Top Chef

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Salty Gnocchi

It's morning in the house, and Eli and Michael V. are making breakfast for everyone. It doesn't look like anything too fancy: bacon, fried eggs, some other unidentified food. But it's still a nice gesture. Ash interviews that he sometimes feels inadequate because he didn't go to culinary school, but some of the other chefs, like Michael V., don't act like typical culinary school grads anyway. And also Ash wants to prove that you don't need culinary school to succeed. Based on his performances so far, which have included many trips to the bottom two, he's not doing so well with that. I don't think it's necessarily a factor of going to culinary school or not, but it may be that people who are really serious about becoming chefs tend to go to culinary school?

Michael V. explains that he has two daughters, 5 and 9, and he needs to do well in the competition or else he will feel like his time away from them was wasted time. Whoa. I would never have pegged him as a dad. He's only 30; he had those kids pretty young. In other tales of epic struggle, Jen is not feeling well this morning. Hungover? Just tired out? She explains that she's worked sick many times and she just wants to make it through the Quickfire. I hope she's hungover and not the type of sick that is contagious, because I definitely wouldn't want to eat her food if she's coughing germs all over it. Jen tells Ashley that she's about to throw up. I'm still voting hangover.

Quickfire Challenge. The chefs arrive in the kitchen, and are greeted by Padma and Tyler Florence. What the fuck is Padma wearing? It's a silky green jumpsuit that looks like it was left over from Cher's Vegas show. But it's not something you would wear, you know, if you weren't on stage. Which I guess she is, in a sense, but not really. The cheftestants do their typical interview love-fest on Tyler Florence, although you can kind of tell that they don't REALLY respect him, because he's a TV chef. I mean, he's not Hubert Keller or something. Plus, he endorses a chain restaurant and he's achieved mainstream success. HERETIC! Burn him! I honestly don't care one way or the other, and I've never eaten his food, so who knows? But I do find the food snobbery that surrounds this show kind of hilarious because it is, you know, on television.

Anyway, the Quickfire is sponsored by a cooking website that didn't pay me to promote them so I'm not going to, but basically, you can search for recipes by keyword. And because they're in Vegas, they're going to use a slot machine to assign each cheftestant three keywords. And it's a high stakes Quickfire, but we don't know the stakes yet. So hopefully, it's not elimination because that would be a mean last-minute announcement.

Each cheftestant comes up and pulls the slot machine's arm, and we start to get a taste for how dumb the keywords are. It seems to be a word that describes a mood (romantic, stressed (?), blue, etc.) and then a word that describes a flavor (spicy, tart, cheesy, umami, etc.) and then a type of cuisine (Latin American, Asian, etc.). But some of the mood words make no sense. Stressed? How do you make food that is stressed? That is just dumb, especially for a Quickfire, where you have very little time to ruminate on what stressed food might be. We don't get to see everyone's words, so I won't list them out here, but I'll explain them when I list the final dishes made. Also, one of the flavor words is cheesy, which doesn't seem to fit the category very well.

Various cheftestants try to explain to us what umami means. Eli goes right for the mushrooms, since one of his words is umami, and he interprets it as meaning "earthy." And then everyone else who has umami wants mushrooms, but Eli is loath to give them up. Mike I. is freaked out because he's never cooked Asian food, and that's his assigned style. Ashley has Middle Eastern, which is out of her comfort zone, but she's feeling more confident since she's been in the top recently. Robin is also confident after winning the last Quickfire, even if she knows her fellow cheftestants hate her. Jen is sick. Don't know if I mentioned that. She's not confident in her food as a result. They are really pushing the Jen no-confidence thing lately, and I've noticed that a lot of the other cheftestants don't put her in their top four, even though she's won a lot of challenges. Sexism? Hard to say.

Time to eat! I'm going to put each dish in its own paragraph for clarity.

Mike I. had stressed, umami, and Asian. So is he supposed to smush some mushrooms and then stir fry them? This is why, among many reasons, I would fail on this show. Anyway, he made a raw mushroom salad with yuzu emulsion. He doesn't explain how that fits his keywords, and the judges don't ask, that we see.

Laurine had romantic, tart, and Latin American. See, her words kind of make sense. I can see how a dish could be romantic. Anyway, her interpretation was crusted goat cheese salad with orange jalapeno vinaigrette and hibiscus flowers. I don't know how it tastes, but I think it fits her theme.

Ash had tired, tart, and Italian, so he made "pantry" pasta puttanesca. He doesn't talk much about the ingredients, so I'm not sure how puttanesca is tart. There's another mound of pasta next to it, but he doesn't say what that is, and they don't ask. So you know he's not winning.

Michael V. had adventurous, tangy, and Asian, so he made a yuzu curd with whipped Greek yogurt and seaweed cracker. I guess it's adventurous because he made a dessert, but I'm not sure how Greek yogurt fits into the Asian theme. Tyler likes the flavor combination.

Eli has stressed, umami, and Latin so he made a mushroom ceviche with avocado marble. I still don't get stressed and no one is explaining it to me. Tyler kind of pulls a face when he tastes it, and Eli shrugs like, "Maybe it wasn't stressed enough."

Kevin had stressed, spicy, and Asian, so he made char-grilled pork with Vietnamese herb salad. He explains to Padma that he has never really cooked Asian food before, but presumably he's eaten Asian food, so at least he understands the flavor profile, right?

Bryan had adventurous, crispy, and Asian, so he made seared scallops with bok choy and tempura beads. And that's adventurous because...of the tempura beads? Which I assume would just be little hunks of deep-fried batter? Tyler points out that it's a kind of general Asian, whereas Kevin chose a specific Asian cuisine.

Robin had stressed, umami, and Middle Eastern, and she made a root vegetable hash with cumin and curry oil. I don't know enough about umami to judge if she fulfilled that keyword, and I've already made my feelings about stressed pretty well-known. So did she at least make a Middle Eastern dish? Padma points out that curry isn't really Middle Eastern. And Padma would know, being born in India. Robin kind of babbles for a minute before admitting that Padma is right.

Ashley had blue, cheesy, and Middle Eastern. Weird that she's the only one who got those first two words, no? Tyler laughs that it's a pretty tough combination. She made feta pudding with sumac dusted halibut. All of those words kind of gross me out, both individually, and together.

Jen had adventurous, nutty, and American, so she made Maine diver scallops with pistachios and salmon roe. And she even explains how each component fits each keyword, so that makes me happy, even if the judges don't seem impressed.

Tyler is ready to announce his favorites and least favorites, but first acknowledges that it was a difficult challenge. His least favorites were Robin, because her dish wasn't Middle Eastern, Eli, because he drowned out the umami flavor with citrus, and Jen, because he didn't think her dish was adventurous. I thought other dishes met their keywords less successfully, but maybe if I'd heard their full explanations, I would feel differently.

Now for the favorites: Mike I, whose food was "fresh and delicious," Kevin, who made a cuisine he'd never cooke

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