Ashley Marriman, 32, is the executive chef at Branzino. She also looks like a cross between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Bobby Brady. She's never been to Vegas before and she knows it's a culinary mecca, so she's excited.
Have we met everyone yet? I made a mistake in the recaplet and said there were 21 cheftestants, when there's actually only 17. Sorry about that. I'm sure it ruined your day. I just counted and there are three more introductions to be made, but before that happens, the cheftestants arrive at the new M Resort Hotel & Casino, where they are greeted by the Executive VP. Then they enter the Top Chef kitchen for the first time. There's a fish tank! With little goldfish! I'm not sure what the point of that is, but I thought I'd mention it. Kevin interviews that there's so much cookware and equipment, that they have no excuse for not putting out good food there. Padma and Colicchio watch the newbies filter in.
Laurine Wickett, 38, is the chef/owner of Left Coast Catering. Just to show you how much she's not around in the rest of this episode, when they first showed her I seriously did not remember ever seeing her before. Anyway, she's intimidated.
Padma greets the cheftestants and Hector Santiago, 41, a 2009 James Beard Award nominee, says that Padma is more beautiful in person than she is on television. Hector is Cuban and he's got an awesome accent. I'm a sucker for accents. Well, some accents. Eve's Michigander accent isn't really doing it for me.
Padma and Colicchio read off the prompter to welcome them and plug the sponsors. And then Padma says that it's time for their first Quickfire Challenge. Colicchio explains that they'll be dividing into teams of four to compete in a mise-en-place relay. I just saw one of these on Masters! Padma tells them that since they're in Vegas, they can expect twists and turns like no other season. And then a bunch of showgirls wander in for no apparent reason other than to remind everyone they're in Vegas! That hardly seems sanitary. And then instead of drawing knives, the cheftestants will pick poker chips out of a hat to determine teams. I'm just interested to see how long the show keeps up this charade before they're like, "Eff Vegas, let's just go back to doing things the regular way."
The cheftestants draw chips, and Robin Leventhal, 43, chef/owner of Crave, draws a gold chip. And she's the only one. She interviews that she's not sure if she's in trouble or just got a blessing. Padma quickly clears it up for her; the gold chip is immunity, and she doesn't have to participate in the Quickfire. The other cheftestants are totally jealous.
Colicchio explains the relay. The first leg is to shuck fifteen clams, the second leg is to peel thirty spot prawns, clean five lobsters, and butcher two chops from a prime rib. As they finish each leg, they put their hands up and call check and Colicchio will come over and check it out, and then blow his whistle if they're okay to move on. You know how it works, you've seen these before. They have to quickly decide who will do each leg.
The chefs sort of mumble amongst themselves, and we get to hear one conversation in particular, in the group that contains Michael, Eve, Kevin, and Preeti. Eve says that she'll do the prawns and Michael claims the beef, and Kevin claims the lobster. So Preeti interviews that she kind of felt like she had to do the clams. She asks Kevin if they're like oysters, and he says they're totally different but then Padma calls time so they can't continue the conversation. Preeti interviews that she's never shucked a clam before, and somehow didn't feel like that was important to tell her team, because she figured that she'd wing it. Ooh. This could be ugly.
So the teams take their places at their stations, and the clams are the first task. Padma calls time and the four competitors are Mike I. for Black, Jen from Philly for Blue, Jen V for Green, and Preeti for Red. Kevin tries to give Preeti advice as he realizes how screwed his team really is, and Colicchio, standing nearby, just chuckles and shakes his head when Preeti admits that she's never opened a clam before. Meanwhile, Jen V just cut herself. Ooh. She's really bleeding all over. Don't they have those gloves? Mike I. interviews that he looked over and saw that Jen from Philly was tied with him, and he was pissed because "there's no way, no offense, that a girl should be at the same level" that he is. Ooh, I knew I hated him. I hope he loses every competition to a woman from here on out. Mike I. finishes and Colicchio makes like a basketball ref with the whistle to signal they can move on. Jen from Philly interviews that she was pissed that he beat her, though she finishes mere seconds later. Meanwhile, Preeti has shucked two clams and Jen V has shucked eight. Ouch.
Meanwhile, the Black and Blue teams have both moved on to the prawns leg. Eli is peeling for Black, and Jesse is peeling for Blue. Eli finishes just seconds before Jesse, so they are neck-and-neck going into the third leg. Hey, guess what? Preeti is still shucking clams. Kevin snarks in an interview that he should have brought a beach chair and a palm tree, since it's not like he got to do any work. Jen V finally finishes her clams so the Green team moves on to the second leg finally. But at this point, it's really between Blue and Black.
Ashley is cleaning the lobsters for Black, and Mattin is doing the same for Blue. Mattin is like a lobster-cleaning machine. He's clearly done this many times before. Jen from Philly interviews that Ashley was struggling and the other two teams were just out of it. Mattin calls for a check first and Colicchio gives them the go ahead. A few minutes later, Ashley calls for a check too, and the Black team also heads into the final leg.
So now Bryan is cutting two rib-eyes for Blue, and Hector is doing the same for Black, but Bryan has a few minutes head start. Hector is confident he can catch up. And oh my God, Preeti is still shucking clams. I kind of admire that she didn't give up, but damn I would be pissed if I were on her team. Bryan finishes his chops and calls for check, and Colicchio just sort of lazily flops them over and then says they're good, and blows his whistle again. Dude loves that whistle. Also, I'm a little disappointed that he didn't make anyone redo his or her shit this time. I love when someone thinks they're done and then they have to redo everything.
Blue team celebrates, but Padma tells them to hold up, because they're going to do a cook-off to determine the actual winner of the challenge. She adds that the winner will get a chip worth $15,000 instead of immunity, since Robin already has immunity. The cheftestants seem pretty happy about that. Robin gets the option to compete as well, but she has to give up immunity. She's like "Hell, no!" Of course Mike I. thinks that means Robin is not confident in her skills. I think it means she's not stupid, dummy. He also refers to her as "old lady" and I still hate him.
Padma tells the Blue Team members that they have thirty minutes to prepare a dish using the ingredient they prepped in the relay race. So that means that Jen from Philly has clams, Jesse has prawns, Mattin has lobster, and Bryan has beef. Jesse interviews that in all the years she's cooked, she's never made anything with prawns.
Padma tells them to get started, and there's a flurry of chopping and cooking, and whatnot. Bryan explains that he wanted to make something flavorful and quick. Jen from Philly says that she wanted to make a light and clean ceviche (which she pronounces "sa-veech" but maybe that's how they do in Philly. I don't know, I'm afraid she might beat me up). Mattin feels like anything with lobster will be good. Jesse decides to do a sort of shrimp and grits, but with prawns and polenta. Michael watches his brother Bryan cook, and says he wants him to do well, unless they are directly competing.
Time is up. Jen from Philly worries that she went too simple, since everyone else's dishes look quite complicated. Tom and Padma head to her station first, and she introduces her clam ceviche with citrus vinegar. Mattin has made lobster with bay leaves and star anise. Jesse has made shrimp and grits with polenta, and she reminds them to "suck the head." And Tom totally does! I think Padma skipped it though. There's probably a really dirty joke in there, but I'll leave it up to you. Bryant made a crusted rib eye with caramelized celery puree. Bryan interviews that he saw a lot of mistakes on his plate, but he had to serve it.
Tom steps out front to give his critique. His bottom two are Bryan, whose puree was bland, and Mattin, who didn't have much flavor beyond the lobster. He liked that Jen's flavors were clean, and that Jesse managed to develop a lot of flavor in thirty minutes. And the winner is...Jen from Philly! She interviews that she wants to win everything from here on out. Or she'll cut you!
Elimination Challenge. Feels like it took a long time to get here. Tom and Padma explain that the challenge is to cook a dish based on your biggest vice. Because they have so many people, they will be cooking against only the others on their teams from the Quickfire. The winning cheftestant from each team will go to Judges' Table, and one of them will win. So I guess this is where you get an advantage being on a crappy team. Even if you aren't that great, you just have to beat the others on your team. Robin gets to pick which team to join, and she picks the Blue Team. Their guest judge this week is Wolfgang Puck, which is a big deal to all of them. They get $150 and thirty minutes to shop, and then two hours to cook tomorrow.
Weird interstitial. Everyone dares Kevin to go down the waterslide in the pool. He totally does it and manages to crack everyone up first. It looks really fun. I'm jealous, mostly because it's hot as balls where I live today and I wish I had a pool.
The cheftestants scurry into Whole Foods to shop. Mike I. asshole-terviews (that's an asshole interview) that he pushed Preeti over and Eli was running around like a monkey. Except he can't bother to learn Preeti's actual name. Because not only is she a chick, but she kind of looks like a dude, so she's beneath his notice. At least, I'm assuming that's his thought process. Eli goes right to the seafood counter and buys a ton