From the latest product placement to fine wines, the chefs must show they know how to pair up tastes
Top Chef | KEVIN GILLESPIE The co-owner/executive chef of Woodfire Grill Atlanta tells EW, ''The restaurant has become much busier since Top Chef . In fact, every night…
Credit: Trae Patton/Bravo
S6 E8
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Last night, the Top Chef contestants seemed like a family more than ever. Sure, they share in typical family activities like cooking dinner together, but last night, we saw the not-so-precious familial moments — the fighting, the side-taking and the one-upping your siblings. Ahh…it’s those moments that make people a real family.

The episode began with a time-old family tradition — vying for your parent’s attention. In this case, real-life siblings Bryan and Michael V. were in competition for the attention of restaurateur Charlie Palmer, who introduced the day’s quickfire. See, Palmer had worked with both Bryan and Michael V. in the past. He hired Bryan as an intern right out of culinary school (and proceeded to work with him for 10 years) and hired Michael V. as his executive chef for more than a year. Together, the two Voltaggios yearned to be the apple of Palmer’s eye last night.

Bryan, for one, had such a sparkle in his eye when talking about how much he looks up to Palmer but admitted that he was scared to fail in front of his hero. Michael V., on the other hand, just wanted to work out the chip on his shoulder — the fact that Palmer seemed to have never liked him. And for that, he had a drive to beat his brother with a more adventurous dish to prove that you don’t have to be safe (i.e. Bryan’s food) to be a winner.

The challenge at hand involved natural pairings: Each chef had to create a dish including Alexia Crunchy Snacks, chips that come in six flavors made of real vegetables. (Hello, ad placement! Not that Top Chef is new to that or anything.) The first three dishes Palmer and Padma tasted — Eli’s, Kevin’s and Bryan’s — were Palmer’s favorites. Eli ended up taking the quickfire win for his potato clam salad, which Charlie called ”smoky” (a good thing), and onion chip pairing. It was a big deal for the little runt, who felt vindicated after last week’s drop to the bottom.

And not surprisingly, consistent top performers Kevin and Bryan earned Palmer’s respect for their warm bean confit tomato salad with onion chips and seared rib eye with onions chips, respectively. Unfortunately for Michael V., who claimed he wanted to leave a legacy in cooking like Babe Ruth did in baseball, his tuna tartar didn’t get the attention he had hoped for.

As for the less-than-perfect pairings, Robin, Ash and Jen lacked the right stuff. Sadly for Jen, who seemed to be having an off couple of quickfires, her sautéed pork chop wound up overdone. As Palmer said: Good idea, poor execution. Do I even need to discuss Robin and Ash? These two have been in the bottom so many times that I’ve stopped counting or caring. But for those who want to know: Robin’s sweet corn panna cotta and jalapeno chip pairing failed to resonate with Palmer, and Ash’s chilled cucumber avocado soup paired with barbecue chips was too funky of an ingredient combination. Is it me or do Ash’s dishes always sound goopy? That’s not even a word, but I feel like it best describes his food.

When it came time for the elimination challenge, the task involved his two favorite dining items: pig and pinot. Catchy, no? Each chef drew knives that revealed which part of the pig they’d be cooking. Lucky Jen got the ”wild” knife, meaning she could pick any part she wanted, and she wisely chose the belly. For those unfamiliar with the oinker, the belly has a lot of fat, which keeps the meat juicy, unlike the tenderloin, which Jen used in the quickfire and has a tendency to dry out.

Their mission was to make 150 tasting portions of a pork and pinot noir pairing for Palmer’s charity event. In order to know what wine to use, the chefs were treated to a wine tasting with Palmer’s sommelier in his legendary Las Vegas restaurant — the one with the enormous wine case that’s so tall, the waiters need harnesses to get up there.

NEXT: Brother, oh brother

When they were back at the house, I’m not sure if it was the alcohol or just the fact that people are getting more and more nervous as the season goes on, but you could cut the tension with a knife. The drama circled back to Robin, who seemed to be driving everyone even crazier than thought possible. In particular, she called Eli out — in her passive-aggressive manner — for not cleaning the dish he used.

Little runt Eli snapped back, calling Robin a martyr (ouch) and storming to the other room. It was as though his mom had scolded him, which he should be pretty familiar with, since he still lives with his parents. There’s nothing wrong with living with your parents, but the fact that he basks in the glory of not paying rent seems downright skeevy.

Anyway, when Eli stormed out, it was like Robin was the bad-cop mom, left in the kitchen while the bratty children stayed afar. At that point, I felt kind of sad for Robin. As a woman in her 40s, dealing with 25-year-old pipsqueaks like Eli must be tiring.

But on to more family drama. When the chefs headed to the kitchen to cook their dishes, all eyes were on Bryan and Michael V., who for the first time, bickered like the competitive, childish brothers we’ve been waiting to see. When Bryan edged in on Michael V.’s workspace, the M.V. was more than ready to wail on his brother and push his buttons just to intimidate Bryan. The verbal sparring was filled mostly with ”Shut the f— up!” and ”Go f— yourself!” All to impress their Palmer patriarch? How sweet. The Voltaggios managed to get their act together — probably because Bryan would never let their argument escalate — and they even made it to the top of the challenge. Palmer appreciated Michael V.’s bold approach to his root beer braised pork chop, especially the truffle bun, which the judges seemed to love. Not to be outdone, Bryan hit the right note with a braised pork spare rib. Did anyone else notice how much Palmer talked to Bryan like his son? ”Did you take out the bones?” ”Yes, dad. But only afterward.”

And as if to foreshadow the finale, Jen and Kevin rounded out the top four. Jen, who seemed to scoop herself out of a quickfire failure once again, scored with a well-seasoned braised pork belly that matched perfectly with her wine. What ruined the moment, though, was judge Toby Young’s armpit hair comment. I don’t even know what he said, but there was something about European wines and shaved armpits. Whatever that was supposed to mean, it was apparently a good thing.

Kevin, a self-proclaimed ”pig guy,” crafted a lovely pork plate, one that came with a fantastic explanation. Having lived near the Oregon region where his wine was sourced from, Kevin knew hazelnuts are common to the area and incorporated that nutty flavor into his dish. Tasty and educational! For that combination, he took home the much-deserved win, and a guest-chef gig at next year’s Pigs and Pinot event.

And just as shock-free as the favorites were, so, too were the least favorites, like Laurine’s pork butt rillettes, which according to the judges weren’t cooked properly and weren’t even rillettes. To top it off, Dana Cowen, there to fill the Food & Wine quota in Gail’s absence, called it ”cat food.” Robin’s brined center cut chop was also a big flop at judges’ table. With a gummy sauce and a paltry portion of actual pork, her dish left the judges wanting more, but not in that good way.

In the end, though, Ash got the boot that he probably saw coming for weeks now. What exactly was wrong with his pork tenderloin? Let me count the ways: unflavored, one-note, one dimensional, not confident and amateur. The judges were convinced that Ash secondguessed himself too much, which was proven all the more true when he offered his original idea, a polenta dish, only to see that Palmer loved that idea more. A bad meal is one thing, but Ash’s lack of confidence was sinking to new levels. He needed to go, and quickly.

With the number of cheftestants down to eight next week, you know what that means — restaurant wars!

What did you guys think of this episode? Did Ash deserve to leave? What do you think of the way everyone is treating Robin?

Episode Recaps

Top Chef
Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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