Top Chef Episode 4: Tennis, Anyone? (The Great Stuffing Debate)

With last week’s double elimination, we no longer have to worry about which fat Dale I’m talking about, and Stephen doesn’t have to worry about staining his ties in the kitchen.  The cheftestants, on the other hand, still have plenty to worry about, including how to make stuffing without the use of knives or kitchen tools for the Swanson Quickfire challenge, the winner of which will get immunity and twenty thousand bucks (can you imagine how much cocaine and how many hookers creepy Alex could buy with that?).  The cheftestants get pretty creative without the tools of the trade, but they still need to impress Tony Mantuano, owner of Spiaggia in Chicago, although he seems like a pretty nice guy.

According to Tiffani F., stuffing’s especially difficult because it’s not only house specific but mother specific.  Her ma dukes is allegedly a Jedi, which explains why she kind of looks like Yoda, but without the sage characteristics of her green doppelganger.  We’ll leave that attitude to Carla, who lets everybody else fight each other in the pantry once Padma starts the clock, leaving her with quinoa that she undercooks to land on the bottom with Yoda Faison, who made like Will Ferrell in Elf with an overly sweet soy maple stuffing, and Casey, whose deconstructed stuffing was more appetizer sampler than bird bread.  There’s only two cheftestants up for the win: Marcel’s whole squab stuffed with raisin brioche, cherries, currants & (Blais’) ras el hanout gravy had great flavors; and Tre’s southwestern stuffing with bacon, cheddar, bell pepper, and chili powder, which was spicy but well balanced, and is the dish that Mantuano preferred.  I’m pretty sure he won’t go much further, so at least he’ll walk away with $20k, and we’re all happy that Marcel didn’t win, because he  says and does stupid shit in front of the camera.

After a few high fives, the cheftestants draw knives for another team challenge, culinary tennis.  With the U.S. Open in town and some random tennis pro available on short notice, the Elimination Challenge is to cook a healthy and high energy dish that can be eaten by the tennis players before they get beat by Federer, Nadal, or the Williams sister that has her own clothing line.  The dishes will be served head-to-head, and the better dish will get a point.  First team to four points wins, and the losing dishes face elimination.  In the kitchen, Carla lops off a chunk of her finger.  The doc says she needs stitches, but instead she sticks around, sending Jamie’s stock plummeting and Carla’s to an all-time high.  Then, when the head-to-head competition begins, Jamie’s stock falls even further when she welches on her team’s strategy to send out the weakest dish first (one guess whose undercooked chickpea dish was the weakest?), and she’s basically not even worth the skin her tattoos are printed on after hiding under a table to get out of serving her dish altogether.  Ultimately, her team winds up losing, but since her dish never competed, she’s exempt from elimination.

At Judges’ Table, Fabio gets major kudos for his whole wheat gnocchi with pork loin ragout, warranting the soccer celebration he did when he won the point, but Carla edged him out with her African groundnut soup with baked sweet potatoes, adzuki beans & peanuts, winning a trip to Italy (I think the judges probably figured Fabio didn’t need a trip to Italy since he’s from there).  The other two winning points were high-school-pothead Antonia, who made a scallop with Indian lentil puree, mint, dandelion greens, cilantro & chives; and Blais, who made something he called “Thai-bouleh” with lamb, herbs & yogurt.

The losers of the “tennis” match were Casey, Tiffany D, Tre, and Spike.  Casey and Tiffany apparently didn’t follow directions, and their dishes were deemed too heavy for a pre-tennis meal.  Spike and Tre both fell victim to Angelo’s pushiness.  Tre, whose Angelo-cooked coho salmon with parsnip puree was the least favorite of the judges, dodged a bullet by winning immunity in the Quickfire.  Spike, unfortunately, wound up taking the bullet, letting Angelo bully him into adding yuzu gelee to his tomato tamarind soup, but it was really the overcooked and underseasoned shrimp that sent him packing.  I’m certainly happy Spike’s gone (he’s got weird facial hair), but I’m not sure it was the right decision.  Of course, I’m also pretty sure he wouldn’t have stuck around much longer, either.