There have never been more tears on Top Chef, including in our very own eyes, as there were throughout last night's episode. The crying wasn't from cutting raw onions. It wasn't from sliced fingertips. It wasn't even from the pork belly frying oil that nearly splashed in Ed's eye. The sentiment spurning the tears was warmer, even sentimental. But not roll-your-eyes cheesy. Was it love? Perhaps. It is Valentine's week, after-all.
Padma invited the cheftestants' mentors, all of them extremely accomplished and remarkably genuine, into the Top Chef Kitchen. Paul, who's normally laid-back and even-keeled, lost his shit -- deep breaths, sniffles, free-flowing tears. Bowing his head, too choked up to continue, he couldn't finish his intro to chef Tyson Cole. I don't know a single thing about their relationship, but I'll be damned if my eyes weren't about to spill over.
The other chefs, though not as emotional as Paul, were sniffly too. Ed's the only one who kept his composure. After their collective release of emotions, and some hugs and sagacious advice from their mentors, they were off to the elimination challenge: cook food "that fulfills and even exceeds" the mentors' expectations.
The episode held one surprise even more shocking than the mama and papa chef cameos. That surprise has a name: Bev, and she was eliminated several episodes ago. Throughout the season, Top Chef has been holding a parallel competition, Last Chance Kitchen, where eliminated chefs go head-to-head to get back into the competition. Bev won and rejoined the group, which welcomed her with
open arms blank stares and eye-rolls.
The pressure ran high for everyone except Sarah. She'd won the Quickfire: a blindfolded "pantry raid," where chefs had to feel and smell their way to ingredients and include everything they took -- accidentally and on purpose -- into their dish. The challenge went soup-to-soup between Sarah and Ed. Sarah took the top spot and chose a guaranteed spot in the final four over a car. The soup she made looked like a damn fine bowl of warmth, if unusual, which brings us to our highlights:
Most unusual combination that's actually delicious: Sarah's Quickfire winner. Corn soup is universally good. If you say you don't like it, you're probably just lying and really love it. But corn soup with onion, chili, mushrooms, and peaches -- let's just say it's a ballsy decision to put those things in one pot, but one that paid off. The judges loved it, and the combination, though odd, is strangely inviting.
Shockingly Astute Cheftestant Psychic: Ed "I've got a pack of cigarettes says it's Bev," he wagered, guessing at which chef would reappear. He was right. Then, once the elimination challenge kicked off, Ed stewed: "If I get eliminated because Beverly comes back and takes my spot, I am going to be so pissed off." Well, uh, we'll get to that.
Best Tom Zinger: This one. Every week he launches a dumb little zinger -- or ten -- making him both endearing and a little annoying. This week, chef Michelle Bernstein, Lindsay's mentor, was the butt of Tom's joke. Michelle said she was sweating before Lindsay served her dish. She felt like she was the one stressing in the kitchen. "She's an extension of me ... I just want her to be happy," the chef said, getting all sentimental about things.
The moment was ripe for a Colicchio cut-down. "It sounds like you're breaking up with her." Bam, wham. Don't season your food with tears, bitches. You're eating with Tom.
Highest and Most Deserved Compliment: Judges to Paul Paul's chilled sunchoke dashi soup over shaved vegetables was so simple that the slightest mistake -- one that he did not make -- could have sent him packing.
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"I think the flavor in that dish -- it spoke to someone who has a lot more experience than you have. Young chefs don't understand restraint. They want to add more. And you knew that enough was enough, and I've got to say, it was a very nice bowl of soup," Tom said, punctuating his praise with a smile that can only come from a great chef who just ate something incredibly tasty and a little mind-blowing.
"I couldn't believe how every bite of that soup, Paul, gave me more and more flavor. It was well-prepared thoughtful food," Gail added, calling Paul by name for an added punch of praise. Paul won the challenge.
Most Unfortunate Smear: Ed's oyster sauce. Ed's pork belly looked like an amazingly hearty piece of meat, tender and ripe for the tearing, with pickled vegetables to cut through the fat. The dish was comforting, warm, beautiful. But the sauce beneath it was somehow gray and mustard-colored at once, a pukey mix made with canned smoked oysters. Judges confirmed that the unctuous puddle was as unpleasant as a viewer might suspect. It sent him packing his knives and realizing his greatest Bev fears. "It's really difficult getting so close and getting knocked out by Beverly. It's a bad way to go," he said. To be fair, he called it in the very beginning.
Next week, Top Chef Texas goes to ... British Columbia. An odd choice, indeed.