We’re down to the final six chefs, which means that the producers of Top Chef starts getting really crafty, first throwing the contestants into teams of two for the Quickfire and then forcing the teammates to compete head-to-head in the Elimination Challenge.
After Beverley’s elimination, some members of the team are sad to see her go and others (ahem, Sara and Lindsey) are so self-righteous they could spit. Cat Cora, the lone woman iron Chef, meets the chefs in the kitchen alongside Emeril Legasse to present their Quickfire challenge, which combines the relay race from seasons past with, you know, actually having to cook with the ingredients once they’ve hastily shucked, scoured, or deveined them. The chefs get split into teams of two that seem to vaguely go along personality types: There’s smug Lindsay and Sarah, laid-back Asian bros Ed and Paul, and quirky underdogs Grayson and Chris Jones. Each of the teams has to shell, devein, and butterfly two pounds of shrimp, shuck a crate of corn, and make a pound of fettuccine in 40 minutes. Their cooking time is whatever they have leftover from this prepping marathon.
It’s an interesting twist on the relay race because, as events showed, it doesn’t matter how precisely and swiftly you can de-kernel a corncob if you can’t make something sufficiently delectable with it. Once the ingredients are done, no matter how much time is left, it becomes basically anyone’s game. Lindsay and Sarah broke ahead of the pack early, finishing the tasks before everyone else and whipping up a shrimp and pasta tarragon dish. Paul and Ed came in second in the mise race but poor Paul, convinced that he’s bad luck on a team with Ed, actually ends up sinking them both by forgetting to add the shrimp to their dish at all. Grayson and Chris lag behind thanks to an overly-dry pasta dough from Grayson, but in the less than ten minutes they have, they manage to pull out something that looks surprisingly delicious, crisping up some bacon in the deep fryer and adding it to their dish. When Cora announces that Chris and Grayson have the winning dish, Sarah’s face drops only about an inch before she proclaims to the camera that it was only because Cora doesn’t like tarragon. Something like that. Not that it nets either Grayson or Chris immunity, but $10,000 is nothing to sneeze at.
Of course, camaraderie lasts only as long as the next challenge on Top Chef, and so Padma announces that the teammates are now direct competitors, both making the same meal for a 200 person block party. I was a little surprised at the lack of innovation in the brainstorming session. Yeah, Grayson got flack for convincing Chris Jones to do chicken salad sandwiches, but Heather and Lindsay’s meatball solution wasn’t much better, and Ed and Paul’s kalbi seemed a little predictable, if by far the tastiest. But that’s not all, folks! Because Healthy Choice sponsors this challenge, all of them have to strive to make their dishes less fatty than the average meal.
The chefs tackle this section of the challenge with wildly varying definitions of what makes a meal healthier. Whenever the Top Chef contestants have to do a calorie-conscious challenge, you can hear the eyes rolling. It’s no ones favorite, and some of the chefs chose to ignore most of that provision of the challenge. Grayson, for example, pretty much just made chicken salad, only using less mayo than usual. Ed replaced the empty calories of rice with a homemade bread made of rice flour, but didn’t make much of an adjustment to the fatty 9and ever delicious) short rib he was grilling. Chris Jones, on the other hand, attempted a tofu emulsion to replace the fatty mayo in his chicken salad, and Paul used ground turkey and lettuce wraps to replace the traditional short rib and rice kalbi altogether.
Lindsay and Sarah both made healthy meatballs without much that looked particularly stunning on either plate, though Tom Colicchio seemed to think Lindsay’s meatball deserved its own plaque. Lindsay won her head-to-head challenge, and Paul, with his dish that managed to be both yummy and not overwhelmingly bad for you, took the grand prize. Grayson won her match-up because she had the foresight to plate each sandwich to order, but was roundly criticized by the judges for choosing chicken salad in the first place. I’m not sure that’s necessarily fair. Chicken salad is pretty boring, but not necessarily more boring than meatballs. In the end, no one seemed to make a transcendent dish and pretty much all of them pulled through making a 200-person catering menu without too many scars.
But the chef numbers must ever dwindle, and so the judges had to cull one from the less-successful challengers. In the end, Chris Jones and his top-knot went home for making sandwiches beforehand and failing too blend his pineapple ice. Ouch. But at least, and I say this from my heart, Chris Jones turned out to be far less douche than I supposed from his first few episodes. And then there were five.