Top Chef

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The Patriotic Picnic
k a crap on his table barely missing the portabella mushrooms. The duck wins! Following tamely in the duck's shadow, Amanda presents her dry-rub baby back ribs. Random question: How does one market a baby's back ribs? I mean, it takes some balls to put BABY in the name of something everyone is expected to eat. Anyway. Amanda has grilled asparagus and a salad with a meyer lemon-bacon- hazelnut vinaigrette. Since meyer lemon, dry rub, bacon, and hazelnuts are all Magical Foodie Buzzwords and she has Crazy Eyes, my guess is Amanda will win. The judges head back to their picnic table with two plates of ribs and Kelly's bison burger and Kevin's in-law's rice and beans. Tim's meat is a dry disappointment and Kelly's bison burger is "nothing a home cook couldn't do". Don't let all the double negatives fool you: GAIL HATES HOME COOKS. Remember that when it comes time to not renew your Food & Wine subscription. Amanda's ribs trounce Tim's ribs, but it's her grilled asparagus that gets Jonathan Waxman's lady parts in a tizzy. Kevin's rice and beans are bland and everyone takes turns mocking them. Kevin is totally getting excommunicated from his family when this episode airs. Puerto Rican in-laws are no joke! The judges trudge back to the grills. Culinary instructor Lynne has prepared a leg of lamb with ras el hanout, zucchini faux spaghetti and balsamic onions. Kenny made harissa, he has immunity so who cares. Last in the group is Tracey and her sausage sliders. Lynne's dish comes across as heavy, Tracey's slider is over-fenneled, over-sized, and undercooked. Kenny has immunity. Back for a final go round at the feeding trough: Tiffany offers wild sockeye salmon with a tamarind game and Andrea has root beer glazed skirt steak and Stephen serves up his bacon-wrapped sea bass and, as promised, Ed says "tuna" and "loin" in the same sentence and doesn't get bleeped by the FCC. The judges settle in for a snack n' sneer. But they all look surprised when they actually like Ed's dish despite the fact that he totally ignored Tom's advice. Luckily Andrea's dish is too sweet and Tiffany's glaze is flavorless and Stephen's dish lived up to his worst nightmare: undercooked bacon paired with overcooked fish. Delish!

As the judges head off to the vomitorium, the chefs all sample each other's wares. Angelo is in love with Amanda's ribs. He loves them so much he can't wait for the day that he can legally marry them and not settle for second-class citizenship of domestic meat partnership. Then we have one of those brief Bravo interludes where they run the B-roll for filler because ...actually I have no idea why. But! Tracey is a clairvoyant! With 85% accuracy!

The cheftestants all wait in the pre-fab set for their green room looking miserable and second guessing their use of Szechuan peppercorns instead of Heinz ketchup what with this being America and all. Padma comes in and asks for Arnold, Amanda, Angelo and Ed because they couldn't be seen to just favoring names that start with A. That would have been unfair. She congratulates them on their winning dishes. Everyone smiles, except for Angelo, because he's totally used to this scene. The judges demand to know how Ed had the cojones to make a tuna sandwich for a picnic. I mean: BALLER, right? Ed explains that he's made a lot of tartines in his day and it just came from that. He'd also like to thank his grandma and her spuma, if he can say that on television. Tom Colicchio really liked Arnold's meatballs. He took a bite and thought, "Wow, there's food here!" Um, yes, Tom. Arnold's balls were meaty and delicious. You can go shower now. Amanda's ribs get accolades, her asparagus gets lauded, and her salad was derided as having an existentialist crisis with a meaningless existence. Angelo's wrap had nice snap. That was it. Snap. Jonathan Waxman gets the privilege of announcing the winner: Arnold's balls! Arnold sticks out his tongue in glee. Angelo sticks out his in exasperation. Amanda claims that being in the top four is just as good as winning, which is actually true because one of the weirdest things about Top Chef is that when you win a challenge you don't get anything. In fact, winning a Quickfire is FAR SUPERIOR to winning an Elimination Challenge because you can win immunity or, like, $20,000 dollars. $20 large is a hell of a lot better than a pat on the head from the judges. So yeah, aim high-ish, chefs. The crown of victory weighs heavy and it is Arnold's solemn duty to call up his fellow chefs for summary execution. On the chopping block today: Tim, Stephen, Kevin, and Tracey. As Padma explains that their dishes were very, very disappointing, Tim shakes his head in confusion. But but...he's a man! From (arguably) the South! He knows how to barbecue! How could this have happened? Stephen looks like he is going to cry as Tom calls his dish bland, oily, unappealing, and tough. As Gail berates Kevin for making bland Puerto Rican food, he tries to explain that the food he made is exactly as his Actual Puerto Rican in-laws make it on a daily basis. Gail points out that home cooks are like earthworms that need to be crushed under foot and he, as a CHEF, needs to aim for the stars. Then she says his in-laws have bad taste and he has ugly glasses. Enough, Gail! Let the man have some shred of dignity. Or at least don't make it so his in-laws want to cover him in mojo sauce and run him out on a plantain rail. Tracey isn't surprised to be here BECAUSE SHE IS CLAIRVOYANT and, yes, Jonathan Waxman, she did taste her food. Tom raises the insult bar and claims that her food was insulting to Italians, including him. Tracey wasn't sure how to respond to that because, what the fuck, Tom, don't call her racist because her sausage patty sucked! The judges send the losers out so they can mock them in private.

Tim's food gets the high praise of "edible", but Tracey's patty could have been made by Jonathan Waxman's ugly and toothless stepchild. Alex's rice and beans was an affront to both his in-laws and Gail and Stephen's fish was un-picnic-like. How will the judges ever choose which of these losers to send home? Tom calls the Losers back in to flog them for their failures. And what were those crimes again? Stephen: CONDUCT UNBECOMING A PICNIC!; Tim: WATERY BEANS!; Kevin: CRIMES AGAINST RICE! Tracey: WHITE BREAD! SLIMY ONIONS! Tracey is sent home, because it was a barbecue challenge and girls can't grill. But don't worry, she knew she was going home. She is clairvoyant. She is prepared, she is ready. She has a career as a psychic waiting for her.

Melissa Locker a.k.a. Lulu Bates would never deign to dine with interns. You can follow her on Twitter @woolyknickers, although @aplusk is fitter.

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Top Chef




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