“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: Home, home on the range


The morning after the first male casualty, the two Mikes and Bryan are talking about how they’re the best chefs in the competition. And they think Hector didn’t deserve to go and Robin didn’t deserve to stay. Granted, Robin hasn’t shown us a lot. But, boys, Hector couldn’t cook or cut steak. Enough about the boys, did I mention Padma is back?

Even guest judge Tim Love, owner of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, can’t help but clap at her presence. Never one to pass up a theme, Bravo has decides in honor of Chef Love to make the Quickfire and Elimination challenges Western themed. For the Quickfire, the chefs must use cactus. It’s also a high-stakes challenge which means the winner gets $15,000, but not immunity.

Apparently Top Chef viewers voted on what the ingredient should be. Their other choices were rattlesnake and kangaroo. The PETA people should be pleased. Padma tells them to “make something succulent with these succulents” and I think succulent thoughts about Padma. Most of the chefs have never cooked with cactus, except for Mike I. He of course knows exactly what to do with a prickly, unappealing product.

Chef Love and Padma return to taste the thorny offerings. Comment’s range from “tastes great” to “a little slimy” to “thank you” and for poor Ash, stony silence. Love declares Ash (too dry), Mike V (too disjointed) and Ron (too rancid) on the bottom. On top, however, were Laurine (nice flavor), Mike I (classically prepared) and Mattin (tequila!). But whose was the best? Mike I. Ugh, no comment.

Before too much gloating can occur, the chefs learn their Elimination Challenge fate. Their task will be to prepare a high-end lunch outdoors on a ranch for two dozen cowboys. They’ll have to plan their meal and shop before they see the cook site or conditions. Oh, and they’ll be spending the night at the ranch. After their shopping spree, the chefs are driven out to their destination. I think the look on Ash’s face pretty much says it all.

What they find is teepee tents, rock fire pits, cast iron pans, lean-to prep station and a chuck wagon of supplies. Oh, and outhouse. For all their tough talk, it’s the men who whine the most and the women who actually know how to rough it. Laurine says as a caterer she is a “McGuyver when it comes to cooking,” Idaho native Robin is an “outdoor girl” and Ashley “grew up in the middle of the wood … on foodstamps.” Eli, meanwhile, doesn’t believe in camping. Not even s’mores? Come on, s’mores are the best part.

The next morning the chefs emerge from their tents and get ready to cook. Their food greets them in coolers. Man, I hope those were taken somewhere with electricity and actually refrigerated overnight. Mattin and Ron have chosen to go the non-cooking route and will both make ceviche. Mattin is particularly confident. Hey, Frenchie, remember the last time you flashed the A-OK sign? Didn’t end so well, did it?

Mike V refuses to kowtow to the cowboys and is making a Japanese-inspired dashi soup dish. Ash, conversely, might have his mind too much on the cowboys as he declared his love for cows and “lassoing things.” I bet you do, big boy.

Chef Love, Padma, Tom and Gail arrive along with the ranch hands once time is up. The chefs serve their dishes in groups of three. First up Mike I’s pork gyro, Eli’s Tuna sandwich and Laurine’s Arctic char. Of the batch, they only praised Laurine. Girls rule, boys drool.

Next comes Ash’s grilled chicken sandwich, Mattin’s ceviche three ways and Robin’s grilled salad with drunken prawns. Tom actually gets up and spits out Mattin’s ceviche — like expels it from his mouth with disgust. I’d call that the opposite of an A-OK sign. Chef Love then calls Robin’s shrimp like sucking on chlorine. By comparison, Ash having his dish called “sensible’ is like a four star Michelin rating.

Then comes Bryan’s roasted pork loin, Jennifer’s snapper and Ashley’s halibut. The judges’ reactions are almost the polar opposite of the previous group. Everything is perfectly cooked and they particularly rave about Ashley’s dish. Padma even wonders if she is “the dark horse.” Just more proof positive that when you go camping, always bring a lesbian.

Finally comes Mike V’s dashi with black cod, Ron’s coconut ceviche with a coconut cocktail and Kevin’s duck. The judges like Mike V and Kevin’s food, but Ron’s ceviche is deemed too sweet and his cocktail is “terrible.” How many times do I have to repeat this? Never make a second dish, people. Ever.

Back in the blessedly air-conditioned Stew Room, the chefs await their fate. Padma calls in Laurine, Ashley and the Voltaggio Brothers. They all receive high praise but in the end it’s Bryan’s whose pork loin gets called the best. Their sibling rivalry comes out later as Bryan tells the cameras, “Everytime we stand at judges table together I seem to win.” Just wrestle on the ground and get it over with, fellas.

Then sent in to face the judges with their tails between their legs are Robin, Ron and Mattin. Robin tells the judges she realizes her shrimp were bad and the dish could send her home. Mattin, however, continues his oblivious streak and tells the judges he was “very happy” with his ceviche and “very surprised” to be there. Ron then gets taken to task for his coconut drink. So what is worse? Knowing your dish sucks, not knowing your dish sucks or not knowing how to make a cocktail? Who gets PYKAGed? Clueless Mattin.

So long, Frenchie. Now maybe you can fulfill your dreams of running with the bulls in Pamplona. Otherwise, seriously, what’s up with the red scarf?

NEXT: Penn & Teller bring the magic and something about bull’s testicles. Um, yum?

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