Only eight chefs remain on this season of Top Chef, yet it could be 800, considering the amount of ego still left in the house. As the show opens, Antonia muses about the gender equality, saying, “This is the first time four women have made it this far.” Immediately, we know a woman is going home tonight.
The chefs file into the Top Chef kitchen and don’t seem surprised to find Padma and Tom together, his bald pate shining somewhere near the vicinity of her armpit. “Aw, they know,” he mutters. Yes, even we the viewers know. If Tom is in the kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge, it can mean only one thing: Mise en place relay race! (It scares us that our brain cells store this type of information.)
The chefs draw knives and divide into two teams. The first leg sees Antonia go up against Lisa as they peel and section five oranges into supremes. This is delicate work, and there’s a lot of talk about shaking hands. Nevertheless, Lisa “smoke[s] Antonia’s a–,” giving her team a hefty advantage. As Antonia’s trembling fingers creep onto the next orange, Spike starts in on a set of artichokes, peeling, turning, and trimming them so that only the tidy heart remains. Soon it’s Spike vs. Andrew, with Andrew quickly making up for lost time with . . . a vegetable peeler! Andrew draws even, it’s neck and neck, and whoops—Spike breaks an artichoke heart. Andrew pulls ahead and Spike . . . well, he chokes.
Round three of the relay: Richard vs. Dale as they battle to filet a monkfish. (Side note: Is a monkfish the ugliest creature in existence?) Of course, whiz kid Richard wins with his textbook filets. Dale’s look a little ragged.
On to the final round: It’s Stephanie vs. Nikki as they compete to make a quart of mayonnaise by hand. A few minutes before, Nikki had been warbling that she didn’t even know how to make mayo without a food processor, so we’re a little surprised she chose this task. They whisk, whisk, whisk with their teammates cheering them on and . . . Stephanie wins! Their team jumps and down, excited; Richard says, “It feels like we won the Super Bowl.” Huh. He knows that word?
The losing team looks crestfallen, except for Dale, who maintains his perpetually angry expression. Suddenly, he punches a locker and screams, “F—!” Apparently, he hates losing.
Padma announces the Elimination Challenge, and is it just us or is there a sadistic gleam in her eye? Instead of the show’s usual restaurant wars—in which two teams open opposing eateries—the two teams will prepare food for a competitive wedding war. Oh, and did she mention that they’ll be staying up all night to prepare the food? Mua ah ah ah ah! Enter the happy couple Corey and J.P., who look sweet and normal, except we know they’re not. Because what normal couple would have their wedding catered by Top Chef?
The winning relay team chooses to prepare food for the bride’s 125 guests, to her specifications. She’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of gal, and they devise a menu of braised brisket—which Richard says “cooked for 24 hours. It’s been working for as long as we have!”—filet mignon, and some regrettable breaded chicken. Andrew tackles the creamed spinach, providing him with another opportunity for lewd commentary: “I’m like Popeye’s wet f—ing dream right now.” Meanwhile, Stephanie makes a perfectly lovely chocolate-lemon wedding cake.
The groom’s team chooses to go Italian, with a spread of grilled vegetables, tooth-breaking bruschetta, homemade tortellini, orrechiette with pork-and-beef ragu, Chilean sea bass, and a chocolate-hazelnut groom’s cake that Tom says “looks like a battleship.” They scurry around the kitchen like rats on a sinking ship, with no direction because no one—particularly Nikki—wants to step into a leadership role. Dale, who could win an award for most beleaguered, feels like he is doing everything (insert heavy sigh).
As the clock ticks into the wee hours, the chefs grow more and more wan, eventually turning into chef zombies, which does not make for exciting TV. They keep chugging small cans of liquid but palming the label—presumably, Red Bull is not a sponsor of Top Chef.
In the end, with the help of guest judge Gale Gand, who is pastry chef at Tru in Chicago, Team Bride is declared the winning group, with Richard reaping the glory for his elegant menu. In a moment that could have been sappy but thankfully isn’t, he gives the prize—$2,000 at Crate & Barrel—to Stephanie for her superb wedding cake.
Meanwhile, Team Groom roils with discontent. Why was Nikki so passive? Why did Spike slack off? And why did Dale make such tasteless food? (Tom: “Dale, you said you did the bulk of the work, but we didn’t care for the bulk of the work.”) In the end, it’s unassertive Nikki who packs her knives and heads home to New York City. We’re not surprised to see her go, but we can’t help but wonder when it will be Dale’s turn.