Paul Cheney / Bravo

Top Chef Goes Blind

After a blind taste test, the chefs cook their favorite memories for charity.

Our Candidates For Elimination?

John walks us through last week's team meltdown. He's upset that they did so horribly. He says, "We failed on all levels: as people, as cooks, as chefs." But he also feels betrayed by Katsuji. "I know one thing. Katsuji's a rat," John says. "You want to win so desperately, you would do it any way possible. That's not a chef. That's a desperate human being." No one feels great about the outcome, so who do you think lifts their spirits? That's right, it's Sheldon! He leads all the chefs to a beach nearby for them to just relax and enjoy each other's company. Which is where Top Chef is so different from so many other reality shows. The deeper into the season it gets, the more the contestants pull together. Maybe it's because they don't try to cast psychopaths on this show like they do on other reality shows. I'm looking at YOU, Survivor and Bachelor franchise!

So basically the remnants of last week's disaster team, John, Sheldon, and Casey, who also gets some screen time here, are our three potential elimination candidates. It feels unlikely that any one of them would go home before Emily this week, but who knows how powerful that demonic hex that protects Emily actually is.

Quickfire Challenge

The seven remaining chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen and are greeted by Padma and former winner/successful restaurateur Michael Voltaggio. Emily, in particular, expresses her trepidations about cooking for him. "Quickfires have not been my strong point," she says. And that leads me to wonder exactly what on this show has been her strong point, because honestly nothing comes to mind.

"In the kitchen," Padma says, "a well-developed palate can be a vital tool." Seems like a typical Padma transition. But if you watch her eyes when she says "vital," they light up in this weird way as if she's just said some arcane double entendre no one's heard in generations. For the Quickfire Challenge, Padma and Michael are going to put everyone's palates to the test with a blind tasting. Michael pulls the blindfold they'll use out of the back pocket of his jeans, and says, "I carry those around with me everywhere I go." But he says it with some sadness, to communicate that this line of dialog was DEFINITELY not his idea. Padma responds in typical horny Padma style, saying, "I like a good blindfold now and again." And then she laughs the uncomfortable laugh of a mom who just made a sex joke in front of her 13-year-old daughter's friends…because she's a Cool Mom! Each chef will have five minutes to identify as many ingredients as possible. There's no immunity at stake, but in honor of this being Season 14, the winner will get 14 cases of wine. Or as these chefs would call it, breakfast. Zing!

Brooke is up first and she kills it, seemingly correctly identifying everything they hand her, except balsamic vinegar which she thinks is "sherry vinegar." John is next and says, "This is going to be stream of consciousness. I'm just going to say what's on my mind." That means that he identifies cream cheese as "flour," anchovy paste as "curry paste," and pimiento cheese as "egg yolk." As embarrassing as his answers are, Emily outdoes him. She misidentifies dried mango as "fruit roll-up." And when she tastes okra, she says that it's "snotty like okra" but ultimately passes and doesn't guess anything.

Ultimately, Brooke wins the Quickfire and the fourteen cases of wine by getting sixteen right, three times as many as the worst chef. Wanna guess who it was? Do you need a hint? Or some more time to figure it out? No? You knew right away it was Emily?

Elimination Challenge: Prep

"Your senses mean nothing without the memories you create around them," Padma says. It's an amazing threat to shout before attacking your enemy's hideout...or, as here, just another of Padma's overwrought transitions. She explains the nature of the Elimination Challenge, that they must all create a dish inspired by their happiest childhood memory. They'll be serving their food at a big $500-a-ticket charity event for one hundred people. The event is a fundraiser for a state-of-the-art children's hospital.

So, off the chefs go to Whole Foods. Inspired by his mom's cooking growing up, John wants to do a crab scampi. Inspired by being a dick all his life, John buys all of the available King Crab, thus fucking up Sylva's plan to make crab cakes. As a result, Sylva has to change course.

While shopping, Sheldon tells Brooke the story behind his dish, which involves talking about how his dad used to carry tea in his Thermos. Only Sheldon pronounces Thermos "Termos." And he doesn't notice that Brooke keeps saying back to him, "Termos?" Sheldon also decides to buy a big pink floppy hat at checkout.

Brooke draws her inspiration from the crepes she makes for her son every Sunday. Emily is making an icebox cake to honor her grandfather. Sheldon makes the mistake of asking Shirley if she was a troublemaker as a kid. He stands dumbfounded as Shirley then launches into a lengthy list of things she did as a kid, including jumping off of high buildings and "build[ing] fire outside my house." Naturally, her dish is inspired by the memory of the street food her mother wouldn't let her eat as a child. Inspired by both her Southern grandmother and her French grandmother, Casey is making a weird crab Hot-Pocket-type thing. Hey wait. Crab? But I thought John bought all the crab. Where the hell did Casey get crab? When I run the episode back, I see Casey there standing next to John when he's getting his crab from the seafood counter. So that seems suspicious. Hmmm.

As Emily's dish already begins its slide into disaster, Sheldon says, "Emily is making an icebox cake. It seems super-simple to me for this $500 ticket event, [but] maybe she's got a winner." To prove that Sheldon is a very sweet optimist, the producers immediately go to shots of Emily putting together her crumbling heap of a cake. "I have been somewhere in the middle so far," Emily says, getting on board with the new world of opinion-based facts that bear no relation to reality. I mean, she's going home, right?

Elimination Challenge: Service

As they're getting ready to leave the house, we hear more of Sylva's personal story, which involves a father who is impossible to impress, a Top Chef classic. Sylva maintains the belief that if he wins Top Chef, he will earn the respect of his father. Man, I hope that's true. I know that isn't how it'll play out if he wins, but I still hope it's true.

Somehow, last week's team meltdown is still a topic of conversation, and not just in the car carrying John and Sheldon. Casey talks about it with Brooke and Shirley, prompting Shirley to ask, "You've met him before or no?" Casey says, "Yeah. No, I've known him for many years. We knew each other." And I start to wonder, did she mean she knew John, or she knew John. She seems to know a lot about John's demons and how defensive he normally gets when things fall apart. And the solution to the mystery of how Casey ended up with some crab and Sylva didn't begins to emerge from the fog. If John and Casey survive this episode, I will definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for more evidence of a potential past romance between the two of them as we move forward.

It's blazing hot at the charity event location, which is causing Sylva's beef patty lollipops to slump. Emily's icebox cake looks terrible, but I'm not sure that has anything at all to do with the heat of the day. Guests begin to file in. And Michael Voltaggio encourages Padma and Graham and Tom to do a tequila shot before they start. God bless you, you tattooed genius.

The first stop is John's butter-poached king crab. Tom seems blown away by it. So much so that he brags about it to other patrons waiting in line behind him.

Michael and Padma try Casey's crab hot pocket, which they think is fine, but it might have been better with just a grain or two more of salt. And her marmalade could've used a little more oomph. Seems portentous, but with Emily's horrible-looking icebox cake in the mix, I have to believe she's safe. But then again…under-\seasoned protein, never a good thing on this show.

Tom and Graham love Brooke's crepe, seemingly more than the crowd did. Not that the crowd gets a vote. That would indicate trouble if not for Shirley's lamb dish that Padma and Michael find difficult to cut. Then it's time for Tom and Graham to try Emily's icebox cake. "You can't just give us the icebox cake your grandfather did," Tom says. "You have to elevate it." What he doesn't know is: this WAS her elevating that dish. And that's kind of sad on a couple levels.

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Sheldon's toasted barley tea and rice dice earns raves from Padma and Michael as well as the paying customers. But Sylva's beef lollipops appear to be the event's home run. Tom gets giddy eating it. And Graham says, "Literally, it was like punching you in the tongue." But I watched the footage, and Sylva's beef lollipops didn't punch anybody's tongue. "It's usually hard to figure out who we're going to send home," Padma says after they convene at a small table. "What's hard is who's gonna win." Sounds like they've all decided Emily's dish was the most terrible.

Judges' Table

Michael praises all of the chefs right off the bat. "It was one of the best walk-around tasting events I think I've ever been to," he says. To no one's surprise, Sylva, Brooke, and Sheldon are the top three. Well, maybe John was surprised he wasn't included. Graham raves about Sheldon's broth, saying it had "so much umami going on." I'm pretty sure that's all Graham ever talks about, fucking umami. Why don't you quit pretending and finally marry umami, Graham? Michael names Sylva the winner, his second Elimination win.

Then the terrible trio of Shirley, Casey, and Emily have to face their criticisms. Both Tom and Michael try to emphasize that what separated the dishes this week were small details, like, for instance, the tiny bit of seasoning that might have put Casey's scandalous crab hot pocket over the top. True to her brand, Casey gets immediately defensive. "It was a bit underseasoned," she says with some anger. "That is not me." Nice try to blame your problems on the imaginary scapegoat from "The Family Circus," but Bil Keane's been dead for years. Shirley defends her choice to give diners large pieces of lamb. She claims they were bite-sized for her. Like, she'd totally just shove one of those giant slices of lamb into her mouth. As for Emily's disaster cake, Tom says her flavors were muddled, which is a note I'm pretty sure she's gotten before.

Stewing in the Stew Room, Casey vents her frustration at being on the bottom again, saying she only wants to hear that her dish is great or terrible. She doesn't accept any middle-ground critiques. Okay, Casey. Just let the judges know that, and I'm sure they'll be happy to comply.

Emily finally gets the axe. "I hope that everyone remembers me for all the great things I put on a plate," Emily says. "All"? I'm having trouble coming up with one.

The Verdict

My predictive powers are definitely failing me. The trio of chefs from the open were once again safe. Pretty solid episode, though, especially now that I'm hip to the potential of John/Casey's sordid past. Could I be weaving something out of thin air? Oh, absolutely. But either way, I'm looking forward to next week's episode. All six of the remaining chefs are threats to win, although I'm predicting a Brooke vs. Sheldon rematch (of sorts). We'll see how that all develops.

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