This week’s Top Chef was sub-titled “Guilty Pleasures” in anticipation of the QuickFire and Elimination Challenges for the week. The QuickFire pointed out there are limitations to what tastes good mixed into ice cream, and the Elimination Challenge proved that it pays to rise above petty disappointment and focus on the task at hand with good humor and a positive attitude.
Kicking off with grieving for the elmination of Joey last week, the contestants demonstrated they do have a soft side. The show didn’t dwell on this side long before introducing this week’s guest judge Govind Armstrong and the QuickFire challenge. It was a very simple concept. The contestants were charged with putting together the best possible mix-in for Coldstone Creamery ice cream. Coldstone is a pleasure indeed, and most of the mix-ins sounded good to great except for a pair of notable exceptions. Hung reminded us that the ghost of last season’s avocado and bacon ice cream by Marcel lives on. He created “a crime against ice cream.” Who really thinks anything from cauliflower belongs in the frozen delight? And Casey…sriracha with ice cream? Yes, sriracha is a wonder as a condiment, but I wouldn’t put the best ketchup or mustard in the world in my ice cream. Yecchh!! The winner of the QuickFire was a humble peach cobbler concoction from Dale.
Heading into the elimination challenge, a cruel twist of fate ensued. Just when all of the competing 8 contestants (QuickFire winner Dale, with immunity, got to avoid the entire challenge) thought they were going out for an experience of Miami nightlife, they found out they would be preparing late night snacks for the city’s revelers. Split into two teams and each given a mobile kitchen (“roach coach”), $300 and 2 hours of prep time, the teams set out to fill the empty bellies of Miami’s party crowd.
It was nearly a no-brainer to realize that the team ending up with Howie would have problems. Brian rallied his team into a good mood and gratitude that they were Howie-less. The other team complained of having to work in their evening clothes (Casey and Sarah N.) and moped about the general lack of team atmosphere. I must admit, however, that I might have ignored Sarah N.’s suggestion of falafel. As much as I love the deep-fried spicy balls, 2 a.m. is not the time of day I want them. Howie, for his part, seemed to just plow through ignoring he had teammates. The dissent came out in the food experience. While the crowd continued their party attitude outside Cafe Brian, service was slow and food was simply mediocre (a Cuban sandwich served in Miami without properly flattening it?) from Howie’s team. Judges praised the food concepts from Howie’s team, but the delivery failed. Communication simply seemed to not exist, and Sarah’s slow delivery of the star dish, mini burgers, sank the team’s prospects without any discussion of the issue.
At judging time it was obvious that the team of Brian, Tre, Sara M., and Hung were clear winners. In a photo finish, Tre was named the individual winner due to the popularity of his bacon-wrapped shrimp over grits. As judge Ted Allen stated, “If you want to make people happy, give them bacon!” Elimination came down to Howie and Sarah N. With everyone at home beaming thoughts that it was finally time to cut Howie loose, Sarah N., the latest victim of Hurricane Howie, was asked to pack her knives and go home.
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