Top Chef

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Chuck: B | Grade It Now!
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As day breaks in Chicago, the cheftestants prepare themselves for another grueling Quickfire/Elimination combo. Things are quieter than they have been, says Manuel -- Erik is "a big guy with a big heart," and his absence can be felt around the house. Each elimination ratchets up the intensity, which is starting to take its toll. Manuel misses his sons something fierce, but he understands that it's all part of the game.

Jennifer's trying to be hyper-conscious of the uniqueness of her situation with Zoi -- as everyone talks about how much "they miss their boyfriend, or their girlfriend, or their kids" -- she and Zoi have each other to lean on, to talk to, to touch. She reiterates that she's trying to be as fair as she can, and that she's making an effort to keep some distance out of respect for the rest of the group. While thoughtful, I'm not sure how far that respect will go toward ameliorating the other people distanced from their support systems. It does feel like we're inching ever-so-slowly toward a situation in which, cards on table, we'll see Jennifer and Zoi's true colors -- I'll be let down if that moment never comes, since they've been setting us up for some fireworks since the first episode.

Spike, never without an opinion, professes his "love" for the girls and his belief that they complement each other wonderfully, but states that he's ready for one of them to go. Says he: "It is a competition, and having two people in the house that are kind of working together and understand each others thought process, it puts the rest of us at a slight disadvantage, and that's all it takes in this competition is a slight disadvantage." Wordy, but potentially valid -- if indeed that's how it plays out. Jennifer's gone to bat for Zoi in the talking-head segments, but the jury's still out about how things will go if the do compete against one another. Which I think I already said -- so, moving on, Spike's ubiquitous porkpie hat is getting a little tedious. It feels a bit forced, and in that way it's a nice encapsulation of his general persona.

Padma, rocking the cobalt blue yet again (looks like she's decided it her color of the season), introduces this week's guest judge by saying, "If you guys don't know who he is, you should just leave the kitchen now." It's Daniel Boulud, multiple restaurant owner, After Hours star, and extraordinary French chef, who's definitely one of the stars in the culinary firmament. I've never had the pleasure of dining at one of his establishments, but I gather he generally lives up to the hype. He also seems like a fairly genial fellow, although I'll bet he can be right nasty when provoked (or when he feels like it).

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Top Chef

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