Top Chef is back after that pregnant pause last week. (Get it? Pregnant? Because Padma is pregnant. Oh, puns.) Mike V, Eli and Ash are eating breakfast and Ash rambles on about how he wants to be the kid from the suburbs who makes it. Yeah, those hard-scrambled suburbs; people are never making it out of those. Meanwhile, Jennifer isn’t feeling well. Like, really not well.
But, ever the tough gal, she says, “I don’t need any sympathy, I just need to stay focused and work through it.” Then she goes on to say she has gone to work sick many, many times before. Um, is this really recommended when you work in food service? I mean, I appreciate your resilience, but I’d rather not get the same thing that’s making you feel like this.
Greeting the chefs in the Top Chef Kitchen are Padma, celebrity chef Tyler Florence and a giant slot machine. Wait, wait — I had a dream like this once but Padma was carrying a chicken. The Quickfire Challenge is sponsored by the website Cookstr.com and the chefs will need to make a dish based on the mood, taste and texture and kind of cuisine when they pull the one armed bandit. Oh, and it’s a high stakes challenge, but Padma won’t say what that means just yet. What a tease, that one.
The chefs come up one by one and their selections sound like a Mad Libs personal ad. Laurine pulls romantic-tart-Latin American, Kevin stressed-hot and spicy-Asian, Mike I stressed-umami-Asian, Jennifer adventurous-nutty-American, Eli stressed-umami-Latin American, Mike V adventurous-tangy-Asian, Robin stressed-umami-Middle Eastern, Bryan adventurous-crunchy-Asian, Ash tired-tart-Italian and Ashley blue-cheesy-Middle Eastern. I am definitely the stressed, hot and spicy Asian.
The chefs scurry to create their crazy personal ads and as the 30-minutes runs out Tyler and Padma come around. Tyler has nice things to say about most of the dishes, but is noticeably silent on Eli and Jennifer. Meanwhile, Padma tells Robin that her curry isn’t really Middle Eastern. Robin starts to argue and then realizes you never argue with Padma when her mouth is full — or just in general.
After the tasting is done, Tyler declares the dishes by Robin (too elementary), Eli (too much citrus), and Jennifer (too unadventurous) his least favorite. On the flip side, Mike I (particularly delicious), Kevin (pretty impressive) and Mike V (great flavor) were his favorites. But who won? Kevin. And what does he win? He gets to pick: $15,000 or immunity. Wait, when did Top Chef turn into Deal or No Deal? So what does he take? The cash, baby, the cash.
Padma tells them that the Elimination Challenge will be another ode to the at-home cook. But instead of telling the cheftestants what the challenge is, she tells them to go home and enjoy a special dinner party. At this point, if alarm bells aren’t going off in their heads then the need to go home and brush up on their Top Chef Episode Twists 101. Alas, the oblivious chefs are actually excited about getting a nice home-cooked meal made for them. Poor dears. They arrive back at the house and eagerly run to the kitchen to see what’s cooking. Turn out, it’s them. Yep, Ashley, ruh-roh.
The kitchen is fully stocked with extra food and pots and plates. Padma arrives shortly after to break the bad news. They’ll be cooking the meal. She says something about the recession and dinner parties while I try to determine whether there is any sign of a baby bump showing through her green get-up. Conclusion: I don’t think so, but that ruffle is conveniently placed.
The chefs will be cooking for the Macy’s Culinary Council. And they all happen to be there, holding grocery bags. They are chefs Florence, Nancy Silverton, Govind Armstrong, Takashi Yagihashi and Tom Douglas. The chefestants will have three hours to throw a dinner party. They draw knives to teaming up to make food based on the council chef they pull and the food inside his/her bag.
Mike I tells the cameras the one person he doesn’t want to work with is Robin because she is “one of the weakest competitors here.” And who does he get? Robin. Oh, karma. You are a bitch — and I love you for it.
The teams are such: Mike I/Robin, Ashley/Eli, Ash/Mike V, Laurine/Bryan and Kevin/Jennifer. My money is on Kevin and Jennifer, hands down. Mike I, meanwhile, can’t stop whining about getting Robin: “When I found out I was working with Robin I was livid, I was angry, I was upset, and I thought I was going home.” Well thank you, Captain Redundant.
The chefs start working and scatter to find the nearest flat, solid surface since there isn’t enough prep space in the kitchen. Mike I, in an apparent effort to reassert his Asshat of the Season supremacy, keeps condescending to Robin. Even though he never cooks Asian food and Robin has experience with the cuisine, he insists on taking charge and says, “I am kind of ignoring her at this point. I know she knows I am a better cook than her, without a doubt. I know she’ll listen to what I have to say. It’s my way or the highway.” Guess we can also call him Captain Cliché.
Over on Mike V and Ash’s team, a similar power struggle is happening. But here Ash is a willing participant. He pretty much follows Mike V’s lead like a lost puppy. And Mike V does his own condescending, albeit in a considerably less obnoxious way: “Ash, he is a No. 2 in the kitchen right now. I think if he keeps his head down and keeps pushing, he is going to be a great chef.”
Mike I continues his asshattery with Robin. She concedes that he is in charge, but says she needs to be a part of the process. Mike I however is explicitly keeping her out of the process saying, “I gave her little things to do — things that wouldn’t affect the final product. And, uh, throwing out all the things that she’s doing.” Like, oh whoops, all that stuff you prepped just fell out of the fridge. Man, karma needs to hurry up and get here already.
Tom arrives to inspect the fleet. He gives Ashley and Eli pause at their choice of prawns over gnocchi. He also breaks down the absurdity of the Mike I being is in charge when Robin knows how to cook Asian flavors. And then he inspects Mike V and Ash’s makeshift kitchen.
As time starts to wind down, Ashley and Eli are dealing with their prawns. Eli apparently doesn’t want to cook them because they’re tricky and leaves it to Ashley. Oh, I see. So telling a judge your dish was inspired by your cancer is weak, but letting your teammate handle the potentially difficult ingredient is strong? While Mike I may be in the lead, Eli is clearly still in the running for Asshat of the Season.
Mike V and Ash run into their own problems as their makeshift kitchen turns shifty after a fuse is blown in the middle of cooking their halibut. They scramble to get it cooked as the judges arrive. Mike I is whining some more about how Robin is burning the tuna and Ashley is stressed that Eli has over-salted the gnocchi.
The judges pour themselves some wine and Tyler gets in a plug for the Macy’s Culinary Council and their effort to serve 10 million meals the needy. The chefs come out to serve their food family style. Each team explains their dish. Mike I, of course, tells them “Chef Yagihashi, I got your market basket and bag.” To which Robin elbows him and mouths “We.” I rewound it three times because it’s kind of hilarious.
The judges rev up their forks and start tasting. Between the two halibut dishes, Mike V/Ash and Bryan/Laurine, they prefer the less flashy brothers team. They also aren’t taken with Eli and Ashley’s over-salted gnocchi and under-cooked prawns. Judge Toby Young chimes in to fulfill his zinger per episode quota and calls it “a Monet, good from a distant not so great close up.” Hey, Toby, Clueless called and wants its joke back.
After service, the chefs all fret in the living room. Eli defends his choice of prawns and beets. Kevin compliments Jennifer on her “banging” sauce for their Kobe beef. Mike V frets that he is going home. Look, Voltaggio Brothers, relax. You two are sticking around for a long time. It all fits into Bravo’s “Brother v. Brother” grand plan. Chill and have a drink.
Padma saunters in and asks for Laurine, Bryan, Jennifer and Kevin. Their dishes were the best. The judges ask Jennifer and Kevin is there was someone driving the team forward. They say, no, they worked as a team. See, there’s no Mike I in Team. They also compliment Bryan and Laurine’s restraint in their dish. But which dish won? Kevin and Jennifer. And who won? Jennifer and her banging sauce.
For her prize she gets a $10,000 Macy’s gift card, to which she yells “Shut up!” She runs up to get her gift and makes sure to plant a kiss on Tyler in the process. Clever gal. She tells the cameras that Kevin will be getting a suit out of her winnings because he deserves some of the credit. And then she declares that maybe being sick is her winning formula. Hmm, let’s wait the two-day incubation period and ask Tyler if he feels the same way.
The returning chefs send in Mike V, Ash, Eli and Ashley. Once they’re gone the remaining chefs start dissecting their dishes. Bryan gets cranky about his brother’s possible elimination and says he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore telling Kevin if he didn’t try the dishes he “can’t pass judgment.” I dig the familial allegiance and all, but Kevin is like the last guy in the competition I’d snap at, dude.
Mike V explains that the power kept going out and Tyler isn’t haven’t it as an excuse. Ash pipes in that Mike’s ideas were better than his. And then when Padma asks if he was OK playing second filled to Mike he replies, “It’s sort of like saying do you mind washing paint brushes for Picasso in my opinion.” Whoa. No, really, whoa. Look, I understand he’s good and all, but Ash you can’t let your chef crush show like that. It’s embarrassing and sycophantic. And it’s certainly not behavior befitting the Top Chef.
They move on to Eli and Ashley. Eli is still defending his flavor profile of beets and prawns. And then Toby drops the bombshell that the prawns were undercooked and Ashley takes full responsibility for them. But she doesn’t add that it’s because Eli refused to cook them. Back in the Stew Room to stew some more, Ash realizes he may have talked himself out of the competition. Mike V thanks him, however, for saying what he said and, let’s be honest, saving him from any chance of going home.
The judges mull it over some more and then it’s time to face the Padma. Who has to PYKAG? Ashley.
Oh no! No! Not our little chefbian. I mean, it’s even normally stoic Jennifer breaks down.
And just to further crush your hearts ladies, this is from Ashleys’ Top Chef Photo Diary on the Bravo site.
Yep, that’s two dreams down. All aboard Team Jennifer now, I guess.
NEXT: A lot of sweating, a lot of swearing and Eli screaming “You’re not my mom!” at Robin.