Top Chef: Magically Delicious!

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Last night’s Top Chef was pretty great, even if the Quickfire was kind of a throwaway — our noble cheftestants were asked to make dishes representing the “devil on your shoulders,” as well as the angel. Didn’t they already do the devil part in the first episode? Before that, everyone was trashing Robin — which turned out to be a red herring because, go figure, she won with an apple and fennel salad (angelic health food) and a cardamom ginger crisp (demonic sweets). This didn’t sit well with the designated doucher of the episode, Eli — after gloating that he was “the best [bleep]ing cook here” (his scallops two ways did impress the judges), he scoffed, “That’s a pretty good way to win a Quickfire — just tell people you have [bleep]ing cancer.” Next episode, expect Eli to break out a sob story about why his right eye is droopy. Or maybe Jennifer will explain why she blushes furiously around Colicchio?

Also worth noting: Bryan’s frozen coconut lychee and dark chocolate mousse didn’t go over well with guest judge Michelle Bernstein (he’s human!), Ron never exactly explained why his Chilean sea bass was angelic (what’s angelic about overfishing?), and Ash (who made a runny asparagus custard and didn’t have time to make a demonic coffee custard) and Laurine (who bored everyone with a chicken consommé and chicken saltimbocca) both ended up in the bottom three just like they would during the Elimination Challenge. Not a good sign for either of them.

For the Elim-lim, Penn and Teller, the duo known for “deconstructing” magic tricks, called upon the cheftestants to deconstruct classic dishes drawn at random. Two of these dishes were British (deconstructed fish and chips?), and, coincidentally, this episode marked the return of ever charming Toby Young. Not surprisingly, the “bloody cad” (as the viewers poll had it) didn’t think there were enough potatoes in Ash’s shepherd’s pie (consisting of inconsistently cooked lamb chops and a pea purée) or Laurine’s fish and chips (made with overcooked fish, zucchini instead of tartar sauce, and a scant few chips that were poached in oil rather than fried).

But in the episode’s choice scene, Young was forced to eat some humble pie when Michelle Bernstein schooled him on the pronunciation of “pie-ellah,” as he mangled it. “I don’t understand why you’re always saying paella like you want to sound Spanish,” said Young. “You don’t say Mehico or Barthelona.” Yes, but you do pronounce the names of French dishes properly, don’t you? The guy who really didn’t know jack about paella, though, was Ron, who initially thought he had the challenge in the bag but then got hung up on Eli’s advice and ended up overcooking (to Eli’s credit, Michelle Goldstein did indeed complain that the rice wasn’t crispy). The result was what Tom called a “sad plate of food” and a trip home.

Meanwhile, in the top four, more familiar faces: Despite a lot of fluster, Jennifer proved she could cook meat via a deconstructed lasagna. Michael’s brother called him a show-off because he baked his own brioche to simulate the croutons in a Caesar salad (and atop the bread — spherical dressing!). Ashley pulled off a deconstructed pot roast despite not eating a lot of beef while she was growing up poor (wonder what Eli thinks of that story). But the winner was Kevin, who reinterpreted a mole negro via crushed cocoa bean with chile flake, Mexican-coffee fig jam (again with the jam!), and a thigh-meat croquette. If we’re typing a little slow right now, it’s because we punched the TV trying to pull that thing out of it so we could try it.

Next week, the chefs have to cook in the house, Jersey Mike and Robin form a doomed duo, Govind Armstrong guest-judges, and Padma walks into a room and chirps the word “hell-o” about 50 times.