With just five chefs left, Wednesday’s Top Chef was all about showing off their chops. As in, butchering. In the Quickfire Challenge, the contestants had to expertly carve and cook a slab of beef for guest judge — and steakhouse guru — Rick Tramonto. Spike won for his expert knife skills and perfect steak, cooked medium rare, of course. But when it came down to the final challenge — preparing an appetizer and entr e in Tremonto’s restaurant — the chef was foiled. Allowed to pick his protein first, Spike opted for frozen scallops and produced a flavorless dish that was underwhelming. Worse, he got feisty with the judges, snapping at Tramonto.
Now, the heat is on for the remaining four–Lisa, Richard, Stephanie and Antonia–who will compete in Puerto Rico next week as the show winds to a two-part close.
Calling from New York, Spike was anything but combative. The Brooklyn-based chef offered us an exclusive recipe for roasted, stuffed eggplant — then opened up about his butchering skills, why his scallop dish was terrible and, of course, his fiery encounter with Tramonto. –Brian Orloff
Spike’s Meltzanes Imam Baldi (Roasted, Stuffed Eggplant)Halve two large eggplants. Soak them in salted water for 1/2 hour (this will take the bitterness out from the seed and the eggplant will retain the water) while they are soaking make tomato sauce.
Tomato Sauce 1 tbsp. olive oil 2 carrots, finely diced 1 onion, diced 1 crushed clove of garlic A bunch of basil stems
In a pan combine all the ingredients and saut for about 5 mins. Add in 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Pour in a 1/2 cup of any white wine, then mix together and scrape all the flavor off the bottom (deglazing). Add in one can (1 pint) of crushed roma tomatoes and cook on low heat for 30 minutes. In a separate pan, saute one chopped onion and set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Sear the eggplant (skin up) until nice and brown. Remove from the pan and put the eggplant in baking dish skin side down. Layer the caramelized onion on top, then add tomato sauce and diced Kalamata olives. Finish the dish with parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Let it cool at room temperature. Serve with feta cheese and pita bread.
On butchering:I come from a long line of restaurateurs and chefs. Just by being a little kid and growing up in lots of kitchens… I think that challenge came out total experience in the business because I had never seen that piece of meat before. I think I went back to the basics in my head. I was like, ‘This is a lamb rack, just 100 times bigger.’ It was massive.
On squandering his advantages:Winning the Quickfires puts me in the spotlight. I love to play to the camera and entertain. So, I guess I took the Quickfire advantage and made a little bit of a joke of it, and it came back to bite me in the ass . . . I already walked in conceptualizing a dish with scallops and then I saw the package and was like, ‘Oh my god, they’re frozen.’ But I had already picked my protein . . . Emotionally I was drained from the start because I know frozen scallops are not good quality.
On talking back to Rick Tramonto:Listen, it was a lot worse than what they made it seem like. I really went at him, actually. I was pissed. I was like, ‘This is my shot to get to the final 4 … and I bit the bait with the frozen scallops.’ I kind of feel like they were there just to ‘eff’ with somebody; it just happened to be me. But then I checked myself, and I apologized several times on the chopping block. I even shook his hand on the way out. I was like, ‘Listen, I’m Greek. My temper gets the best of me.’
On his scallop dish: My dish was an awful dish. I wasn’t proud of it. It wasn’t well balanced. It wasn’t texturally pleasing. I’d never do it again. I was actually pretty surprised I did it the first time.
On his competition: We all knew this was the day to shine — and some of them did and some of them didn’t take any risks. I was highly impressed with Richard’s food. But potato gratin? Sh–, I could probably make the best potato gratin you’ve ever had in your life. To see Antonia get praised for making that was disappointing. But that’s a little bitterness coming from me.
Tell us: Did Spike deserve to go home? What did you think of his outburst?