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'Top Chef' recap: 'Jazz Hands'

CookingMusical TheaterTheaterTop Chef (tv program)Whole Foods MarketSpeakeasy (music group)

Remember how fun it was to play "Musical Chairs" when you were a kid?  Now imagine playing that again, but instead of just grabbing a seat, you are cooking.

This week’s QuickFire Challenge is just that for the cheftestants. The chefs are joined by New Orleans trumpet player and singer Kermit Ruffins. In order to determine what ingredients and equipment the chefs will use, they must walk around the kitchen as Kermit plays his trumpet.  When he stops, the station they are in front of is where they will begin cooking.

During the 30 minutes of the QF, the chefs change stations four times. On the second shift, they actually all land back at their original places and have to attempt to salvage what has been done to their original vision.

Of course, in the long run it doesn’t matter, because they all end at a new station and need to make the best of it. It’s like Russian roulette with bacon instead of bullets.

All this is happening while down a chef. Nicholas is fighting off strep throat and cannot compete in the QuickFire. His future in the entire contest is at stake as well. If he is still sick for the Elimination Challenge, he will have to leave the show. Cue the Dramatic Gopher music…Dun, dun, dun!

Padma and Kermit taste all the collaborations. Some of their favorites are a pan-seared Redfish by Carlos (assisted by Nina and Travis) and a Duck and Mussels dish by Brian (started by Sara and Nina). Hmmm, Nina, the top competitor, had her hands in both of these. Not surprising. Still, Brian takes the challenge and wins immunity.

The rest of the episode extends the musical theme. For this week’s Elimination Challenge, the chefs “band together” into teams and cook for a “pot luck” at Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy. Patty admits to not knowing what a pot luck is. “Is that a pot full of luck?” she asks.  OK, normally I would make fun of a comment like that, but seriously, what does pot luck mean? I’m with ya on this one, Patty!

The teams, I mean “bands,” head off to buy their supplies at Whole Foods. Here, Nicholas joins them remotely over the phone as Travis helps him pick out his fish. He asks him to touch it and smell it to make sure it's fresh. Travis is all “oh yeah, got it” as he just shoves the wrapped up filets in the cart.

The next day, the doctor has cleared Nicholas so he can now cook his phone-a-fish.

The chefs work to prep all their dishes in the kitchen before heading over to Kermit’s. Do you ever wonder how much plastic wrap these guys go through each time they wrap up their carts?

At Kermit’s, the judges are joined by many other musicians to taste each “set” that the chefs have orchestrated. The guest judge is chef Sue Zemanick, who was also a contestant on the most recent "Top Chef Masters." You may, however, know her more from the Chase Sapphire commercial they play eight billion times during the show.

The Blue team harmonizes with a combination of dishes including shrimp and grits, grilled and picked veggies, and a glazed beef and carrots plate.

The Gray team strikes a chord with fried chicken, a tomato and watermelon salad, Barramundi and BBQ ribs. Brian suggests they add chili threads to the watermelon salad, but in the end Shirley forgets. Nothing ruins a watermelon salad faster than omitting chili threads, I don’t care how many Szechuan peppercorns you add. Come on! Kitchen 101, guys!

Finally, the Green team creates a symphony of fried artichoke, gnocchi and a summer tiramisu. One of the guests comments that the gnocchi tastes like “fancy hamburger helper”. 

At the Judge’s Table, Padma first asks to see the Gray team. Though they enjoyed the chicken, the fish was overcooked, the ribs had far too much rub on them and, well, we all know about the cluster of a watermelon salad.

As it turns out, there was no “pot of luck” for Patty. Please pack your knives and go.

The team on top this week is the Green team.  Between Nina and her magical gnocci, the fried artichokes and dessert, this one was a no-brainer. The winner is Stephanie and her fried baby artichokes! Way to make that crazy-looking pine cone of a vegetable into a winning dish!

And then there were 11.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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CookingMusical TheaterTheaterTop Chef (tv program)Whole Foods MarketSpeakeasy (music group)
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