The chefs bake sweet treats for some hungry Muppets, then spend a memorable evening at Target
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Top Chef
Credit: David Giesbrecht/Bravo
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There was a listlessness at Top Chef HQ last night as the chefs surveyed their dwindling ranks. The latest to go, Fabio, was also a dark-horse loser. Questions hung in the air. Why didn’t Fabio run his burger past Blais, who owns a burger restaurant? Why didn’t Blais offer to help Fabio, since he owns a burger restaurant? At said burger restaurant, is there space for an industrial vat of liquid nitrogen?

But the best question came after the chefs entered the kitchen. Why was Padma talking like that? Answer: Muppets. Padma was intro-ing the Quickfire judges, who happened to be Muppets. She said a rhyme. It was halting and sort of beautiful to hear, like when a toddler reads aloud for the first time. After she successfully finished, Muppets popped out. They can’t actually eat food, but they’re lots of fun. Three Sesame Street VIPs made up the panel: Elmo, Cookie Monster, and a pink one with Carla hair. They had a simple request: Cooookiiiiiiiieeeeesssssss.

The chefs with kids back home felt that special pressure that comes from wanting your kids to think you’re cool. “In my house, Elmo’s like Elvis,” Blais said. “If I screw it up, it’s going to be just devastating.” To the liquid-nitrogen chamber! Padma strenuously pretended to talk to the Muppets. “So, do you guys like to…” she could be heard saying loudly to Elmo. Her question seemed suspiciously to end right there.

The crazy music turned on and the chefs started cookie-making. Richard disappeared behind a cloud of zucchini ice cream smoke. Antonia, Tiffany, and Carla went old-school, with chocolate-white-chocolate chip, shortbread with lemon zest, and chocolate chip, respectively. Dale channeled Happy Dale circa French Toast on Veal, mashing potato chips into his cookie batter.

The tasting began. There was something sweet about Padma’s interaction with the Muppets now that they’d been around each other for a while. She seemed unable to distinguish them from humans. After the Carla-looking Muppet purposely mixed up cinnamon and cardamom, she dutifully corrected him. “But they do come from the same part of the world!” she said reassuringly, like he was upset about the mistake. “TMI,” Elmo countered. Too much information, Padma. Not enough freewheeling Muppethood. They’re all about letters of the alphabet, and this was a letter C joke, plain and simple. But she didn’t get the hint. At the next station, she offered a skin-care tip.

NEXT: Target AcquiredJudgment arrived. Blais ranked last because liquid-nitrogen zucchini ice cream is not a cookie. Angelo was next to last. He made what looked like perfection dunked in chocolate and hazelnut – Nutella on a cookie, basically – but Cookie Monster said no. “Cookie maybe little dry.” As for the winners: First came Love (Dale), then came Marriage (Antonia), then came the Baby in the Baby Carriage (Antonia’s slow realization that she is doomed to be second-best). Elmo told Antonia her cookies looked like cow poop, which they did. Everyone wondered why their food had been judged by puppets.

Elimination Challenge:

“Now that we’ve unleashed your inner child…” Padma began. “We’re gonna child-abuse you!”…is what she should have gone on to say. Instead she talked about kids in a candy shop, an expression the Elimination Challenge grotesquely parodied. Padma explained the rules: First, isn’t Target great? To this, they all agreed with the requisite natural-looking smiles on their faces. Target, Toyotas, sure, whatever you say. Second, isn’t it also great how you can buy everything you’d ever need or want at a single Target store? Ye…ees, they nodded, their faces turning ever-so-slightly harder. Then she dropped the whole load: In a mere three of the night’s wee hours, you must 1) raid a Target store, 2) cook a dish inside said store for 100 Target employees using only what you found, and 3) accept Target as Lord and Master. Second only to Buitoni, a proud subsidiary of Nestle USA.

Their blood oaths signed, our chefs ran desperately through the fluorescent-lit intestines of a Target. Like kids in a candy shop. Carla forgot she didn’t need to worry about prices and made a promise to herself not to take too long. Dale made fun of Tiffany. She comes from Beaumont, Texas, and TALKS LIKE THIS. Tiffany nabbed her favorite bottled spice and a newsboy hat. She TALKED LIKE THIS about it. Grab grab grab. Double-fist carts. Over in Carla’s zone, her cart was empty and she was worried about getting the right linens for her table. Padma never mentioned linens. Don’t worry about linens! In their confusion, Angelo and Mike pretended to be a married couple. They rapidly worked their way down their grocery list. Mike huffed and bemoaned his weak body. Like a kid in a candy shop.

Blais claimed he was “concerned” about Carla’s soup because flavors take time to develop. I don’t know. Seems unlikely. Blais is usually concerned about how intimidating the people judging find him. But whatevs, Blais was “concerned.” Meanwhile, Carla murmured that she needed “deco frames,” her cart still free of food. What the pot pie. That woman! Then again, if she were any less loopy, her constant wins would be harder to cheer. Because no one likes a persistent winner, especially on reality television. Angelo and Mike slapped each other’s butts. Mike told Angelo to add lots more salt to his baked-potato soup because you can never add salt but you can always take it away. Or wait! No. Oops, Angelo! Love ya, hon.

NEXT: Antonia vs. Soup

Antonia mocked all the soup-makers. Weak! Anyone can make soup in an hour. (“…or can they?” quoth Blais, concerned.) Her dish was way tougher – 100 jewel yellow eggs, soft, runny, just like Bourdain likes ’em. Carla hesitantly bragged about her $25,000 presentation. Wrong, Carla! That’s not what the largest prize in this season’s history depended on. A man named Thomas O’Brien skulked around, straightening flowers. He is Target’s firstborn. Target said he must be included. As 3 a.m. struck, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Anthony Bourdain, Ming Tsai, Thomas the Lesser, and a stream of Target employees made their way to their seats.

Blais served some meat dish that shouldn’t be served at 3 a.m. in a Target: seared pork tenderloin with green chile, apples, braised pork ribs, and corn pancakes. Sure, it was ambitious and, according to the judges, tasty. But it looked “butt ugly,” said Bourdain. And it was far from time and space appropriate. This is the hour when young men and women across the country are flexing their can openers and puncturing a particular piece of booty from Target, a shining can of instant tomato soup. Dale knew. He went one better. His “spicy take” on tomato soup had a thick-looking ribeye-and-grilled-cheese sandwich stuck in the middle like an ocean pylon. He even used two steaming irons to seal the bread. Bourdain, never one to miss the opportunity to mention weed – which he definitely smokes, you guys, because he is super-chill and totally smart, too – made a Bourdain weed joke. “Have you given this guy a urine test?” Ming pulled out a pun and beat him. “Maybe Dale’s trying to become an iron chef.” Boomsky!

Poor Carla parroted Blais’ fears about her soup. Flavors not developed, etc. But the real problem, according to the judges, was that her curry apple tomato ginger cucumber apple soup jam slaw was more like a sauce. I mean, that’s a lot of things for a liquid to carry. If she hadn’t been tracking down the most darling linens in the store, she definitely would have had a protein to sneak in under it. To relieve it. The judges opened their mouths and said words, but all that came out was “Protein, protein, protein.”

Antonia’s parmesan eggs went off beautifully. The dish brought out Thomas O’Brien’s first words. “I like the sweetness. It was a nice breakfast surprise!” Surprise! Mike’s coconut soup turned Padma off from the moment he mistakenly called it “fresh.” “You found fresh coconuts here?” she drawled. She sounded genuinely curious. I think she actually thought there were fresh coconuts in the Target. I also now think this was Padma’s first time in a Target, ever. They have really nice blazers right now, Padma! Also live octopuses! Whoa, just kidding! She refused to eat the unfresh soup, though Ming praised its spiciness. Presumably it was not as inedible as Padma’s steely face implied.

NEXT: Judgment Is Passed, and Tiffany CriesNo one liked Tiffany’s chicken, sausage, and shrimp jambalaya. “Soggy.” “Okay.” “Not a great dish.” “There’s something not special about it,” Thomas O’Brien said worryingly. Angelo’s deconstructed baked potato, which plebeians know as baked-potato soup, was less unspecial, more terrible. “Too heavy, and way too salty,” Bourdain said. “If you eat a whole bowl of this…” went Ming. “You’ll die,” Colicchio concluded.

During the break, the female chefs performed a fertility rite with Target’s miniature dog servants. “Target, Target, Target,” they droned. Thomas O’Brien looked on approvingly from a dark corner.

Judges’ Table

Antonia, Dale, and Richard got the lucky summons. Doomed to second place, Antonia lost to Dale’s stoned-person soup. Dale cackled a little in private. Carla, Tiffany, and Angelo made bleary tracks in to meet the other side. Carla learned she should have looked for proteins instead of linens. Angelo blamed his “fatigued” palate for the salt Mike told him to add. He had his socks pulled up like Little Lord Fauntleroy. It was hard not to feel bad. Tiffany defended her store-bought spices, which she grew up with, but the judges bitch-slapped them roundly. She cried. But wait! Happy tears. No matter what decision they made she’d be happy, she said, because she’s from Beaumont, where it’s hard to dream big. It was a nice moment. Everyone, including Tiffany, expected it’d be her last. When the chefs tracked back into the stew room, Carla described the scene to one and all: “Beaumont cried again.” Two things about this: more harsh than usual for Carla, more goofy than usual for Tiffany. Is she really just crying and talking about Beaumont all the time?

Back at the table, the judges gave it straight. Angelo was out. Angelo the Merman-gelo. At this point in the season, it’s like the last hours of summer camp. Even the kid who smelled funny is hard to say goodbye to. Plus, he probably didn’t deserve it. Tiffany was certainly surprised. As was Mike, who made her feel plenty bad for still being around. Mike beat a smelly dead-horse carcass about how, Wait, you’re leaving, Angelo? Not…? And yet on Tiffany goes, a placeholder kept around by the judges so there’s continued suspense as to who’ll get the ax. Who wants to bet next week she beats out Blais for a bad idea involving the nitro? Possible photo caption: FIRE AND ICE: Richard’s Nitrouscan Bean Salad is too cold to keep the Blais alive.

What do you think, Top Cheflings? Does Tiffany have a secret amulet that’s keeping her around? Did she find it at Target? And which of the eliminated chefs are you most excited to have back next week, when the mini-reunion begins?

Episode Recaps

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