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Top Chef: Vivre Las Vegas

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Padma doesn't have to sleep in a teepee, no, but she's not on the same social strata as the chef'testants. Last week's episode exposed the chefs to the privilege of being part of the culinary elite, with the chefs cooking for a room of French celebrity judges, but this week put them back in their place, forcing them to cook in the middle of the desert, and, yes, to sleep in teepees. You will sleep in teepees if Padma deems it so.


Dumping the chefs into a makeshift campground was a clever move for the producers; the desert backdrop afforded little in the way of cookware or a kitchen, sure, but its sparsity also highlighted the prima donnas among the chefs and those who were more willing to roll with it. Some of them delighted in the chance (Matin skipping around in his red bandana talking about the Basque country comes to mind), but some of the chefs were downright pissed. They complained about everything from the camping experience to the challenge of cooking over a fire pit, and with a bitter tone.

But let's back up to the peg for all of this, Tim Love, chef-owner of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, Texas. He introduces the quick-fire challenge, which specifies a tough ingredient: cactus. The big problem with cactus is de-sliming it, and also, not hurting yourself. The chefs don't like this challenge, and don't get great results from Love, whose comments were either absent at the time (as with Ash), or cut completely from the show. Laurine, Mike Isabella, and Matin end up on top, and Mike takes the prize for his cactus and tuna ceviche with pipián.  Also to note here is sore loser Mike Voltaggio, who doesn't care about losing because he'd rather be known for "interesting flavors" instead of knowing how to remove slime from cacti.

The elimination challenge required the chefs to cook again for Love and two dozen ranchers, who were described as a bearded motley crew and Love's "guests." (Really? Did he fly in a posse of Texan ranchers to dine with? If so, neat!)The crop this challenge impressed neither the judges nor the ranchers. Last week, Tom commented that he didn't think they could have had that good of a meal at this point in any other season. Well, take away the chefs' fancy tools, and watch Tom spit it out.

Ron and Matin try to outsmart the open-flame challenge by preparing no-cooking-required ceviches, and they both end up in the bottom three. Ron's was okay, but he served it along with a coconut drink that was "disgusting." How can you not love the big smile and laugh from Ron when he heard the criticism? He just shrugged and said he didn't drink. I figured he'd be sticking around; only half his dish was bad. Plus, he knows how to get ride of snakes with voodoo. Badass.


Matin, though, would not be sticking around. I had a hunch because of all the camera love Matin and his French accent had received during the episode. His ceviches for the elimination challenge weren't good—Tom even spit his out in what I count as the third spitting-out-by-judges in Top Chef history—and Matin didn't realize they weren't good. If Top Chef has taught me anything, it's this: If you are called out in the bottom three, try to figure out what went wrong and own up to it while backing up your intentions. Matin loved his ceviches, so the judges figured he didn't know how to cook any better, and sent his red bandana home. Remarkably, Robin eked by once again. Mike V. had it pegged in the beginning of the episode; she hasn't screwed up enough to go home, but she hasn't proved her worth, either. My money's on her for next week's elimination.


On top this week was Bryan, who beat out his brother a third time with his roasted pork loin, corn polenta, dandelion greens, and glazed rutabaga. Also stepping it was Ashley, a potential "dark horse" who surprised the judges by not ending up in the bottom three, and Laurine, who really seemed to come into her own this episode by doing her own thing instead of paying attention to what other chefs were doing. If doing her thing is grilling, though, I'm not sure she can hold up to Kevin, the Volaggios, Jennifer, and Mike Isabella, who seem to be the top contenders at this point.

Grade: B+


—If you caught tonight's text-in quiz, Top Chef viewers overwhelmingly voted in favor of sleeping in a tent with both Voltaggio brothers, which says a great deal about the demographics watching this show, or at least the kind who will text in to vote. Women and gay men, who are also maybe drunk?

— I can usually take or leave the little personality tributes Top Chef inserts in between commercials toward the end of the show, but this week's let us know that Kevin grew up with a regulation horse-shoe pit in his back yard, which I'm definitely glad I know.

— They're playing Ron as a fool, but it's certainly endearing. Someone get that man a sword!

— Fear not; Scott Tobias returns next week.


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