“Top Chef” mini-cap: Are you ready for some football?

With the smoldering ashes of Restaurant Wars still, um, smoldering, the remaining chefs survey the damage. At the Top Chef house, Carla is relieved to still be around. Leah is processing her kiss with Hosea (when she should be processing why she is still here since she should have gone home the last two challenges). And Stefan is, per usual, smug and happy after winning yet again. But let’s focus on Carla — funny, kooky, hootie-hoo calling Carla. Thank the kitchen gods that she is still here.

With only seven chefs left, there is no room for error. There is, however, lots of room for gratuitous product placements. The chefs enter the kitchen greeted by Padma and guest judge Scott Conant, owner of the Italian restaurant Scarpetta. The challenges today are all about the Super Bowl. Hey, Bravo wouldn’t happen to be owned by NBC, would you? And NBC wouldn’t happen to be airing the Super Bowl this year, would it? They are? Well, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

The chefs must play a game of football squares to find out what they’re making for the Quickfire Challenge. Each cheftestant walks up and writes his/her name in a square, and then Padma pulls a Vanna White and uncovers which food group the chef will use. Jamie is first and in a bit of queer kismet, guess what our little chefbian picked?

After all the chefs pick, Padma reveals the secondary secret ingredient. Does anyone else detect a trend?

Yep, they all have to work with oats. But not just any oats, these are Quaker Oats. Where is Wilford Brimley when you need him? While the Quickfire may be the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it, it will no longer impart immunity on its winner. Instead he or she will get something of “good and useful advantage” in the elimination round. Is it a pony? I hope it’s a pony.

The chefs get to work. Fabio complains about being stuck with vegetables because “there is no reason to eat vegetable when there is meat and fish around.” There is if you don’t want to come down with scurvy.

Meanwhile Jeff is in pounding the hell out of a chicken breast. Seriously, he is beating it like it owes him money. As Carla so astutely notes, “Jeff can’t quiet the creative monkeys.” It looks, well, sort of like this:

Guest judge Conant comes around to try everyone’s dishes. He has few comments, other than thank you. But Fabio’s eggplant atrocities get a double take. This of course prompts Mr. Scurvy to say, off camera, “Don’t make fun of my food. I am not going to look like an idiot.” Well, you will if your food looks like this:

So who fumbled? Leah’s oat-crusted fish (not executed well), Jeff’s fried chicken (too brown, too brown) Fabio’s oat-crusted eggplant (because it’s oat-crusted eggplant). So then who scored? Carla’s tasty tofu, Jamie’s perfect coconut shrimp and Stefan’s winter picnic. And who won the “good and useful advantage?” Stefan. Damn, this is getting automatic.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are sent to the Stew Room to collect a present. They find football jerseys with the No. 5 (for Season 5) on them. Back in the kitchen, they’re greeted by football helmets and told to get ready for the opposition. So who bursts in?

Nice to see they let Andrew out of the institution for day passes now. Following him out are an “All-Star” lineup of past contestants: Andrea and Miguel (Season 1), Josie (Season 2), Camille (Season 3), Andrew, Spike and Nikki (Season 4).

While it’s good to see chefbian Josie again, I’m not sure those are all really “All-Stars.” None of them made the finals and some were PYKAGed fairly early in their respective seasons. But, that doesn’t keep them from brining the cocky:

Andrew: Dear Season Five: If you don’t bring your A-game you will get f***ing stomped and I will be peeing on your bodies.

Lord, if there ever was motivation to cook well, it would be to avoid contact with any bodily fluid from Andrew.

Each Season 5 member will square off against an Almost-Stars member to create a regional food dish from an NFL team’s hometown in 20 minutes. As the Quickfire winner, Stefan gets to pick his team and his competition. He picks Dallas and Andrea because she went home second her season and “only cooks vegetables.”

The rest of the competing pairs are: Fabio/Spike (Green Bay Packers), Jeff/Josie (Miami), Leah/Nikki (New York), Jamie/Camille (San Francisco), Carla/Andrew (New Orleans) and Hosea/Miguel (Seattle).

The chefs get time to prepare in the kitchen that night, and then will go head-to-head in the morning. The two chefbians have polar opposite attitudes as they prep. Jamie is having a hard time deciding what to cook from her hometown and confesses that if she didn’t pick San Francisco, “I’d get so much shit when I got home.” Meanwhile Josie is all smiles and talking about her glory days on the women’s football team the New York Sharks, beaming “If anything has football and food together, I’m in.”

As expected, Spike has on yet another hat and is still an ass. The asshat tells the cameras, “I just want to prove with Season 5 chefs that they’re just not worthy.” Glad to see his motivation is, as always, about the food and not the gamesmanship.

Though, if you’re looking for real motivation, just listen to Fabio, who says he wants to win for his mom who is sick and needs medical care. An Italian accent, a sick mom, abundant charm. Get this man his own Lifetime movie. Stefan, meanwhile, looks on the competition as a dating opportunity:

Stefan: Andrea I am in love with you, call me. [But] of course I will beat her.

This is your chance, Jamie. Run!

The morning of the big game dawns, and it’s go time. Greeting them are Referee Padma, Head judge Tom Colicchio, guest judge Conant and stand-in grouch Toby Young. Though, really, all I can notice is Referee Padma. Now there’s a ref who can put me in the penalty box any time she wants.

Cheering them on are a crowd of culinary students as well as all the eliminated cheftestants from Season 5. Is anyone concerned that Ariane appears to have forgotten her pants? Or maybe she has taken this cougar thing way too far.

The chefs will be judged by the judges (seven points) and students (three points), with the team with the most scores at the end going home with bragging rights. In the case of a judges’ tie, the students’ vote will award all 10 points. Any Season 5 member who loses to an Almost-Star will be eligible for elimination. So, let the games begin.

New York: Leah (strip steak) vs. Nikki (chicken livers) Score: Leah 7, Nikki 3
Seattle: Hosea (crispy salmon rolls) vs. Miguel (cedar plank salmon). Score: Hosea 10
New Orleans: Carla (gumbo) vs. Andrew (crawfish crudo). Score: Carla 7, Andrew 3
Dallas: Stefan (two meat salads) v. Andrea: (Tex-Mex chili). Score: Andrea 10
San Francisco: Jamie (crab cioppino) vs. Camille (crab with sweet potato and miso mash) Score: Jamie 10
Miami: Jeff (rock shrimp ceviche) vs. Josie (warm shrimp ceviche) Score: Josie 10
Green Bay: Fabio (venison with cheddar salad) vs. Spike (venison with apple salad) Score: Fabio 3, Spike 7

Season 5 scrapes out a win, but in the bottom three are Stefan, Jeff and Fabio. Wow, just wow.

Carla, Hosea, Leah and Jamie get called in first as the winning chefs. So who won the Top Chef Bowl? Carla! And what does she get as her prize? Two tickets to the real Super Bowl. Hootie-Hoo!

For facial expressions alone I hope she makes it to the final four.

The losers, Stefan, Jeff and Fabio (man, that’s kind of fun to say), are called in next. Stefan’s dish was uninspired, Jeff’s wasn’t as flavorful and Fabio’s meat was overcooked. Tom, however, notes that these are three of the season’s strongest competitors (hey, I thought past performance didn’t matter in judging).

So who gets PYKAGed? Jeff.

He’s a little stunned, Fabio is a little stunned. Jeff says the loss will “stick with him for at least a decade.” And I finally have a chance to use the separated-at-birth Jeff/Chase from House graphic I’ve been dying to use all season.

Farewell, Jeff/Chase. Padma/Cuddy will miss your beautiful blond locks.

Next Week: Chef Eric Ripert gets called Obi-Wan Kenobi. We don’t know why.

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