'Top Chef: Las Vegas': What is umami?

Justine and Liz back for another week of Top Chef after what seemed like a long week hiatus for the show. Bravo left us in suspense for a whole week about the drama between Jerkface Mike and Robin. But the tension didn't disappoint.

Enough with the manufactured drama. On to the cooking! 


(Photo of Padma and guest judge Tyler Florence from BravoTV.com)

Ash starts off the episode saying he hasn't been to culinary school and knows he was close to going home. (How nice of you to figure out what the audience at home has known for weeks, Ash.) Also, he says Jerkface Mike doesn't seem like the culinary school type because he's "savage" in the kitchen.


A touching moment from Michael Voltaggio -- he brings his family into the mix and says he misses his daughters, ages 9 and 5. Insert a collective sigh from the women folk. 

Jen is feeling under the weather. Maybe she has swine flu! Don't cook in my restaurant if you're sick. Tom and Padma, get out your swine flu masks.


Food Network personality Tyler Florence is the guest chef! Bearded Kevin is excited because Florence has been on TV! (Psst, Kevin: You're on TV right now.)

(May we interrupt with a Padma fashion moment: She has on lime-green shiny disco pants! Liz misses the leopard ensemble from a few weeks ago.)

The cheftestants' mission: Create a dish incorporating three key words. Lest we forget this season is set in Las Vegas, they use a slot machine to get their three words -- mood, flavor, cuisine. It's a shameless plug for recipe Web site cookstr.com (When we opened the site right after the episode aired, Padma was the "author of the day"...coincidence? We think not)

Among the choices on the "flavor" wheel of the slot machine was umami. JFM described umami as...well, umami. Bravo producers are trying to introduce the concept to the general public. Did you Google it, too?

Florence is giving good reviews to everyone, even JFM! What's with that, dude? (Except Eli! No! Jen also gets no comments. She's too sick for criticism. Justine says she may be sick, but we're sick of her.) Chefs on the bottom: Robin, Eli, Jennifer. It's her first time on the bottom. Whiny. Go blow your nose or drink some orange juice.

The best quickfire chefs: JFM, Bearded Kevin, Michael V. No shocker to us -- Kevin wins. He was thrown a wild card by getting Asian cuisine, something he says he never cooks, on his slot machine spin. The dude can win without even cooking cuisine he's used to. In this high stakes quickfire, he gets a choice between immunity and $15,000. He picks the money! ("Dude, he can friggin' win the whole thing. He doesn't need immunity," Liz said.) That's Kevin's first sign of cockiness. He's always been the nice guy.


The cheftestants are cooking at their place. Jen whines about being exhausted from the competition. Padma waxes poetic on the economy and how more people are cooking at home in these tough times. Cheftestants must throw a dinner party for some semi-famous chefs and the judges. Insert shameless plug for Macy's here. This is the Macy's Come Together Challenge. Blah.

Here's what we've been waiting for. As the cheftestants draw knives to choose which chef's ingredients they will be cooking with, JFM has to work with Robin. Haha. What's that expression, just deserts? Jerkface decides to make the best out of working with Robin and says he's going to take control like he "always does." Sure, he does, just like when he works with the Maryland brothers. Also, haha, "I know she knows I'm a better cook than her." What arrogance. The funny part is she seems to know Asian cuisine better than he does.

Jen feels better. None of the audience watching at Liz's apartment (including her dog) is relieved.

Michael V. is taking the lead and Ash is just his yes-man. He says Ash is a good No. 2 – we guess that means he can't win. You're lucky we have faith in you, Michael V.

JFM gave Robin things to do that "wouldn't affect the final product" and he's throwing her stuff out. Jerky smile.

Bad joke alert! Michael V. is cooking in electric woks and he says "We'll wok it out to you." Wocka-wocka. But alas, they blow a circuit, which means they have to start and stop cooking their fish. They're worried, and frankly we are too. (Liz shouted "Team Michael" to encourage them, even though she realizes it's been taped for months. They didn't hear her.) This is the first time Michael feels he's messed up. Is he actually human and not some food deconstructing borg?

Justine love that Bearded Kevin and Jen are making Korean barbecue. Yum.

Not much focus on Bryan and Laurine's dish, which means they must be safe. Justine holds up her hands in a V for Voltaggio victory.

Judges' Table

On the top: Laurine, Bryan, Jennifer and Kevin

We didn't see enough of either team to know who would win. Lame, Bravo. Winning dish is Korean barbecue! Jennifer's sauce wins! She wins a $10,000 gift card from Macy's and says she'll buy Kevin a suit for his hard work. We wish Kevin would have won again so we could hear his triumphant "Ta-da!"

Bottom: Michael, Ash, Eli and Ashley

Ash says playing second fiddle to Michael is like washing paint brushes for Picasso, then in the next breath says he thinks he can give it a good run. Michael V. is embarrassed by being compared to such a legend and slowly backs away.

Ashley isn't good at defending herself, and Tom lists a bunch of problems with their dishes. Ashley didn't cook the prawns well enough, and the gnocchi were too salty, which Eli may have ultimately been responsible for but never fesses up to the mistake.

Shocker of the evening: Ashey goes home! Wow. She's disappointed. Undercooked prawns did her in. She cries, and we are also shocked she's going home. She stood behind what she did for the most part. Guess it wasn't good enough for the judges in the end.


Who's going home next: Justine thinks Jerkface Mike's number is up. She thinks it's time for another surprise elimination (that, and she's just sick of his jerkfacedness). Liz thinks Ash dodged a big bullet this week and should have been sent home based solely on his overly cheesy Picasso line. We've heard judges in past seasons say the competition isn't "Top Sous Chef."

Favorites: Justine's really digging Michael V.'s tattoos this week, but she's still Team Bryan. He shows up, works hard and isn't dramatic about it. Liz may be changing loyalties. While Michael V. will always have a place in her heart, Bearded Kevin's versatility and streak of impressive performances is making an impression on her. Yes, folks, she may go for the beard. 

Which Voltaggio brother do you think will go home first, since tonight's episode showed us at least one of them is human? What dishes do you think best embody the umami experience? Is Top Chef product placement getting out of hand, or does it make you wish you had a $10,000 gift card to Macy's? 

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