'Top Chef: Las Vegas' preview: Quick, what's scarier: Blindfolded chefs or Restaurant Wars?
"Top Chef" fans, you are in for a treat. Bravo was kind enough to sneak me an advance look at tonight's Restaurant Wars episode, and you can expect shakeups galore. All of them for the better. Please note: What follows has minor spoilers. Proceed at your discretion.
Rick Moonen (you watched him implode and then make one of the greatest comebacks ever on "Top Chef Masters") is in to guest judge the series' first-ever tag-team cook-off. The remaining eight contestants will split into two teams, each which will be responsible for creating a single dish relay-race style -- only without communication and with blindfolds.
Each chef will get 10-minute chunks of time to cook. While the first chef is cooking, the other three must wait blindfolded -- the blindfold doesn't come off until it is that person's turn. No talking about the dish beforehand or otherwise.
As Kevin put it: "This Quickfire might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. You have nothing! Basically, you're going to take off your blindfold, you're going to run to a station, you're going to see a lot of mise en place and then decide what the next step is to create this dish. That's just ludicrous. It's crazy."
As a tease, I'll say that Jennifer goes first for her team, and she pulls cod and scallops, preps for an Asian-style sauce and heats a pot of olive oil. The plan she hopes her team will pick up on is to olive-oil poach the fish. On the other side, Eli begins grilling strip steaks and sautéing the mushrooms. Basic. He hopes his colleagues can go from there.
He's also nervous about a certain teammate, second in line for the relay, whom he declares somewhere "East of Mars" in terms of style. (I realize that's a dead giveaway.)
My initial reaction was the same as Kevin's. It reminded me of when the chefs have had to cook eggs with one arm tied behind their backs -- I'm still not sure how that tests the mettle of a contestant. But I have to hand it to the teams: Without any sort of game plan, they pull it off.
In no indication of which team won, I'd say to watch Michael Voltaggio closely. Yes, I would like to smack that backward baseball cap off his head, but the dude is rarely intimidated, he thinks on his feet, and whether or not you like what he's up to, he's always inventive. What it means as far as the outcome, you'll just have to watch.
And watch for Jennifer to be extra adorable while goofing up her explanation of her team's plate. Awww, Jen, we still love you. On to the main event: Restaurant Wars!
This season, producers have zapped making the contestants responsible for their makeshift restaurants' décor -- and thank goodness. That was always so ridiculous, though it did provide chuckles at the expense of Dale and Hung and their vanilla-scented candles in Season 3. Good service and front-of-the-house duties are still on the line, and the host will still have to make a dish on his or her own. Good. That's fair.
Because they're in Vegas, stakes are high! The winning team from the Quickfire will be given the option to split their winnings -- $10,000, or $2,500 per person -- or let it ride. If they let it ride and win Restaurant Wars, they'll get $10,000 each. They'll cook in Moonen's two-story restaurant in Mandalay Bay, half of which is fine dining, the other slightly more casual.
I don't want to give it all away, but here's a list of who should look out for:
One team will, perhaps wisely, decide not to make dessert. Finally, I say, signs of brains at work! (Or is it?) The other team will risk it and compose not one but two sweet finishes.
Robin's going to get some hand-holding, but not necessarily TLC. Do I still feel sorry for her? A little. Does she still talk a lot? Yes. Will she see some redemption? Maybe...
Mike I. will continue to coast. Whether that bothers you depends on what you think about my Final Four theory...
The brothers Voltaggio will be on the same team. You can only guess what that means: Producers had a field day! If you're annoyed by their sibling rivalry, you're just going to have to suck it up.
The teams choose the restaurant names Mission and Revolt. You match who you think goes where.
Some alarming, uncharacteristic mistakes from surprising places. Improperly cooked proteins all over the place. But no embarrassment when it comes to the judging. They all know what went wrong. (And you know what? I would still happily hoover their dishes.)As usual, one of the front-of-the-house folks is clearly not suited for interaction with diners. And as usual, that person will be chastised when it's time to face the judges.
At the judges table, Tom Colicchio will say: "Across the board, best Restaurant Wars restaurant we've had in six seasons."
... But the chefs on the losing team look like they want to hang themselves. And I was very nervous too. The one who goes home is sad but relieved.
Thoughts? Guesses? Let's hear 'em. And check back later tonight to get the full recap.
-- Denise Martin (follow me on Twitter @denisemartin)
Photo: Michael Voltaggio in "Top Chef". Credit: NBC Universal