Top Chef - Season Three, Episode Three

Originally aired on Wednesday, 06/27/2007

Episode Rating: ***(3 stars out of 5)

Episode Overview: The Top Chef cheftestants get fresh then go stale with some tricky challenges this week.

Episode Highlights:

  • Howie Kleinberg struggles to improve after hitting the bottom last week.
  • This week's Quickfire Challenge is right up seafood chef Brian Malarkey's alley...but his reliance on his star ingredient gets him negative attention later.
  • Micah Edelstein continues her roller coaster performance.

This week on Top Chef, the guest judge is Alfred Portale, a chef known for his exquisite plating.  His stature is already intimidating to the cheftestants, and when their Quickfire Challenge is revealed, many are quickly even more overwhelmed.  With a flourish, Padma Lakshmi unveils the key element in this challenge: an aquarium full of shellfish. 

Each chef has thirty seconds to fish out their ingredients from the tank with a flimsy net.  Hung Hunyh is first to go and his aggressive style irritates his colleagues, as does the fact that he drops (and leaves) a crawfish on the floor.

The chefs all take a turn.  Tre Wilcox has some concerns with his haul - his net gave out and he wound up with much less than the other chefs.

Preparation begins.  Due to the nature of shellfish, what with having shells and all, just cleaning it properly takes quite a bit of time.  Nearly everyone therefore avoids the conch as the shell is quite difficult to open without the proper tools. Micah, who has worked with it before, though, persists, using anything she can to crack it open.

Some chefs are going the traditional route, like Howie who prepares a seviche and Brian - the seafood chef - wants to keep the preparation spare and simple.  Hung, on the other hand, thinks a simple take on shellfish is boring.

Padma and Alfred make the rounds. Chris "CJ" Jacobsen's food is called out for good flavor, while Tre's concerns about quantity turn out to be well-founded - he's dinged for the low proportion of shellfish.  Micah's take on conch is a risk that doesn't take off, while Brian's efforts with it are successful.  Although Howie's dish wasn't inventive, it was tasty and intelligently put together.

Alfred announces the bottom three: Micah, Tre and Camille Becerra, whose tea-based flavor was too overpowering.

The top three are Howie, CJ and Brian, and Brian, the seafood chef, is relieved to maintain his professional reputation by winning the challenge and immunity.  Howie is happy just to have made it to the top three after hitting bottom.

Now, Padma tells them, they are going from the freshest ingredients to the stalest concepts.  She shows them the Elimination Challenge: two tables full of classic American family favorites, like mac and cheese, fried chicken, sloppy joes, and so on.  The challenge is to create an updated, healthier (lower-cholesterol) version of the dishes that will still please a traditional family.  They will then serve the dishes to two generations of families at the Elks Club.

The chefs now pick their dishes in the reverse order from how they got their shellfish.  CJ takes the tuna casserole, Lia Bardeen selects the frank and beans, Howie chooses the pork chops and applesauce.  He's interested in the challenge because his father died of heart disease so he has an interest in the topic of lighter cooking.

He's not the only one interested in the challenge.  Dale Levitski is thrilled about the challenge because this is actually his cooking style - reinventing the American classics.  He's feeling confident enough about his take on chicken and dumplings that he buys a rotisserie chicken and boxed mashed potatoes, to the horror of CJ.

He's not the only chef to choose prepared ingredients, as Lia selects prepared chicken sausage for her dish.  And there is an odd choice made as the chefs shop: Brian gets lobster as a main ingredient, even though lobster is high cholesterol.   Due to his Quickfire win, he is immune, but it's pretty risky to hope for another win with that.

After some initial prep, the chefs return to the apartment and relax in the hot tub.  Howie remains apart from the group and seems to be a little bit of an outsider, unable to relax and mingle with the others.

The next day, the chefs finish putting their dishes together and there are several issues in the group.  Sara Mair's oven is turned off (Hung did it although it seems like it was after he was done using it as opposed to sabotaging her dish).  CJ's modified tuna casserole falls apart during plating. Tom Colicchio makes the rounds and is unimpressed by the literal translations of the homestyle dishes and the lack of innovation.

Service starts, CJ is up first.  He doesn't seem to like his dish much himself, so it's no surprise when the judges don't either, although they do admire his ingenuity with a flax and sesame seed tuile on top.

Sara M's dish - an update of Chicken a la King - is a disaster in that it bears very little resemblance to the original.  She admittedly was not very familiar with the original.

The lentils Lia used in her frank and beans update were underdone.  Micah's meatloaf is unequivocally "terrible" per the judges and the Elks don't care for it either.

Casey Thompson's sloppy joe is tasty, as is Tre's Cordon Bleu.  Dale's chicken and dumplings and Howie's porkchops and apple slaw are well-liked.

After the service, it's time for judgment, and Dale and Howie are brought back first...for the good news that they are the top two. Padma reminds Howie he can relax and smile now.  They really enjoyed his update of the applesauce to slaw, and his pork was perfectly cooked.  Dale took a risk with boxed potatoes, but no one was the wiser and the dish was delicious.  But it's Howie who wins the challenge, three cookbooks and an invitation from Alfred to cook for a week at Gotham in NYC.

Now it's time for the bad news.  Sara, Micah, CJ, Lia AND Brian are brought back.  Brian's stunned - doesn't he have immunity?  Yes, but the judges want to call him out for his lobster use, and remind him he needs to listen to the challenge directions and break free of the dependence on seafood.  Once he gets his scolding, he is free to leave. 

For the other four, it's time to review the issues.  Sara's failing?  Linking her dish to the original.  Lia's was poor execution and innovation - Tom wonders if she's trying to stick close to the middle.  Micah's for all-around awfulness.  CJ for muddy flavor. 

And ultimately, it's Micah's all-around awfulness that the judges decide cannot be redeemed.  She is being sent home.

Next week is July 4th and there isn't a new episode of Top Chef on Wednesday, but BuddyTV will be back with the show when the next new episode airs.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)