Ever since the irascible Howie packed up his knives on last week’s Top Chef: Miami, I’ve wondered if the show would lose its bite. Well, it looks like the chefs discovered a new villain … sorta.

Spoilers on the menu.

Padma helps the chefs rise and shine when she invades the contestants’ bedrooms to wake them for a breakfast Quickfire Challenge. CJ is stoked and waxes eloquent: "I mean the sun shines brightly, but Padma might shine even brighter than that." The women and Dale (not to be swayed by the whole man-woman thing) know better. A smiling Padma means a challenge.

Sure enough the chefs are given 20 minutes to make breakfast with the help of a blender. It’s chaos from the first minute, and it doesn’t help that Hung is dropping truffle oil and produce left and right. Nevertheless, his culinary cojones wins over our gentle host even though she doesn’t normally like steak and eggs for breakfast. Maybe it has something to do with his smoothie, which combines papaya, bananas, honey and a healthy dose of Grand Marnier. Hair of the dog, perhaps?

The six then learn that they’re hitting the road with Aspen as their final destination. Their first stop is New York though … or that’s what they’re led to believe. The Top Chef cat-and-mouse begins anew when the chefs step off the plane at Newark Airport. Huh? Not La Guardia or JFK?

It turns out that they first have to participate in the Elimination Challenge: creating first-class meals that have to be reheated on the plane and served to the judges and Continental Airlines flight attendants. And if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere — or at least to Manhattan. The booted chef only gets a glimpse of the Big Apple in the distance as he/she flies home.

Here’s a rundown of what they served and how it was received:

Casey – Veal medallions with crimini and apple brandy sauce with a cauliflower au gratin. Her excellent control of flavor and texture won her yet another challenge. The girl who couldn’t chop an onion is on a roll and earns guest judge Anthony Bourdain’s praise.
CJ – Pan-seared halibut with toasted farro and dry, charred, overcooked broccolini.
Hung – Sea bass with herb and tomato sauce with baby squash and onions. Perfectly cooked. Unlike the frozen food challenge, Hung was able to actually execute the dish perfectly despite the technical challenges.
Sara – Salmon over a leek fondue and a flavorless fig couscous
Dale – Steak au poivre with a rich demi glaze and zucchini. Unfortunately, he miscounted and came up one meal short.
Brian – A huge, honkin’ NY strip with a purple potato and lobster hash that was way dry and rubbery.

A few thoughts before revealing the loser:

– Do the chefs really need Tom Colicchio cutting into their precious prep time to ask them how difficult this challenge is? We saw several times that the chefs were running around like the proverbial chickens and almost dropping their food or burning it because they’re caught up talking to him.
– Yes, we know Hung is odd, focused and self-involved, but really, the other chefs sound like whiny babies. When he was done cooking, he wasn’t obligated to help CJ package his meals. And Dale, who got in a huff and helped instead was the one who came up short later. So perhaps he should pay attention to his own output.
– When one contestant wonders aloud how Bourdain will be in the judging room, Sara responds, "Oh, evil." Really? He’s blunt and approaches his critiques with a rather Technicolor glee, but is he ever unfair or wrong about the food? He’s just as effusive about good cooking. I think some chefs would rather demonize him than face their own shortcomings.
– I like the youthful mentality among the contestants. I think there were two cartoon references tonight. One, where Dale compared the line of flight attendants to "ants from a Tom and Jerry cartoon," and another when CJ says that Brian’s huge steak portion is like The Flinstonesbrontosaurus steak. Yabba dabba delicious!

In the end, it was CJ‘s sorry excuse for a side that got him eliminated. I mean, what do you expect when you hear comments like these?

– "They were cleaning Bob Marley’s house and found this in the closet."
– "I’ve picked out prettier things out of the garbage."
– "It was sickening."
– "That wouldn’t ever be served in any establishment. Not even in prison."
– "Beyond Hell."
– "That was the single worst thing we’ve had in three years of this competition."
– "Dude, what are you thinking?"

What did you think about the decision? Who’s impressing you now?

Posted by:Hanh Nguyen