“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: Deconstruct this


Tonight all the chefs fulfill their lifelong goal of running with the bulls in Pamplona. Wait, no, sorry — they’re all just wearing those red neck scarves in solidarity with recently PYKAGed contestant Mattin. Well, you could see how a gal could get confused.

Mike I is grumbling about how Mattin shouldn’t have gotten kicked off when lesser chefs like Robin are still around. As he so eloquently puts it, “She can’t cook for s–t.” Jennifer puts it more diplomatically saying Robin has been “lucky” so far. But even scorned Robin asks to wear a red solidarity scarf and then they all parade into the kitchen wearing their very special flare. Padma notices and I, in turn, notice her crazy tiny vest/puffed sleeve ensemble. Oh, and I also notice guest judge Michelle Bernstein.

Padma attempts to explain the puffed sleeves by saying that the Elimination Challenge is about the “constant battle between the angel on your left shoulder and devil on your right.” Which puff is which, Padma? For the challenge the chefs must create a dish that represents their inner battle between good and evil for a shot at immunity.

Before they even begin cooking Eli boldly asserts that he should win because “I’m the best f—–g cook here.” Hey, dude, sit down. Your ego is blocking my screen. The challenge begins and Ashley, Eli and Jennifer all pick scallops. Hear that, chef Jamie Lauren? Scallops are the now the official ingredient of purgatory. You’ve been absolved.

Service begins and the Chef Bernstein and Padma go around and taste the cheftestants’ inner demons. Most of them explain their dishes in simple “healthy versus butter” terms. But Robin explains that hers was based on her cancer diagnosis four years ago when her doctor told her to avoid sugar. Chef Bernstein calls Robin’s ginger crisp with apple and fennel salad “lovely” and the other chefs shoot her the evil eye.

Chef Bernstein’s least favorite three dishes are by Ash (his custard two-ways that turned into one-way was too spicy), Bryan (his white and black desserts weren’t executed well) and Laurine (her chicken two ways was uninspired). On the flip side, her favorites were by Mike V (his salmon two-ways transported her), Eli (his brown-butter scallop was awesome) and Robin (her crisp/salad combo was an “absolute pleasure”). But who took home the coveted immunity? Robin.

This goes over like a lead balloon with the other chefs, particularly Eli who bitches to the camera about Robin’s win. “That’s a pretty good way to win a Quickfire; tell people you had f—–g cancer. Um, weak.” Yeah, Eli, I’m sure that’s why she got cancer in the first place — to win a Quickfire Challenge. Weak argument, jerk.

But no sooner can I say “abracasshat” to get Eli to disappear then who should appear but comic magical duo Penn & Teller. They demonstrate the classic balls and cups trick and then explain how it is done. Which then leads us to our Elimination Challenge: to deconstruct a classic dish.

The chefs draw knives and get everything from meat lasagna to shepherd’s pie. Padma puts the knife in further by saying that tomorrow they will serve their dishes to Penn & Teller, Chef Bernstein and judge Toby Young. You know, just in case you thought judging had been too even-handed and professional this season.

In the kitchen, the chefs have two hours to prep. Mike I has drawn eggs florentine which he calls “eggs foreign to me.” Mike V is baking his own bread for a caesar salad and his brother Bryan calls him a “show off.” Jennifer is stressing that as a classically trained chef she doesn’t know how to deconstruct meat lasagna. Her solution seems to be cooking 30 gallons of marinara sauce and avoiding Tom when he tries to talk with her. Never run from Tom, he will only catch you faster.

Ron has drawn paella, which pleases him greatly because it’s on his restaurant’s menu. “I think this challenge is the challenge I’m going to win,” he says happily as the other chefs worry that he doesn’t understand what “deconstructing” means. I think he just isn’t familiar with Top Chef PYKAG Avoidance Rule No. 23: “ever express your confidence in a challenge.” For reference, please see Mattin.

As they all deconstruct away, Eli has an actual deconstruction happen to his equipment as his jerry-rigged pressure cooker explodes all over the kitchen. Believe it or not, folks, there are some problems duct tape can’t solve.

Back at the house, Laurine is grumbling to her fellow chefs. She was in the bottom three in the Quickfire and having Robin chatter and ask her for help during the EliminationChallenge’s prep-time only furthered her foul disposition. “Today pissed me off. Robin wins next to me and sent me way over the f—–g edge. Now she won’t shut the f— up.”

Wow, people do not like Robin. Look, I’m no Robin fan either. There’s no way she is going to win the competition and will no doubt be sent home soon. Her food has been largely unspectacular. But, the level of vitriol directed at her seems surprisingly spectacular. Also, do they really think the judges would hand her a win just because she had cancer? Maybe her crisp and salad were actually tasty. Crazy, I know.

After the Robin bashing is over, Kevin and Eli try to help Ron with his paella. They tell him the key is the crispy rice on the bottom. He looks at them like they’re discussing quantum physics. Yeah, this is going to turn out great.

The next days, the chefs put the finishing touches on their dishes and prepare to serve their food in pairs to the judges. Up first are the Mikes. Mike V’s ceasar salad is called “beautiful” but Mike I’s eggs Florentine care called “a reconstruction.”

Then come Bryan’s tuna reuben and Laurine’s dish and chips. Penn & Teller don’t like the fish reuben, but the rest of the judges deem it delicious. Laurine’s fish and chips, however, are universally disliked. Too few chips, too soggy chips, too dry fish. No wonder she was grumpy yesterday.

Ash’s shepherd’s pie and Jennifer’s meat lasagna are next. Padma is in ecstasy over Jennifer’s melted, browned cheese on top. Gosh, I love a gal who loves melted cheese. They are all considerably less ecstatic about Ash’s unevenly-cooked, potato-less pie.

Ron’s paella and Eli’s sweet and sour pork follow. Ron, indeed, has no idea how to deconstruct because his “twist” was adding lemon and herb oil to his dish. Um, what? Also in an attempt to crisp the rice he has made it dry. I hate to be right all the time, I really do. Eli, meanwhile, serves some rather unappealing looking pork balls which Tom likes but Toby thinks “look like bull’s testicles.”

Padma, of course, chimes in saying she has actually had bull’s testicles and “these are actually a little big.” I would chime in with my ownsnarky “that’s what she said” here, but that is actually what she said. So, no further comment needed.

Ashley and Kevin come out with pot roast and chicken mole negro respectively. Both dishes are given praise and then rounding out the meal is Robin who serves her clam chowder solo. The judges aren’t too impressed but what do we care — she has immunity.

Back in the Stew Room, Ash chimes in on the Robin bashing, saying he is just going to cook “crisps and salad” from now on. OK, people, we get it — you all think Robin sucks. Move on and just worry about how good your own damn food tastes.

Padma calls in Ashley, Mike V, Kevin and Jennifer first. Which means they’re the favorites Looks like Ashley might be a dark horse after all. Ultimately, they declare Kevin’s mole negro with what seemed like 20,000 ingredients the winner. For his troubles he gets a big old box of pots and pans.

Then they ask the chefs to send in Laurine, Ron and Ash. They, of course, are the least favorites. Toby rips into Ash for his sad attempt at British comfort food. He wisely agrees that his dish was off.Laurine also admits to the judges that her fish was overcooked. They apparently have read the Top Chef PYKAG Avoidance Guidebook and are wisely not defending their dishes. Ron, however, tells the judges that he doesn’t think there is one classic way to cook paella and then said he had the hardest dish to deconstruct. So who gotPYKAGed? Ron.

Remind me to never go to his restaurant for paella.

NEXT: Mike I doesn’t want to work with Robin. I don’t want to have to watch Mike I whine about not wanting to work with Robin. Good times.

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