Top Chef

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Wild Blue Yonder

Hector and Robin: Three-bean chili with roasted chicken

Eli and Kevin: Georgia-style braised pork shoulder and potato salad

Mike V.: Braised pork belly with soy-mustard sauce and peanuts

Bryan and Mattin: Roasted beef strip loin with mushroom demi-glace and cauliflower gratin

So apparently they're going to have dessert later. The judges sit down and discuss how difficult it is to cook for such a huge crowd. The judges think the beef strip is good, but they think the pasta salad is too salty and uninspired. Seriously. I could come up with that recipe, and I'm not very creative and tend to just make things I've eaten before. The chicken chili has "authentic flavors," and a bunch of the airmen agree. The chowder is good, and Padma wonders about eating it in the heat. Tom points out that they're eating chili too but Gail thinks there's a difference between spicy food and heavy foods made with cream. I tend to agree, although you can make lighter chowder. Doesn't sound like they did that, though.

Everyone is in love with the Southern braised pork and potato salad, and Mark Peel can't give enough praise to how much it tastes like something he would eat at home. One of the troops refers to Mike V's dish as "a whole lot of scrumptiousness wrapped up in lettuce" and Colicchio is awed that they thought of braising what is essentially a slab of bacon. The judges are puzzled that the same team produced the Greek salad, since that kind of sucks. Obviously, they don't know yet that the team members worked alone on each dish.

The judges get to the bread pudding. They think it's a little dry, but it tastes good and rich. And they all agree that Jen did really well as executive chef. I wish they had talked more about that; it seems like it was a difficult role to take on, and she did it with grace. Wow, I might have kind of a girl crush on her. Overall, the judges are impressed with the dishes, and you do have to admire how much higher the skill level is this season than last. I mean, only the pasta salad stood out as poor, and that was more because of a lack of imagination and not a lack of technique.

The chefs clean up and kind of discuss amongst themselves how they did. Jesse interviews her concerns about serving chowder on a hot day, and how she would have liked to make gazpacho but there was no blender. Eli whispers to Kevin that their flavors were spot on, and you can't say that about all the dishes. Eli seems kind of calculating where Kevin just kind of seems like, "I'm going to cook the best food I can and let the chips fall where they may."

Colonel Belote gets everyone's attention and introduces some of the service men and women and gives a little bit of their stories. Everyone is touched and honored by the real sacrifices made. I don't mean to sound like I take it lightly, but this episode did kind of hammer you over the head a little bit and it almost reduces the impact of what these people have done and will do for us.

Judges' Table. Ash finally offers an alternative viewpoint when he says that he's a pacifist who opposes war and yet he was touched by what he saw. Which isn't really an alternative viewpoint but I was starting to think this episode was sponsored by the Pentagon or something. Padma walks into the Stew Room and asks to see the two Mikes as well as Eli and Kevin. Well, you know they are the tops, although the cheftestants probably don't yet.

Padma tells the two teams that they were tops. Eli talks about their dish, and Gail asks whose idea it was to use the flavors used. Kevin says that his family does competition barbecue and so this was a recipe they use at times when time is short. Wow, I didn't even think about the fact that usually barbecued pork is slow cooked over many, many hours and sometimes even days, and they pulled it off in four hours.

Colicchio has lots of questions about the braised bacon slab, and then asks the Mikes if they had an advantage because they worked together before the competition. Mike V. says they might have and when describing how they created their food, he reveals that they pretty much each worked on their own dish. Tom and Gail share a look like, "Huh. That Greek salad kind of sucked and Mike I. had nothing to do with the awesome pork dish. Interesting." Mike I. doesn't know when to shut up and keeps going on about his stupid salad, which even he admits was thrown together last minute with no thought. The judges reserve comment for the moment, and let Mark announce the winner of this challenge: Michael Voltaggio. Well, that certainly makes the pairs thing easier when they just admitted that Michael V. was the only one who even touched the winning dish.

Padma tells them to send in Preeti and Laurine and asks Mike I. to return with the losers. He's surprised, and interviews that he's livid right now because he was in the winner's bracket. When he announces it in the Stew Room, they are surprised as well, but I am loving it! Once they are out there, Colicchio says that it was a team challenge, and he notes that Mike I. seems pissed more than disappointed. Mike I. still doesn't get it and says that when he saw his partner had the dish under control, he decided to do something else to help the team. He doesn't seem to get that he's not being punished for making his own dish; he's being punished because the dish that he made sucked balls. Mark Peel totally steps up and grouchily says that the dish was bland and the shrimp were undercooked. Mike I. stutters that he wasn't sure about serving it himself and Padma busts in, "Then you shouldn't have served it." Ha! Padma! Man, the judges are on fire tonight. I feel like there was a lot more of Mike I's bitchfest than what we were shown, because the judges are downright prickly towards him.

Gail explains that they can only judge the food they were given, and the Greek salad didn't have any acid or flavor. Wow, I really think Mike I. put up more of a fight because the judges are not usually this defensive. Maybe I'm biased because I kind of hate the dude. Anyway, Mike I. finally says that he's angry at himself and he won't stumble again.

Colicchio moves on to Preeti and Laurine. He wants to know who originally came up with the idea to make pasta salad. They both refuse to throw the other to the wolves, even though Colicchio presses them. Laurine does admit that their ingredients were not the best, and she would have rather had fresh than canned, but Colicchio points out that they all had the same pantry to work from. Preeti thought the dish was good and flavorful and Colicchio is puzzled. She asks if clam chowder on a hot day is more inventive, and Colicchio says it's not but it was a better version of chowder than their version of pasta salad. Ouch. This is a nasty one. Laurine doesn't think the pasta salad was a winning dish, but it did satisfy a niche in the menu, and she kind of forgot it was a competition. She immediately realizes how dumb that sounds and tries to backtrack. Mark wants them to decide which chef is better of the two, and neither will say anything, which is probably smart, but oh, so uncomfortable to watch. Padma offers to let them both go home and Preeti says they should both stay. Padma's like, "Uh, no." Colicchio feels like they each just want to get by and not win, because they're not going big. Finally, FINALLY, Padma dismisses them.

The judges discuss what to do. Tom hated both losing dishes so he doesn't know what to do. They still don't know who came up with the idea of pasta salad. Mark points out that the pasta salad had no flavor. Colicchio noticed that Laurine had some awareness that her dish was lame, but Preeti thought it was awesome. Gail is mad that Laurine had awareness and didn't change anything, but Colicchio points out that Preeti should be embarrassed that she stood behind that lame dish. They all noticed Mike's palpable anger, and Mark thought he might even throw a punch. Gail and Padma point out that his dish was flavorless and unappealing, and they weren't required to work in pairs. That was something the cheftestants

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