Revisiting the heyday of department stores and five-and-dimes

'Top Chef: Las Vegas': En garde!



Justine and Liz here, your tour guides through this season of "Top Chef," back for another week. The end of last week's episode of "Top Chef: Las Vegas" had us excited for what this week would have in store for the cheftestants, especially a high stakes quickfire complete with an elimination! We did get worried about how Baltimore's own Jesse would do, since she's had troubles with past quickfires.

Our old favorite Jerkface Mike complains about how he shouldn't have been on the bottom, and with a little push, he can take home a win. Likely story, JFM.

But enough hating on Mike. On to the cooking! 

(Photo of the lovely Padma and guest judge Daniel Boulud from


Tom introduces us to renowned French chef Daniel Boulud who will serve as this week's guest. In this quickfire, the secret ingredient is snails, or escargot if you're Mattin. (Liz wishes they would have unveiled the ingredient with more fanfare like they do in "Iron Chef." All we got were a lot of close-up shots of snails sliding around on glass.) Boulud wants to taste something he has never tasted before. And here's the twist: It's a high-stakes quickfire where the loser goes home! Instead of $15k for the winner, they just get immunity.

It's interesting to see who's cooked with snails in the past. Naturally, since Mattin is from France, escargot was his "whole youth." How unfortunate. JFM has used snails before in Greek cooking. Helpful hint for those at home who want to make escargot themselves: Bearded Kevin says snails don't have much flavor, so you have to boost other flavors around them.

Even though we did get excited that Michael V.'s dish has foam (channeling his inner Marcel), the most exciting part of this quickfire was Bearded Kevin's candied bacon jam. Let us say that again: Candied Bacon Jam. Thankfully, Boulud rewarded Kevin for his creativity and awesomeness with the quickfire win, securing him immunity.

Jesse, Ashley and Robin had the least favorite dishes. They get a second chance: a 20 minute cookoff to make an amuse bouche -- one bite to save your life, as Tom so eloquently put it. Sadly, Jesse's tuna tartar wasn't enough to save her, and she goes home. We saw this coming, but it's still sad to see Baltimore's chance at a Top Chef win pack up its knives and go. Even though it's not the same, we're still rooting hard for Bryan and Michael V. No guys have been eliminated so far, Jennifer points out -- and she was all offended about the gender challenge.


Elimination challenge

The cheftestants draw knives (there hasn't been nearly enough of this this season) and get either a protein or a French sauce. They have to cook in pairs -- a six-course meal for very famous French chefs, including Joël Robuchon, who was named the French chef of the century. As if immunity weren't enough, Kevin's quickfire win meant he didn't have to cook AND he gets to eat dinner with the fancy-pants French chefs. It's a surprise that Bravo has brought out the heavy-weight chefs so early in the season. In past seasons, it seems like they wait for the bad chefs to get out of the way before they make the Culinary Gods eat the cheftestants' food. Eli also seems surprised; he expresses skepticism that Roubuchon didn't actually exist -- that he might be a unicorn!

The cheftestant pairings weren't much of a surprise, since the sauces and proteins had natural matches. The strong ended up together: Jennifer and Maryland's own Michael V. (Jennifer seemed excited, or at least as excited as you can get in a monotone), the other brother Bryan working with JFM.

And it's off to Whole Foods, where the chefs stretch their $200 budget to buy as much tasty French stuff as they can. Some tension emerges between Ashley and Mattin. It seems like she's going to use Mattin as a crutch if their dish doesn't do well in the end. After all, Mattin's French. He should be the expert, right?

Back in the kitchen, something's going wrong with Robin and Ron -- Robin's not focused because she wants to worry about plating and garnishes, but Ron wants her to finish the sauce. Also, they're making frog legs. (Liz must have been super hungry tonight because the raw meat Hector was cutting the fat off of looked delicious. Also, there was a lot of butter flying around that kitchen. Julia Childs would have been proud.)

Kevin trimmed his beard for dinner, and we noticed. Another notable French chef at the dinner table was "Top Chef Masters" competitor Hubert Keller! We didn't recognize anyone else just by sight, but the names were French and important sounding. None of the dishes were total fails in the eyes of the diners. Ron and Robin's frog legs were overcooked, but they were commended for putting some thought into the dish. JFM and Michael's trout with a deconstructed bernaise didn't look that appetizing, really. ("But they're going to love it," Liz said.) Mattin and Ashley make seared poussin. Mattin gets a compliment and flounces off. The bacon seems too strong. Tom points out that not everything is better with bacon, but both Liz and Justine beg to differ.

Gail compliments the cheftestants -- they couldn't have had this type of meal so early in any other season. It sounds like the competition is getting tougher as the show gains in popularity.

Judges' table

First, the judge's favorites: Bryan, JFM, Michael and Jennifer. JFM is taking credit for the deconstructed sauce, even though it was Bryan's idea! Also, did it seem to anyone else like Jennifer and Michael were flirting! Will they be this season's Leah and Hosea? Bryan wins! He is invited to work for Roubuchon at his restaurant for a week (and way better than a signed cookbook).

The losers: Mattin, Ashley, Hector and Ash. Mattin starts to throw Ashley under the bus over the asparagus. Hector blames the appearance of the plates on the meat cooking too slow. Boulud blames it on their poor planning. (Mattin made a "bacon-cream sauce." We ask, what's so wrong with that?)

Hector goes home for poorly cooking beef and hacking it apart under pressure. We will miss his accent and Antonio Banderas-esque voice.


The predictions

Who's going home next: Justine thinks Ashley's the next to go. We've seen enough of her to get to know her, but she freaks out under pressure. Liz has a feeling Robin's days are numbered. She spent too much time stressing out over little things in this week's challenge, and it may catch up with her in the end.

Favorites: Justine is a fan of Bryan, our almost hometown hero. He could have thrown JFM under the bus, but he seems classy enough and his cooking will pull him through. Liz is starting to take back her dislike of Bearded Kevin because he's redeeming himself by using bacon in creative ways.

Also, we're super-excited for next week. The preview showed Tom spitting something out! Previously, we'd only seen Padma do that.

(Jaunty scarf watch: Liz again wore her red scarf while typing the recap, which seemed only fitting since the whole episode was French-themed. Ooh la la indeed!)

Do any of you have a good candied bacon jam recipe? Are you going to run to Whole Foods (or your local aquarium supply store) and buy snails so you can cook them at home? Do you feel guilty eating cute animals, like rabbits?

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