Top Chef
Top Chef Holiday Special

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It Came Upon A Sniff And Sneer

CJ dances on one leg (and one ball) and counts down the time until the next course is served. Betty -- being a drama-lama-ding-dong -- is agog, simply agog about how she sacrificed her third-course phyllo for her first-course yeast infection. Now what? She's making a stupidly large almond cookie instead. Tre and Marcel are going head-to-head with a lamb chop course. The third course comes out, and Betty and Josie are binned. The duet of Very Large and Loud Teeth wishes the judges happy holidays through forced smiles, and leaves.

The final four dish out. Marcel is serving lamb loin chops with butternut squash puree, maple syrup-pomegranate gastrique, and parsnip chips. Tre's lamb chops, on the other hand, are classically crusted with horseradish and mustard ("classically"? Really? Mustard I can see, but not so much with the horseradish. Too strong) and accompanied with a parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts "leaves," something with chanterelles, and balsamic jus. Tiffani brags about her "really light butterscotch pudding" with cider, "really light caramel," and whipped cream with orange, clove, and nutmeg. CJ blunders through his cardamom panna cotta perched on roasted Delicata squash (he calls it "Delicatati") with poached fig, gingersnap crumbles, and red wine and balsamic reduction AND star-anise and thyme honey.

The judges eat. They love Tre's lamb way more than Marcel's. Colicchio -- sitting at the head of the table -- says that Marcel's lamb has "absolutely no flavor at all" and isn't it seared well. Ted Allen -- clearly taking over Padma's parrot job tonight -- agrees about the poor sear and says it's just all grey. This is all because, earlier, Marcel was priding himself on searing only one side of his chops and keeping the other side nearly raw. They love Tiffani's butterscotch pudding -- to distraction, in fact, in Falkner's case. Colicchio decides it's the best thing he's had all night. Of course it is. CJ's panna cotta looked sloppy, but both Gail and Ripert liked the flavor combo.

The cheftestants are brought back out, and CJ and Marcel are booted. CJ agrees to us that his dish wasn't as refined as it could have been, and Marcel, bobbing his head around, decides that throwing French phrases around makes him refined, so his opinion about losing is, "C'est la vie." Tre brags to us that a lot of people are going to jump out of their seats and cheer when he wins.

And now it's about time for the twist: they have to cook one more course. Like, duh. Anyone who didn't see this coming is either really dumb or Tiffani. Tiffani throws her head back in mock agony and tell us she's really mad at herself for not seeing it coming. Padma sends them back to the kitchen with thirty minutes to cook. They can use "anything [they] want" (I assume that means "in the pantry"? Because ain't no one going back to Whole Foods tonight) and all the leftovers -- including the made dishes -- from all the other cheftestants. That's so bizarre, but also kind of cool. It's sort of like how I cook when I don't feel like going to the grocery store. I've made some wild and fairly okay stuff when I'm on a fridge "now or never" binge.

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