Last week, Luca returned from Star Salvation, and Chris couldn’t prove himself as the culinary elevator. Emma showed her silver tongue describing her food, and Lenny was deemed “the man to beat.” As the competition rages on in Las Vegas, we see a poker-faced dealer flanked by Giada an Alton.
The gang is dealt a single card with the name of a world-class Vegas Eatery. Little do they know, each contestant will use his or her edible experience to craft a course in a team-based tasting menu, to be presented at Guy Savoy. Alton reminds the gang that the food is just a part of a world-class dining experience — ambiance, showmanship and presentation are crucial as well. Bob and Susie will be back, joined by Penn Jillette, who will hopefully make terribly good fun of the soon-to-happen disasters.
Emma heads to Nobu to learn about the showmanship of teppanyaki. Lenny gets his culinary boots brilliantly polished with a few courses at Guy Savoy. Loreal eats a $777 burger, which I could probably make for you for about $80, but rent is so darn high.
Sarah lucks out with a giant dry-aged ribeye, which is more like a bull’s-eye for her beef-based Texas POV. Luca gets the noodle card and learns about Chinese hand-pulled noodles, and the welcoming hospitality. Nicole has a sundae, which costs $1,000 because the ice cream is made from milk of narwhal.
After they get to experience tremendously fancy food, the finalists must cook. But the mentors give them one more task: to incorporate one really fancy ingredient per course.
The Draw: Emma and Sarah, who scraped through the last challenge, are dealt a reversal of fortunes and get to choose their teams. Emma snaps up Lenny and Loreal, while Sarah grabs Nicole and Luca. Everyone pretty much thinks Emma has stacked the deck in her favor, but the kitchen always has terrible odds.
Emma, Lenny and Loreal are saddled with Mangalitsa pork loin, uni and langoustines respectively; Nicole heads from the beach to the pond with frog’s legs, Luca gets Muscovy duck breast, and Sarah, clearly in the money tonight, gets Wagyu beef.
With Sarah getting the Wagyu, I thought maybe the game was rigged, but then I remembered that I was once on Food Network Star and everything is realer than real (aside from that guy dressed as Julius Caesar). Sometimes the Hawaiian guy wins the beach challenge; sometimes the most-fashionable guy wins the fashion challenge. It’s just the luck of the draw.
Luck is clearly not on their side and the Team Emma competitors pretty much hate their special ingredients. Lenny realizes there are no cowboys underwater (but who wrangles sea horses?), and Emma hasn’t quite heard of Mangalitsa. Loreal copes decently, but she crafts yet another surf and turf.
To make matters worse, the crew must “collaborate” on the dessert course. Read: Put the dessert on one person, who will assuredly flounder trying to do too many things at once.
Team Sarah: Team Sarah gets really creative with the idea of a “culinary voyage” — pretty much the same thing anyone ever does on FNS in a group challenge. Safe and smart, but lame. I would have probably made an Italian tasting menu and called out the various influences: Tex Italian, Grandma Italian and Coastal Italian.
Nicole tackles the frog’s legs by Thai-ing them up. Good call. I call them Pond Wings at my restaurant and they definitely take well to spicy sauces. Her dish is super colorful, but her story meanders like the Mekong.
Luca channels his grandma with a duck risotto, but he’s got more shakes than a green can of Parmesan. The dish is “meh” to most, but Penn is stoked about it.
Not missing what very well could be her final opportunity to strike, Sarah breaks out the big guns and makes three very Texified plates: a huge steak, a potato galette and lobster creamed corn. I don’t know so much about Texas lobsters, but Bob sums it up as Tex-Vegas, so I guess it works.
The dessert, crafted by Coley, is a hot/cold rendition of the s’more, which really flaunts her beachside POV.
Team Emma: These cats definitely don’t settle down with the “culinary journey” cliche. Team Emma gets Gilgamesh on the challenge and attempts to take the judges to a feast in the Garden of the Gods. As no godly meal is without some good drink, the team also makes an attempt at wine pairings. These ideas seemed pretty good on paper, but, well, let’s talk about the food first.
Lenny puts the uni with a truffled cauliflower mousseline, which is kind of like rolling a 36-sided die of culinary flourishes and picking the first three. The dish is seen as having “too much going on.” To make matters more weird, Lenny can’t shake the idea of channeling Greek plays, which are about as Vegas as a knitting circle. Lenny also seems to have trouble addressing a small group in an intimate setting, and it comes off as borderline creepy.
Loreal makes her langoustine with hollandaise and a chicken “skinaigrette,” which is a smashingly good idea. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “skinaigrette” at my restaurant soon. Sadly, her presentation sounded like a female version of HAL 9000. “I’m sorry, Bob. I’m afraid I can’t allow you to remember me — or my food.”
With a creepy course one and an animatronic course two, Emma is the Atlas in the Garden of the Gods menu, and the weight of the world is now on her shoulders. She delivers her dish succinctly and elegantly, and then she begins to enlighten the judges on the origins of pork consumption. The tale involves pigs trapped in a flaming barn.
And this is where I get a little cranky. The judges, including my very own mentor, get all sorts of jaw-drop crazy when she talks about dead animals. I understand that maybe a four-course meal at Guy Savoy isn’t the best place to talk about these things, and she deserves to be dinged. What irks me is that Emma is the first person I’ve seen on a culinary competition to remind us that when we eat meat, an animal dies. It wasn’t meant to be horrifying. It’s just the fact. If you can’t handle that fact, that dead animals taste good to us, then you should probably stay in the vegetarian section of the Garden of the Gods.
Loreal torched the “ambrosia” dessert and it got really bizarre when she decided to throw flower petals at the judges.
Cue the Scary Music: Surprisingly, the gang learns that after this challenge, they’ll be heading to New York City. Not surprisingly, Sarah’s team pulls a win this week. Where it gets really interesting is who on Emma’s team is going home. The food across the board was poorly handled on Team Emma, and the concept wasn’t nearly as cohesive as the overdone “culinary voyage” over on Team Sarah. So it all came down to personality and presentation. Loreal was odd at best, glum at worst, and she didn’t talk about the best part of her dish. Emma talked about dead animals. Lenny was uncomfortable, like a carnie in a Michelin-rated restaurant.
Due to his strong performance in previous challenges, Lenny is saved. It comes down to Loreal and Emma, and Emma is tearfully shown the door.
The Moral of the Story: Sadly, the time and place to talk about how we get our food, or why eat the way we do, is not prime time. If you want to change the world around you, stick to your recap blogs and YouTube vids.
Threat of the Week: Did you see that smile on Loreal after Emma left? The butcher babe has a cleaver behind her back, and she won’t stop until she’s at the top.