After last week’s preliminaries, the competition has officially begun. We’re given only a fleeting glimpse at the Seattle skyline before Micah Fields, the cocky chef from L.A.’s Standard Hotel, struts in and gives everyone the “waterfall look.” (That's a thing, and you probably need to live in L.A. to know what it is.) The rest of the cast files in, each wearing one of four different color aprons, dividing them into five groups of three.
Host Padma Lakshmi arrives with a few familiar faces: former contestants Josie Smith-Malava, CJ Jacobsen and Stefan Richter. They are here to judge the Quickfire -- we're led to believe -- which requires that the contestants make a shellfish dish in 20 minutes. Then bad boy chef John Tesar draws a reprimand from Padma (a Top Chef first!) for talking to Kuniko Yagi during her intro, and the entire room becomes a walk-in freezer.
Team Green chooses geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”), which model-turned-chef Kristen Kish says “is great except it looks like a penis. A big one.” Team Yellow also wants geoduck -- it tastes good raw, saving cooking time -- but after some gross digging around in a pile of muck, decide instead of razor clams, which they’ll put in a chowder. Oklahoma City boy Joshua Valentine is crestfallen at not getting his hands on the giant, phallic mollusk. Sorry, dude. The very loud, very dramatic Carla Pellegrino is on Team Orange, and says she wants “to be a James Beard and I wanna have a nice ass.” She should move to Hollywood! There's always room for a beard with a pilates body there.
Cooking begins. If you’ve ever wondered what three women with different accents speaking simultaneously for 20 minutes sounds like, thanks to Team Orange now you know. Breakout Belgian Bart Vandaele says his people have a leg up on other cultures because they steal cooking ideas from every nation who’s ever conquered them (fries from the France, waffles from Germans, etc.). Not sure who invented the $85, overly complicated salad though.
Team Gray makes crawfish with pickled red chili, fennel and crawfish cream. Team Orange plates oven roasted crawfish with fennel and herb salad. Team Green offers fried and sashimi geoduck, radish and bok choy salad with yuzu chili vinaigrette. Team Blue serves geoduck sashimi with ponzu, apple and cucumber. And Team Yellow has a razor clam and grilled corn chowder with fresno chili and grilled lime.
Team Yellow lands on the bottom, and Team Blue -- John, Kuniko and Hawaiian chef Sheldon Simeon -- win the challenge. John pulls the winning knife and is granted immunity. Then something truly shocking happens: Padma announced that CJ, Josie and Stefan are there to compete for the title. That’s right -- they’ve been brought back as contestants. The twist not surprisingly ticks everyone off, especially Denver chef Tyler Wiard.
The elimination challenge is similarly open-ended: The teams must cook a meal from local ingredients -- a seafood-heavy selection -- served at the top of the most recognizable Seattle landmark, the Space Needle. They’re off to the condominium to get acquainted, where someone assumes Jeffrey Jew is straight because he’s engaged (it's to a man). Everyone has a big laugh. What is so funny?
Josie explains to everyone how she’s back to win, while everyone else -- including the audience -- is wondering what she’s doing there in the first place. The next day, CJ tells a story about the Space Needle (something about potatoes?) and it really begins to sink in that these three are back for the whole season, and are kind of annoying. Terrible idea!
And here are the judges: Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Padma, Emeril Lagasse (who feels a little out of place on this panel) and Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas. Tom tells the story of when he almost moved to Seattle but then didn't. Great story, Tom!
Blue Team serves first a chili oil poached cod with dashi and spot prawn shabu shabu. After a lot of screaming, Carla lowers her voice long enough to present Team Orange’s poached salmon with seasonal vegetables and beurre blanc. Then Carla slices her hand on a knife and starts screaming again. So much drama with that one.
Team Red serves quail breast with confit spot prawn, cherries and porcini. Grey Team has pan roasted halibut, morel mushrooms, English peas served over wheat beer (!) with herb sabayon. Green Team offers crispy seared Pacific salmon with local vegetables and a spot prawn butter sauce. Yellow Team serves pan roasted cod with mushrooms, fava beans, pickled green apple and garlic scape pistou.
The judges love Kuniko's chili oil-poached cod, giving her and her team a victory, and eliciting the quote of the night: “Oh my gosh, this is going to make everybody, like, ‘Who is she? We didn’t notice she even was there.’”
On the chopping block: Team Red, for Stefan's tough quail breasts, and Grey, for Jeremy's overcooked halibut.
Sadly, Jeremy is given walking papers, while Stefan lives on another week.