“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: Welcome to the Big Top

And then there were six. I’ve come to the sad realization that there are so few people I want to root for left this season that I might end up rooting for the lesser of however many evils. Speaking of evils, two of the most sinfully delicious ladies to hold a spatula are in bed. Fine, not together, but in my mind these beds are pushed together and the rest, well, this is an all-ages site.

The delicious Padma Lakshmi and the delightful Nigella Lawson are in their robes and ordering room service from our intrepid cheftestants at the Venetian Hotel. The Quickfire Challenge is to make Padma and her “dear friend” Nigella breakfast in bed. That’s not a challenge, that’s a fantasy sequence. Padma rings them up to let them know they have 30 minutes to whip up something delectable and serve it, room service style, to the ladies in waiting.

Up first is Robin, who makes blintzes. She wheels them up to Padma and Nigella (I will never get tired of typing those names together, ever). Nigella takes a signature enormous bite. Have I mentioned that I love her?

Next up is Eli who has made a Reuben Benedict. That actually sounds good. Nigella agrees, saying the dish is “a really great sort of hangover breakfast.” Meanwhile, Michael is in the kitchen complaining about the mess Robin left. When she walks in to get her stuff he snaps, “I’d rather you just be gone right now.” OK, so do a lot of viewers. But you’re not winning Fan Favorite anytime soon either, dude.

He serves is Huevos Cubana and the ladies seem to enjoy it which he later calls “hilarious.” Well that’s always a good plan, mocking the judges cluelessness at your cluelessness. Then comes Kevin and his steak and eggs. Padma deems it “nice and warm.” Must. Keep. Commentary. Clean. Sigh.

Making that task decidedly harder is Jennifer who serves the ladies S.O.S., which stands for “S–t on a Shingle.” Mmmm, exactly what I always wanted for breakfast. Nigella glares at her plate of chipped beef incredulously. Bryan follows with his 4-minute egg with crab, asparagus spears and polenta. Nigella is immediately turned off by the smell of vanilla. Chefs, never make me write the words “Nigella” and “turned off” together again. You’ve been warned.

A full-dressed Padma and Nigella greet the judges to render their verdict. Man, I wish they were still wearing the robes. Nigella says her least favorite dishes were from Bryan (couldn’t cope with the vanilla) and Robin (wasn’t enough contrast). Her favorite were Kevin and Eli. But the winner? Eli. His prize, since immunity is off the table for the rest of the season, is to have his recipe included in the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook. Great, so next time I have a hangover, I’ll know where to look.

The Elimination Challenge is all about Vegas, baby. The chefs are tasked with exploring the strip. Each draws a casino and must then use it as the inspiration for his/her dish. They’ll then have to make enough to cater a party of 175 people.

They draw knives and Robin gets the Bellagio, Michael New York New York, Jennifer Excalibur, Bryan Mandalay Bay, Kevin Mirage and Eli Circus Circus. They then get to spend the night checking out their respective hotels.

Michael enters New York New York and immediately gets a patriotic, New York Firefighters vibe and decides to do a tribute of sorts. Jennifer meanwhile is having fun waiting for her prince, eating chicken with her hands and drinking beer — lots of beer. Too bad she leaves still unfocused on her dish. Beer can do that.

Over at the Mandalay Bay, Bryan notices a sign about sustainable fishing before he visits the aquarium and decides to make that his theme. He then proceeds to check out the shark tank. Always keeping an eye on his brother, Michael, I see.

At the Bellagio Robin notices the famous glasswork by Dale Chihuly in the lobby. She tells us she is more of an artist than chef and decides to use Chihuly as her inspiration. So she’ll be serving an intricate, delicate flowers meets jellyfish meets acid trip meal? Because that seems like a complicated dish to pull off.

Over the Mirage Kevin declares his unredneckness and love for slow and organic foods. He also gets in a sly dig at Michael saying, “I believe in simplicity, I don’t believe in flashy food that is more style over substance.” Then Eli arrives at Circus Circus and realizes that there is no big top or dancing elephants, just an old casino that’s like “staring at a really sad velvet painting.”

The chefs have three and a half hours to cook. Each gets cracking. Kevin is making cured salmon in tomato broth. Michael makes boneless chicken wings with a frozen blue cheese dollop. Robin makes panna cotta, a dish she “hasn’t made a lot.” Oh Robin, Robin. Jennifer goes with a sword-in-stone theme and makes steak with a sword toothpick. Bryan makes sustainable halibut.

And Eli makes — wait for it — peanut and caramel apple soup with popcorn topping and raspberry froth.

Hey, Eli, I thought they wanted the dishes to be inspired by the casino, not like the casino threw up on them. Eli then tells the camera how much he hopes Robin will get the boot. I feel the same way, but about Eli.

After the cooking is done, the chefs have an hour to prep before 175 guests start demanding grub. Robin realizes her sugar, which was to represent theChihuly, has not set. She says she knows “it’s not the winning dish.” Oh, Robin, Robin — you’ve made me say “Oh Robin, Robin” again.

The guests start to flow in and so do the judges. They arrive at Jennifer’s table where she tells them the steak is a bigger bite “because it’s medieval times.”Nigella says she needs Excalibur to cut hers and once she does sink her teeth in says “this is a stone … I felt ready to be in wench mode.” In my head, you’re already there.

Kevin’s salmon gets the “mmm, delicious” from Nigella and Tom declares the tomato broth “stunning.” Everyone in the room is tipping their dishes up to get every last drop. Suck on that,Voltaggio. Speaking of which, he is next and while Padma loves the cold blue cheese dollop, Toby doesn’t care for it.

Robin’s panna cotta is universally called too solid. Toby goes as far as to call the sauce what you get on a Slurpy. And Tom is particularly perplexed that the sugar “glass” didn’t make it on the plate. Bryan’s fish on the other hand is called “really professional.” I think I’d prefer an “mmm,” but “professional” is still a pretty solid compliment.

Then comes Eli and his crazy Circus Circus concoction. Nigella says she is too scared to try it first. Padma doesn’t like it at all. Toby says he “gambled and lost.” Toby, do us all a favor and fire your joke writer. I mean, when Padma’s “this is gross” face is funnier than your supposed put-down, you have to take a close look at who is on your payroll.

As the chefs hit the Stew Room, Kevin asks how everyone did. The resounding silence says it all. Padma come in and asks for Kevin, Michael and Bryan. Yep, to no one’s surprise the Voltaggio Bros and Captain Red-Beard are the judges’ favorites. Kevin’s salmon and particularly sauce gets praise. Bryan’s halibut gets called elegant. And Michael’s food gets called “perfectly expressive of the food you do.” So who wins? Michael. For his troubles he gets a ginormous bottle of wine and a trip to Napa.

Now that the victors are done, the vanquished are called in and Eli, Jennifer and Robin go face the judges. Jennifer tells them she isn’t surprised to be on the chopping block. Nigella repeats her Excalibur joke. And then they turn their attention to the real losers: Robin and Eli.

Tom grills Robin on what happened to her sugar glass. She tells them, once again, she was “playing with something I hadn’t done before.”Nigella then tells her the panna cotta was too firm. Instead she said when you put a spoon in it “it should have the quiver of a 17th-century courtesan’s inner thigh.” Um, Padma and Nigella together and now this? I think I just swallowed my tongue.

Eli then gets his turn getting paddled. Tom calls his dish “a failure” and Padma says “I would never want to eat that again — and I eat everything.” So, if I could summarize, it blew.

Back in the Stew Room Robin tears up. The judges mull it over some more. Tom calls Jennifer’s performance in the last three challenges “terrible.”Nigella calls Eli’s dish “a fiasco.” And Tom says he is most bothered by Robin’s dish because panna cotta is “really simple to make.” So, who gets PYKAGed? Robin.

Whew, well, we knew this day would come. But by the judges’ comments I really though Eli had their least favorite dish. But I guess Robin couldn’t outrun her track record anymore.

NEXT: Mike says Kevin “cooks the food I cook on my day off.” Classy, Voltaggio, really classy.

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