This week, we start with the chefs having their own post-mortem on last week's double elimination.
Brooke is sad/happy that she has her own room now. Tyler observes that both Kuniko and Carla were both challenge winners who were subsequently eliminated. It's Stefan's 40th birthday and he's filled with trepidation: During his original time on "Top Chef," any chef that had a birthday during filming was promptly eliminated. He dubs it "The Birthday Curse."
The Quickfire brings the gang to the world famous Pike Place Market (I'm surprised it took us five episodes to get here). Padma (in a fetching matador/ringleader ensemble) introduces Guest Judge Daisley Gordon of Seattle's Marche. She asks the chefs to "divide into teams of two." (I'm thinking "pair up" would have been more succinct, but I'm not Padma.)
The awkward dance of everyone trying to avoid the same person (John Tesar) commences. John shimmies — literally shimmies — up to Josh and presses his shoulder against his. Josh does not move and stares straight ahead. It's like watching something on National Geographic Wild. The challenge is to create breakfast for the hardworking market vendors ... and it must be on a stick. They also need to purchase their entire kitchen from Sur la Table. Cue Black Friday-eqsue fisticuffs over panini presses.
The Pike Place Market vendors line up to try the seven dishes. Many of the "on a stick" attempts ended up "in the napkin" or "on the ground." Daisley didn't love Danielle/Lizzie's lackluster skewered fruit and bacon, as well as Josie/Liza's impossible to eat pancake kebob. His favorites were Sheldon/Bart's green forest breakfast sandwich (extra impressive as their panini press died towards the end of service) and Josh/John's mini taco. Bragging rights — and immunity — go to Sheldon and Bart.
Padma announces that the chefs will be staying in the same teams of two for the Elimination Challenge. Grumble, grumble, grumble. They draw knives, and each team is assigned a very specific, unusual ingredient (truffle popcorn, cheese curds, cardamom bitters) that is sold at Pike Place Market. The people who made these products will be joining the judges for lunch, and each team must create a dish that highlights their artisanal ingredient. I'm really annoyed that I was just forced to use the word "artisanal." Apologies.
CJ and Tyler are exchanging ideas for their dill pickle dish. CJ wants to do a burger with pickles on top. Tyler responds, "My idea was a potato oyster chowder with a dill pickle fritter on top. But ... uh ... I'm down with whatever you want." Tyler is clearly intimidated by CJ's past "Top Chef" experience and towering height. His dish sounds vastly more complex and interesting but he's skittish and apologetic to CJ. Come on, Tyler — own your dish! His humbleness is very endearing but I worry it's going to get him zapped too soon.
Josh and John are each concerned about the other's component (undercooked grits, overcooked pork) but they are so anxious about the potential of a temper tantrum from the other that neither is saying anything. It's like "The Gift of the Magi: Top Chef Edition."
The artisans and judges are seated for lunch. The chefs bring their dishes.
On Josh/John's pan-seared pork tenderloin with truffle popcorn grits:
Hugh: "As a guy who makes grits every day, those grits suck."
Tom: "Whoever cooked this meat just really screwed up."
On Micah/Kristen's cheese curds three ways: bechamel, raw and friend:
Padma: "I didn't know that that one nugget of fried brownness was cheese. And I LOVE CHEESE."
On Stefan/Brooke's rose petal glazed Muscovy duck with braised cabbage:
Hugh: "It's either a really dull knife, or really tough duck."
On Josie/Eliza's curry cardamom brother with Manila clams & seared white king salmon:
Padma: "I just swallowed sand."
Needless to say, it's not good. At the end of the meal, Gayle tries to say that the chefs did a decent job showcasing the ingredients but her lack of enthusiasm is clear. Tom declares, "I don't even have a favorite! They were all so bad. Not a good day for 'Top Chef.'"
Padma apologizes to the guests for the bad meal. Did you catch that? She apologizes for the food. Yikes.
Back in the stew room, Tom comes through the door as eyes begin to dart nervously. He lets them know that the dishes were all subpar. "We're not going to award a win tonight at all. That $10,000 is off the table." Also: "We're sending an entire team home tomorrow."
Back at the apartment, the gang is drinking heavily and working through their fears. Stefan tries to explain how "Last Chance Kitchen" works and starts drawing brackets in a notepad. Josh remains confused. As is America.
Morning comes, and we're on to what will surely be an excruciating last 12 minutes. Padma calls back three teams to Judge's Table. Since we know no winner will be announced, we — and the chefs — have no idea what this means for those teams. John/Josh, CJ/Tyler and Stefan/Brooke brace themselves. Padma lets the bomb drop: These three teams had the least successful dishes. Each get an earful from the judges.
After Padma dismisses them, CJ starts to say something and then shakes his head. "One last thing, CJ?" Padma asks. CJ turns back and asks the judges what they thought of Danyele/Lizzie's dessert. "Because that thing was an abhorrence. It was a debacle. It was diabolical. It was a travesty," he says. To which Hugh retorts, "Well, uh-oh, 'cause your burger was even worse." Tom bursts out laughing. Josh reprimands CJ for asking: "Stop underhanding pitches to a pro baseball player!" thus ending what I thought would be the worst but ended up one of the funniest Judge's Table ever.
The judges regroup to decide who's going home. Tom asks everyone for their vote on worst dish. Tom, Padma and Hugh each pick a separate dish. It's up to Gayle to decide. She heaves a pained sigh. CJ and Tyler are asked to pack their knives and go.
CJ is "mortified" and says that "he will be pretty pissed off for awhile." In sharp contrast, Tyler reflects that he has grown a lot and he accomplished his main goals of being himself and remaining sober. With this group? Those are not easy tasks. He holds his head high as he leaves.
Dear Tyler, You're a class act and I would love to try your oyster chowder someday. Love, Mary Alice.
The remaining chefs all agree that CJ will likely be the winner of Last Chance Kitchen. "Either him or Kuniko," mutters Eliza. Hmmm.
Next week: Anna Faris and Chris Pratt and their sure-to-be-hilarious unborn child, along with the sweet sweet schadenfreude of John Tesar getting visibly shaken by having to cook for his old boss.