For the past two episodes, our Top Chef contestants have been battling it out in Los Angeles, but Padma thinks it’s time for a change of scenery: We’re off to Santa Barbara! The cheftestants seem pretty pumped about this little road trip up north. It gives them time to bond outside of the kitchen and us time to learn things, like the fact that Hot Dad Jeremy named his daughter after madeleine cookies. Stop being so perfect, Hot Dad!
One mediocre rap from Kwame and Giselle later, the chefs pull up to a marina and meet one of the ingredients they’ll be using in their Quickfire Challenge: sea urchin. It’s prickly on the outside but delicious on the inside — just like Tom! But they won’t be cooking uni (the edible part of the urchin) alone, so they head over to meet Padma and Top Chef stalwart, Dana Cowin from Food & Wine magazine at Sanford Winery (of course Padma would choose the winery over the marina; she’s a pro, you guys).
For this Quickfire Challenge, each chef will have 25 minutes to cook a knockout sea urchin dish and pair it with the perfect wine. But this is no ordinary quickfire, people — this is a Sudden Death Quickfire Challenge. Padma and I love these. Why? Because they always bring the drama. The winner will be granted immunity for the elimination challenge, while the chef with the losing dish will have to choose one fellow chef to face in a head-to-head battle. If that chef wins the battle, both the chef and her competitor stay, but if that chef loses — she goes home immediately. See what I mean about the drama? We’re all going to need a glass of wine for this one.
After 25 minutes of uni-ing their hearts out, the chefs line up to hear which dishes Padma and Dana couldn’t get enough of. The top three spots go to Wesley and his creamed corn with flavors that wouldn’t quit (also known as: uni, fennel, roe and scallop), paired with a chardonnay; Carl, who made an insanely delicious-looking sea urchin omelet with herbs and green chili (also paired with chardonnay); and Grayson with her crab salad full of cucumber, grapefruit, and uni that she paired with a viognier. Dana and Padma love that this dish was simple and really let the uni sing — so Grayson takes this challenge and the immunity.
The bottom three are Angelina, whose uni butter pasta was all kinds of salty; Giselle, who served up uni on a potato that wasn’t fully cooked, alongside an over-powering onion jam; and Karen, whose attempt at making a hot-and-sour soup with whipped uni went awry when the bowls she was left with completely melted the star ingredient.
In the end, Giselle’s confusing potato dish gets her sent into sudden death and she selects Angelina as her opponent. Angelina is pretty low-hanging fruit, so this is an obvious choice. The ladies have 25 minutes to whip up an ostrich egg dish. Giselle is excited since all she wanted to do in the Quickfire was cook with eggs but couldn’t seem to locate them (although two other chefs had these elusive eggs in their dishes). Angelina’s goal, since she can’t go home, is to win and send some of her competition home. Too bad Angelina is just so in over her head here. Both Giselle and Angelina serve up versions of egg scrambles, but this is an easy win for Giselle. Alas, the sudden-death drama was all a tease.
Thankfully, no one can evade the threat of going home in the Elimination Challenge. Padma tells the chefs to pair up because tonight they’re making surf and turf. More important than picking a partner, though, is picking a winning combination of fish and meat, so the chefs bolt over to the proteins to ensure they have a perfect pairing. But let’s forget the food for one minute — I’m seriously in love with some of these budding friendships. You have Jason and Frances calling themselves long-lost twins, Kwame and Chad entering into what I have to believe is an everlasting bromance, and Angelina and Giselle…oh, wait, they just competed against one another and now they’re a team? That’s awkward.
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Regardless, the teams put their heads together to come up with some inventive surf and turf dishes and then hit the aisles of Whole Foods. But this challenge is way too straightforward for Top Chef, so that beautiful bald eagle, Tom Colicchio, arrives while the chefs are unpacking in the kitchen to let them know that there is, indeed, a twist. Instead of making one dish as a team, each pair will be competing against one another in a head-to-head battle, one person with the surf protein and one with the turf. Oh, and they have to split the groceries they just bought. TOP CHEF, YOU EVIL GENIUS.
You’d think this split would cause an uproar and there’d be pieces of halibut and ribeye being strewn across the kitchen, but you’d be wrong. I guess these chef bromances are eternal. Almost every pair seems pretty civil when deciding who gets the surf and who gets the turf in the divorce. Although, at one point Carl, who was psyched to be partnered with Isaac, laments that knowing what he knows now, he “should’ve picked Giselle.” Giselle’s having a rough night, guys.
NEXT: It’s surf vs. turf at the dinner table