Melissa King, George Wendt, Padma Lakshmi

Well, I’ll be damned.

You may remember a few weeks ago when I was chiding Joy for talking about how a meat should be prepared only to be eliminated for mispreparing said meat, a huge Reality Show Red Flag. I went on to point out that the only greater invitation to elimination was whining about how much you miss your kids. So imagine my surprise when we opened this week’s episode with Keriann weeping over her children at home. Man, I figured she was a goner for sure. However, I forgot the Reality Show Red Flag kid caveat, which reads, “Weeping openly about your children will result in an automatic (not automatic) elimination, except in those cases where said emotion is funneled into some kind of rebound.” So to Keriann, a tip of the cap to you and best of luck in your future Top Chef endeavors.

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As for the rest of the episode, there was plenty to anticipate, as the chefs were invited to meet Padma at 84 Beacon Street, home of inimitable sitcom Cheers, where she and special guest George Wendt were waiting for them. Poor George Wendt looked miserable, as though he couldn’t wait to bust out of there with his paltry appearance fee in hand, perhaps through the wall, Kool-Aid Man style. Oh yeah! This week’s non-elimination Quickfire Challenge centered around Boston’s prolific bar scene and, more specifically, on the fact that the law dictated that each bar must sell food.

With this new factoid in mind the contestants are told to make a tasty bar snack made entirely from ingredients found in the (now well-stocked) bar kitchen. Padma and George make stilted conversation, each sentence interspersed with a sip from their branded Cheers mugs in case you forgot what bar was hosting the show at that moment. With Norm. From Cheers. The dishes produced were relatively good across the board, though let’s take a moment to note the effort from Aaron, who set out to put a “unique spin on a hamburger” by making one with mayo and peanut butter. Sorry, champ. That burger, known regionally as a goober (or guber) burger, has been banging around for ages. Better luck next time. That said, his burger was tasty, as it should be, and he’s middle of the pack. Bringing up the rear, however, was Aaron’s good buddy Swayze (James) who found himself inspired to make a vegetable crudo with hummus. In Michigan, he claims, all the bars serve hummus. I’m skeptical about this claim but as I have not visited all the bars in Michigan, I will refrain from calling him a liar. Next to our good friend Swayze, the liar, is Gregory who had a tough day plating, with roughly a half-dozen ingredients jumping off his plate to their untimely death on the way out of the kitchen.

On the other side of the aisle were two relative surprises, in Katsuji and Keriann. Katsuji laid down some tasty looking ceviche while Keriann made a pile of things! The pile of things included an onion ring, some crab salad, and some hollandaise sauce because why not? Mercifully, Keriann did not win immunity for her pile of things and the honor instead went to Katsuji who, at this point in the episode, seemed like he had really turned his cuisine around after a pretty abysmal start to the scene.

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Immunity established, George Wendt was finally dismissed, replaced by chef and restaurateur Michael Schlow, owner of Via Matta, the restaurant that would be home to this week’s Elimination Challenge. The task at hand required the chefs to break down into teams and plan a three-course, classic Italian menu. The customers in the restaurant that evening will pick which team’s menu they’d like to order from and the team with the most orders wins. Eliminations will come from anyone who didn’t win. Padma points out that this will be a double-elimination, which makes sense, since no one went home with last week’s SUDDEN DEATH QUICKFIRE. It’ll be interesting to see if we see that structure reappear throughout the season.

The teams self-select, a process that always serves as a fascinating look into the dynamics at work within the current contestants. Mei, Doug, and Adam immediately find each other, which makes sense as they’re three very strong chefs, though all sous chefs which leaves them a bit lacking in the menu planning department. Rebecca, Katie, and Stacy end up together, which also makes sense because they are three bland chefs I can never remember the names of. That’s not true. I remember Stacy because everyone likes a townie. Then things get a little weirder. You have Keriann, who hasn’t proven to be the strongest chef in previous episodes, pairing up with Melissa, who did well last episode, and Swayze who was apparently standing near them. Leaving Gregory, Katsuji, and Aaron on a team, which makes no sense except for all the sense it makes. Katsuji and Aaron have be nipping at each other for several weeks now, irritatingly, and both have exhibited personalities that other people would want to avoid in a work environment. As for Gregory? I’m just not sure. The episode opened with everyone talking about how much they liked Gregory but there must be some festering resentment in there for him to be left babysitting for an entire challenge. That’s some passive-aggressive shit right there.

Red flags are immediately raised on Swayze’s team when he fails to put his foot down regarding his team’s lack of red meat course, even when specifically asked, “Are you okay with us doing fish?” “Yes.” Oh Swayze. Never lie. And never go along to get along. Elsewhere the teams are surprisingly easy-going, finding a natural rhythm. For Aaron’s team, of course, that natural rhythm includes a solid bass line of continual bitching, but that’s just par for the course at this point. During service the chefs are thrown a curveball when Emmy Rossum joins the judges table unbeknownst to them. Emmy has been gluten-free for 15 years so every team will have to make some kind of adjustment when it comes to the second course.

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This is an interesting kink to throw in the works at this point because for the most part, this is only a challenge for the individual making the second course, which seems entirely unbalanced but didn’t end up making a difference either way. Adam, Melissa, and Katie all handled their course adjustments easily, substituting quinoa or risotto or zucchini pasta, whereas Katsuji, safe with immunity, served Emmy Rossum the pea insides of his otherwise prepared raviolo which looked, for all intents and purposes, like a plate full of baby vomit. It was at this point that I wished that Anthony Bourdain had been in Blais’ seat as I suspect he would have set the restaurant on fire with his mind. Alas, Blais was merely offended as a chef. Noted.

As the orders pour in, it becomes obvious that Aaron’s team will prevail and rightly so. Their menu is well-plotted and food is strong. Adam’s team of heavys also sneaks out of the bottom for having outstanding food, even if their menu lacked a little luster. Ultimately, Swayze’s underwhelming chilled seafood salad, Stacy’s completely miscalculated sliced ribeye and vegetables, and Rebecca’s unimaginative scallops flounder at the bottom and only Stacy walks away unscathed.

Another episode that was fine but uninspired. What could have been interesting (What if instead of the most tickets ordered winning, the least tickets ordered lost?) or dramatic (What if the teams were judged as actual teams, winners and losers?) or supernatural (What if Anthony Bourdain was there and he set things on fire with his mind?) was instead middling and predictable. Get it together, Top Chef. Manufactured contestant drama isn’t going to cut it for much longer.

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Quickfire Winner: Katsuji

Elimination Challenge Winner: Aaron, Gregory, and Katsuji

Elimination Challenge Loser: Swayze (James) and Rebecca

Bitchin’ ‘Bout Blais:

  • Largely inoffensive. Also, I’m already over my word limit.

Stray Observations:

  • In case you didn’t notice, I’m having trouble grading the show this season. I mean, it’s not bad. It’s just disappointing. Log your community grades so I know how badly I’m missing the mark.

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