“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: Battle of the sexes


Our cheftestants wake up in Vegas and I’m disappointed no one is wearing a lampshade yet. People, this city has a reputation to upkeep. Instead they walk into the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma, guest judge and restaurateur Todd English and a craps table. Um, should something with the word “crap” in it be in a kitchen?

Semantics aside, the chefs throw themselves into the Elimination Challenge. They must throw dice and then create a dish with the number of ingredients they roll. If I was there, I would have taken the opportunity to ask Padma to blow on my dice for luck. It never hurts to ask, right?

The chefs roll and then have 30 minutes to cook. The challenge is another “High Stakes” Quickfire, meaning the winner gets immunity and $15,000. Chefbian Ashley is happy to hear about the potential jackpot, saying: “Dear America: Chefs, we don’t make a lot of cash.” Aww, I can think of some ladies who would happily tip her.

With time up, Todd and Padma make the rounds. Todd picks Jesse’s unseared scallops, Eve’s overpowering blue cheese and Bryan’s unimpressive cod as his least favorite. Then he picks Mike V’s modern gazpacho, Jennifer’s flavorful salmon and Kevin’s perfectly-cooked egg as his favorites. But who takes home the 15 grand? Mike V and his nitro soup.

Before he can count his winnings, it’s Elimination Challenge time. In true Vegas fashion, they’ll have to cater bachelor and bachelorette parties. Finally, I might get to see my lightshade on heads. The challenge will be a battle of the sexes with the men catering for the bride the women catering for the groom.

Jennifer, who has no problem speaking her mind, calls the challenge “absolutely ridiculous,” saying “it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl and I’m a little pissed off about it.” Ashley is also pissed, but for a different reason. She says, “I’m gay so I had some, like, personal feelings about the challenge. I am looking forward to the day when everyone is allowed to get married.” Take that Prop H8.

But political talk is over and being replaced by, um, shots? The soon-to-be married couple enters carrying trays of booze. The pair wants the chefs to pair their food to their favorite shots: the Moscow mule, tequila and golden delicious. Wait, aren’t shots just supposed to be garnished with some salt and a belly button? Or maybe I’ve been drinking them wrong.

The bride and groom meet with their respective teams to discuss about their tastes: She is a pescetarian, he has a sweet tooth. Then the chefs jet off to the grocery store where this season’s resident gay chef Ash is put in charge of keeping the plants alive for his team, which he takes in stride saying, “It’s true, gay guys can grow flowers better than straight guys.”

Once the chefs get cooking, Ashley pulls yet another one of the classic “How to Get PYKAGed”-moves and decides she has time to make a second dish. Does no one watch this show? Has no one learned from past contestants’ mistakes? Never make a second dish, people, ever. Jennifer knows: “I think it’s just stupid; I think you need to focus and execute your food and do it well.” Sigh.

But perhaps Ashley’s judgment was clouded by her dislike of the challenge in general. Back at the house that night, she is still fuming over their assignment: “I find it beyond comprehension making us go do a wedding challenge when at least three of us in the challenge aren’t allowed in that institution.”

Fellow chefbian Preeti goes out to commiserate. But later she confesses to the cameras: “I feel like of lame that I’m not more fired up about it … I understand why she is pissed off, but this is the world we live in today.” Anger and apathy, it’s like I’m watching the entire gay movement in a microcosm.

The next day, the chefs arrive poolside to cater their respective parties. Up to now we’ve heard blessedly little from our little male chauvinist piggy, Mike I. But as if on cue he makes what I sincerely hope is just a boast and not a thinly-veiled sex analogy when he says: “We’re just waiting for the ladies to come out to experience probably one of the best hors d’oeuvres plates she’s ever had.” Ewwww.

As the parties munch away, the judges arrive. Joining Padma and Todd are head judge Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons. Tom is wearing seersucker shorts, it’s kind of disorienting. So is Gail and Padma, this close together.

The judges get judgey, first the women’s team. They like Robin’s mole, Laurine’s lamb chop and Jennifer’s octopus ceviche, even if she insists on pronouncing ceviche wrong. But they call Eve’s shrimp ceviche “nasty,” even though she pronounces it right. They also love Ashley’s watermelon carpaccio but hate her second dish, the bay leaf panna cotta. Seriously, never make a second dish. They have little love for Jesse’s chicken lettuce cups and Preeti’s tuna on wilted shiso, too.

Then they move onto the fellas. They enjoy all the men’s dishes, pretty much, except for Ron’s flavorless lobster and Mike the Pig’s “flabby, flat” Arctic char. Gosh, don’t you just love it when someone uses just the right words.

Many of the men then proceed to take off their shirts and jump in the pool, to which Laurine comments, “Who would you rather see in wet clothes? Girls or fat boys?” See what I was saying about using just the right words?

Both sides are feeling confident they won. Oh optimism, how Judges’ Table loves to crush you. Once in the Stew Room, Padma calls in Bryan, Hector, Eli and Michael and tells them the men won and they are had their favorite dishes. But it all boils down to the brothers. Mike V has already won the Quickfire, but now it’s big brother Bryan’s turn to win. So the brother-against-brother civil war continues.

Then the judges ask to see Eve, Jesse, Preeti and Ashley next. Oh no, not both our chefbians. They take all four to task for being the least favorite. Jesse’s lettuce cups are called “muddled,” Eve’s shrimp is flavorless, Preeti’s tuna was overcured and Ashley, well, she just made one too many dishes.

During judging Jesse tears up a little. That’s right, those of you who had episode two in the “When Will We See Waterworks at Judges’ Table”-pool can now collect. Preeti, meanwhile, seems blind-sided by the criticism insisting her dish was a “crowd pleaser.” But in the end, it’s not all about Eve and she gets PYKAGed.

Play her off, Keyboard Padma! Actually, I feel bad for Eve. She was clearly out of her element and out of her league.

Next Week: Geez, are they just trying to rub in everything us gays can’t do? This week it’s marriage, next week it’s the military. Let’s see how Ashley feels about this one.

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