Weird interstitial. The cheftestants go to visit a wine cave and the owner, Tony Terlato, gives them a wine tasting. Creepy. Caves.
While waiting for judging, the cheftestants get to sit in an actual room at an actual table like human beings. It's disconcerting! Padma calls them all in at once for questioning. You guys, what is Padma wearing? I just realized that she's wearing some crazy black dress with cutouts at the shoulders and then it looks like armwarmers? Bizarro. Anyway, Padma and Tom acknowledge that the level of talent this season is higher than any previous season first. They start by talking to Kevin. Chiarello says his vegetarian dish was perfect. Colicchio gets in a dig when he says that it was simple, and he knows some of the other cheftestants might not see the big deal, but it was perfectly done and showed restraint. Of course, they cut to Michael for a reaction shot, and he's looking up through his eyebrows, all pouty. Love it, and love that the judges acknowledged that simple isn't bad. Gail asks about the texture of the brisket, and Kevin says that he was happy with the dish. Chiarello asks if he would have cooked it differently if he had more time, and Kevin thinks about it and says that he would have, if only to provide some textural contrast to the soft polenta underneath. That was a good rationale, but I'm not really buying it, especially since he admitted while prepping that he was worried about the brisket being too tough.
Moving on to Bryan, who worries that his dish was too simple (despite the fact that it had a million ingredients). Gail counters that it was subtle, and Padma chimes in that the pumpkin was delicious, but she wanted more seasoning on the sauce. Bryan explains that he didn't have a lot of time to get the short ribs tender, so he deboned it. Tom asks about the fig glaze, and Gail says that she could see "the figginess" of the glaze, but she couldn't taste it.
Michael talks about how he didn't use tricks and just let the natural flavors of the local food shine through. Gail asks him about the vegetables being cut too small, and adds that their texture was lost. Padma has to bring up her watery egg. Michael tries to claim that he didn't shake off the excess when serving, and Tom shoots back that Michael knew he was serving the judges and should have been more careful. I don't think Tom likes Michael's attitude. I'm glad someone is finally calling him on his shit, though. They show the "glamour shot" of Michael's non-egg dish and it seriously looks like two lumps of poop in a puddle of bile. I'm sure it tasted great, but it's very unappetizing. The judges mostly liked the dish, but Gail points out that there was way more soup than anything else, and she ended up just eating soup alone, which was bitter. Michael admits that he didn't plan his portioning very well and had a ton of foie gras left over. First world problem.
Jen is told by Chiarello that he's never had goat cheese and basil together, and he loved it. Really? Even I, the plebian, have heard of that flavor combination. Padma, the salt police, thinks there was too much salt, and Chiarello comes to Jen's rescue, saying that he's used that same salt before, and it's very difficult to master. Gail asks why Jen chose duck, and Jen says that she thought she could use all of the parts. Chiarello loved the duck. He loves Jen. Tom asks why she didn't end up grilling the duck as planned. Jen admits that she let the fire go out, so she couldn't grill, even though that's what she would have preferred. Colicchio nods his head seriously, like not grilling is the worst thing he's ever heard of.
After the cheftestants leave, the judges discuss the difficult task ahead. Chiarello points out that there were no truly bad dishes, so they have to judge based on subtle nuances. They praise Jen's vegetarian dish, and Chiarello says that he would have loved to taste Jen's dish as she conceived it. Gail wonders why she didn't use more of the foie gras glaze, since that was the best part of the dish. Moving on to Michael, Tom loves how bold he is, and how the dish came together. Gail repeats her criticism of the proportions. Tom thinks his egg was sloppy and overwhelmed all of the other ingredients. Back in the makeshift Stew Room, the cheftestants talk about how the judges didn't even agree amongst themselves about the various dishes, and Michael points out that judging food is all about interpretation.