Top Chef

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Etched in My Mind

Tom moves over to talk to Dale about their food. Tom isn't sure that all of their dishes fit the theme, and Dale says they are twists on bodega food. I mean, duh. They're not going to serve up a bagel with cream cheese and a Greek salad. Tom pretends like he doesn't already know Dale's team totally has this in the bag and expresses doubt about the theme.

Fabio runs out to the front and starts setting up tables. He greets the servers and goes over the menu with them. This is really Fabio's element. I think he's a good cook, but a great front-of-house guy. Too bad this isn't Top Front-of-House Guy. He would totally win.

Tiffany is working on her eggs. Marcel is yelling instructions over to her about how to peel them and she's muttering under her breath that she knows how to cook an egg. And then she gets all freaked out because Fabio is out in the front and she's still cooking, and she needs to get out there. Except she has all these eggs to peel. And, oops. The eggs aren't cooked properly. This whole section is very confusing. Tiffany seems to be saying that she listened to Marcel's suggestions and that's why her eggs got screwed up. Marcel seems to be saying that Tiffany doesn't know how to cook a six-minute egg. Whatever happened, they need a new dish. Mike comes up with some weird technique where you put an egg in a blend of half sugar and half salt to cure it. I tried looking this technique up, but all of the recipes I found said the yolks needed to cure for at least eight or twelve hours. So I don't know what's going on here, because it looks like Tiffany did about twelve eggs and then handed everything over to Angelo so she could go meet with the servers. They took fifteen extra minutes for this episode and yet things are kind of a mystery still, but I think part of it is the editors' efforts to make it look like Marcel's team had a chance.

So then Angelo tries to convince Marcel that one of their dishes doesn't need a foam, because it will take too much time. Marcel is like, "What? Why not? The foam is already done." Of course it is. Of course Marcel prioritized his foam. Angelo explains that he means it will take too long to plate, because it's fussy and unnecessary, and because the judges have repeatedly told Marcel to cut it out with the stupid foams. Okay, Angelo just says the first part.

The editors are like, "How can we make it look like Dale's team might be in trouble? Everything is going perfectly? Who is crazily anxious about everything and always assumes the worst? BLAIS!" So Blais does an interview where he's like, "I think things were going TOO well and it was the calm before the storm." Oh, Blais. Always so worried, usually for no good reason.

The final preparations begin. Fabio and Tiffany give their servers some last-minute instructions. The plating happens. Angelo assures Tiffany that her dish came out okay after all. Because Carla is awesome, she yells over to her competition to have a good service, and Antonia returns the gesture.

The diners show up, and Fabio and Tiffany start seating. Tiffany realizes that Dana Cowin, editor of Food and Wine is in her line, and that just adds an extra level of anxiety. The dude in Dana's party looks SO familiar but I cannot figure out who it is. A little Googling reveals that it's Ben Leventhal, founder of eater.com and current employee of my current employer, NBC Universal. So we are practically related! No wonder he looked familiar. (Note to future Googlers: the other two people in the party were Joanne Wilson and Amanda Hesser, per Dana Cowin's Twitter. You're welcome). Tiffany heads to the kitchen to tell the chefs about their VIP table, and before she leaves, she catches someone's eye and mouths, "Not good." Yikes. Already? They just started!

Blais explains how things are going to work. The diners will eat at one restaurant, and then eat at the other, and then vote for the winner. Well, that was complicated. Glad he explained it. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Dale is telling the servers that they screwed up in writing the orders. Dale is expediting, and making sure that each table gets the correct dish. He has a bunch of plates in front of him, and the servers are kind of crowding him to get to their plates, but Dale doesn't want anyone grabbing anything before he gets the orders straightened out, so he kind of angrily tells them to back the fuck off. Fabio is right there, and he calms Dale down, and gets the servers straightened out. Oh no! Dale's team is falling apart. Not really, but the editors sense an opportunity and they have Antonia saying that Dale's team might be nervous because they're serving tuna out of a can while Marcel's team is serving perfectly composed plates.

Oops! Not so fast, Antonia. Tiffany, who looks like she has reached about a 9 out of a 10 on the I Don't Give a Shit Meter, strolls languidly back into the kitchen with some plates of lamb and says that they're undercooked, at least according to the diners. I would imagine the judges would eat it that way, but a regular person probably wouldn't. And then Tiffany has to stand there while Dana Cowin's table totally rips apart her salad and they take turns explaining why it was horrible. So at this point, given the usual reverse psychology this show employs, I figured that Marcel's team must win by some miracle. Because otherwise, the outcome is just too obvious, right?

Dana Cowin and company have moved over to Bodega, and Fabio greets them personally and is just more animated in general than Tiffany, who kind of acted like she was moving through water in slow motion. Fabio explains the menu to the table and then leaves. Dana Cowin immediately says that Bodega is a huge improvement over the competition already, because they have a cohesive concept, and they are modern and fun. Dana adds, "There's fun all over this menu." You'd think Fabio would have wiped that down before giving it to her, then.

Oh, snap! The judges are at Bodega. Fabio greets them immediately and gives them the starter, Dale's bag of potato chips with fried herbs and sea salt. Fabio heads back to the kitchen to fill the judges' order, and Carla interviews that things started rocky, especially for Dale, but now things have smoothed out. Fabio grabs some plates and serves the judges the first course. Blais made raw tuna belly and fried chicken skin with chilies and lime. It's served in a can like tuna fish. Dale added bacon, egg, and cheese with homemade focaccia. The editors try really hard to make it seem like Bodega might be in trouble, and they get a few diners to say that Dale's dish is confusing and common. Bourdain loves it, though he admits that if you put a runny egg on anything, he will like it. Ludo liked Blais's tuna, but they find a diner who says that the can was dumb. At this point, I started to worry a bit that the judges would love Bodega's food, but the diners wouldn't get it and they would lose.

Fabio checks in with the judges and then Tom notes that Fabio is in total control of the floor, and keeps tight control over the staff. Fabio is giving direction to the servers, but in a nice and firm way. He's not yelling at anyone, but he anticipates problems before they might happen and keeps things in line. Meanwhile, Tiffany is kind of wandering from table to table and talking in this really fake voice. She gets a few reports that the food was good, although would people really tell her if the food sucked? They know she cooked some of it.

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Top Chef

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