The decisions you make are just as important as the dishes you make.
Thus spoke John Tesar, the self-proclaimed most hated chef in Dallas, at the beginning of Episode 2’s quickfire challenge as he made his first decision – partnering quickly with Kuniko Yagi, presuming, in a bit of not-very-subtle racial stereotyping, that her Japanese background would give her knife skills an edge. (Pun unintended.)
His second decision – whispering sweet strategy nothings with Kuniko and third teammate Sheldon – earned him a Padma smack-down like nothing I’ve ever seen on Top Chef. She actually raised her voice, piercing him with a withering stare, and admonishing, “I’m not finished. Can you please listen up?” Ouch.
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John, chastised, made his third decision to buckle down and work as a team, working with Kuniko and Sheldon to whip up the winning geoduck sashimi with ponzu, apple, and cucumber. And finally – redemption. The three drew knives to see who won immunity and, as fate would have it, John was safe in the upcoming elimination challenge. Fate? Or was it a subtle producer sleight of hand to show all was forgiven?
I’m certain the contestants were not feeling forgiving when Padma announced that guest quickfire challenge judges and former Top Chef contestants Stefan Richter, CJ Jacobsen, and Josie Smith-Malave would be sticking around and competing for a second time. Certain because of the dark looks and muttered bleeped phrases coming from the shocked group, and because of Chef Micah Fields stating he “would love to whip their ass.”
It was interesting to see how the demeanor of those three returning Top Chef contestants changed over the course of the episode. They were confident as Quickfire judges, with CJ stating that the razor clams don’t sing and with Stefan bragging that he had eight restaurants and a Porsche and had nothing to prove. In their own elimination challenge judging as one of the two bottom teams, CJ hung his head like a shamed schoolboy and Stefan morphed from macho into a sweaty, scared, and defensive mess, especially after Tom Collichio gave him the old eye-roll, saying, “You guys have been through this before.”
Collagen-lipped, motor-mouthed, kitchen drama kitten Chef Carla Pellegrino proved best at working the camera, rasping out words non-stop, talking over her teammates, discussing her desire for a “nice ass,” and calling out nonsense syllables to the spice rack. When words finally failed her, she kept the camera’s attention by thrusting her hand into her knife bag and – yes, getting cut – sparking a bit more drama before we discovered she missed a severe injury. How many other chefs were filmed remarking they wouldn’t want to be on her team? At least two, by my count. I wonder if the editing smack-down she got on this show is the producers’ way of are setting us up for another redemption? (Top Chef trivia: Chef Carla is the ex-wife of restauranteur and actor Frank Pellegrino, Jr.)
Seattle restauranteur Tom Douglas served as guest judge for the elimination challenge, which took place at the Space Needle’s spinning Sky City Restaurant. He seems to be a very gracious man who found nice things to say about every dish and was genuinely shocked at the tough judgements by the Gail Simmons – Tom Collichio – Padma Lakshmi triumvirate. The challenge itself was relatively simple: cooking in their quickfire challenge teams, and in the Sky City Restaurant’s kitchen, to create a dish that highlighted local shellfish. The only real caveat was the dish had to be prepared in 47 minutes, the time it takes for the restaurant to make a single rotation. In the final judgement, Chef Kuniko proved that she did indeed have an edge, earning rare kudos from Tom Collichio for her chili-oil poached cod, making her the winner of this challenge. Sweet and talented Chef Jeffrey Jew went home for over-cooked halibut.
The best quote of the show came from returning cheftestant Josie, who offered a pithy bit of advice to her fellow competitors, advice that’s true for any one of us each day:
What you did yesterday doesn’t do anything for you today. Every day’s a new challenge. Ride on and rock on, rock stars.
I can’t wait for Episode 3.
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