The cheftestants leave Austin and head back to San Antonio, where they are greeted by esteemed chef Eric Ripert. Be still my beating heart. He and Padma introduce the Quickfire challenge, which is about “quick thinking.”
The chefs are given 30 minutes to come up with a sophisticated dish using three ingredients from the circular conveyor belt at the front of the room. It’s inferred there are advantages to waiting — that the best ingredients might come toward the end, but that means less time to cook. The winner gets immunity, which when you’re down to the final seven competitors, is something of value.
Some chefs stand at the belt from the minute the clock starts ticking (ahem, Sarah), watching the food go by, while others set up their mise en place with basic pantry ingredients and start cooking foundational elements that could have something special from the conveyor belt folded into them. The chefs grab what they think might work together, and some get fed up with waiting (ahem, Paul) and just grab three things and make it work. Chris J. is desperate for lobster, missing it twice, and grabbing one out of the bucket as it rounds the bend the third time. The chefs run around and cook, and Padma and Eric begin tasting.
Beverly’s glazed salmon with black-eyed peas didn’t make the cut at all because she didn’t finish her dish with the three required elements. She’s told that had she finished her dish, she would’ve won this challenge “by a mile.” Ed’s sauerkraut soup with shrimp and shaved truffles went unmentioned. My boo, Eric Ripert, didn’t like Chris J.’s butter-poached lobster with foie gras, Grayson’s butter-poached Dover sole with goldfish and rosemary or Paul’s mussels in ginger and bitter melon broth. He did like Sarah’s fried soft-shell crab with cottage cheese sauce and shaved artichoke salad, and Lindsay’s bouillabaisse in fennel-Pernod broth.
The Quickfire winner is Lindsay, who gets immunity for the Elimination Challenge.
This week’s Elimination Challenge is to make a dish “fit for a queen.” Which naturally means Charlize Theron is there to judge the challenge. Confused? So were the rest of us. Apparently, she’s playing the role of a queen in some very dark adaptation of a Snow White-related film. She tells the cheftestants how much she loves food and to this, I can attest. Not so long ago, I sat next to Charlize at a restaurant in a Belushi-famous hotel one afternoon for lunch, and girlfriend could pack it in (and still manages to look amazeballs).
The chefs are told to prepare a “gothic feast” that is “wickedly beautiful.” Charlize tells them she wants to see risk-taking and indulgence, and asks them to “think like an evil queen.”
They shop at Whole Foods and start cooking the next day for what might be the dumbest challenge in all of “Top Chef” history. It’s even worse than the All-Stars’ Target challenge. This one cross-promotes a movie that has nothing to do with food, seemingly encourages presentation over flavor and kowtows to an Oscar-winning actress.
Later that night, the judges — Tom, Padma, Ripert and Emeril — join Charlize at the table and begin their feast. Here’s what the chefs made:
Ed: “Evil versus good” with light (cream-colored) and dark (light brown) sauces playing the roles of good and evil. It’s tuna tartare with black garlic ponzu and Asian pear vinaigrette, all of which the judges seem to like.
Paul: “Wicked temptations” complete with a beet-juice handprint on the plate. It’s foie gras with bacon, pumpernickel, pickled cherries and beets. The judges seemed to give mixed reviews at first, but eventually come to love the flavors and the imagination.
Beverly: “Snow White is the halibut” with red curry coulis and forbidden black rice, which all seems to be a hit with the judges in terms of flavor.
Lindsay: Seared scallop over a “witches’ stew” with dragon beans. Emeril and Charlize are happily overwhelmed by the smell of the dish. The scallop is cooked perfectly, and Tom says, “The stew is so damn good.” Lindsay’s given the ultimate compliment: Her dish was so good, she didn’t need immunity for this challenge.
Sarah: “The blood-hungry queen would want red wine-soaked risotto.” Sarah serves Amarone risotto with lamb heart, currants, sunchokes and thyme. Tom calls it “quite delicious,” while Charlize drools over how good the lamb heart is.
Grayson: Black chicken with roasted, pickled beets, red chard, quail egg and foie gras — a dish that looks like a slaughterhouse gone wrong, much to the judges’ delight. It appears as if they like the taste, too.
Chris J.: “Poison apple” which, when brought out, makes Tom stage-whisper, “Oh, awesome.” Chris “smokes” the presentation with liquid nitrogen/frozen apple powder, and when the apple is broken apart, a dark cherry pie filling is inside. The judges are notably impressed by the look and taste of the dessert.
At this point in the night, it sounds to me like no one’s going home. There was not one negative comment shown during the entire dinner. Tom says it’s the most exciting meal he’s had all season. Emeril and Padma point out there were a few tiny glitches, which is what the decision will be made on. So, they will send someone home — no trickery tonight.
Padma calls all of them to Judges’ Table, where they face Tom, Padma, Emeril and Charlize. Emeril tells Sarah that she “nailed the lamb heart; it was complete perfection.” Tom compliments Lindsay not only on her dish’s concept, but the execution as well. Padma lauded Ed’s two sauces. Charlize and Tom praise Chris J.’s dish for being creative and delicious without being overly sweet. Emeril compliments Beverly’s rice. Tom says “wow” to Grayson’s black chicken. Padma tells Paul that his dish was beautiful. Charlize announces the winner: It’s Paul! He gets two tickets to the world premiere of Charlize’s new movie (but no travel package to get there; way to be stingy, Bravo).
Ed, Lindsay and Chris are told they’re safe, leaving Sarah, Grayson and Beverly in the bottom three. Tom thought Sarah’s risotto was ever-so-slightly undercooked and admits he’s nit-picking because he has to. Tom tells Beverly that her flavors were familiar because she’s cooked that way through most of the competition, and that her sauce was too sticky from the arrowroot she used. And, shocker, Beverly cries. Padma and Tom tell Grayson they loved the concept of her dish but that her foie needed to be more incorporated into the dish.
So who’s going home? Beverly. Which means Kleenex can no longer be considered a potential sponsor of the show. Wah-wah. No emotion at all back in the Stew Room — no one seemed all that sad to see her go. There were the obligatory, for-the-camera hugs, but no one bemoaned the decision or rallied ’round her for support. Gotta be one heck of a back-story there.
From the promos, it looks like Nyesha is still kicking some serious butt in the online-only series, “Last Chance Kitchen,” so might we see her return to the show in the next two weeks? Or are they waiting for a final four surprise showdown?
Up Next Week: The chefs go head-to-head — Lindsay vs. Sarah, Ed vs. Paul, and Chris J. vs. Grayson. Cat Cora judges, Chris J. throws chairs, and Lindsay wears a weird brown hat. But more importantly, there will be no more crying. And that is a very good thing. My prediction for the final four? Sarah, Lindsay, Grayson and Chris J.