Well, maybe she's not pissed. But she should be. Which "she" am I talking about?

By Stephan Lee
Updated February 09, 2012 at 07:01 AM EST
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Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

Top Chef

S9 E14
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Ever since Beverly got eliminated, I’ve been anticipating the look on Sarah’s face if Beverly ever made it back to the competition. Predictably, Sarah the hater bet Ed a pack of cigarettes and a banana that Grayson would “kick Bev’s ass” in Last Chance Kitchen. Sarah, never a fan of “Bev,” said she wouldn’t buy a ticket to go to Bevland. Well Sarah, I’ll never make reservations to your sausage and undercooked risotto restaurant, whenever you decide to open it, so there. But to Sarah’s dismay, in walked Beverly like a badass newly released from women’s penitentiary, seeking retribution from those who wronged her. Kinda.

As much as I thought it’d be satisfying to see Sarah’s face when Beverly’s came back, her sourpuss mostly just annoyed me. Not satisfying at all. Well played, Sarah.

Beverly and the other four dove right into the Quickfire Challenge, which was really fun this week. The chefs had 30 minutes to choose ingredients from the pantry — blindfolded — and then cook a dish, blindfolds off, using all their chosen ingredients. The prize? A choice between a brand new Prius V or a guaranteed spot in the final.

Of course Beverly the spaz had a rough time with this challenge. The judges had to dodge her as she flailed her arms around the kitchen. Lindsay sniffed out the fish, and all the chefs had to take a leap of faith with the meats, which were packed in Cryovac bags that sealed off their aroma.

It came down to Ed and Sarah. Ed ended up grabbing a difficult ingredient he had no use for — pork casings — but he came up with a clever workaround by boiling the casings and using the water as broth for his noodle-less udon. He quite literally made hot dog-flavored water, and I got to make a timely Limp Bizkit reference. I loved the creativity of Ed’s dish; I can’t imagine udon without wheat-flour noodles, but the zucchini and mushroom ribbons would make a nice, chewy substitute. But the judges ended up ruling in favor of Sarah’s corn soup with onion, red chili, roasted mushrooms, and peaches. The judges appreciated the way she incorporated an ingredient that typically didn’t go with the others.

Paul and Ed might not have respected her choice, but Sarah went with the guaranteed spot in the top four rather than taking the fuel-efficient Prius. I’m not saying I would have done any differently, but as someone with Sarah’s best interest at heart, I think she should have taken the car. Boooooo.

NEXT: There IS crying in cooking… Why am I crying too?Not only did Sarah get immunity for the week, but she also got to sit out of the Elimination Challenge altogether. The four losing chefs had to make dishes that would make their mentors proud. Padma brought in the mentors, and the chefs poured out the tears, especially Paul. Paul’s display of raw gratitude for his mentor Tyson Cole was really touching — it made me want to root for him all the more. Lindsay’s affection for her mentor, Michelle Bernstein, was tinged with a bit of fear — Lindsay worried, “I might not have a job when I go back if I do a bad job.” Sarah didn’t have to cook for her mentor, Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano; rather, she got to have a nice dinner with him at Hotel Valencia, and we got a peek at the fancy vest Sarah wears on hot dates.

It was nice to see the chefs take some big risks to do their mentors proud. Beverly cooked her dish on a wok, which was a bold move because woks force you to cook to order, and very quickly. She ended up having to flash her gulf shrimp with barbecue pork and Singapore noodles at the last minute. She didn’t think the presentation would impress the judges, but she cooked “straight from the heart,” which her mentor Sarah Stegner would appreciate. Sarah Stegner loved the heat and the flavors and pointed out that the shrimp was cooked perfectly. Tom noted that cooking in a wok for so many people is quite difficult and risky because you can’t go back and re-season the food.

Before she even plated it, Lindsay worried that her dish wouldn’t get her into the final rounds. She made a seafood pseudo-stew of mussels, clams, local gulf shrimp, and bits of Atlantic cod with some toasted Israeli couscous. Those elements sound delightful, but at the last minute, she added an emulsifying sauce with cream. Immediately, Lindsay second-guessed her decision. In fact, she admitted to second-guessing herself the entire challenge. Clearly, her mentor’s presence threw her for a loop and really got into her head. Is Michelle Bernstein that scary of a boss? I can kind of picture it. Maybe Lindsay was just learning from Michelle when she screamed in Beverly’s face during Restaurant Wars. Either way, all the judges threw up a big red flag over the cream sauce, and Hugh (nice buzz cut!) thought the dried herbs Lindsay used overpowered the rest of her dish.

NEXT: I totally thought Ed’s fake-crying from the commercials was realPaul took a risk by going for simplicity with his chilled sunchoke and Dashi soup with carrots and summer squash. Michelle said her first spoonful tasted salty, but the vegetables balanced out the salt. Tom was impressed by Paul’s audacity to just come out with a plain soup and said Paul showed the restraint of an older chef. Gail thought each bite of the soup revealed more and more flavor. “It was a very well thought-out soup,” she said. Tyson — awww, he was brimming with pride — said he used to show Paul how to do stuff, and he’d do it better than the master. Has the Padawan overtaken the Jedi? I wish Chris Jones were still around so he could give us his thoughts on this matter.

Ed had trouble finding fresh oysters for his braised pork belly with smoked oyster crema, so he settled for canned oysters, which may have been his downfall. Ed’s mentor Frank Crispo of course had only good things about his student’s bold, “in-your-face” flavors. Frank was wholly positive about the dish, but the other judges found fault. Hugh thought the dish was incredibly busy. He said, “Somewhere in there was a great dish, but the bad sides jumped to the forefront.” However, everyone raved about the pickled celery, celery leaves, plums, and radish Ed included with the dish. Michelle even went as far as to say that Ed should jar and sell the pickled vegetables. He could be her supplier.

Sarah joined everyone in the Stew Room looking all refreshed, but only four chefs had to go before the Judges’ Table. Tom announced that Beverly and Paul had the best dishes of the evening. Paul ended up winning the Prius V for his refined soup dish, so he got to cook for his mentor, win the car, and make it to the finals. Take that, Sarah.

NEXT: Did the right person go home? Also, a plea for Fan Favorite.That left Ed and Lindsay in the lurch. Lindsay broke down into some serious tears despite herself. The judges congratulated them both on attempting ambitious dishes, but they both made missteps along the way. Gail seemed to be leaning toward eliminating Lindsay. She thought that without the oyster sauce, Ed’s dish would have been excellent, but Lindsay knew what she was doing wrong and didn’t attempt to correct herself. Hugh, on the other hand, seemed to want Ed out, calling him a “busy-minded chef” in general. He thought if Ed couldn’t find fresh oysters, he should have revised his menu and moved on to something else.

In the end, Ed had to pack his knives and go, but I’m not sure if I agreed with the decision. I would personally reward someone who tried to do too much and used a slightly off ingredient over someone who knowingly added a bad element to her dish. But maybe I’m letting personality influence my opinion. I didn’t like Ed at all in the beginning, but I grew to appreciate his sardonic point of view and the fact that he reminded me of an Asian lion. And it looks like there’s no longer any chance of an all-Asian final three. Ed seemed especially disappointed that Beverly would be “taking his spot” in the finals.

Now that the season is nearing its end, I finally feel the need to point out that Chris Crary is absolutely killing it on Bravo’s Fan Favorite poll. I don’t think that’s right. He demonstrated negative amounts of personality during his time on the show, and I honestly think he’s a super-douche. I’m willing to take flack for that statement. In my very first recap of the season, I suspected that he was an Angelo-type character, the type of frosted-tipped, gel-haired dude whose dream it would be to live in a Vegas hotel year-round. Nothing I’ve seen from him this season contradicts that assessment, from his soulless, beady eyes to the Patrick Bateman-esque nude paintings hanging in his apartment. Grayson and Paul are in the number two and three spots, but they’re trailing far behind. Both of them are far more deserving of the cash prize, and think of some of the great personalities who’ve won in the past, like Fabio Viviani and Carla Hall. Does Chris Crary belong with them? I don’t think so. He’s clearly winning for his looks. While I love good-looking people, I’ve always appreciated chefs for being underdogs in some ways… they commit their lives to sweaty backrooms where they’re very unlikely to achieve glory or recognition. As superficial as I might be in other aspects of my life, I prefer my Top Chefs to be real and salt-of-the-earth, maybe even a bit foul-mouthed and tatted. Chris Crary has it in the bag, but that’s my last-minute plea to give someone else a chance.

So gourmands, what did you think of Beverly’s return? Was it deserved? Did you think Lindsay should have gone over Ed? Will you be surprised if anyone other than Paul wins?

Episode Recaps

Top Chef

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