Quickfire Challenge. Guest judge is Jean-Christophe Novelli who is there to plug his new Bravo show. The challenge is to create "the ultimate sweet treat" without using any sugar. The least successful are Carla, who had to ditch her frozen bananas at the last minute because they didn't freeze, Ariane, who made a whole-wheat crepe that Jean-Christophe found boring and simple, and Jamie, who used too much ricotta and mascarpone cheese in her fruit and phyllo dessert. The top three are Radhika, who made a bread pudding with berries and honeyed nuts, Leah, who made a mini-stack of pancakes with berries and balsamic reduction, and Jeff, who made frozen yogurt with a baklava spring roll. The winner is Radhika, and she wins immunity from elimination.
Padma announces that Toby Young will be joining them as a judge to take over for Gail, while she's getting married. The next morning, Tom tells them that the Elimination Challenge will be to cook a family style meal for a blind tasting, meaning that the judges won't know who made which dish. Other than cost and time, there are no limitations on the food. They will be eliminating two chefs this week, to make up for last week's non-elimination. They pull knives to determine which group they will cook with, and then Radhika gets to choose which one she'll join.
Group A is Melissa, Jamie, Hosea, Eugene, Fabio, and Radhika. Group B is Jeff, Carla, Stefan, Ariane, and Leah. When they arrive at the kitchen, they discover that each group will get to critique the other group's food. And the chefs get to watch it all on a closed-circuit camera.
Group A serves first. Radhika makes a crab bisque and lemon crab salad that doesn't go over well, and Toby Young compares it to Weapons of Mass Destruction. That joke might have been funny five years ago, but it's kind of lame now, and yet all the cheftestants hide their faces and hoot into their napkins like he's the next Dorothy Parker. Sigh. Hosea serves bacon-wrapped halibut with root vegetables and everyone feels that the vegetables are better than the main dish. Jamie cooks scallops again (leading to Fabio's famous "This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops" line) with fennel and orange, and everyone loves them this time. Fabio makes lamb and homemade ravioli; the lamb is undercooked but the ravioli is perfect. Eugene makes a deep-fried fish with daikon in a tomato-basil sauce; it's said to be too bland and the daikon doesn't taste right with the sauce. Melissa makes tuna tacos, which she thinks is kind of safe, but Toby Young says it tastes like cat food. Once again, everyone acts like it's the worst thing anyone has ever said. Maybe I've just watched too many other reality shows with much meaner judges.
Group B has the advantage of knowing a little about the judges. Carla makes risotto with scallops, but the diners think it's too garlicky. Stefan makes roasted duck with braised cabbage and dumplings. Colicchio thinks the dish is great, and Fabio defends it as well. Jeff makes a tapas trio: oysters, seared tuna, avocado sorbet, and grilled peaches. Colicchio thinks it's a bunch of items with no cohesion but Toby Young freaking loves it, and announces it with a slightly more up-to-date reference than the WMD disaster. Ariane makes a skate wing with cauliflower puree, and like they won't know it's her since she made the same puree last week, but the judges enjoy it. Leah makes a fried rouget with fried beans; Jamie doesn't like it, but Toby Young enjoyed it.
The chefs leave, and the judges discuss. Colicchio liked Group B way better, and Toby Young is impressed with the overall quality of the food. At Judges' Table, Ariane, Stefan, and Jamie are named the top three. Jean-Christophe announces that the winner is Jamie, finally. She doesn't get a cookbook or anything, though.
The bottom three are Melissa, Eugene, and Carla. Carla is not surprised that she's there, since she intended to wow them with flavors, and she knew she didn't do that. Melissa liked being able to hear the criticism while her food was consumed, even though it was harsh. Colicchio tells her that her dish was a failure of imagination, and she didn't wow them, when that was the point of the competition. Eugene thinks he's being punished for taking risks, but Colicchio points out that the daikon didn't go with the sauce, and Toby Young thinks the flavors were too mild for what Eugene claims is a failed experiment. Ultimately, the judges keep Carla, and send Eugene and Melissa home.
The morning after the Christmas non-elimination, Fabio is cooking himself "the breakfast of a-champion - Spam, and pork, and bean." It's nice to know that even Top Chefs slum it with Spam every once in a while. Eugene still hasn't gotten over being in the bottom three; he really doesn't think he should have been there. Feel like this might be a recurring problem? Melissa, on the other hand, is starting to crack under the pressure of being in the bottom three. The music goes from sad to happy as Hosea says that he's thrilled to have won the last challenge. Stefan is not at all intimidated by Hosea, and thinks he could cook circles around him. Stefan has a lot of talk but I haven't really seen the goods to back it up yet. I mean, he's a decent chef, but it's not like he's won every challenge and really wowed the judges or anything. Jamie is feeling down and missing her peeps at home, but it just motivates her to win even more.
Elimination Challenge. Padma introduces the guest judge, Jean-Christophe Novelli, who will apparently be starring in his own Bravo show called Chef Academy. Let me tell you, this dude has all the on-camera charisma of a wet paper towel. A French wet paper towel. That show of his will be thrilling! Then again, it's not like Padma is all pep and vigor. Radhika recognizes Novelli as an "acclaimed pastry chef" so she knows this challenge will have to do with desserts. Padma explains (like it's news) that people want to know more about the food they eat, including calories and other nutritional information, so it's important for chefs to figure out ways to make their dishes healthy. So this challenge will be to create "a sweet treat." The challenge is sponsored by a diet soda that I don't really want to mention by name and give them more free advertising, especially because it's not one that I personally enjoy and so I don't want them to, like, send me a free case or anything. Of course, there is a catch, Padma announces. This causes Melissa to bug her eyes way out, like is she really that surprised? That there's a twist? Anyway, the catch is that they can't use any sugar. For maximum visual drama, some poor PA had to load up a cart with all the sugar in the pantry so that Padma can roll it out of the kitchen. It's sort of like when Oprah rolled in the red wagon of fat on her show. But the opposite. Eugene is not confident about his dessert ability. I don't get why this is so hard -- they can use honey, right? They don't mention if they're allowed sugar substitutes. You'd think they are, since that's what's in diet soda.