Twelve chefs remain, on 12/12/12. Ominous!
We join the gang in the stew room just after last week's blood bath. Brooke is in tears, John is pouring booze. Josh is grateful he didn't get sent home for his pork dish, what with his restaurant being called "Divine Swine" and all.
The next morning, Padma introduces octogenarian Grand Forks Herald restaurant critic Marilyn Haggerty, who shot to internet stardom with a review of the Olive Garden that went viral last summer.
Marilyn fills the chefs in on all the amazing things she has done over the last year -- including a book deal with Anthony Bourdain.
"It's just been a hoot!" she declares. She then explains that since she's Danish, her favorite holiday dish is aebleskiver. For the Quickfire, the chefs will create a sweet and savory dish that ties into their cultural heritage, using Truvia baking sugar blend. Confused? So am I.
One thing "Top Chef" has never been able to handle gracefully are the promotional consideration lead bombs they fail to cleverly fit into the plotline.
"Because it's twice as sweet as sugar, you'll only need half as much -- that will help with your holiday waistline for sure." Marilyn flatly reads off a cue card. Thud. On top of that, there is only one knife available to all 12 chefs in the kitchen; they must share it. I'm exhausted just explaining this to you. Double thud.
The chefs get to work using clever knife substitutes -- graters, kitchen shears, meat slicers, pizza wheels -- which is fun to watch. We also learn a lot about the chefs' backgrounds. Both Danyele and John are adopted but embrace their adoptive parents' traditions, Lizzie is cooking up a traditional South African dish, and Micah, who is half-black, half-Mexican, calls himself "a Mexibro or Blaxican" and is whipping up some tamales.
Time is up, and dishes are served. Marilyn and Padma dig in. Marilyn is not crazy about Bart's Belgian waffles or Micah's dry tamales -- which she calls a "taco," much to his displeasure. Marilyn's winner is Brooke, who gains immunity for her apple crostata with cheddar cheese, candied pine nuts and apple salad. Brooke is sincerely surprised as Padma had described her dish as "homey" upon tasting it. Let that be a lesson -- homey is where the heart is.
Padma introduces comedy power couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt, who along with being adorable and hilarious are also both from Washington State (Faris was born in Baltimore but raised on the west coast).
Their families are throwing them a homecoming party at Chihuly Garden and Glass. The challenge will be to cater the event for them.
Chris and Anna chat with the chefs to give them some direction on what they like -- salmon, dungeness crab, big game, meat and potatoes, and "calories."
The winner of this challenge wins a Toyota Prius C. The chefs step outside to check out the prize car. They talk about all its lovely features. We all collectively roll our eyes.
Prep gets underway. Kristen is making what looks to be a gorgeous ravioli dish. Danyele is really concerned about her boar chops, which are so thin she doesn't think she'll be able to cook properly.
John announces he's making clam chowder, which he learned from working under Rick Moonen, who taught him the recipe. Meanwhile, Stefan bellows "12 minutes left!" and everyone looks up at the clock, panicked, which shows over three hours remaining. Oh, Stefan. You cad.
The B-Roll of Chihuly Garden and Glass is simply stunning. That place looks like otherworldly, and I agree with John when he confesses it's one of the most beautiful places he's ever seen. The chefs arrive at their stations and have 30 minutes to complete their dishes.
Danyele's fears are coming to fruition, her boar chops are cooking up like leather. Eliza is similarly worried about her chewy elk. She tries slicing it paper thin to compensate.
Padma, Gail, and Tom enter the garden with this week's guest judge, the aforementioned Rick Moonen. John looks up from his station and the color goes out of his cheeks. "That's a dirty trick!" he mutters as he stirs his chowder.
Padma leads Anna, Chris and the judges to try the chef's dishes.
The judges try the first four dishes and all of them get rave reviews. Chris declares that if Bart's elk isn't a front runner, "this is going to be the best f---ing night of my life!"
Anna praises Stefan's goulasch, deeming it "what pregnant women crave." Rick Moonen literally bounces up and down over Brooke's lamb-stuffed squid.
The next four dishes are served. Kristen's dulice de Bourgogne tortelloni is unanimously loved. The first big criticism of the night goes to Micah -- too much cream. Lizzie's salmon is not seared enough, Eliza's elk ribeye is not perfect either.
The interstitial is a hilarious look at Chris and Anna discussing how this is "what being on a reality show must be like. Like the Bachelor!" -- upon which Chris launches into a stumbling, spot-on impression of all "Bachelor" monologues, complete with tense string section background music.
"I want you to know, I could really, like literally, see myself, maybe falling for you one day. Like, I can see it." My new celebrity crush = confirmed.
The last group of four chefs is up. When John serves his chowder to the judges, Rick Moonen (his former boss) lets him know he will remain impartial despite their history together, at which point John announces "a wise old man taught me the base for this chowder!"
Padma says, "Uh-oh," which I can't agree with more. It's not smart to call your former boss / current judge "old," John. Even in a quazi-respectful way. It comes off as patronizing, and the sideways glances from the other judges confirm it.
Danyelle's boar is sliced too thin for the judges' liking. Josh's pork once again falls flat. "It might not be great, but there's a lot of it!" offers Chris. Josie's dish is unremarkable (truly, there was virtually no comment on it) but John's chowder is a big winner. Rick Moonen calls it "a hug from the ocean."
Overall, it seems the chefs have more than compensated for last week's Pike Place debacle.
Back in the stew room, Padma asks for John, Kristen, Brooke and Sheldon to step out as the top four. Rick announces the Toyota Prius goes to Brooke (double win!) -- for her lamb-stuffed squid on black rice with coconut milk. I have to say that dish sounded -- and looked -- insanely cool. She is once again surprised at her win, and starts giggling uncontrollably.
Brooke takes her keys -- but sends back Eliza, Danyelle, Josh and Micah to hear the bad news. Tom offers up a little bit of consolation, that none of their efforts were "bad dishes," but that there were technical reasons for each of them being on the bottom.
Danyelle confesses she's been psyched out the entire competition, to which Tom gives her a blunt but kind admonition to "cook her own food" and stop being afraid. The harshest words are from Padma to Josh: "You keep saying you're known for pork, man. Just stop saying it."
For her uneven elk, Eliza is asked to pack her knives and go. She tells the judges she's fighting a cold and thus doesn't want to shake their hands, but gives them each a polite nod as she exits. As she hugs Danyelle goodbye she whispers, "Good job not crying up there." And my heart melts a little bit.
Next week: The chefs go head to head cooking the same dishes, John gets a blender full of hot liquid to the face, and the judges question whether Josie is smoking the wacky tabacky. It's legal now in Washington, after all.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun