Top Chef

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Wild Blue Yonder
rites included Eli, because his dish was too sweet, Ron, because the bland yam covered an overcooked fish, and Jesse, because her soup was too spicy. Mark's favorites were Jen's mussels, Ash's custard (he's shocked), and Ashley's gnocchi (eat it, Preeti). The winner is the person that Mark felt found "the essence of the potato," which is Jen. Mike I. interviews that her win is "favoritism," somehow forgetting that it's ridiculous to cry favoritism when there have been a variety of different judges who have all ruled in her favor. It's not like one judge kept picking her over and over because he thinks she's cute. God, I hope that prick gets his comeuppance. Jen gets immunity in the elimination challenge, so she's happy.

Elimination Challenge. Padma says that they have a special guest, and a military dude strolls into the kitchen. Padma introduces him as Colonel Dave Belote, Commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. The Colonel orders the chefs to report to Nellis, home of the Thunderbirds, and create a meal for three hundred airmen. He explains that many of them just returned from being deployed and many are about to be deployed, and due to their travels, they have discerning ingredients. Michael V. interviews that his younger sister is in the Air Force, so he's especially psyched about this challenge. Okay, that's a connection that makes sense. You'll see that these connections get lamer and lamer as time goes on. Padma adds in the twist: the cheftestants will work as a team, and they won't find out their ingredients or cooking equipment until they report to the base tomorrow. Sweaty Ashley is honored to cook for the military. It's interesting that either she didn't bring up "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," or the editors chose not to feature it as a storyline like they did with her gay marriage issue last week. Maybe part of the deal when the Air Force signed on was that Bravo wouldn't air any criticism of the military by the cheftestants, because this whole episode seems pretty gung ho military. I personally am fine with that, but I know a lot of people who don't feel that way, so it seemed kind of odd.

As soon as they get back to the house, the cheftestants gather to discuss strategy. Mike I. presents an idea that a bunch of them have allegedly been discussing: since they have fifteen people, they will have one person serve as a tournand or general assistant, and then everyone else pairs up and works on one dish as a pair. He nominates Jen to work alone since she has immunity so it doesn't really matter if she makes a dish or not. So he kind of wants to relegate her to a gopher, because he's totally threatened by her. Rather than get all argumentative about it, Jen just seems to decide to make the role her own once she gets in the kitchen, which is wise. Mike I. invites people to speak up if they disagree with the strategy or if they disagree with cooking an American theme. No one says anything, so they pick teams.

We aren't privy to the process of how the group decides who gets to pick first, and it probably doesn't matter since nearly everyone is okay with his or her partner. Preeti picks Invisible Laurine because they both cook California cuisine. Eli and Kevin pair up because they know each other from Atlanta and Kevin adds that they "bond on a fat kid level as well." Love Kevin. Mike I. and Mike V. pair up even though Mike V. admits that he'd like to work with his brother. Bryan chooses Mattin and that leaves Ron and Jesse together. Laurine points out in an interview that they have been "the weakest two" thus far. They didn't detail a few pairings there, so I guess we can be confident that they won't be in the top or bottom.

The next morning, Robin explains that they had to get up early since they'd be serving the meal at noon and had four hours prep time, plus primping time, plus travel time. The cheftestants arrive in the kitchen and find what looks like a Dharma food drop: lots of canned foods and dried goods. Of course, the cheftestants aren't happy, and even less so when they see the cooking equipment. There are not many pans and no burners or stovetops.

They shortly find the walk-ins and find the proteins and the produce. Kevin interviews that he was in ROTC in high school, and has cooked in a military kitchen before, so he's not all that shocked by the accommodations. The pairs quickly get to deciding what to cook and Jen as the "executive chef" (love how she just bumped herself up like three levels) coordinates all the dishes, presumably making sure that no one is repeating a dish. When others start bitching about the equipment, Mike V. points out that the military cooks do it every day, so they can make it work one time. I didn't like Mike V. at the beginning, but he's growing on me. He's a better chef than I gave him credit for. And yet, he's friends with Mike I. and he did that boob thing in the first challenge. It's so hard.

Head scratcher of the week. Preeti says that she knew she wanted to be a chef on 9/11. Whuh? I mean, if she had explained that she was doing something she didn't love and the experience convinced her that life is short and she should follow her passion, that might have made sense. But the way she phrased it, it just sounded like she was inspired to cook in the same way that others were inspired to join the military or volunteer, and it just doesn't follow. The more Preeti is on this show, the more I'm convinced that she's kind of a weirdo. Especially since it took her two years after 9/11 to actually go to culinary school.

Mike V. has decided to make a braised pork belly with crushed peanuts. Apparently he doesn't need any help, and that leaves Mike I. with nothing to do, so he decides to "bang out a salad." And that's about how much thought he apparently put into his Greek shrimp salad. It's one thing to round out a menu with kind of a throwaway dish that fills a gap, but when you've being judged on what you make, you might want to put some effort in there. Bryan reminds us that he's Mike's brother, so that means it's also his sister in the Air Force, so that's his connection. He seems to be taking charge of his partnership with Mattin.

Eli and Kevin are doing barbecued pork, and Kevin interviews how happy he is to cook Southern food. Ron and Jesse decide to make clam chowder. Jesse says that she likes the idea because it sounds easy. Should you pick what sounds easy when you're trying to impress the judges? I don't know. Ron is some kind of chowder prize winner, even though he knows that it's risky to make chowder on a hot day.

Hector and Robin are making a chicken three bean chili. Hector explains that it makes sense to serve hot, spicy food on a hot day because it makes you sweat and cools you off. Ash and Ashley are making some sort of chocolate and peanut butter bread pudding, which sounds crazy rich (and with the number of eggs they are cracking, it must be) but God bless. I still wish Ashley would wash her hair. I guess that makes me old. Ash is trying to make custard in a wok, and he interviews about his many family members who have served, so that's his connection.

Okay. Preeti and Invisible Laurine are making a farfalle pasta salad. That's a fancy way of saying bowtie pasta. That's what my aunt makes for our summer picnics. So I assume they would be doing something fancy with it, like adding a fancy dressing or...I don't know. I don't know how you would make a pasta salad more complex and still keep it American style. They don't seem concerned, though.

Jesse brings up the fact that there's nowhere to cook and Laurine and Preeti are using the one skillet in the whole kitchen to blanch or stir fry their vegetables. Ron interviews that they kind of had to take one for the team, but "take one for the team" doesn't mean "not finish your dish." Mattin reminds Laurine that he needs the skillet next to cook his b├ęchamel. Jen tries to coordinate the timing and the equipment, and seems to be doing a kick-ass job. Jen interviews that she's fair yet strict in the kitchen, and she won't let people get away with

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Top Chef

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