Top Chef

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The Elements

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.

Confessing to "feeling a little vulnerable," since if they go down, it's either him or Zoi that will take the bullet. Antonia's pushing Carpaccio as a better way to create the feeling of money on a plate. Which segues nicely to Team Fire, where, after Stephanie suggests using fire-based cooking techniques, Dale wonders about "a seared beef tartare," which Lisa immediately shoots down. Dale persists, though, expanding his vision of beef tartare to include a deviled egg (which is a cute idea) wrapped with the piece of meat (which seems like it would be a bitch to achieve with limited time and a lot of guests). Stephanie digs the egg idea, but Lisa stands firm, and Dale expresses a growing concern about Lisa -- he thinks "she's a negative person" and thinks he's "not going to be able to work with her very well." Conflict-avoidant Stephanie agrees -- referring once more to Lisa's "strong personality," and mentioning that Dale is a "self-proclaimed asshole."

As everyone heads toward the store, Lisa's still harping that, while Dale and Stephanie seem pleased with their idea, she wants "to change the dish entirely." And she does not seem like the type to back down without a fight -- bring it on! While $500 and 45 minutes at Whole Foods sounds like an ample amount of money and time, I'm sure both will disappear quickly. Team Water heads immediately for the fish counter -- as they discuss which sort of fish to use, Richard mentions that he likes "the idea of fish cooked in water," which does make a nice double play on the theme. They'll be cooking sous vide, or, as Richard explains, "poaching the fish in a controlled water bath." Their fish of choice? Salmon, adding to the feeling of déjà vu surrounding the Richard/Andrew re-team. That strikes me as a pretty dumb choice -- it's like Rami endlessly draping on Project Runway. I can practically hear Nina saying, "We want to see what else you can do."

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Top Chef

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