'Top Chef': It's Like the Difference Between a Shaved Armpit and a Hairy Armpit


As morning dawned on the McMansion this week, we learned that Eli still lives with his parents, which wasn't that much more surprising than the simultaneous discovery that he wears white Crocs, and that they're really, really filthy. We also learned that Robin does Pilates every morning, something regarded by her fellow contestants with eye-rolling skepticism. And in the kitchen we learned that guest judge Charlie Palmer once employed both of the Brothers Voltaggio. Michael was the "American Icon"'s executive chef for one year, and Bryan worked for him for 10 -- and was also a partner in his D.C. restaurant, which one would think would pose some kind of conflict of interest here. One would also think that, given the apparently unlimited supply of celebrity chefs hustling to get their mugs and lines of frozen food of TV, the producers could have found someone else, but as with everything else on the show, ethical issues prostrate themselves in service of manufactured drama.

The Quickfire Challenge, Padma intoned with deadly solemnity, would be about "the art of pairing." Specifically, the art of pairing product placement with timed competition: The camera flashed to an obscenely lavish spread of snack chips that the contestants would have to incorporate into their dishes. "It's incredibly difficult to pair something of that complexity," Ash observed without a whisper of irony -- dude, ever been to a party where chips and dip were served?

Frantic ministrations ensued, with Jen fretting about her overcooked pork chop and Mike I. declaring, predictably, that "I'm confident in myself, as always." Palmer didn't share his degree of enthusiasm, choosing Bryan's seared rib-eye steak, Eli's potato clam salad with celery and fennel, and Kevin's bean and confit tomato salad with creamed corn as his favorites. Eli, his beady little eyes glinting with infantile glee, was declared the winner.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs drew knives emblazoned with parts of a pig. Palmer announced that they'd be "matching pigs with Pinot," eliciting happy faces among the chefs and sighs of relief among viewers who'd been dreading the specter of more raw ceviche and mangled prawns. The dishes would be served at Palmer's annual charity event, which is "very intensely looked on by a lot of culinarians." So the chefs were hustled off to do a wine tasting at Aureole, where the so-called "wine angels" zoomed up and down the wine tower by way of some kind of zip wire system that gave them an eerie resemblance to Cirque du Soleil performers.

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