Top Chef: Season Three, Episode Four

Episode Overview: This week on Top Chef, there is a new ingredient for the “cheftestants” to use in the competition: each other. Yes, they are working in teams. No, no one is particularly thrilled about it. For some, it's their teammates that create the roadblocks this week. Others manage to work together better, but one team takes a pretty serious risk and the results surprise the judges.

With three chefs eliminated, and the competition getting more intense every week, the chefs probably need a stiff drink. Lucky for them, Bravo has a gratuitous product placement requirement to meet, so this week, the Quickfire Challenge involves cocktails made from their sponsor, Bombay Sapphire Gin.


Each chef will have to prepare an appetizer to pair with a different cocktail prepared by Bombay's chief mixologist, Jamie Walker. Walker takes pairing seriously, pointing out that some fine restaurants now have not just a sommelier but also a onsite mixologist to help with food pairings. That's great, but somehow the term “mixologist” seems lacking; it doesn't exactly ring “fine dining” like sommelier…it sounds more like something that a person wearing a lot of flair would be doing.

Nevertheless, Dale Levitski is excited: his last consulting gig was as a mixologist working with food pairing. Hung Hunyh, on the other hand, is not thrilled. Hard booze, he sniffs, isn't for fine dining.

Enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the task seems to be the key. After the chefs prepare their food pairings and Walker takes a taste, Hung finds himself called out for being the worst. Walker's assessment of Hung's makes him think that Walker didn't “understand” the pairing so he makes a snappy comment in reply to the feedback. Classy!

Walker also calls out Joey Paulino as the worst, and could be describing the gestalt of Joey when listing the faults: too heavy and clumsy.

And the best? Dale makes it in there, so his experience paid off. Tre Wilcox's dish seemed like a misstep in theory to Walker, but upon tasting, impressed him with the successful marrying. Casey Thompson, who has thus far flown far under the radar on Top Chef, is not just in the top, she is the top, with her dish getting the most praise from Walker. She will have immunity for the Elimination Challenge.

The chefs now have to separate into teams and it's not a fun process. Brian Malarkey suggests that they draw names for teams and the courses will be assigned in the order that the teams are selected. This works in theory, but when the fourth team realizes that they would ideally be making a dessert course, things fall apart.

The group doesn't have to make a dessert course, but they feel it would be amateurish not to. However, none of the chefs has been a pastry chef so many of them feel about as eager to be on that team as they are to be on a team period. Dale, though, who has found himself on a team with Howie Kleinberg (whose performance has been a little spotty in the past) and Casey (who has immunity), figures it's better to risk the dangerous dessert course than stick with that crew, so he volunteers to swap to that course.

After some chaos, eventually, the teams are settled. Hung, Lia Bardeen and Brian will make the first seafood course. Casey, Howie and Joey are all less than thrilled to be working together on the second course. Sara Nguyen, Chris Jacobsen (“CJ”) and Tre will make the meat course. Dale, Sara Mair and Camille Becerra are all taking a big risk by doing the dessert course, with none of them having any recipes memorized. (Desserts, especially baking, generally require actual recipes and specific quantities more rigorously than do most other courses.)

Most of the teams manage to come together and find some agreement on coordinating their dishes and working together. The exception is the Howie-Joey-Casey team. Casey is reluctant to follow the direction Howie and Joey want to go, while they feel like with immunity, she should take a step back and let the people at risk call the shots.

The teams have some difficulty shopping. They only have $150 to prepare a tasting menu for 14 people. There's quite a bit of agonizing at the register but eventually everyone gets what they need.

Back at the kitchen, once again, the Howie-Joey-Casey trio finds it difficult to work together, and each mainly focus on their own dish within the course. The dessert trio isn't fighting itself; instead it's the challenges of making a dessert course that are creating the roadblocks. Sara M. messes up the quantities of the gelatin used in her dish and winds up with a creamy mess she tries to turn into a frozen dessert. Camille attempts a pineapple upside down cake that goes south.

It's time for service. The folks judging them are members of some kind of elite foodie group that apparently involves wearing sashes and medals with a straight face. The group likes the first seafood course (Brian-Hung-Lia), but as expected, the tuna course prepared by Howie-Joey-Casey is not a hit at all. The meat course (CJ, Tre, Sara N.) is solid. The dessert course, though? Total disaster.  The elite foodies will probably have to add some kind of additional medal to their sashes for their bravery in getting through that course.

At judging, as expected, the first course is called out as best, and while it's a struggle for the judges to determine which one is the best, eventually young Lia is named the Top Chef winner for the week.

Then for the worst: the tuna and dessert courses. Casey, although she is immune, is called back and the judges inform her that her tuna dish was the worst of the three in the course. She is devastated that she brought her team down, but the judges blame the other two for not tasting her dishes and working more closely together.

Sara M. and Dale from the dessert course try to defend themselves, taking some credit for at least taking a risk by making a dessert at all. The judges aren't really buying it, thinking there's no honor in shooting yourself in the foot. But it's Camille who winds up being their target: not only was her dish crappy, she is completely unable to articulate any kind of defense and Tom Colicchio bluntly tells her that if “you don't know the basics, you can't improvise.” Ouch!

So Camille is out, but there's still quite a big group left, so one could anticipate these cheftestants might have to tolerate a little teamwork again sometime soon.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)