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Top Chef recap: Roughing It

The cheftestants have to contend with a viewers’ choice ingredient (cactus-yum!) and desert cooking in a “rustic” kitchen

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Top Chef Bryan
Trae Patton/Bravo

Top Chef

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

Let’s face it, I think most of us know who’s going to be in the final round this season: Michael V., Bryan, and Jen — or possibly Kevin. Clearly they want the sibling rivalry and as for Jen and Kevin, both are just really talented. But are we really going to keep watching these four win quickfires and elimination challenges week after week? Yawn.

But oh, Bravo, what a tangled web of twists and turns you weave. Last night’s episode proved to be a bump in my road of predictions when Ashley and Laurine, both of whom couldn’t seem to win a challenge to save their lives, wowed the judges with their elimination dishes, making them the season’s  — or at least last night’s — dark horses. In fact, Laurine also had one of the night’s best quickfire dishes and Michael V. had one of the worst! Is this the same season we’ve been watching?

But let’s be real. I think Ashley and Laurine got lucky with a challenge they had experience with, though I do think Laurine has finally proven her cooking chops. She’s just too shy and insecure to get very far in this competition. But perhaps I’m too cynical and presumptuous. Maybe these ladies do have what it takes, especially considering this week’s difficult elimination challenge. Ashley, especially, was able to set aside her homesickness and pull through. (Side note: Did you see all her tattoos??)

Let’s back up. The night began with a Top Cheffirst: Fans got to pick the ingredient for the quickfire, and from snake, kangaroo and cactus, they chose cactus. What the hell were they going to make with that? Well, apparently some really cool-sounding dishes, like Ashley’s cactus jelly donut and Ash’s cactus grilled cheese sandwich. They sounded so exotically delicious, but actual taste was a different story.

Chef Tim Love, owner of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, Texas, served as guest judge this week and his shtick is reinventing southwestern food as fine cuisine. He and Mike I. seemed to be the only ones who knew what to do with the prickly, oozy desert plant. It’s all about curing, Mike I. said. At that point I knew he would have a winning, or at least favored, dish and then I died a little inside because, apart from his inventive potato risotto, I don’t like this macho man.

Thankfully, Laurine’s cactus salsa and achiote-glazed pork chop was also a hit, so Mike I. wasn’t the only one to bask in the glory for the time being. But that was really it. Everything else received pretty tepid responses. The best (and by best I mean best for me, worst for Ron) reaction had to be to Ron’s crab, which tasted “rancid,” according to chef Love. (The name “chef Love,” by the way, sounds like a fake name used for a date-night challenge involving food and sex on I Love New York or Rock of Love. Anyone else?) The biggest shocker, though, was Michael V.’s drop to the bottom in this quickfire. We’ve seen him consistently on top of his game, but you can’t win them all, my friend. Maybe that’s why he was so self-righteous at the beginning of the episode, bragging about his Michelin star (even though he said wasn’t bragging).

NEXT: At home on the range: Laurine and Ashley