Jen says that she'll never be a vegetarian personally but she can cook vegetarian food as needed. She's not happy with the produce that she got, since it doesn't fit in with her original plans. Bryan liked his concept but he realizes that he had problems with timing and will just finish with no time to spare. Mike I. is ready to plate but he realizes that his leeks aren't fully cooked. He decides to serve them anyway, because he's confident he can pull it off. Robin starts plating and she realizes that she doesn't have garbanzo beans on every plate. Three plates go out with no beans. She's frantic as usual. It makes me anxious. Can't she specify who gets which plate? Like don't give the judges the plates with no beans?
Padma, Tom, Gail, and Paul Bertolotta sit at a table with Natalie Portman and her hipster friends. Robin is the first to serve. She made stuffed squash blossom, beet carpaccio, fresh garbanzo beans, and chermoula. Padma is super giggly and comments that she can feel her ankles swelling due to all the salt in the dish. Tom didn't get any garbanzo beans, so Paul shares one as everyone laughs. I think this group has been drinking. Natalie loved the visual appeal, but Gail thinks there was a salt issue, and Tom agrees.
Eli interviews that there's no hiding in the middle anymore, and you're either on the top or bottom. He serves confit of eggplant, creamed lentils, spring garlic puree, and radish salad with wild herbs. Natalie likes the texture of the eggplant, and the flavors in the salad. Paul agrees, but then notes that he had some lavender in his salad, and it was a bit overpowering. That would be like eating soap, which is also what Paul points out (and Padma and Natalie die laughing -- are they high?)
Michael V. is frantic just before plating, because he can't find his chopped hazelnuts, and he claims that he takes food more seriously than his opponents. And he thinks his food will confuse Natalie, but she'll still like it. He serves asparagus salad, Japanese tomato sashimi, and banana polenta. Everyone is confused by the banana polenta, but when they taste it, they love it. Gail isn't crazy about the big chunks of banana, and Paul is a little put off by the non-traditional polenta. Natalie calls Michael "Picasso," and Padma laughs that it's the second time someone has said that. She thinks the dish makes her happy and confused all at the same time.
Jen isn't happy with how her plate looks, because she has less food than her opponents, and she knows she's not safe in this round. She made charred baby eggplant, braised fennel, tomato coins with wild coriander and verjus nage. Jen adds the sauce at the table, and her hands are shaking so badly that the sauce goes all over. She doesn't know why she's so nervous, but the diners totally notice her shaking. Gail loves the sauce and Natalie jokes that it added some danger to the presentation. Gail worries that the dish isn't substantial enough and Natalie points out that vegetarians are often served dishes that feel like a collection of sides instead of an entrée. Another guest thinks this dish would have made a great side, alongside a steak, and Natalie laughs for twenty minutes. Doesn't she think that eating meat is like rape? That shouldn't be so funny. And by the way, there are about a million logical flaws in both her argument and Foer's book that I won't get into here, but it makes me sad because I think it's a good cause that people are going to dismiss now because of the wackjobs.
Mike I. thinks his dish looks great, but he knows that the leeks are not finished and it's going to hurt him. He still hopes to be a finalist, though. He serves whole roasted leeks with onion jus, baby carrot puree, and fingerling potatoes with fresh radish and dill. Did he roast the leeks? I thought he boiled them. I would think a roasted leek would have more caramelization. He explains to the diners that he wanted to give them a protein (he means the feel of a protein) with the leeks. Padma is confused, because there's no protein and Mike tries to explain what he means. Padma thinks the whole dish smells like boiled turnip. Ouch. Tom points out that the leeks are undercooked. Natalie appreciates the concept, especially the colors, but the execution just wasn't there. Gail agrees.
Bryan is losing time when it comes to plating, and he doesn't feel like he got to place the food exactly how he wanted, and he even left some food off the plate due to lack of time, but he doesn't say what it was. He serves artichoke barigoule, confit of shallot, wild asparagus, and fennel puree with garlic blossoms. Padma says that the garlic blossoms are "like a little prick on the tip of my tongue" and Natalie tells her not to say that. I guess it's good that she refrained from "That's what she said," because I don't know that I could have. Then Padma goes on to say that the garlic blossoms are "tiny in size" but "big in my mouth." And then everyone dies laughing because get it? It's like she's talking about a penis! Seriously, they're high, right? When did this show get so racy? And no one talks about poor Bryan's food.
Kevin is worried that this dish looks sloppy, and not as pretty as some of the others. He made a duo of mushrooms (morel and Hen of the Woods), smoked kale, candied garlic, and turnip puree. His dish looks like a pile of brown crap to me. Gail thought it was meaty, but the kale may have been too smoky. The guests agree that they don't miss pasta or grain. Why didn't anyone make pasta? Weird. Maybe there wasn't time? Then again, now that Ashley's gone, none of the remaining chefs have really been known to knock out a homemade pasta.
As the judges pack up, Mike V. tastes the food that Bryan didn't get to put on his plate and says that it's full of grease anyway, so it's all for the best. Mike I. and Kevin are both nervous. Mike I. knows his wasn't great, but he hopes that his was still better than Robin's. Jen says that her dish was really bad, and as usual, she has no confidence in her food and thinks she's going home.
Weird interstitial. The cheftestants go to Paul's restaurant and Kevin eats all of the food in the world.
Padma comes into the Stew Room and asks to see Kevin, Michael V., and Eli. So there's your top three. I know I complain about this every week, but couldn't they at least try to make it suspenseful? Once they are in front of the judges, Padma relieves the non-suspense and says that they are the top three. Kevin and Michael say thanks and Eli says nothing because he has no social skills. They start with Michael, and Tom has specific praise for the banana polenta, and how inventive it was. This would be a good time for Michael to admit that he didn't come up with it. Somewhere, there's a chef watching this episode and shaking his fist at the sky and going, "Voltaggio!" For some reason, in my imagination, that chef looks like Patton Oswalt. Natalie enjoyed the sense of humor and jokes that she wondered, "Who is his dealer and does he want new clients?" Okay, that confirms that they're all high, right?
Gail compliments Eli's visual appeal, and how beautiful the dish was. Tom thought it was interesting and fun to eat. Natalie tells Kevin that his smoked kale was awesome, and she thought the whole dish was wonderful. Tom didn't miss the meat at all (and Padma and Natalie refrain from giggling again). Natalie gets to announce the winner and it's...Kevin! Again. Kevin is especially proud because he typically has won for cooking meat, and this was something different. And he won a bunch of appliances. Michael V. interviews that he could've made Kevin's dish in twenty minutes. But he didn't. And Kevin did. So Michael V. is kind of saying that the judges are simple, without saying that. And he's a poor loser.
Mike I., Robin, and Jen get called back in as the bottom three. Natalie wonders why there wasn't a protein. Mike I. explains his original idea about searing medallions of leek like a protein. Except he still doesn't explain it well and Gail has to ask, "You know that a leek isn't a protein, right?" Mike babbles that he thinks that his other components were great. Tom begs to differ, because he thinks that the carrots were just okay and the leeks were so bad, he couldn't get past them, especially when you can roast a leek in twenty minutes. So if Mike had equipment problems, he could have overcome them easily by switching things up. Mike's response is, "Whatever, whatever. What're you gonna do?" Tom is not impressed.