I first got into "Top Chef" during a Thanksgiving marathon a few years ago, the visions of delectable dishes really priming me for the traditional family dinner. It's fitting that this week's episode carries with it the Thanksgiving theme, and delivers one of my favorite episodes to date.
We dive right into the competition this week, featuring a few super-quick recaps of the important points touched on last week (Carla's hurt, Kuniko's flighty, Stefan's a d-bag) but none of the "chefs at home before the challenge" happenings. The Quickfire Challenge features guest judge and editor of "Food & Wine" magazine Dana Cowin, tasking the chefs with making a dumpling patterned after one of a number of foreign cultural/ethnic styles.
Some of the foreign chefs play it safe, finding the dishes of their home country or a neighboring one, while some fly blind. It's kind of charming to see that Stefan was always a d-bag, as we get a photograph of him as a young man (with hair!) with his infamous 'Stefan don't give a SHIT' face as he discusses his mother cooking a German style dumpling ("klopse") for him as a boy.
Kuniko makes an attempt at a Japanese dumpling -- John Tesar's assessment of his teammate last week was that she didn't have a great concept of time-management. Well, that's underscored this week as she is unable to get her dish to plate before the clock winds down to zero, eliminating her from the Quickfire straight away.
As the title of the episode might imply, the Elimination Challenge incorporates teams under the guidance of judges Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse. The teams will be putting together competing Thanksgiving dinners for volunteers at local non-profit Farestart.
Tom's team wins in a shut-out, cooking up an Italian-themed family dinner complete with sweet potato ravioli, super-buttery turkey, and a stuffing with foie gras and pancetta. Firebrand Carla is still nursing her nasty cut that she got after the conclusion of last week's challenge. As any chef would agree, cooking one-handed is no fun, and cooking one-handed under a rigid time frame leaves the door open to future injury. Despite her handicap, she takes home the win this week with a carrot soup with turkey meatballs that looked absolutely mouth-watering.
Emeril decides to theme his team's dinner after his place of residence for the past few years, coordinating a New Orleans/Creole style feast. Unfortunately, it's a bust, with bland shrimp gumbo, undercooked greens, and a turkey that's scarily undercooked. Josie had to be thankful that she had won immunity at the Quickfire challenge, because there's no doubt she would have gone home for that pink bird.
Kuniko's pave dish is plain and raw, earning low marks from the judges and not surprisingly sending her home -- and after winning last week! Once again her time management skills kick back, as she blames the time limit on the dish not firing on all cylinders (despite having five hours, as her peers point out). Always crazy to see some go from first to worst in such a quick turnaround.
Perhaps it's my rumbling stomach, but this week's episode seemed like a big win. It hit the mark with plenty of personality clashes (including a Stefan vs John Tesar tease), Padma in tight pants, and delicious dishes that served to whet my appetite for my own turkey feast.
Final Grade: A+