“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: Highway to the danger zone


So last week the chefs cooked for the soon to be married. This week they’re cooking for the military. Geez, what’s next? Cooking for a couple visiting each other in the hospital? But enough about civil rights we still don’t fully possess. Let’s see some food. And somePadma — actually a lot of Padma , please.

The chefs pile into the kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge and are greeted by Padma, guest judge Mark Peel and a bunch of potatoes. For a second I think they’re going to do some play on Peel’s name and have them peel all the potatoes. But instead they’re tasked with making “dish featuring the potato that is out of this world.”

The chefs pick their spuds, from sweet potatoes to fingerling. As their allotted 45-minutes tick away we have a classic watched pot moment. Ashley is boiling water to make her potato gnocchi when Preeti accidentally uses it for her asparagus. It was a misunderstanding, clearly, but one that cost Ashley precious time and untold frustration.

Ladies, lesbians — let’s work with each other, not against each other. Chefbians gotta stick together, yo. Poor Ashley has to scramble to boil more water. Jennifer notes how restrained she is at the incident, saying: “If Preeti blanched in my water I would not have been as nice as Ashley. I’d have been pretty freaking pissed off.” Gosh, I like her — a lot.

But enough boiling over; it’s utensils down, hands up time. Padma and guest judge Peel start tasting all the taters. Peel’s least favorites are Jesse’s sweet potato soup (too spicy), Eli’s yams and faux marshmellows (too sweet) and Ron’s sweet potato crusted yellowtail (too overcooked). Poor Jesse, she always realizes her mistake too late and she knows it. As she admonishes herself, “stupid me, I hate me.” Tsk-tsk, self esteem, young lady, self esteem.

On the flip side, Peel loves Jennifer’s oysters, Ash’s sweet potato custard and Ashley’s potato gnocchi with mushrooms. Ash is particularly tickled because his “custard” was supposed to be “ice cream” but never hardened. Marketing, it appears, is everything.

But who won the Quickfire and the oh-so precious immunity? Jennifer. I’d like to note that her oyster dish included duck fat, butter and crème fraîche. So it would be almost physically impossible for it not to taste delicious.

Of course, everyone’s least favorite little male chauvinist piggy decides to squeals to the cameras about the results. Mike I whines saying, “Jen gets the win and it’s favoritism to me at this point. You know what I mean, whatever, whatever. So if I put a little potato broth on my plate I’m going to win? But I don’t care. I’ll get her.”

If by “favoritism” you mean the judges favor her because she is the best then, yes, I agree. Otherwise, shut the hell up.

For the Elimination Challenge, in walks an Air Force Colonel. Turns out the cheftestants next challenge is a top secret mission. They’ll be cooking for 300 airmen at Nellis Air Force Base, home of the famous flying Thunderbirds. But the twist is the chefs won’t be told their ingredients or their equipment until they arrive on base the next day.

Ashley worries this means they might be cooking with toaster ovens and matches. Well, in that case she’d have a leg up because everyone knows lesbians’ affinity for toaster overs.

Back at the house the chefs devise a plan. With 15 of them left, they will pair off into teams of two with Jennifer as the kitchen leader keeping everyone on task. She is, of course, comfortable being in charge. “I have zero problem with being the chef in the kitchen, it’s what I do in my job every day.” Seriously, I’m starting to love her.

The rest of the chefs pair off. San Francisco gals Preeti and Laurine team up. As do “fat kids” Kevin and Eli, The Ashes Ash and Ashley and The Mikes Mike I and Mike V. The most natural team however, the brothers Voltaggio, do not pair off. Instead Bryan joins Mattin and the remaining teams are Robin/Hector and Ron/Jesse.

The next morning they arrive on base and find a kitchen has no stoves, no pots and lots of canned food. Ash calls it “the worst fears kitchen.” Despite the conditions, everyone is really honored to be cooking for the troops. Also, everyone is really honored to be cooking for the troops. Wait, have I mentioned everyone is really honored to be cooking for the troops? Well, they are. And they say so, a lot.

As they get cooking, Mike I pulls an Ashley from the episode before and decides to cook an extra dish. Gosh, I really hope it goes well for him. And by “well,” I mean “suck it, jerk.” Also not learning from history arePreeti and Laurine who decide to cook pasta salad. Think people, when has a pasta salad ever impressed the judges? Never, that’s when.

Problems soon arise with the lack of cooking space and equipment. Everyone is waiting on the big, industrial kettles. Luckily, Jen is there to lay down the law. And don’t think the townsfolk haven’t noticed their new sheriff. As Ash says, “I was a little nervous because she is a little soft spoken, but that is only in the day to day. Because in the kitchen she is on fire.”

On fire, no nonsense, completely competent and a little bossy. As she says herself, “I am very fair in the kitchen, I’m strict … but don’t cross me, don’t try to get s–t past me that you know is wrong.” Seriously, my love is growing exponentially.

The chefs arrive at the jet hanger and start setting up. Laurine and Preeti are feeling a little nervous about their pasta salad. Too late now, ladies. You’ve just got to serve your block party side dish with pride and hope no one notices. What I do notice, however, is the arrival ofPadma. Well, more like Padma’s legs.

Service begins and the judges try all the offerings. Getting the yummy noise treatment were Mattin and Bryan’s steak, Hector and Robin’s chili, The Ashes’ chocolate and peanut butter bread pudding, The Mikes’ slab bacon lettuce wrap and Kevin and Eli’s pork shoulder. Not so yummy noises went to Ron and Jesse’s clam chowder and Laurine and Preeti’s pasta salad. Oh, and Mike I’s ill-advised shrimp salad wasn’t a hit either. Quelle surprise.

After the service, the Colonel thanks the chefs for the meal. Robin tears up. I half expect a bald eagle to alight on Padma’s shoulder and shed its own tear.

Back in the Stew Room, Padma calls in The Mikes and the self-described Fat Kids. They love Kevin & Eli’s pork shoulder and Mike V’s slab bacon wrap. But they want to know how much Mike I helped and who made the shrimp salad. Aw, is Mikey going to be in trouble? In the end, Mike V’s slab bacon wrap gets the win. And he reminds those playing along at home that he and his brother have now both won one Elimination Challenge each. We get it, brother showdown — sheesh.

But then the judges ask to see Preeti, Laurine and Mike I. Oh, snap — from best to worst in a heartbeat. Mike I says, and looks, livid at the reversal of fortune. The judges show no mercy, telling him he should never have served the dish.

They have even less mercy to Laurine and Preeti. They seem particularly intent on is getting one of them to throw the other under the bus. Seriously, the line of questioning was brutal:

Tom: Who said let’s make pasta salad?

Peel: Between the two of you, who is better?

Padma: Would you like to both go home together?

I have to commend Laurine and Preeti for not ratting each other out and instead sticking together. It’s not necessarily how you win, but it is how you are a decent human being. Laurine confesses that she made the dish forgetting it was a competition. Preeti, however, is less apologetic and says she thought it was “pretty good.”

So who gets PYKAGed? Poor, clueless Preeti.

Preeti says she has no regrets and being on the show reminded her how much she loves cooking. So now we have one chefbian gone and one still standing. Looks like the boiling water drama is all forgiven, too.

Next Week: The cheftestants go French. The Quickfire sends someone go home. And Jen is “nervous as hell.”

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