Back in San Antonio, Emeril, Cat Cora and Padma in some old man’s nightshirt belted into a crotch-dusting minidress greet the chefs in the “Top Chef” kitchen this week for their Quickfire Challenge. Welcome to “Top Chef,” everyone!
The chefs pair up: Grayson and Chris J.; Paul and Ed; and Lindsay and Sarah. It’s a speed challenge in which they have 40 minutes to peel, devein and butterfly two pounds of shrimp, shuck a crate of corn and make a pound of perfect fettuccine . . . then make a dish highlighting those ingredients. They can only start cooking once the judges have approved their performance on the shrimp, corn and pasta. No immunity, but the winning team gets $10,000.
And, they’re off! Lindsay is to deveining shrimp as Hung (Season 3) was to breaking down a chicken: super-fast and precise. Sarah and Lindsay get their ingredients done first and start to cook. Paul and Ed aren’t far behind. Grayson and Chris start cooking with a little more than five minutes left on the clock. All three teams finish, but Paul and Ed forget to put the shrimp on their plates. D to the Q. Too bad, so sad.
Emeril liked Grayson and Chris’s fettuccine with toasted corn, poached shrimp with chili, bacon and rosemary, but Cat didn’t love that Chris deep-fried the bacon. Cat loved Sarah and Lindsay’s fettuccine with corn milk, shrimp, chili, tarragon and parsley but thought the tarragon was overpowering. Who wins ten grand? Chris and Grayson. To the camera, Sarah says she knows her dish with Lindsay was better, but that Cat just doesn’t like tarragon. I think I agree. Their dish sounded better, for sure. I think rosemary is more overpowering than tarragon — it’s like eating a Christmas tree. No, thank you. Give me tarragon any day.
For the Elimination Challenge, each chef must now cook against his or her teammate from the Quickfire Challenge. “Your partner is now your opponent,” says Padjama . . . I mean, Padma. They’ll be cooking for a (probably fake) block party at a (probably not fake) brewery and cooking a dish similar to their opponent’s. The 200 guests will vote for their favorite, and the chefs with the least amount of votes will be up for elimination.
The teams have a few minutes to decide what main and side dishes they’ll both be making. Lindsay and Sarah decide to do meatballs with vegetable salad, Ed and Paul settle on Korean barbecue with pickled vegetables and Chris and Grayson opt for chicken salad sandwiches with watermelon salad. And once again, we’re watching “Top-I-Cooked-This-Stuff-In-High-School-Shouldn’t-They-Be-Doing-Challenges-That-Are-More-Chef-Like?”
The challenge comes with a really awful and forced twist: Padma tells them their choices sound too heavy. She then goes into her spiel and informs them that because a certain microwavable meal company is sponsoring the show, they need to make low-fat versions of their dishes. The winner of the challenge receives $15,000.
They shop and head back to the “Top Chef” casa where Paul and Ed are too nervous to sleep. The next day, the chefs have 2 1/2 hours in 105-degree heat to cook for the 200 guests. They head over to the venue (which, by the way, was not on a block of any sort) to finish cooking and setting up. People in shiny silk dresses and heels show up for the “block party,” and the chefs serve up their food. A little kid takes a bunch of Ed’s buns for his dish, and Chris is surrounded by and allergic to bees. I’m allergic to the cafeteria-lady hat he’s sportin’. Sarah and Grayson have long lines — and slow hands. The judges arrive: Padma, Emeril, Cat, Tom and Dana Cowin (editor, Food & Wine). Here’s what they ate:
Paul: Turkey kalbi, eggplant with white peach kimchi. Emeril calls it “brilliant.” Dana and Cat adore the dish, too.
Ed: Beef shortrib kalbi, kimchi-chipotle puree, pickled cucumber and daikon radish. Tom and Dana thought the meat wasn’t good, and Padma found the bread dry.
Grayson: Chicken salad sandwich with arugula, pickled red onion and a feta-watermelon salad with pepitas. Emeril admired her guts to make the sandwiches to order. Cat thought the watermelon salad needed lime or mint. I had a similar salad at a wedding . . . in 1995. Way to be current, Grayson. What’s up next week . . . flourless chocolate cake?
Chris.: Chicken salad sandwich with tofu “mayo” and red lettuce, and a watermelon salad with pineapple ice. Tom likes the tofu mayo and curry in the chicken salad, despite the dried-out bread.
Sarah: Calabrese-style turkey meatball and vegetable salad. Emeril loves her meatball. Tom loves her salad. Dana wasn’t happy with the vegetables she got in her salad.
Lindsay: Mediterranean meatball with lemon yogurt, and a black-eyed pea and quinoa Greek salad. Tom and Dana love the meatball, praising the flavors and the acid balance.
Padma calls Grayson, Paul and Lindsay to the now Cowin-less Judges’ Table to tell them they were the three winners of the head-to-head competition. They praise Paul’s dish overall, and Tom especially lauds his peach kimchi. Cat applauds Grayson’s willingness to make sandwiches to order, but Tom ribs her for not choosing something more challenging and chef-y than a chicken salad sandwich. Emeril tells Lindsay her meatball was seasoned perfectly and delicious. Cat announces the winner, and it’s Paul. Dude has raked in $50,000 so far on this show. Good for him!
Up next before Judges’ Table are Sarah, Ed and Chris. As the other chefs are sending them out and being supportive and friendly, it’s clear how much more comfortable they all are with one another now that Beverly is gone. But, back to chefs we like: Cat tells Ed his bread was lacking, and Tom tells him he trimmed too much fat from his shortribs. Tom tells Chris that while his dish was healthier, his bread was dry, and Emeril tells him the salad had too many ice chunks. Cat tells Sarah she could’ve lost the cheese from her meatball and added more fat in the meat, and Tom says he wished the salad was more consistent and balanced.
The judges rehash while the cheftestants wait in the Stew Room. Tom says that Sarah’s meatball was “very good” and the only reason she was in the losers’ bracket is because she went up against an “excellent” meatball. Sounds like she’s safe. Emeril was disappointed in Chris’s entire dish; Tom thinks Chris is just an idea man who can’t execute. Ouch. Cat says that Ed didn’t cook to their expectations, and Tom didn’t appreciate Ed’s B.S. about rice being empty calories so he made bread instead.
Who’s going home? Pack your ponytail holders and go, Chris. He thanks them for the opportunity (drink!). They all hug it out in the Stew Room, and Chris is on his way to the “Last Chance Kitchen.”
Up Next Week: Pee -wee Herman (please let there be a Large Marge challenge), chef sweat, bicycle riding and an Elimination Challenge that looks like a fried-food scavenger hunt. And, are the rumors true? We know Beverly ousted Nyesha from “Last Chance Kitchen” last week, and our sources tell us Miss Crying McDisingenuouspants is in the final four. Padma did call Beverly a “warrior” in this week’s “Last Chance” voiceover, so is she being positioned for the big win?