Gregory Kirschling
August 23, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Top Chef”: Restaurant Wars redux

Cooking is like baseball. I’ve said that here before, and I’ll say it again right now, mainly because I just spent the last two and a half wee hours of the morning watching the Yankees play the Angels in Anaheim, in lieu of starting this TV Watch, and so the baseball metaphor’s sticking in my head. Two nights ago, the Yankees (whom I love — screw the underdog!) lost to the Angels 18-9; it was pathetic. Then last night they beat ’em 8-2. That discrepancy would normally make no sense, except it’s baseball. One night you’re up; the next night you’re down. Kind of — ta-dahh! — like cooking. Or at least like Top Chef.

In my darkest hours, like now, I think to myself that this TV show is essentially retarded. Tre? The strong man from Dallas wasn’t my favorite (that’d be CJ or Casey), but still, Tre gets to go home before Howie? Before Sara? Before Brian? Even (dare I say it) before CJ or Casey? That’s a little screwed up! Come to think of it — duh — maybe cooking is actually nothing like baseball, because even though they’re both up and down, at least in baseball if you have a bad night you get 161 other chances to redeem yourself. Not so if you’re a chef, as we saw in this episode. Cook it right tonight, or else you’re going home before the consistently unappealing bull-moose who couldn’t even plate his (probably nasty-ass, sweat-stained) frog legs in time in the very first episode! The universe is cold and unforgiving, and nothing can save you. In fact, maybe forget baseball rules; judging from this show, cooking operates more according to the principles of frontier justice…

Maybe I’m just frustrated because I like all of these remaining contestants, and the only one I wanted to see go (Sara) ended up winning the elimination challenge instead. But it’s not like I didn’t have time to get used to the idea of Tre, Casey, CJ, or Brian (a.k.a. Team Restaurant April; a.k.a. ”the Dream Team”) getting axed, because the show baldly forecast their defeat, starting with last week’s ”Next Week on Top Chef” sneaks and continuing with this week’s opening moments, which so prominently featured the four of them that you knew (as per custom) that one of them would be walking. In the first two minutes, (1) Casey, caught sunbathing, gave us the glimpse of a tattoo on her lower right-hand ab of what looked like a tiger’s pawprint (rawr!); (2) Brian sunned and read his book, which appeared to be the paperback version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (excellent book, ruff ruff!); (3) CJ explained how he might only have one testicle, ”but it’s more balls than all these guys got combined”; and (4) Tre vowed to stay focused. Up against editing like this, Team Restaurant April didn’t stand a chance.

In the Quickfire, the two teams competed in a mise en place race; first group to shuck 15 oysters, dice five onions, dismember four dead chickens, and beat a few egg whites senseless would earn the services of a sommelier (Stephen, from season 1) during that evening’s part-two of the Restaurant Wars. At the end of the challenge, Team Restaurant Garage (a.k.a. ”The Bad News Bears”) won, because Hung, if you’ll recall from two weeks ago, can chop apart a whole cauliflower in 1.5 seconds, which is apparently a skill transferable to poultry, and also because Casey, on the other team, cut onions like a homeless grandma.

But wait: Before we get to the Elimination Challenge and take 2 of last week’s non-elimination ”soft open” Restaurant Wars, there’s more buildup. In the hopes that they’d goose up their restaurant decor, both teams were treated to the services of a restaurant/interior designer named Christopher Ciccone, who turned out to be that insufferable meathead griping about the vegetable medley et al last week. God, this man sucks. If Tom Sizemore was an 88-pound weenie who didn’t know he was an 88-pound weenie, he’d be this guy. Or, as Dale hilariously put it, ”He’s one of the most annoying people I’ve met in my life…and him being Madonna’s brother doesn’t really save him.” (Bitchy Dale is great. Given the way he griped about Ciccone, and also repeatedly rolled his eyes at the mention of superblogger Andrea Strong at the top of the hour, I’m inclined to think Dale wouldn’t like me either, but that’s okay; I love him anyway.) Very quickly, methodical slow-talker Ciccone came out swinging against both teams, moaning/griping/complaining, until Sara at Restaurant Garage beautifully cut him off with a ”So what do you suggest we do?” I love how the surprised pause in Ciccone’s voice suggested he was shocked at the question, as if his snarky robot-brain was thinking, ”Whaaat? Must stop bitching now? But it’s all I know how to do! ABORT ABORT!” To me, Ciccone’s one grand idea — suggesting to Team Restaurant April that they paint a giant random quote across their dining-room wall — would’ve sounded great, if only they were opening a restaurant themed to Lord of the Rings, or the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

NEXT PAGE: ”Couldn’t this contest be a little cumulative?”

I digress. Let’s get back to Tre. As the judges pointed out at the end of the show, Team Restaurant April got too sure of itself too soon. The night before the challenge, Tre (post-workout on the balcony) eavesdropped on Team Restaurant Garage’s plans, assumed they’d repeat their mistake of going for a too-heavy menu, and then, as April’s designated exec chef, got all cock of the walk. The way this was edited, it was actually hilarious to watch him riff. Brian or CJ would say, ”For the first course we could have—” and then Tre would suddenly cut in with ”house seared wild king salmon on a macadamia nut pesto!,” as if a vision of the dish had, at just that instant, unspooled in his head during a mad post-pushups endorphin rush. ”As for dessert—,” one of the guys started, and Tre, leaning over the open fridge in his wife-beater, piped up with ”Granny Smith apple grape pudding with cinnamon anglaise and mint sauce!” Mmm-hmmm. And what time is it now, Tre? ”15 minutes to Wapner, 15 minutes to Wapner!” The man was weirdly possessed! When, seconds later, Casey started talking about how she and her fellow Dallas buddy Tre were growing especially close, ”like brother and sister,” you knew that one of them was surely doomed, because — as some of you have pointed out in the message boards throughout the season — the minute you make a friend on this show, they kick you the hell off.

With Tre a done deal, what’s the quick way to recap the dinner service? Restaurant Garage renamed itself Restaurant Quatre — and wasn’t Dale mispronouncing it when he called it ”Cot” and not ”Cat”? (How sad that I took five years of French in high school and college, and I’m not even sure if I’m right on this one.) Dale also got in trouble for running the dining room in jeans and a Polo. ”He looks like he’s working at Denny’s,” sniffed Ted. (But that can’t be right, can it? If you got to dress for work at Denny’s like Dale was dressed at Quatre, wouldn’t more of the plebeians that food snobs like Ted pretty obviously disdain want to work there?) Otherwise, exec chef Sara M., I gotta hand it to her, clamped down on Howie and kept shushing Hung, and she eked out a victory.

As for Tre, no, it still doesn’t seem right, even though the evidence against him was incriminating. That punk Ted violently hated Tre’s ”house seared wild king salmon on a macadamia nut pesto,” and nobody liked his bread pudding. Nobody liked Casey’s monkfish, or CJ’s lobster thing, and nobody could name anything that Brian really did at all, but Tre was the leader, and so they sent him home. I guess I see it, but my point is: Couldn’t this contest be a little cumulative? Why does somebody always have to win one week and get eliminated the next? Cooking is like baseball, and also is not. Or something. I stayed up too late watching the Yankees win and now I’m going to bed.

Before I go, to the point we were just discussing, I recommend Gail’s Bravo TV blog (Gail — remember her? I miss her brassy ways); she does a good job of explaining why they had to get rid of Tre. (I do buy it, and I do not. Is baseball, is not. I’m so Zen right now.) What do you think? Cooking is or is not baseball? Why couldn’t the judges have anointed Sara the winner and then sent her home anyway? Will you people miss seeing Tre walk around in his undershirt? And did Tre deserve the ax tonight? Answer that first!

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