Top Chef Seattle Episode 4: '50s Food Flashback
The chefs head to Canlis, where Seattle's most iconic salad proves one contestant's undoing.
Each week we chronicle how Seattle represents in the show's tenth season.
Previously, on Top Chef: Kindle Fires! FareStart! Man-catfights!
Quickie shots of I-5 and Pike Place Market take us right back into the awkward imbroglio from the last few minutes of the Thanksgiving episode. John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas, CJ, and Kevin from season 6 Josh hurl bleep-filled trash talk at each other.
Post-catfight awkwardness ensues at the Olive 8 penthouse. John says he’s reliving the days when people called him the most hated chef in Dallas. John, why have you not mentioned any of this before?
Stefan likens the skirmish to the real housewives of Seattle. Little does he know that would be a bunch of women in cargo pants making a point to remember their reusable shopping bags. He concludes his helpful commentary to flirt with Kristen and rub her feet.
Quickfire time. The judge is…Beast chef and Top Chef Masters alum Naomi Pomeroy. Cool, but is nobody going to mention that she’s from Portland? Padma pulls aside a curtain to reveal two giant sides of beef. The chefs have one hour to butcher their favorite cut and use it in a dish.
The chefs hack and fumble away. CJ plans to do a tartare, and begins by cutting off small pieces of raw meat and popping them in his mouth. How very paleo. Broncos fan Tyler is making “Hispanic-style crudo with some of the bottom round.” Tyler is nervous because he’s been seeing an awful lot of the bottom lately, and I don’t mean his round.
Naomi and Padma start with Eliza’s flank steak. Eliza tends to sport this wide-eyed, psycho expression in front of the cameras, but it’s insane in the most endearing way. Naomi dings some chefs for serving their meat on the rare side, but is impressed by John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas’s tender oxtail. Ye gods, I think his glasses have gotten even chunkier since the last episode.
Lizzie’s tough foreshank, Broncos fan Tyler’s crudo, and Eliza’s crazypants asparagus, cherries, and steak combo are proclaimed the least successful. Landing on top—all three guys from last night’s catfight. Naomi raves about CJ’s tartare, Josh’s meatball, and John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas’s oxtail gnocchi. He wins immunity, and makes a show of wiping the imaginary sweat from his brow, except that once again, his stupid glasses are perched midway between his scalp and his eyeballs, and totally get in the way.
Squeee! Enter the Brothers Canlis, each clutching one of the restaurant’s original 1950 menus. Hey, shouldn’t you guys be hiding those somewhere and dispensing clever clues? Mark and Brian Canlis tell the chefs about how their grandfather opened the restaurant 62 years ago, forging the “birthplace of Northwest cuisine.” The challenge: recreate that original 1950 menu. Oh, and two chefs will be eliminated this time.
The chefs divvy up the retrotastic menu. Stefan basically orders Carla to take the squab, while Kristen is bummed that her assignment—two simple side dishes—are unlikely to impress anybody. Chrissy tackles the Canlis salad, the only dish from 1950 that’s still on the menu. She’s not too worried, until Josh points out that “so many people have eaten that salad, they know exactly how that salad should taste.” He simultaneously freaks Chrissy out and provides helpful foreshadowing for us all.
Back in the Olive 8 Penthouse of Drama, the chefs hold a stilted, not-at-all-manufactured conversation, wondering whether this season will include a last-chance kitchen. Josh thoughtfully stroke-grooms his pointy mustache.
The chefs report for duty in the Canlis kitchen. Kristen plots her mushroom-cooking strategy and Eliza talks in a goofy voice. Damn, that girl is weird. And it’s awesome. Josh gets started on his French onion soup. “I couldn’t let the French guy make French onion soup,” he says to Sir Bart. Sir Bart reminds Josh that he is, in fact, Belgian.
Guests are arriving! The Brothers Canlis settle in at the judges table with Tom and the gang, and offer a little synopsis of how their grandfather had $50,000 to his name, so be built Canlis and lived on the restaurant’s upper floor. The judges marvel at a time when you could build a restaurant for $50,000. I bet Tom spends that much on linens alone.
Back in the kitchen, Chrissy is working on the famous Canlis coleslaw. Oh wait, that’s the Canlis salad, almost unrecognizable beneath a honking onslaught of dressing. That’s not good. Lizzie comes out to present the first courses; I could listen to her accent all day. Padma reintroduces all the judges, and Brian Canlis takes this moment to assert that he’s the “better-looking brother.” Cut immediately to Hugh Acheson’s resplendent unibrow, lest we forget who’s the ladykiller at the table.
Everyone digs Tyler’s fresh crab let cocktail, John’s steamed clams bordelaise, and Lizzie’s marinated herring. Josh’s French onion soup is salty and cold. “It’s not guest-friendly,” says Brian, ever a solicitous Canlis. “You need a spoon, a fork, and a knife to cut the crouton; it’s too much work.”
Adorable alert. Cut to parents Chris and Alice Canlis, expressing polite dismay over the state of their Canlis salads. “It’s, uh, different,” says Papa Canlis.
Back in the kitchen, Canlis service director David Kim is bringing back the first of many squabs, all crying out for more time on the grill. “Apparently people like it more cooked,” Carla observes. “I think it is going to be okay.” The horrifying shots of practically raw birds out in the dining room, bloody juice pooling on the plates, suggest otherwise.
Back in the dining room, Sheldon’s mahi mahi, provides a perfect entrée into a story about how the restaurant used to get Pan Am flight attendants to bring these fish back from Hawaii in suitcases packed with ice…”which may not have been entirely legal.”
Surprise! The judges rave about Kristen’s unassuming side dishes, mushrooms and crispy onions that sit atop a steak. Mark grabs more of Brian’s fried onions, just to make sure they still taste good. Oh, brothers.
Hey, it’s Ethan Stowell! Apparently he was sitting at a table with Maria Hines and Jason Franey, but all we get is a giant screen full of Ethan’s cherubic face.
Josie’s comically (but authentically) large baked potatoes get mixed reviews. Eliza frets that her ice cream isn’t cold enough, and likens her mint sherbet to a menthol cigarette. But Danyele is off to the judges table to present their quartet of desserts. More than any other course, says Padma, the sundae, sherbet, frozen Hawaiian pineapple parfait, and something called a royal Hawaiian supreme “smacked out of the 1950s.”
Dinner concluded, the judges resume their smack talk about poor Chrissy’s Canlis salad. This is the first episode that really feels like Seattle, and it’s cool to see everyone sitting in the Canlis dining room. Except the chefs, who are sitting in the Canlis kitchen guzzling wine. Padma enters and requests the company of Lizzie, Kristen, Stefan, and Broncos fan Tyler. Don’t worry, guys, you had the favorite dishes of the night. Tyler’s streak has been broken! Hang your head no more, sir. Stefan celebrates by kissing Kristen on the face. Obviously the camera was all over that slick move.
Kristen modestly accepts compliments on her mushrooms and onions: “Deep fried, can’t go wrong.” Padma retorts that she has, indeed, seen it go wrong, right here on this very show. Kristen wins!
Now Carla, CJ, Chrissy, and Josh are summoned. The clickety-snap music of judgement plays and the interrogation begins. Josh’s French onion soup was salty and cold, though Josh blames the latter on the expediter, which just happened to be John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas. “He was a monkey,” Josh tells the judges. Huh?
The judges already used up their best withering comments for Chrissy’s Canlis salad earlier in the episode, so they turn their attention to Carla’s squab. Everyone is horrified to learn that she hardly checked her squabs at all while Sir Bart grilled them in Canlis’s cockpit-like grill room. CJ’s decision to sous vide his lamb gave it a mealy quality. Dude, this is the '50s; save the fancy stuff for the inevitable Modernist Cuisine challenge.
Padma delivers the blow: Carla and Chrissy are gone, felled by squabs and Seattle’s most iconic salad. Carla is very emotional but Chrissy makes a classy exit from her fellow chefs, bidding them “goodbye, new friends.”
Next on Top Chef, everybody heads to Daisley Gordon’s Marche, Tom gets pissed off, and we hopefully learn the answers to these pressing questions: Is Eliza a serial killer? Will Josh and John engage in fisticuffs? What’s underneath Sheldon’s ever-present knitted cap?
Stefanism of the night: When it comes to the 1950s, “the only thing I think of is a dirty martini. Extra dirty. I like it so dirty.”
Coolest Seattle moment: After being stingy with T-Doug and Thierry, this episode gave the Brothers Canlis, and the restaurant itself, lots of screen time.
Lamest Seattle moment: Where was Canlis chef Jason Franey in this episode? Did the producers lock him on a closet or something? At least give the guy a cameo.