Our top nine chefs assemble for tonight’s mystery box challenge. Up comes the lid, revealing liquor and matches. Olivia’s instantly enthused, telling us, “Let’s have a shot!” while this box reminds Nick of his college days. I get the liquor part, but the matches…? Gordon Ramsay explains that everyone’s going to be flambéing tonight, and then he and Christina Tosi and Graham Elliot step behind the stovetops and give us a taste of how the pros do it. Before they begin, Christina translates that “flambé is French for flame.” Thanks for that, Christina. “You take alcoholic liquor and light it on fire.” (Uh, is there another kind of liquor that doesn’t contain alcohol?) She’s going to use cognac to make beef bourguignon, Graham’s anise will go in his mussels, and Gordon’s peach and shortbread dessert will be flamed with brandy.
Simultaneously, they pour, tip, and tilt the pan and three columns of fire shoot into the air. They finish up and present some delicious looking dishes. Now it’s the hopeful’s turn. “The closest I’ve gotten to flambé is burning my house down in 1997,” Stephen tells us and I have no idea if he’s serious or not. He hopes to not repeat that incident today. Is it wrong to secretly hope something does go awry? Christina asks if they’re ready to make a stunning flambé dish, and “light this place on fire,” though not literally, Stephen. Tommy answers her with, “I’m so glad I’m not the only thing flaming in this kitchen,” and everyone chuckles. Oh, Tommy.
Everyone gets started, and the judges walk around. Stephen’s “got magic happening” at his station. “The food is telling me what it wants and I’m listening,” he tells Graham. The food is apparently telling Stephen to make it into a “garden on a plate” in the form of seabass wrapped in leeks and flambéed in anise. Derrick and his exposed arms are also doing a sea bass, though he’s got some fancily-cut potatoes to make a tunnel cascading down. Katrina’s also team bass, but she’s doing it in a stew form. The time flies by and Stephen sadly doesn’t alight anything he’s not supposed to. It’s not long before we hear the top three dishes the judge are “dying” to see.
First up is Tommy and his bananas foster. “Yass, baby! I’ve been called first,” he tells us. Gordon calls it beautiful and it does look amazing. Post-bite, Gordon declares it delicious, and Graham agrees, though thinks Tommy could’ve skipped the apple garnish. Next up is Katrina and her sea bass seafood stew. Graham packs every ingredient onto his fork for the perfect bite, and gazes up and off to the left, as is tradition, while he tastes. This is the best dish Katrina’s ever cooked, he says, proud of how she’s growing. Last up is Stephen, who “cooked my heart out. I deserve this.” Mmmkay then. His plate looks like restaurant quality, and Christina says it’s “darn delicious. I’d be blown away by this in any restaurant.” Amped, Stephen and Gordon do their weird face-off and grunting thing before high-fiving. I would watch a buddy cop movie starring Stephen and Gordon.
The judges huddle and confer. It’s a tough call, but they give it to Stephen, who is “feeling electric right now, man.” Back to the pantry they go so Stephen can learn what his advantages are, aside from exemption from the forthcoming elimination challenge. He’s presented with three Southern dishes—shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and gumbo—and asked to select one for his compatriots to cook. He opts for chicken and waffles. Thankfully, Christina does not explain fried chicken nor waffles to us. The dish pleases Tommy, who loves “chicken and waffles more than church loves sin.”
About to begin, Gordon drops Stephen’s final advantage on the group: he can choose one person who has to make this dish in half the time, 30 minutes. At this revelation, Stephen giggles and then shows us some rickety board with his opponents’ names written on there, ranked in order of how serious he views them as competitors. At the top? Derrick. (Next to his own name, of course) And so he’ll “take Derrick, the little drummer boy, for $500, please.” Stephen’s irreverence about this whole process makes me like him more. Derrick is nonplussed at being singled out. “You watch me work,” he coolly says to Stephen.
NEXT: Stephen watches Derrick work…