Bravo's Top Chef has (mostly) been a beacon of light in the dimly lit world of reality television. On Top Chef, people are smart and driven, and even though there are sharp knives and open flames, no one has been stabbed or set on fire purposely. Though some past challenges have seemed slightly cheesy (like the recent Muppet challenge -- how can a Muppet taste food when it's not real?), Top Chef has remained the least offensive show on Bravo's roster -- until the live bug challenge.
Yesterday's Top Chef Masters Quickfire Challenge consisted of the chefs cooking with live insects (as well as edible flowers and plants). The cheftestants had their choice of (all live) scorpions, crickets, nightcrawlers, beetles, and large green hornworms.
As the cheftestants prepare their squirming and creeping "proteins," we get the joy of listening to them complain (I would complain too if I had to cook with bugs). Chef Suvir Saran won't kill the live bugs because of religious beliefs (and because it's gross). Instead, he makes a salad and adds a side jar of worms and a... blow torch. I guess even though he's not OK with killing the little guys himself, he's OK with being the direct cause of their imminent death.
Here's what the cheftestants finally prepared:
- Naomi -- night crawlers tempura
- Hugh -- tempura fried crickets with sunchoke purée
- Celina -- soy crickets
- Suvir -- Himalayan salad with a side of live hornworms and a blowtorch
- John C. -- grilled scorpion with poached egg
- Traci -- salad with chipotle-encrusted scorpion
- Floyd -- omelet of night crawlers
- Alessandro -- angel hair with beetles and flowers
- George -- hornworm coconut soup
- Mary Sue -- Thai salad with beetle vinaigrette
The guest judges, Ruth England and Mikel Hawke from the series Man, Woman, Wild tore at the buggy food like they were at a cruise ship buffet, but poor Curtis Stone was clearly not in his element. The most gross-worthy part was when they got to Suvir's dish of live worms. Suvir clearly wanted these little critters to get a second chance at going back to the forest, but Mikel Hawke took one and literally ripped it in two (who knew worms bled so much?) and then blowtorched the two still-writhing parts. Maybe Suvir should have dispatched them himself in a more humane and dignified manner?
The winners of this cringe-inducing challenge? Hugh and his tempura crickets.
Before I can ponder what could possibly come after the Quickfire of hell, I get the answer -- nothing special. The cheftestants must cook a ten-course benefit dinner -- each cheftestant making one dish. The diners get to choose their favorite, but the judges will choose who goes home.
As the cheftestants start preparing the meal, some "twists" occur. First, the water is turned off (great -- I hope none of the chefs have to go to the bathroom). Then 30 minutes are taken off the clock, and finally the cheftestants learn that Curtis Stone has given the wait staff the night off and they will have to not only cook but also serve the meal.
When Suvir hears about that, the first thing he does is take ice from the freezer and heat it on the stove. Why didn't anyone else think about that? So Suvir -- heating up ice -- good idea. Serving live bugs with a blowtorch -- bad idea.
The cheftestants serve:
- Mary Sue -- ahi tuna ceviche with avocado. James Oseland says it's flavorless.
- Suvir -- chickpea potato and yogurt dish. The diners love it.
- George -- shrimp alhino with pickled carrots. James Oseland says it's too salty.
- Naomi -- a simple celery valoute (translation: celery soup). Curtis says it's a rich soup.
- John -- shiitake and prosciutto risotto with pine nuts. Curtis asks, "Would you pay $100 for that dish?" and they all say no.
- Floyd -- rice flaked sole.
- Alex -- roasted salmon with tomatillo sauce. People were either a fan of the dish or hated it.
- Traci -- roasted rib eye. It's the only meat plate. James calls the other judges too young.
- Hugh -- strawberry panna cotta with strawberry soup.
- Celina -- chocolate "puddin"' with ginger cake doughnut. James says the pudding is chalky.
Naomi and Suvia are in front of the judges as the favorite dishes. Naomi received 43 percent of the votes; Suvia received 40 percent of the votes. The critic's favorite is Naomi.
Mary Sue Celina and John go up before the critics as bottom two. James says Mary Sue's ceviche was one note and plain. James tells Celina to get out of "Dessertville."
Curtis sends John home.
Next week: Cheftestants cook for The Biggest Loser contestants. Bring back the bugs!Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.