Disclaimer: While this is a Top Chef recap, this is also specific to OC. In other words, us Weeklings are rooting for Amar Santana!
Disclaimer #2: There are total spoilers in here. Do not read unless you want to know who won what this week, okay? Now, let's DO this.
This season's tough. The cheftestants are of a higher caliber, thus making the challenges worse (or better, depending how how you look at it). That was what we realized while feverishly taking notes and hitting pause/rewind for the last 75 minutes. Of course, it made for a much more interesting episode overall.
Before we jump into their Quickfire, the gang cruises up the coast to their next destination. Stephanie Mutz, a sea urchin diver, welcomes them to Santa Barbara. She also clues them in on their next challenge with a casual uni tasting. Jason from Seattle describes the taste as a, " . . .briny, buttery, cucumber melon flavor." Our OC chef's excitement gushes, "Uni makes me happy." Tell us how you really feel, Amar. They are then dispatched to Sanford Winery, where Padma and the lovely Dana Cowin (editor-in-chief of Food & Wine) are expecting them.
Now the Sudden Death Quickfire starts innocently enough. The group has 25 minutes to pair a Sanford wine with an uni dish. Santana gives us uni with shiitake tempura and lime ricotta cheese. It is paired with a Pinot Noir - Vin Gris. Dana remarks that his dish brings out the red fruit flavors and earthiness of mushroom and uni. Surprisingly (even to her), Grayson pushes ahead of the pack with a refined crab salad of cucumber, grapefruit and uni with a glass of Viognier. She gives credit to her sommelier boyfriend for pairing so well.
Giselle is at the bottom of the disliked dishes, forcing her to select an opponent for a showdown. If she wins, they both stay. Lose, and she packs her knives. Per her selected nemesis, Angelina, "You better kick ass." Using an ostrich egg, Ms. Giselle soft scrambles herself safe. While Angelina claims to showcase her egg, it is a cluttered plate of ingredients in a spicy tomato jam. Adding insult to injury, they end up together on the Elimination Challenge. Talk about karma.
Speaking of elimination, we learn this round is about surf and turf. The duos must create this classic pairing. They're given two whole hours to prep and cook. Or at least they're supposed to. Amar's pained commentary as he spots
J. Crew Tom Colicchio says it all, "He's not here to say good night; There's something coming." It is now a "Surf vs. Turf" showdown, as each pair is no longer a team. They must now go head-to-head in battle for the best plate. The ultimate winner of this challenge travels back to Sanford to select their own barrel of wine and have it custom labeled as their own.
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As pairs approach the guests, we learn their judges include the likes of Cat Cora, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal, Suzanne Goin of Lucques, David Lenz of Hungry Cat and even Michael Cimarusti of Providence. This is one upscale power table. Grayson's immunity doesn't prevent her from competing against the team of Amar and Wesley. Her laquered pork belly actually beats out the other two, including a sauce that is "fascinating and dynamic" according to Richard Blais. Amar's olive oil poached halibut with eggless bearnaise, asparagus and morel mushrooms is safe, as Tom considers it, "Nice and delicate. Although the fish could've been cooked a little less." Sorry, Amar.
The winner and MVP for this week is Kwame. First off, he helps his competitor, Chad, when there are issues prepping his lamb. Then you get Tom saying the dish is "playful." But you knew he was destined for greatness when Dana Cowin drops the word slutty to describe Kwame's rock crab salad with tumeric, asparagus and radish. Unfortunately, we have to say buh-bye to Frances. Her hodge podge of black cod with jicama relish and roasted squash was an example of what not to do when insecurities settle in.
In the end, Blais blasts the chefs for their lack of time management. while Cimarusti reiterates the notion of "Less is more." As the only sous chef departs for Last Chance Kitchen, her parting words are an inspiration to all, "It's never too late. There's always hope. Just keep dreaming." And with that, the episode wraps with Padma asking the remaining chefs to pack their bags— they're departing for Palm Springs.
See you next week, people.