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Top Chef Gets Trashy

You've heard of the seven deadly sins? Meet the seven deadly trash fish. Can the chefs find Jim-dandy ways to serve up the garbage of the sea?

The Wrong Man!

The episode begins with the remaining chefs mulling over the fact that Sam had to pack his knives last week. Katsuji takes the floor and basically says to BJ, "No offense, but the wrong person went home." He repeatedly tells BJ how much he loves him, but only as preface to reminding BJ that Sam should have made it through and BJ should have gone home. Look, Katsuji isn't wrong. He's just rude. It's part of the whole Katsuji vibe, the reason he's back this season. This is who you want on the show, Katsuji the truth-teller.

Some of the chefs are kind of taken aback by these unpolished statements by Katsuji, but none of them happen to be BJ, who weirdly seems to agree with Katsuji. Additionally, there's a shot of Silvia wiping a tear away. Will having her crush stolen from her galvanize her into avenging his dismissal? Or will it leave her emotionally incapable of creating delicious food? I guess we'll find out in the next hour.

Quickfire Challenge

Padma greets the chefs as they enter the Top Chef kitchen with a hearty "Happy Holidays!" Thus proving that Padma is a known enemy of Christmas. The chefs laugh, because of the incongruity, for them, of seeing Christmas gifts in the middle of the summer, when this was likely shot. Padma introduces the chefs to Nilou Motamed, the new editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine. Nilou has brought the chefs gifts, and the challenge is for the chefs to use everything in the boxes – and she means everything. It's a Top Chef twist on the Chopped M.O.

Paul Cheney / Bravo

Paul Cheney / Bravo

The chefs open the boxes and sadly none contains the head of Gwyneth Paltrow. Oh well, it was a beautiful dream for a moment. Instead, the boxes contain: a pressure cooker, Patron tequila, pomegranate, chocolate pretzels, cloves, wasabi, squab, and a melon baller. That last item on the list causes the first wave of reactions. Jim correctly places the baller in a pantry from the 1950s. And other chefs are all like, "Whaaaaa?" when confronting it. But Sheldon is the first to puzzle over the combo of some of the flavors in the box, namely the tequila and wasabi connection. Sheldon posits that maybe you just do a shot of tequila then a bump of wasabi. And this is exactly why I love Sheldon.

Other chefs freak out over the pressure cooker. Sylva and Emily both admit they have no idea how to even use one. And just as the thought is coalescing in my head, John says, "Come on, folks, have you ever watched Top Chef?" Yes, John, EXACTLY. Of course there's a pressure cooker involved. There's always a pressure cooker. Just like there's always a chef who's like, "A pressure cooker?" It's the Circle of Life, or something like that. Jamie hacks the challenge for Emily by telling her, since Padma didn't specifically say they had to use it as a pressure cooker, that she should just cook in it, using it as a regular pot. Hmmm, yeah, that's probably cool to do. I guess somebody wants to wake up Bitchy Padma.

Meanwhile, Shirley's squab catches fire and won't go out, likely from all the tequila she doused over it. Shirley's reaction to her well-done squab is to say, "Epic fail." Ironically, saying "epic fail" is an epic fail in itself. This too is the Circle of Life. Emily's terrible plan to use the pressure cooker as a regular non-pressurized pan to cook her rice in backfires. She tries to save her overcooked rice by turning it into a soubise. "Who puts cabbage and rice in a blender and calls it a soubise?" Emily asks. The answer, which is implied, is "only monsters and serial killers." Emily then adds, "This is the most disgusting dish I've ever made in my life." Shirley realizes that Sheldon has accidentally sabotaged her dish by working for a time in the wrong station. So her melon baller and her tequila end up on his station. Shirley notices the missing tequila right away, like a Jedi sensing a disturbance in the Force, but doesn't notice the missing melon baller until everyone has plated. Whoops! Through all of this, we see Katsuji repeatedly taking hits off his bottle of tequila.

BJ gets a Top Chef red flag question asked of him. While tasting his dish, Nilou says, "And the texture of the deep-fried squab, is this what you were looking for?" BJ says, yes, he wanted it crispy. But this is the WRONG ANSWER. I don't know what you say in that moment to make things better, but you can't say yes. Because Nilou basically said, "This horrible meat in my mouth, you intended it to upset me like this? You wanted me to have a terrible experience?" And BJ said, "Absolutely. Fuck you."

Nilou singles out the least palatable dishes: Shirley, for lack of melon balling anything; Emily, for her gummy soubise; and BJ for once again destroying a protein in a dish. She likes Brooke, Casey, and John's dishes, but puts Casey's at the very top, earning Casey immunity.

Elimination Challenge: Prep/Shopping

Padma then gives the chefs another gift, the introduction of one of Charleston's biggest chefs, Mike Lata. Of course, Emily used to work for Mike until she got fired because of her shitty attitude, which she now seems embarrassed by. This is the same Emily who was proud of her shitty attitude in Episode 1, adding, "But attitude is everything." I guess people can change…their stories. Mike introduces the Elimination Challenge, which is a take on The Feast Of The Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve tradition. As the show has already established, any mention of Italian anything results in a quick cutaway to Silvia, the resident Italian. The twist the chefs must deal with is the fish itself, a choice of a variety of "trash fish."

Jim isn't afraid of this challenge and in fact is a little offended that the fish are being called trash fish. I'm proud of him for standing up for this show's unnecessary fish shaming. And I'm even prouder when they show a picture of him wearing a crown, from the time he won the Great American Seafood Cookoff. Hmmm…Jim Smith...executive chef of Alabama…winner of the Great American Seafood Cookoff? Is there anything on this guy's resume that doesn't look or sound like it was fabricated in a moment of panic? The other twist is that the chefs will be pairing off in teams of two, except for Casey, who gets to go it alone and get first choice of trash.

Katsuji is bummed to get paired with John, but their Odd Couple routine is super entertaining. If there's a way for the producers to pair them up forever, I'm all for it. Brooke gets paired with Emily, which also doesn't thrill her. BJ emphasizes to his partner Silvia, "The most important thing is perfectly cooked fish." It's a funny thing to hear from a chef who has cooked his protein poorly three times already this season.

Elimination Challenge: Service

As the chefs finish up their dishes, Katsuji lands a hilarious dig at John, saying, "I got the trash chef nobody wanted." I'm telling you. It's time to spin these guys off into their own thing. Shirley and Sheldon serve first and all of the judges seem to love their dish made with mullet -- the fish, not the hairstyle. While waiting for Sylva and Jamie to bring out their dish, all of the judges in attendance seem less than thrilled about the prospect of eating their trash fish, tunny. When talking about what the chefs might do to make tunny delicious, Tom makes what can only be described as The Okra Face. I don't blame him. The flavor of tunny is described as "iron-y" and "blood-like." And when Sylva and Jamie serve their tunny super-rare, like it was ahi tuna, I probably make The Okra Face too. Both my wife and I predict disaster for the pair. "We were all guessing that you'd fail miserably," Hugh Acheson says. But everyone loves their fish. Go figure.

Emily and Brooke bring their fish out next, and even in the hero shot of it, you can tell it's a disaster. You can hardly see the fish underneath the sauce and the corn and the fiddlehead ferns. Yup. Ferns. Tom seems shocked that the dish has so many components, I'm guessing mostly because of how Brooke's dishes have looked and tasted up to this point. He asks how their collaboration in the kitchen worked, and both chefs offer non-answers. Tom follows up with, "Did 'no' come up at all?" Both he and Gail agree the dish needed editing. Maybe we start with removing the dealer-button-sized fiddlehead ferns? Just a thought!

Jim describes his teammate Amanda as "a little frenetic" and "maybe a little disorganized" in the kitchen, but that's just because he's essentially Kenneth The Page in a chef's coat. The footage of Amanda in the kitchen tells a different story. She screams, she runs from place to place, she drops things. Her frazzled hair and panicked eyes give her a "Claude Cat before the Nerve Tonic" look. I'm more and more convinced Amanda might just be a character Molly Shannon is workshopping. Their dish fails pretty spectacularly, and not just because Amanda's beans are undercooked.

And then comes Casey. And honestly, I have no idea how she even spent her time. It looks like maybe she waited until Jim and Amanda were gone to even begin her dish. But that can't possibly be true. Or could it? She might have been so distracted by Hurricane Amanda that she didn't really get anything done for her own dish. Even if she didn't say out loud how horrible her dish turned out, you could read it on her face. But she wonders, since she has immunity, can she actually not bring out a dish at all? In the history of watching this show, I'm not sure I've seen a worse showing by a chef, or a quicker dismissal of said dish by the judges.

Judges' Table

Padma immediately congratulates Jamie and Sylva, John and Katsuji, and Shirley and Sheldon for creating the three best dishes. To no one's surprise, John and Katsuji's dish rises above the others. And Mike gives the win to Katsuji, which seems to honestly and genuinely surprise and humble Katsuji. Padma then moves on to the bottom teams, making a brief stop in Shaming Casey Town.

Amanda's undercooked beans earn another mention before the judges really, really want to get inside this Brooke/Emily collaboration. They keep hammering on the question, "How did this collaboration work?" What they're trying to say, I think, is, "Brooke, how did you not find a way to elevate this dish and this team?" They've tasted a lot of her cooking, so they know how good she normally is. And this dish must have been a huge disappointment. The judges want to know why Disneyland wasn't the happiest place on earth. That was the promise and that was definitely not delivered. The look on Brooke's face during this tells the tale: She felt responsible. And as they all take their seats in the Stew Room, you can read Brooke's lips as she says, "Sorry" to Emily. Emily then breaks down in tears because she made such a poor showing in front of her former boss. Somehow, Katsuji sees Emily's tears as an indicator that this is the perfect time to needle Emily. It's a gigantic asshole move, even for the show's resident asshole.

After deliberation, Padma asks BJ to pack his knives. Amanda couldn't cook her beans properly, but in four weeks' time, BJ had yet to cook a protein well.

The Verdict

This batch of chefs continues to deliver good food and entertaining drama. I hope all of the kerfuffling around Sheldon's possible exit because of injury is bogus, because I want to see him continue to compete. And is it really possible that I like John Tesar this time around? I guess miracles do happen. See you next week!

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