"Keep it simple, and execute it perfectly," advises Ming. "Taste, taste, taste -- and that comes from your palate." And don't cook any buh-linis, corn dogs, or macaroni and cheese! Although I would love to see the faces of the (presumably upscale) charity diners upon being served a corn dog as their first course. Padma explains that the theme of the party (oh, brother, there's another damned theme -- I guess you can't throw a fundraiser these days without a theme -- it's like prom for old people) is the four elements, and that the cheftestants will be working in four groups of three, with each team devising a dish inspired by one of said elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Oh, and there are 80 guests, so it's another large-volume assignment, this time with a high-end flavor.
Knife-drawing places Antonia, Spike and Zoi on Team Earth; Richard, Andrew and Mark on Team Water; Lisa, Stephanie and Dale on Team Fire; and Ryan, Jen and Nikki on Team Air. Richard and Andrew are working together again! Padma gives the teams a scant fifteen minutes to plan their menus, which is absolutely not enough time. Richard, doing his best Debbie Downer face, agrees, especially when cooking "at this magnitude and this volume."
Predictably, Richard immediately starts acting like executive chef and offers the idea of raw fish -- Andrew, having worked with Richard before, and before, understands this tendency and says, ambiguously, literally, or sarcastically, "it'll be fun dealing with that." Jen, showing off her cognitive skills, reveals that "air, to me, right away, is birds," and suggests a chicken or a duck mousse, which would be an airy treatment of an airy animal, although Nikki thinks the bird idea might be too literal. Maybe some airy pasta, Nikki?
Spike's liking the idea of butternut squash soup, but Antonia doesn't think that soup will provide a good reflection of their $500 budget. She has a point, I guess, but you could spoon some caviar (hey, Dale thought the $2.99 an ounce stuff was good enough) and crème fraiche on the top to gussy it up a bit. "If you two are totally into soup, I will make a fucking good soup with you," says Antonia, acting the team player, but making her opinion abundantly clear. Zoi buys her argument, and, over Spike's continued objections, meek though they may be, it seems that Team Earth will not be cooking soup.