Poor Zoi. She and her crazy earrings were the latest to go on season four of Top Chef. Last night’s episode, which began quietly, ended with an explosion of tempers that only served to make us dislike this season’s chefs more than ever.
We begin with the chefs filing into the Top Chef kitchen, looking mildly confused as they catch a glimpse of this week’s guest judge, celebrity Asian-fusion chef and Blue Ginger owner Ming Tsai. Padma Lakshmi breaks out a blindfold to nervous laughter and introduces the Quickfire Challenge, an interminable high-end/low-end taste test in which the contestants must blindly determine the cheap and expensive versions of a series of ingredients. Couldn’t they have found a more active role for Ming? For crying out loud, he’s one of the country’s most progressive fusion chefs, yet he stands next to Padma as silent as that Bertolli ad’s stupid cardboard Rocco DiSpirito, which we had to suffer through last season. Anyway, even the contestants seem bored by this challenge, and eventually Antonia is declared the winner. She receives immunity with a catlike smile.
Onto the Elimination Challenge. Padma announces that the contestants will be cooking the first course for a Meals on Wheels fundraiser. They break into teams—Earth, Fire, Water, Air—and conceptualize a dish around their assigned element. Before Tsai departs, he offers these prophetic words: “Taste, taste, taste!” Regular viewers recognize them as a harbinger of doom.
Bickering immediately ensues as the chefs design their dishes, then shop for them (Hello, sponsor Whole Foods!). Lisa’s negativity comes down like a cold shower on Team Fire, while Team Earth’s Spike, Zoi, and Antonia squabble over whether to make butternut-squash soup as if they’re arguing Roe v. Wade. (In the end, they decide on beef carpaccio with mushrooms.) Team Air prepares a forgettable duck dish served with a shot glass of Prosecco that makes the veins on judge Tom Colicchio’s forehead throb. Team Water—led by the über-confident Richard—offers some sous vide salmon, and spastic Andrew breaks out the faux caviar—again. Sadly, when Ming Tsai tastes the dish, he’s not impressed by his mouthful of the salmon’s scales, which seem to multiply every time he mentions them.
In the end, Team Fire’s grumpy Lisa wins a trip to Italy for her maple-miso bacon, and Dale looks as though he might combust with jealousy. Richard (of the unclean salmon) and Zoi (of the carpaccio’s bland mushrooms) both stand on the chopping block, but it’s Zoi’s undersalted, over-rosemary’d fungi that send her home. She packs her knives, looking significantly less upset than her shocked girlfriend, Jen. And so ends another happy episode of Top Chef. Except . . . .
Just when we thought this episode was over, we’re treated to a verbal brawl of such epic proportions that we can scarcely comprehend the words through the bleeped-out cursing. Spike is still bitter that Antonia didn’t agree to the butternut-squash soup. Jen is pissed that Spike is even still around. And Dale . . . well, Dale just can’t wrap his angry mind around Lisa’s win. Get over it, dude. In the words of Spike, “You can cry over it all night long.”
Top Chef airs Wednesday nights at 10 on Bravo.
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