noticed the missing mascarpone. Judges tend to notice things like that.
Service is over. It’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen.
This week it’s not so much the Flat Screen of Doom but the Flat Screen of Tom explaining how hard this challenge is. Because clearly neither team’s food wowed anybody. It’s going to come down to the overall dining experience.
|THIS is what you want from judges. But he's point at Padma.|
The Bad News Bears comes away with the upset. Their food, and more importantly their smooth and fast service provided the judges and the diners a much better dining experience. People were just happier at Fin. As much as Travis showed up as the front of the house manager today, the executive chef Nick takes home the title. Doesn’t hurt that he also made the best dish of the evening. He’s definitely gaining momentum.
This result shows one thing. This is why most kitchens are in a brigade system. There is a chef, and there are cooks that serves at the pleasure of the chef. That’s why the word chef is derived from Chief. In a kitchen you need a leader and you need followers. The Purple team, albeit filled with a roster of talented chefs, they were unable to follow one person’s lead. And frankly, Justin the hothead wasn’t a good leader. Which brings us to…
The Last Rule of Restaurant Wars. Don’t piss off Padma.
Sassy Padma called the whole night a “disaster” and immediate asks Sara what happened. And when Sara tried to defend herself, Padma calls her out about the “non-explanation” of her fellow chef’s dishes. Judging by the reactions of Nina and Shirley, they had no idea.
|"Just don't peek. Just don't peek. Eyes up. Eyes up!"|
Basically it comes down to Justin or Sara. Who should they kick off for such a pathetic showing at one of the more important challenges of the season? Regardless of who is actually to blame, everyone can tell that Sara’s attitude is just poisonous. Even when she’s speaking to the judges she has this expression on her face like everybody owes her money.
As much as the editors tried to make the judges' conversation a “debate,” I’ll bet this was one of the quickest decisions ever.
Tom says he really believe the problems from the front of the house migrated to the kitchen and is the main cause of the evening’s disastrous result. And for that, Sara gets the boot. That and I’m sure they’re all just tired of her sour attitude.
|See. Told you it's stuck that way.|
Frankly. I think Sara tanked the service on purpose. I think she tried to sabotage in hopes to get Justin sacked. Yup. I sincerely believe it’s in her to attempt something like that. I believe there’s a reason why she’s no longer working with Wolfgang Puck. Well, at least things wont be awkward if and when Chef Puck shows up as a guest judge!
So long Sara! For you next gig I’d consider working at the Dinner Detective. It’s located right in downtown Minneapolis, and this way you can cook and put on that fake smile on stage all in the same night!
Thanks for stopping by! Next week Emeril gets back in the house and looks like we've got a rice and peas challenge!
Written By Mykl Wu.