Never do a Champagne toast to your impending victory while soaking in a hot tub of hubris.
That’s the lesson learned on “Top Chef,” as the show’s Restaurant Wars challenge wrapped up Thursday night — miserably for our hometown hero, Justin Sutherland.
Last week, Sutherland and his overconfident teammates jinxed themselves with that hot tub toast. This week, their Blue Team is altogether crashing and burning, and Sutherland — chef at St. Paul’s Handsome Hog — isn’t looking too good.
But is the performance bad enough to send him back to Minnesota?
To recap, Restaurant Wars is the big challenge of the season, where the chefs team up to conceive, design and execute a brand-new restaurant — in two days.
When we left our chefs in the first of this two-parter, Sutherland’s team was struggling with front-of-the-house training. Chef Nini Nguyen was in charge of bringing the servers up to speed, but wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Sutherland, who was in the executive chef role, was stomping around and cursing loudly.
Things don’t look much better in the second part, as the servers keep mixing up tables and questioning Nguyen about how a guest will be able to eat soup if she doesn’t have a fork and a knife. Where did they find these people?
In the kitchen, chefs Sutherland, David Viana and Kelsey Barnard Clark are way behind schedule and have to shuck oysters to order. Meanwhile, Nguyen’s ice cream is melting down.
So is Sutherland, by the time the judges, a table of six, sit down to eat at the team’s Third Coast restaurant. Customers aren’t getting their food, the wrong orders are being served and guests are waiting an hour for a table.
“You’re killing me,” Sutherland says at one point.
The food isn’t getting great reviews from the judges, either. The compound butter on the oysters is too acidic, and Sutherland’s own crawfish bisque is too thick. Their entrees (red snapper, duck and cabbage) fare better, but the judges don’t see the connection between them and the appetizers.
Meanwhile, dishes keep getting sent back to the kitchen because the orders were incorrect.
“This is one of the most ridiculous situations I’ve ever been in in my career,” Sutherland says. “Bleep.”
Finally, it’s over, and time for judgment.
Unsurprisingly, the Blue Team does not win the challenge. When asked what went wrong, Sutherland unleashes his displeasure.
“It was a mess,” he says. “The service staff was not ready and really had no training.”
Cut to Nguyen looking both guilty and annoyed.
“It was chaos,” he continues.
But Sutherland can’t place all the blame on the front of the house.
Guest judge Nilou Motamed, the editor of Food & Wine magazine, calls Sutherland’s bisque “one of the weakest dishes of the night at any of the restaurants.” Tom Colicchio said it didn’t taste like seafood. Host Padma Lakshmi called it “swampy.”
And because this was a continuation of the high-stress Restaurant Wars, Sutherland didn’t get any redeeming moments in the form of his signature off-the-cuff witticisms, or his cool shirts and hats. The series’ most dynamic contestant was reduced to a chef’s coat and a scowl face for most of the episode.
But he’s safe, for now.
Nguyen, along with chef Pablo Lamon, is sent home. As most of the other chefs pile hugs on her, Sutherland stands back and breathes a sigh of relief. Now that he’s bought himself another week, maybe the fun old Justin Sutherland will return. I’d toast to that.