It's the first week of the Champions Round! Just as a reminder, here are the contestants: Anita Lo, Art Smith, Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tracht, Michael Chiarello, and Rick Bayless. It's a nice mix of different approaches and kinds of cuisine, whether that was by design or accident.
Quickfire Challenge: They are divided into two teams, Salt (Hubert Keller, Anita Lo, and Rick Bayless) and Pepper (Art Smith, Michael Chiarello, and Suzanne Tracht). They do the infamous mise en place relay race, where they each have to complete a food prep task (open fifteen oysters, dice five onions, butcher four chickens, and separate and beat five eggs) and the team that completes all the tasks first wins. It's super close all the way through, and both teams start the final round (beating the eggs) at the same time. Art gets a couple of yolks in his whites and Rick Bayless whips eggs like a fiend to take it for the Salt team. Those three chefs get five stars, and the losing three chefs only get four stars.
Before they begin the Elimination Challenge, each chef is told to cook his or her signature dish for the other chefs to sample. And oh, it all looks REALLY GOOD. Along with the food, the chefs share stories about how they became chefs, and why they chose the dish that they chose.
Elimination Challenge: Take one of their fellow chef's signature dishes and make it your own. Yikes! They will be judged by some of the competitors from earlier rounds of the show as well as the trio of Rayner, Oseland, and Greene.
When the scores are tabulated, Rick Bayless and Anita Lo are the top two, but Anita ekes out a win by one star. On the low end of the scale, Suzanne Tracht ends up losing to Art Smith by only half a star, mostly because she plated her food too early and it ended up going out cold. So now there are only five left!
And we're back for the first round of Champions! In case you forgot who is participating, we have Rick Bayless, Michael Chiarello, Anita Lo, Suzanne Tracht, Hubert Keller, and Art Smith. Michael Chiarello interviews that this is kind of like the second day of college, because you've learned a little bit about the lay of the land, and you can exhale and focus on the task at hand, but you're still not completely comfortable.
Kelly Choi launches right into the Quickfire Challenge. The chefs pull knives in order to be put into two teams: Salt and Pepper. The Salt team is Bayless, Keller, and Lo, so the Pepper team is Chiarello, Tracht, and Smith. Kelly tells them that it's time for the mise en place relay. Ooh, this is one of my favorites. Kelly explains that the teams will race to prep a series of ingredients. Keller interviews that none of them has probably done prep in quite a while. Don't these people cook at home? I get that they probably don't do prep at work, but don't they have to chop their own onions in their homes? Just wondering.
Kelly introduces the judge for this challenge: Tom Colicchio. He seriously gets like five minutes of applause and glamour shots. They love that bald dude. Anyway, it is nice to see him again. Colicchio explains the tasks: open fifteen oysters, dice five onions, butcher four chickens, and separate five eggs and beat the whites until they stick in an upside-down bowl for five seconds. Since there are only three per team, one chef will have to do two tasks. The teams negotiate who is going to do which task and then take their spots.
They begin with Keller versus Tracht for opening the oysters. Suzanne takes an early lead and Michael compares her to a Jedi. Hubert notices that he's falling behind and speeds up his game. They end up finishing at almost exactly the same time. So Art and Hubert take over to dice the onions. Art is nervous and drops an onion on the ground to start, and then comments on how the onions are making him cry. Hubert has better technique, but Art flies through the onions and finishes first. Colicchio admittedly doesn't do much checking and I think Hubert's dice was finer, but whatever.
They move on to have Chiarello and Lo butcher their chickens. They both finish within seconds of each other, so going into the last task, the teams are tied. It's Art versus Rick for separating eggs and whipping egg whites. Rick explains that he used to teach pastry-making and taught whipping by hand so that the students could learn the texture. Art, on the other hand, gets some yolks in with his whites and has to fish them out, so Rick starts whipping first. Perhaps as a result, he finishes first, and his egg whites hold in the bowl for five seconds. Team Salt wins! Kelly explains that the three winning members (Anita, Hubert, and Rick) will earn five stars for the Quickfire, and the losing team members will only get four. So it's only a one-star advantage, which seems a little cheap, but we've seen contests decided by one star, so I guess it makes sense.