Oh, the drama . . . SO much drama – Season 10 Top Chef Seattle drama that puts the fireworks firmly before the food.

Episode 4 opens exactly where the Episode 3 left off, cameras capturing the chefs’ stew room chat after Kuniko Yagi’s Thanksgiving elimination for undercooked potatoes. John Tesar is saying that Kuniko was eliminated for lacking focus, “We had five hours. If you can’t taste your food in five, hours, you’re mind is someplace else.” Well, yes, that’s true, but he’d perhaps forgotten that Yagi didn’t give herself enough time because she’d been helping him.

CJ Jacobson quickly reprimands Tesar, saying, “Why do you have to say something like that right now, we’re trying to say like –

Tesar interrupts, “I’m not lecturing you; you’re full of sh*% right now.

Joshua Valentine jumps into the fray,

“There’s a thing called tact. And obviously you don’t have any.
Tesar: And Oklahoma has a lot of tact.

(Random expletives thrown around at this point.)

Valentine:Don’t f*&#ing say another word to me. There’s a reason you’re the most hated chef in Dallas. You’re a prick.
Tesar: I’m not a prick. I’m truthful.

Wait, it gets better. Valentine goes on to enumerate Tesar’s his public shortcomings with icy venom, to which Tesar responds, “Now you’re just making up stuff like a blogger.” (Ouch. Seriously?)

The atmosphere quickly turns into a playground brawl, with Tesar, Valentine, and Jacobson in the Top Chef version of “I’m rubber and you’re glue:”

Tesar: You pretend to have balls but you have no balls
Jacobson: You don’t know what you say sometimes.
Tesar: I know what I say all the time. You don’t know what you say. Whatever.

Some good soap opera type drama, yes?

Cut to the chef house. Tensions are high. Stefan Richter is loving the drama; he says it “feels like the Real Housewives of Seattle.” Suddenly the producers cut to Richter and Kristen Kish sitting outside, flirting. Smoking. Foot rubbing! Why, producers, why? Is the segue meant to diffuse the situation? To introduce an alliance? or perhaps a dalliance?

I just hope he washed his hands before he started cooking.

Right, the food.

It’s finally time for the quickfire challenge. Yes, all that drama happens before any cooking takes place. Crazy, huh? Padma introduces guest judge Naomi Pomeroy and then – clad tellingly in leather jeans – Padma unveils two enormous sides of beef hanging from engine hoists. The chefs have one hour to claim their beef and show what they can do with it. The hour flies by. Chefs Carla Pellegrino and Josie Smith-Malave get off to a slow start as they struggle to lift the beef off the hook and get it to the table.  Sheldon Simeon wields the cleaver like a mad man. Brooke Williamson helpfully points out that you have to understand cuts of meat to succeed at this challenge. Jacobson wants to do a tartare and samples bits from different sections to determine the tastiest parts. Tesar claims the oxtail, praising its “sweet, unctuous” quality. Lizzie Bender talks about using the pressure cooker, and as we all know by now, any discussion about a pressure cooker is a sure sign of disaster.  Tyler Wiard is a bit of a sad sack, fretting about being on the bottom.

“You’re not on the bottom anymore; it’s a new day,” Williamson reminds him. Good Top Chef advice. It works both ways. Remember that.

Alas, Bender and Wiard are on the bottom of the quickfire for his crudo, Bender for an odd combination of asparagus and cherries, and Wiard for his crudo, which just “fell short” and was “underseasoned.” Afterward Wiard actually pouts to the camera, hanging his head and complaining “I can’t do anything right” – with the intonations of a petulant child.

The quickfire ends with a callback to that playground brawl as Jacobson, Tesar, and Valentine meet again, this time as creators of Chef Naomi’s favorite dishes. Jacobson’s tartare was deemed “perfect” and he was praised for his butchering skills. Tesar oxtail gnocchi was indeed unctuous, his braising technique was successful. Valentine’s meatball polenta had “good balance.” But Tesar won the challenge, and therefore immunity. The chefs applaud his win –  all with the exception of Valentine.

Double Elimination Time

There’s no time to waste at this point, so Padma moves along to the elimination challenge. She introduces Brian and Mark Canlis of Seattle’s famed Canlis, a restaurant that was started by their grandfather in 1950 and explains the challenge: the chefs must recreate the original 1950’s Canlis menu, a very retro-cool, Mad Mad-esque idea. Herring. Squab. Liver. Louis. Lobster. Right, and by the way, two chefs will be eliminated this week. Got it? Ok. Go.

The drama in this challenge is also again more interesting than the food. Jacobson, Tesar, and Valentine man down again over soup. Tesar, with immunity, offers to expedite. He also offers to help Valentine with his French onion soup – because Tesar started working in a French restaurant in 1975 and maybe Valentine doesn’t know what to do. His offer goes unheeded, of course. Then Valentine insults Bart Vandaele, refusing to acknowledge a difference between Belgians and the French.

Richter, in the course of organizing dishes, gives Kish the mushroom and onion side dishes and assigns Pellegrino the squab. Bothe women are at least a little peeved; Kish because she’s got two side dishes, and Pellegrino because she didn’t get to choose. Richter, in a rare appearance as the rational one in the group, advises Pellegrino to “be creative, but don’t cook crazy pants.”

Although she doesn’t get as much camera time as last episode, Carla disintegrates over the squab. She doesn’t know what to do with those birds, “Do I leave them in rib cage? It’s a f*&king dilemma here.”She ends up prepping the birds by slamming them with the heel of her palm, blood splattering and tiny bones breaking in a move that made even Kid Two cringe. She couldn’t cook them herself because the grill room was too small, couldn’t communicate very well how to cook them properly, and refuses Tesar’s advice once unhappy customers start sending those squab back to the kitchen, “I’m not confusing anybody! I’m nyah nyah nyah nyah.”

It all comes around in the end. Wiard and Bender are validated in the end – Wiard for his simple yet elegant Dungeness crab cocktail and Bender for her perfectly prepared herring. The Richter-Kish duo are also on top; Richter for his respectfully grilled liver and Kish for light and crispy onion rings and meaty, not soggy, mushrooms. Kish wins the challenge along with $10,000.

Also in the final judgement, Pellegrino is home along with Chef Chrissy Camba, who unfortunately could not manage to recreate the Canlis salad very well. Remember Williamson’s words to Wiard? It works both ways. In Top Chef, it’s a new day for the chefs at the bottom AND at the top.

I see a pattern emerging; Yagi won the elimination challenge in episode 2 and was sent home in episode 3. Pellegrino won episode 3’s elimination and was sent home in episode 4. Chef Kish, beware.

The show’s fun tidbit: the Canlis brothers sharing family fish stories. Mahi mahi is a Hawaiian fish, unknown to the Pacific Northwest in the 1950’s. Family lore has it that Pan Am stewardesses packed the fish in ice and smuggled it into the restaurant on their jaunts. Awesome! Quick, take the fish from the suitcase!

Top Chef Fans, you’ve got some work to do now and vote to save your favorite chef! Just go to Twitter and type in #savechef[YourFavoriteHere]. I think my vote is going to Carla this week – she is a fireball.

Here’s a sneak peek at what’s going to happen on Episode 5:


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