Padma introduces their guest chef judge -- there's got to be a ridiculous non-word I can make out of that: gudge? Juest? Chest? -- as Alfred Portale, the James Beard Award winner who beat out both Tom Colicchio and Hubert Keller for last year's James Beard Outstanding Chef of the Nation. He's small and intense looking with a small and intensely cultivated soul patch, carefully smoothed hair, and a tightly tailored shirt. "His face is very trapezoidal," the Evil Dr. Mathra notes. When Portale talks, I don't think "chef," I think "detention-happy principal whose name is probably something like McGreevy." Managing to flip a bit in the water, Padma pulls the Top Chef-emblazoned sheet off an aquarium filled chock-a-block with seafood. Hung is psyched, as is Brian (MALARKEY!) who notes, "I'm a seafood chef -- I mean, this is my perfect challenge." I'm a seefood chef, too -- BLAAAAAAH! I guess that doesn't work so well in writing. Brian (MALARKY!) goes on, "If I can't win this one, my employers will fire me, my whole world might dissolve." Wow, that thirteen-restaurant Oceanaire chain is strict. Not to mention all powerful.
Hung is the first to fish the tank, and he Tasmanian Devils his way out of the shot for a moment. He comes back in dragging a milk crate to stand on. I know all the cheftestants -- save CJ, of course -- probably need that milk crate, but I still thought it was funny that Hung was the one to bring it over. Meanwhile, I can't keep my eyes off of how awkwardly Portale is standing. He's shoulders are totally hunched and his knees are bent and he looks like he's doing his level best not to drag his knuckles across the floor. Hung snatches a small green net from Padma and digs sloppily around in the tank. Dale tells us that everyone was dismayed that Hung went first because he was very "aggressive" about how he got out his shellfish. But if you need to root around for various types, how else are you supposed to do it? Delicately with no splashes? "Jesus, Hung, save some for the rest us," Sara N. comments flatly. The complete monotone of her line delivery makes me wonder if she said it -- jokingly? angrily? -- earlier, but because the cameras weren't on her at the time, they made her do it again. Lia tells us that she wasn't worried they would run out of shellfish. Seriously, people. Stop being so fricking precious. Damn, I clearly spoke too soon because as Hung dumps his catch in a bowl -- not even overfilling it as much as others did -- a crawfish flops to the floor. All the cheftestants -- the ones who will be KILLING brothers and sisters of said crawfish in a manner of minutes and not by the "humane" method of putting them in a pot of boiling water, but in the chef method of dismembering the crustacean while it is still alive and kicking and wriggling -- moan, "AWWWW!" Because falling to the floor hurts an exoskeleton way more than a sharp knife. "One of the poor crawfish falls awry. Down below," CJ tell us. Okay, I love that CJ said "awry," but still, sack your uniball up and get over the "poor" crawfish, CJ! For my part, I was more concerned that Hung was going to crush the "poor" crawfish under his foot as he jumped down, but he didn't, so everyone needs to calm down. However, Lia is annoyed that he didn't pick it up, because he's not cleaning up after himself. Well, that is a fair criticism. Hung just starts pulling apart his scallops as Micah is the next to go fishing. She tells us that she used to live in the Bahamas, so she was looking forward to working with conch because it's not something a lot of people are familiar with. The first time I had conch was at Chez Henri in Cambridge, MA. Oh, man. They were deep fried and served with a lemon-chile aioli. Everyone else fishes and not much of note happens except for Tre complaining about not getting enough shellfish because his net broke on him. I'm not sure of the rules here, but when Hung darted over so frenetically, I assumed they had a limited time to fish. However, everyone else seemed to saunter fairly casually to the tank, so maybe that wasn't the case. Then, Tre's complaint makes me think they were only allowed one scoop/pass in the tank, otherwise, broken net or not, he should have been able to go back in and net more shellfish.