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Top Chef recap: Finding Inspiration

One chef goes home after failing to show her strengths in a challenge to create dishes based on different Vegas casinos

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Top Chef Jennifer C
Trae Patton/Bravo

Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

After all of the overwrought challenges we see each week on Top Chef (military kitchens! triple-degree temps! slot machines dictating dishes!), it was refreshing to see the chefs exercising a bit more freedom and inspiration for last night’s elimination challenge. They each created a dish inspired by a casino, and for some, it was a great opportunity to showcase their individual styles. For others, it was a wakeup call that parameters are sometimes a good thing.

But before all that got going, we had my favorite quickfire of the season for two reasons: It involved breakfast food (clearly the best meal of the day) and the guest judge was Nigella Lawson (the British chef and TV personality whose relaxing, flirtatious approach to cooking is delightfully infectious). A robe-clad Padma rang the chefs, asking, nay ordering, them to serve her and Lawson breakfast in bed. Besides Eli, none of the guys have really gawked at Padma’s hotness, so I imagine Eli’s apron got into a tizzy when he saw her in a robe…on a bed…waiting for him. Ew, I’ll stop.

I love breakfast and all, but their dishes looked none too appetizing. For one, Jennifer’s cream chip beef, or ”s— on a shingle” as she so pleasantly called it, sounded awful, and Nigella’s priceless look of horror was confirmation for us all. Nigella usually eats most anything (she said so herself later in the episode), but this beef was certainly not her cup of tea.

I liked the idea of Robin’s blintz (the goat cheese was a nice touch), but it looked like a smorgasbord on the plate. Nigella must’ve called it ”one-note” because it was all mixed up together. Plating was obviously a problem for time-crunched Robin, but there’s no room for missteps this far into the game.

And Bryan, had you not experimented with vanilla, Nigella probably would’ve loved your four-minute egg. The vanilla sounded delicious to me, but experimentation is a tricky thing. Sometimes it can bite you in the butt; other times, it can work to your advantage. This is what makes Kevin such a great chef. He knows when to push the envelope. His steak and eggs could’ve been mundane, but dusting the meat with coffee and adding gourmet elements (aged cheddar and crème fraiche) worked for Nigella. She said he truly understood the challenge, but what did that mean? The only instruction they got was to serve Padma and Nigella breakfast in bed. What was there to understand? That serving his food warm meant Kevin understood proper room service?

Either way, as much as Kevin understood, non-breakfast-eating Eli won his second quickfire for a Rueben Benedict. It had ”tang,” it was the perfect hangover meal — what’s not to love? The dish won and earned a spot in the new Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook, where it’ll be the only recipe from this season to be included. After immunity and money, it’s a pretty cool prize.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs drew knives to find out what Vegas casino would inspire their dishes, which would be served to 175 of Vegas’ elite. That’s a lot of people for one person to cook for, but with free rein for once, the chefs finally got to show us their personalities, not through tattoos, nerd glasses or red neck scarves, but through food, and with it we learned a bit about each of our cheftestants.

Jen proclaimed that for a while she was confused about life until she discovered cooking. It’s what inspired her to go to culinary school, where, I assume, she should’ve learned how to cook meat properly. Turns out, that tuition may have been ill spent because her New York strip was hard as a rock, or a stone, you might say. Jen chose to food-ify The Sword and the Stone, a play on Excalibur’s medieval theme, but Nigella’s visceral reaction was enough to show us how tough that strip really was. (Best line from Toby: ”It was more Spamalot than Camelot.” There he goes again with the one-two punch!) I doubt Jen even cared though. She seemed pretty carefree about not having a clear vision for her dish, and at this point, I think she’d rather kick back with another beer at Tournament of Kings than compete on Top Chef. She has such a defeatist attitude now, and I’m fairly certain it’s going to screw her over pretty soon — though perhaps that’s what she wants.

NEXT: Robin’s sweet mistake