The chefs have to swim for their catch, and only three stay afloat

By Mallika Rao
Updated March 17, 2011 at 06:00 AM EDT
Credit: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo
S8 E14
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Things unfolded last night, as always, with the chefs sitting in shock over the most recent elimination. I don’t remember if they mourned when Stephen the wine guy got eliminated, but if they did, it calls this ritual into question. Tiffany wiped some tears. Blais sat silently with his facial hair. Antonia displayed major self-doubt. Mike, unfortunately, sounded confident. Soon a camera lingered on the title plaque at THE COVE ATLANTIS, where we should all definitely stay next time we’re in the Bahamas.

Morning dawned, as it does every day at THE COVE ATLANTIS (bonus: The sun sinks every night). Blais wandered into Mike’s bedroom looking like an extra from an Avril Lavigne video. Did he always dress like this during off hours? I would have had a crush on him in ninth grade, I’ll give him that. But Blais! Don’t slip away! As he left the apartment, he muttered dejectedly that today’s challenge would probably involve too little time and/or equipment. It was a totally reasonable thing to say. So why did it sound like a conspiracy theory the way he said it? Because he might be going crazy, that’s why.

The judges descended to the Atlantis kitchen to meet Padma, who was dressed like Dawn from The Baby-sitters Club. She and Morning Blais would have made a cute couple. She smiled hugely. Next to her stood the female investor/judge from America’s Next Great Restaurant, a show I have definitely and devotedly been watching. The contestants on that show can’t cook at all (it’s one of the show’s charms), and I found myself feeling excited thatLorena Garcia would finally be eating delicious food. Is that creepy? I don’t know. I like to think Lorena gets excited when good things happen to me, too.

Because of the restaurant theme, the chefs were challenged to prove their “consistency” and “precision.” “Anyone can get lucky and make a memorable dish just once, but a great chef makes that dish exactly the same every time,” Padma said. I saw where she was going with this, but I wasn’t convinced. If ever there is a restaurant with the motto: We never make the same memorable dish twice. Only once, FOR YOU, I will be there. I will feel very special to be there, and never will I pull the head chef aside to tell him he’s not great. Who doesn’t want a dish cooked especially for them? That was a rhetorical question, but boom! Answered. The diners at THE COVE ATLANTIS.

Quickfire Challenge: In teams of two, cook 100 identical dishes in an hour for diners at THE COVE ATLANTIS. Be CONSISTENT and PRECISE. Mike chose Blais as his teammate and said it was because Antonia is the Black Hammer. But that’s a fake title that doesn’t actually predict anything. What about the fact that Blais is a magician chef? Hmm…chef or magician chef. That does not seem like a tough call… Left with Tiffany, Antonia weakly insisted she’d have wanted her all along.

NEXT: Mike controls the conch shellAccording to the music, the cooking was SUPER-EXCITING! The boys were derisive toward the girls, which they should know by now is not a good reality TV strategy. That’s how you get everyone to want you to lose. One thing I enjoyed was when Mike asked Blais how he was doing, and Blais said, “I’m good, man. Just developing some flavor.” Developing flavor has been the white whale of this season, but Blais sounded prettttty sure he had it in his pocket. Nothing to see here. Just flavors developing according to plan.

The girls won, and we got to watch the boys hang their heads in rage (thanks, Bravo!). Lorena said the separate components in the girls’ seared beef tenderloin salad with lentils and celery leaves made it a harder dish to plate than the boys’ pork Bolognese with fresh(!) macaroni and pecorino cheese, which sounded delicious but looked like Hamburger Helper. Way to go, Mike Isabella’s opponents!

Elimination Challenge: Cook a dish featuring conch for the 80th anniversary of the Nassau Yacht Club. If you thought Blais was having a premonition about the conch when he cited Lord of the Flies, you were wrong. He focused on catching and killing wild boar, instead of civilly passing a conch shell around and waiting one’s turn to speak. A great paean to the evolved man, that book. Read it! You’ll love humans. Mike revealed that he’d taken the clever step of practicing with conch before hitting up the Bahamas. Conch is all over the Bahamas, so everyone should definitely have done this, but it didn’t seem like anyone else had.

Back at THE COVE ATLANTIS, Blais shaved the part of his superstition beard that was on his neck. He and his fellow chefs donned swim gear and trudged out to the pier, where Padma stood in a bikini and heels. Her beauty was heightened by the presence of a funny-looking man just to her left and down. “Hi,” the man waved, as no one looked his way. Padma sent the chefs to a desert island and went off to swim laps or whatever it was she’d dressed like that for.

On the island there were boxes marked with excellent ingredients. Grouper, snapper, spiny lobster, etc. But what was this? The box labeled conch was packed with snorkeling gear! (Top Snorkel?!) The chefs dived into non-deep waters, and Blais flailed around like a fish out of water. It’s hard to do when you’re in water, but he did it. The excitement of participating in what’s normally a fun activity made Tiffany forget she was there to miserably participate in a televised competition.

NEXT: Welcome to the party, Commodore!Soon Blais said this: “No electricity, no gadgets, no toys, no liquid nitrogen. This is like survivalist cooking.” Everyone hammered at their conch shells and yanked out creepy, half-alive conch pieces. Mike boiled and killed his so he could slide the bodies out whole. He may flick things from his nose, but he was the smartest! Blais handled something that looked suspiciously like a gadget, and used it to turn sweet potato into faux linguine as orangey pink as a conch shell. One guess as to how he felt about this stroke of genius. Got it? Okay. He hated it!

The diners moved onto the beach dressed all in white, looking half classy, half cultlike. Aside from the judges, the party consisted of “the commodore, his wife Beatrice, and all their friends.” They had the right attitude toward their party catered by competitive chefs, which was basically: Don’t slow down. It didn’t matter if a chef was mid-description, the commodore and his buddies were chomping! Only the judges found anything to complain about. Gail pretended to choke on Antonia’s ceviche, which all the regular partiers said was delicious. Serves those partiers right. If you invite TV food critics to your private island party, don’t be surprised when they bring the mood down by criticizing the amazing food.

(Interim: something about Tiffany looking like Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. I don’t know. The comparison is obviously wrong, but Mike kept saying it.)

The judges pulled the four in to mess with their heads. Padma called Antonia’s red snapper with conch tartare and lobster nage “conventional,” which Antonia said she meant for it to be. Yay for Antonia, setting goals and reaching them! But really, are conch tartare and lobster nage conventional? It’s not like she threw a can of hearts of palm on a Cobb salad and called it exotic. The word nage is in there. That is not English, Padma! Tiffany’s conch and coconut chowder was cold and sweet, which would have been an excellent review of ice cream, not chowder. Blais’ sweet potato linguine totally fooled Tom because it was made using magic. Mike’s banana-leaf-wrapped grouper with braised pineapple and conch vinaigrette was a “really interesting dish,” said Gail, but Tom thought the butter didn’t belong. This caused Mike to say he understood why everyone else always got nervous after judges’ table. Apparently Mike has never been nervous before. Apparently he is a smug genius. Apparently he won? What about Blais’ potato noodles? “It’s hard to celebrate when you’re alone,” Mike smirked, before going, “Tee-hee.” Something reminded me of the man who shot his TV during Dancing With the Stars.

It was down to Tiffany, Antonia, and Blais. Tiffany was the obvious loser, but I found I couldn’t imagine her leaving, because the judges have kept her around so determinedly. I actually thought, “Tiffany can’t be the one going. Tiffany never goes.” They have successfully conditioned me. Excuse me while I buy a Toyota and wash it in Swanson’s broth. Just kidding. I will use the pool water at the Atlantis! At least Tiffany went out on what sounded like a solid dish. Tom did the unfair move of imagining it hot and deciding hot soup with cold ceviche would have been bad. You cannot judge dishes that only exist in your head, Tom. You are not a crazy person! That is currently Blais’ domain. In the meantime: Goodbye, Tiffany! We will miss your sweet nothings whispered delicately in our nation’s ear.

Or will we…? Do the damage, Cheflings. Was Tiffany starting to grow on you? Does Mike deserve all the wins coming to him? And is Blais going to be all right? Or will he stay in the Bahamas forever, roaming the beaches, a husk of a man?

Episode Recaps

Top Chef

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