Top Chef Las Vegas Recap
By Jason Lee
October 9, 2009

It will be less confusing without an Ash and an Ashley.

Coming off a particularly un-dramatic finish to the last episode, when Ron was justifiably sent home for his failure to conceive of a deconstructed paella and to execute a good-tasting paella, there isn't too much drama going on in the Top Chef house this week. No Mattin-scarves being handed out, no trash-talking of Robin behind her back...just Ash, who spouts off some gibberish about wanting to prove that someone who didn't go to culinary school can make it on Top Chef. Yeah, you and 40 other chefs who have said the same thing on this show.

Incidentally, it'd be interesting to know how many previous Top Chef winners have lacked culinary school training. I remember Kacie making a big deal about not having culinary school training in the Season 3 finale (which she lost) but I can't remember anyone else offhand that didn't go to culinary school and ended up winning Top Chef. Any readers out there have an idea what this statistic might be?

Anyway, Jennifer is not feeling well. She looks wan and tired...and I'm immediately getting nervous. Her brusque, callous manner of going about her cooking has totally won me over, and I'll be rooting for her to the end. Thus, I find myself extremely worried when Ashley comments that, "If I were as sick as [Jennifer], I wouldn't want to cook food."

We head into the Top Chef kitchen and we see Padma, dressed in an emerald green dress that makes me wonder if she mistook Columbus Day for St. Patrick's Day, standing with the Food Network TV star, Tyler Florence. I know that Bravo is trying to mix things up with their guest judges, not always having a super high-level, esteemed chef in the kitchen all the time, but Tyler Florence? C'mon. You go from Michele Bernstein to Tyler Florence?

Apparently he's here as a representative of Macy's Culinary Council in one of Bravo's more blatant examples of their "Let's insert a corporate sponsor into our show!" mentality. The Quickfire Challenge, however, is very well conceived.

In the spirit of, some online resource for home chefs that I've never heard of, the cheftestants will pull the lever on a slot machine, which will spit out three keywords that they'll have to integrate into their dish. They each get one mood word (like stressed, adventurous and romantic), one flavor word (like spicy, tart and umami, a Japanese sour flavor) and one cuisine (like Asian, Latin American or American).

A couple of chefs seem to be struggling. Pompous Mike has no experience with cooking asian, Eli wants to use shitake mushrooms for his umami flavor but finds that everyone else with umami is going the same route, and Ashley has little experience with cooking Middle Eastern food but is giving it a go.

Meanwhile, Jennifer is trying to push through her illness, saying that she believes that a chef should keep her mood out of her cooking. Wow, I know a lot of past cheftestants, like Dale from Season 3 and Carla from Season 5, that would totally disagree with that sentiment.

Tyler Florence goes around and tries everyone's dishes. On the bottom, he puts Robin for a dish that was far too elementary and heavy on the salt, Eli who killed the umami flavor of his mushrooms with citrus, and Jennifer, who didn't really embody the idea of "adventurous" in her scallop dish. She. Is. Pissed.

On top, we have Pompous Mike, whose flavors were light, fresh and clean, Kevin with an "impressive dish," and Michael, who smartly paired yuzu curd and a seaweed cracker. Kevin ends up winning and in a stunning turn of events, he is offered either $15,000 or immunity for his win. While I personally would have taken immunity, especially since we don't know what the Elimination Challenge is yet, Kevin takes the $15,000 saying that he's confident that at this stage of the game, he won't be going home. Looking at the chefs still left in the competition, I don't disagree with him. There are plenty of chefs (Robin, Ash, Laurine, etc.) who simply aren't contenders for this title.

Instead of spilling the beans on the Elimination Challenge, Padma tells the cheftestants that they can leave and enjoy a nice dinner at home. They'll find out more about the Elimination Challenge when they arrive at their house. The chefs rush home and find their kitchen and pantry STOCKED with tons of ingredients, dishware and cookware. They go outside and find Padma plus three great chefs: Nancy Silverton (a famed California chef), Takahashi Yaighashi, Tom Douglas, Govind Armstrong (who's been on the show a couple of times) and Tyler Florence.

Apparently these chefs comprise the full Macy's Culinary Council and they'll be participating in this challenge as diners. They are also each holding a grocery bag filled with goodies. Our cheftestants will draw knives to pair in groups to cook one dish using the ingredients in one of the bags. All the dishes will be served together, family style, later that evening.

The chefs draw knives and we have some great pairings. Jennifer is paired with Kevin, which excites me because even if she's feeling a little sick, I think Kevin will pull her through. Michael is paired with Ash. Laurine is paired with his cute brother Bryan. Ashley has Eli, and Pompous Mike is paired with the last person he'd want to work with: Robin.

The pairs split up the house and get to work. Pompous Mike infuriates me (and hopefully many other viewers) with his total contempt of Robin. He says that he's going to take control and do this challenge himself. He says that he's a better chef than her and that she knows it. He later remarks that he's giving her minor things to do and will throw away all the food that she prepares for their dish.

I've never hidden my dislike for him but now it has blossomed into outright hatred. I hate this man. He has such a huge ego and a ready mouth to voice it. The worst part of it is the joking way that he slams Robin - like a schoolyard bully who sarcastically tells a friend how he beat up a freshman in a "isn't this so funny, didn't they deserve it, aren't I witty" manner. I hope he goes home. And then loses his job. And his wife. And his hair. And his ability to maintain an erection.

As for the other groups, Ash is having a great time working with Michael, who he is clearly in awe of. Ash remarks that every time he suggests something for the dish, Michael comes up with a better one. I think Ash is clearly letting Michael take the lead in this challenge, which is not necessarily a bad idea, but definitely shows that Ash sees himself as a non-contender in this competition.

Their dish sounds good conceptually but Michael has a big snafu when the electrical outlet he's using to grill his halibut goes dead and he has to run over to another outlet to finish cooking his fish. Understandably, he's worried about how his dish will come out.

Eli and Ashley are doing prawns and gnocchi. The prawns are being grilled by Ashley because Eli doesn't know how to do it, and Ashley is also sautéing the gnocchi, which makes me scratch my head, cause I didn't think gnocchi was something that you sauté.

Kevin and Jennifer are doing BBQ pork. Kevin is doing the pork and Jennifer is doing this tomato chutney. Sounds like a safe dish.

We hear almost nothing about Bryan and Laurine from this entire challenge.

Finally, it's time to eat and all the dishes come out. It's universally agreed that Michael and Ash's halibut is not cooked right, with Nancy calling it "mushy." Plus, their pancetta is undercooked. Bryan and Laurine's halibut is much better, with some great spice from the chorizo.

Eli and Ashley's gnocchi is REALLY salty, something that's due to Eli's bad seasoning of the dish. Unfortunately, the prawns are not well cooked and not well seasoned, which will be wholly attributed to Ashley.

Pompous Mike and Robin's dish is well-liked. Kevin and Jennifer's Kobe beef is fabulous, according to the diners.

I think, at this point, it's pretty clear that Ashley and Eli had the worst dish and Kevin and Jennifer had the best dish. If I had to choose, I think that Ashley will go home because she did the bulk of the cooking and the cooking was bad, and that Kevin will win because he cooked the star of his dish: the beef.

Padma calls out the teams of Kevin/Jennifer and Bryan/Laurine. Everyone in the stew room knows that those teams are on top and they look totally defeated. Meanwhile, the two teams in front of the judges are having a ball of a time.

Toby remarks that he loved Kevin and Jennifer's beef, saying that he kept eating it even after the dinner was over. Tom jokes that he took home a doggy bag of the leftover beef. As for Bryan and Laurine, Tom compliments them for editing down the list of ingredients in their dish, saying that each flavor really stood out.

In the end, Kevin and Jennifer end up having the best dish and in a really pleasant surprise, Jennifer is named the winner for having put together the best part of their dish, the tomato chutney. She's ecstatic. After two Quickfire wins, she finally has her first Elimination win.

On the bottom, we predictably have Michael and Ash, with their overcooked halibut and undercooked pancetta, and Ashley and Eli, with their disaster of a dish.

Michael and Ash take a beating first and though Michael is ready to accept criticism for the cooking of his fish, he's surprised to hear them take issue with the concept itself. Tom says that halibut was the wrong fish to try and carmelize against the pancetta. Toby wanted the flavors toned down to emphasize the flavor profiles of each ingredient. When the issue of the fish finally comes up, Michael blames the electrical issue but Tyler Florence rightfully points out that when you go out to eat in a restaurant, the diner doesn't care if the kitchen had an issue.

Finally, Padma asks Ash if he took a "second fiddle" position in this challenge and if he was okay with it. Ash takes this as an invitation to praise Michael to the sky, saying that he saw this challenge as an opportunity to "wash paintbrushes for Picasso." It's one of the more memorable, and more sickening, displays of fawning and boot-licking that I've seen on this show. This will definitely change the judges' opinions of Ash. I'm reminded of when Tom asked Miguel in Season 1," What does it say on your jacket? Does it say Top Sous-Chef? No, it says Top Chef." Ash certainly didn't sound like a Top Chef today.

As for Ashley and Eli, it's clear that their dish was much worse than Michael and Ash's. Not all the prawns were cooked, according to Toby, and the gnocchi was heavy. Ashley, totally disheartened, agrees that she may have left a few prawns a little raw as a result of trying not to overcook them and that gnocchi was heavy for an outdoor dinner. She also says that she knew the gnocchi was a little salty.

Ughhhhhhh, I find it hard to believe that anyone other than Ashley will be going home today. And that's sad because I was really starting to like her.

Finally, the judges give their final verdict. Tom says that when a dish in a team challenge comes out well, it's typically because two chefs worked together. When it doesn't, there's typically one chef responsible. Ashley undercooked the shrimp and made bad gnocchi. Michael had some conceptual problems with his dish and the halibut was overcooked.

And yes, Ashley is sent home. She takes it really well and I think she was half-expecting it. When she says goodbye to her fellow chefs, Jennifer gets teared up. In her final remarks, Ashley says that she just hopes that her performance on this show has illustrated that she's really a talented chef. I don't think anyone who saw the last two episodes would doubt that.


Kevin: Four times in the top of the Elimination Challenge, two Elimination Challenge wins, two Quickfire Wins

Bryan: Four times in the top of the Elimination Challenge, three Elimination Challenge wins

Jennifer: Four times in the top of the Elimination Challenge, one Elimination Challenge win, two Quickfire Wins

Michael: Five times in the top of the Elimination Challenge, one Elimination Challenge win, one Quickfire Win