Paul Cheney / Bravo

Mise En Down The Road With Top Chef

Who wouldn't want to eat fourteen variations on radishes?

Amanda's Spine

The episode begins with Casey reveling in her victory from last week and everybody drinking. One of those things was unnecessary for me to write. You be the judge. After the opening titles, we spend some time on the porch with Amanda, hearing her story, about the three spinal fusion surgeries and how she quit "cheffing" and took up bartending instead. And she's only now getting back into the kitchen after a year and a half. So maybe she's going home this week? Once at the Top Chef Kitchen, the contestants see Chef Chris Cosentino, who has stopped by to help judge the Quickfire Challenge. It's a bit painful for John Tesar, since Cosentino was basically the one who sent him home in Season 10. There's also a dramatic shot of a giant red button marked PAUSE. Whatever could that mean?

Quickfire Challenge

Padma informs the chefs that they must draw knives to choose teams for The Mise En Place Race, a Top Chef classic and honestly one of the most entertaining regular features of the show. What is The Mise En Place Race, you ask? Well, it's French for "mice inside house," which isn't very helpful. Also, I didn't take French in high school or college. I took German. So maybe my translation isn't exactly spot-on. The point is, the chefs will have to prep five ingredients, and then cook a dish using those ingredients. They must: peel and mince five ounces of garlic, chop two quarts of onions, turn three artichokes, peel and de-vein thirty shrimp, and shuck fifteen clams. The teams have to choose which chefs do which tasks, including two chefs to cook the meal.

Katsuji opts out of the clam portion, and we are given a quick reminder why that's a good idea. Back in Katsuji's season, Katsuji proved he had zero idea how to open a clam. And we all discovered then that pounding a clam against a table does not, in fact, open it up. There's a cool bonus this time around, which is that the chef who finishes his/her leg of the mise en place can then help out his/her teammates with their tasks. It's a nice teamwork bonus. Oh yeah, and that big red PAUSE button? That's for the team that finishes prepping first. They can hit that button and literally make the other team pause what they're doing for three minutes. Padma and Chris will choose an MVP from each team, and the MVP on the winning team will have immunity in the Elimination Challenge.

For the Green Team, Katsuji leaps out in front with blazing knife-work on the onions. His knife moves so fast, it's a little scary. On the Blue Team, Sheldon's the onion whiz, with the added bonus of having a clean station. This is not the case for Katsuji, whose station is a disaster area. But that's okay, Katsuji is a bit of a walking disaster area anyway. Despite Katsuji's quickness with the onions, the race remains close through all five ingredients. And the Green Team, led by John's expert clamming, wins by one clam. Sam and Amanda begin to cook their baked clam dish for the Green Team, while Brooke and Shirley for the Blue Team watch the clock tick from fifteen down to twelve minutes. Not a lot of time to make a dish, so they decide to deep-fry the shrimp and the clams. Amanda is accurately called out as being a bit frantic, which only reinforces my belief that she's going home.

Despite having three minutes less than the Green Team, the Blue Team gets the win. Sheldon is singled out as the MVP, which he totally deserves just for being so stoked about the entire competition. Honestly, he just became my favorite to win the whole thing, based on personality alone.

Elimination Challenge: Prep/Shopping

Padma keeps the teams the same for the elimination challenge, which will be a seven-course progressive meal served on the following day to a room full of Top Chef superfans. Each course will be a head-to-head battle, and the first team to win four challenges wins. The four chefs who lose their individual battles will be up for elimination. Also, each dish must feature radishes, even dessert. Super-weird, right? What's even weirder? Brooke immediately decides she wants to do a radish dessert. Yes, dessert, the Top Chef suicide mission. Maybe Brooke will get lucky and her team will score four victories before she serves her Hot Radish Sundae, or whatever it is she has in mind. On the Green Team, Italian Silvia is equally as stoked to do a radish dessert. What is even going on anymore?

Then it's off to the Whole Foods, where there are only three things worth noting. One: Sam says, "It's go radish or go home," as if that's a clever spin on a common phrase, which it most certainly is not. Two: Katsuji calls John Tesar "John Tesla," which is an infinitely cooler name. And three: After fucking up his pork so badly last episode, BJ suddenly doesn't seem to have a problem with calling himself a rookie. Ha ha. Hubris is hilarious!

Elimination Challenge: Service

During the preparation, Sam can't stop raving about how delicious Silvia's cake was already. So it's a little ominous that fresh out of the gate, Brooke's having to figure out a way to "fix" her panna cotta, which is more of a soup currently. Her solution is to add corn starch, which…um…doesn't sound delicious? But then neither does "radish dessert," so here we are.

The superfans show up and fill out the seats in the makeshift Top Chef arena. And right behind them walk Padma, Tom, guest judge Chris, and Richard Blais. Wait. What the fuck? I thought this season's go-to guy was going to be Graham Elliot. But so far, out of three episodes, we've only seen him once. The same number of times we've seen Richard Blais! As a reminder, Richard Blais is NOT an acceptable substitute for Gail Simmons. Not at all. Oh well, I will get over it somehow, I suppose.

Padma welcomes the superfans to Top Chef and already my wife clocks that the producers, or the director, or the editor has a favorite superfan. It's a young brunette lady in a white spaghetti strap top. At this point, she has had as much screen time as Blais. While Emily and Sam face-off for the first radish challenge, Padma explains that the superfans' votes will count for one point, and each judge's vote will also count for one point. That's how the winner of each round will be decided. While Emily describes her radish and salmon dish, we see Favorite Brunette again. Sam loses the first round, but only by the slimmest margin.

For the next round, it's Jim with his oyster emulsion versus Katsuji's enchilada. As Padma tells us the score is tied at two-two, we see the Favorite Brunette for the fourth time, now smiling and nodding, agreeing with Padma, we assume. She has a Mayim Bialik quality to her, I can see now. Katsuji's enchilada wins the battle for the Green Team, knotting the score at one apiece. As BJ plates his dish for Round 3, a close-up shows his hands are covered with some ingredient from his dish. It's crazy how messy he is at plating, like a five-year-old plating essentially. Although that might not be fair to all five-year-olds. BJ faces Jamie, and when they show the hero shot of BJ's dish, I cannot tell for the life of me what from his dish could have been all over his hands. They were covered with a yellow paste of some sort, and there doesn't seem to be anything like that on his plate. Very disturbing. Jamie beats BJ and the Blue Team pulls ahead.

As they're plating Round 4, Casey observes that Sylva's dish looks so complicated. As a result, she decides she's got this one in the bag with her "radish disguised as a scallop" dish. Favorite Brunette makes her fifth appearance taking a big bite of one of their dishes. Even though the superfans vote overwhelmingly for Casey's dish, the judges all favor Sylva's, putting the Blue Team one win away. Round 5, Amanda pulls off the upset over Shirley. Then in Round 6, John faces Sheldon. In her sixth appearance, Favorite Brunette votes unenthusiastically, it seems, for John and the Green Team. And with a Green Team win, it sets up the final dessert battle between Brooke and Silvia.

There's a moment before they're finished plating where the Green Team gets together and chants "Green Team!" As a result, I silently say to myself, "I"ve got a Murder Boner!" But that's just because of a deep love of this sketch.

While Brooke is celebrating her personal and team victory, Favorite Brunette makes her final appearance in a group shot.

Judges' Table

During the meal, the judges kept remarking about just how great all of the food was. And kicking off the Judges' Table, Padma says, "This was the best meal I've ever had on Top Chef," and Tom seconds the sentiment. The Blue Team got the win and Padma separates Brooke and Sylva as the best two. Chris gives the nod to Brooke, who is pleased and says, "I'm here for a reason." Which is awesome, since we know that in a week or so she'll tearfully question why she came back to this show at all. Can't wait to see what causes that change of heart.

Moving on to the losing chefs from the Green Team, Casey, Silvia, BJ, and Sam have to face the judges. It's clear early on that Casey and Silvia are safe and that the decision will be between BJ and Sam. My guess is BJ goes home, as belated justice for his terrible pork from last week. Tom tells them, "Someone's going home for making a great dish," and Padma asks Sam to pack his knives. His bahn mi that wasn't exactly a bahn mi sunk him. So Sam is the first veteran to get sent home. Or to Last Chance Kitchen, anyway.

The Verdict

Interestingly enough, after the uncomfortable historical moments of the previous two episodes, the name of the town the chefs are in is hardly even spoken in this episode. I'm sure it's just a coincidence. The addition of the superfan audience to the Elimination Challenge really added some fun to the episode. And it's weird how when the chefs are all so good, which these chefs obviously are, that the episodes are better. Maybe it's because you can see how tough it is for the judges to decide. Whatever the case, this season's a lot more watchable than previous seasons. And I didn't even mind the added Blais! See you next week.

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