Top Chef: Season Three, Episode Six

Episode Overview:  This week's "supersized" - aka needlessly 15-minutes longer - Top Chef serves up the cheftestants' favorite dish: a team challenge (groans all around).  To their own surprise, some chefs find themselves paired up into a strong partnership.  Some of the more notoriously difficult chefs find themselves - to no one's surprise - having difficulty working successfully together.  However, the dynamic might be a little different than you would expect.

Today's Quickfire Challenge brings Padma Lakshmi to the kitchen with a special guest: Rocco DiSpirito, of The Restaurant reality show fame (or infamy).  His brush with the world of celebrity has apparently rub off on him: he's very Hollywood skinny.

Padma and he introduce the specifics of the challenge.  It's a taste test...and a sight test.  Like previous seasons of Top Chef, the chefs will have to identify ingredients by taste, but some will just be by sight.  This is not as easy as you might be thinking.

The first round of identifications knocks out everyone but Hung Huynh, Brian Malarkey, Casey Thompson and Howie Kleinberg, but Howie and Hung get knocked out the next rounds.  Brian and Casey end up tied, but when Brian misses visually identifying a Japanese eggplant, and Casey successfully identifies a red pepper by taste, she is the winner for this Challenge.  She will be safe from elimination tonight.

And what is the Elimination Challenge this go-round?  Well, that's why Rocco is here!  I don't know if he is botoxed-up so much he can no longer demonstrate enthusiasm, or just desperately sad to be hawking frozen dinners, but he seems utterly bummed out to explain to the chefs about the Bertoli frozen pasta dishes he's now endorsing.  DiSpirito seems dispirited (sorry, the pun was irresistible). 

And now the chefs have to share in his pain.  In teams of two, they will need to create a frozen, Mediterranean-inspired pasta dish that can reheat in ten minutes.  They will have two hours to prepare tonight, and another hour to package their dinners the next day.  They will then take them to the market to try to get customers to pick their dinners.  The winning team will each get two tickets to Italy.

The partnerships are selected at random by drawing knives.  Some matches are welcome, like Dale Levitski and Casey, who hit it off immediately.  Another happy pairing is Chris Jacobsen (CJ) and Tre Wilcox who both seem to respect the others' style.  Less happy about their luck of the draw?  Brian and Sara Nguyen, whose styles might clash.  Neither Howie nor Sara Mair is too thrilled with getting matched with one another.  Howie isn't impressed that Sara M. has yet to distinguish herself, while Sara sees Howie as a "bulldog."  She will continue to call him this every five minutes or so until the end of the episode.

Hung and Joey Paulino seem like they would be an explosive pairing, what with Joey's irritability and Hung's abrasive nature.  But Hung is happy to be matched up with an Italian guy; he feels like with his knowledge of the science behind successful freezing of pasta.

Speaking of that science, the chefs have the chance to examine a bag of Bertoli's frozen dinner to deconstruct how they successfully created a reheatable meal.  The chefs examine it, and Tre and CJ come to the conclusion that the meal was prepared with each individual element being separately prepared and frozen, then mized together after. Hung also figures this out, and notes how the sauce was made into small pieces to quickly melt and cook evenly, as opposed to one solid mass.

As they shop, the chefs uncover additional synergies or differences.  Tre and CJ happily agree to use black truffle butter in their dish.  Casey and Dale agree easily on a turkey and pork meatball for their pesto pasta.

But Howie is irritated with Sara M., and finds her choice of tricolor fusilli tacky and obvious.  Guess who else wants tricolor fusilli?  Joey, and surprisingly, Hung doesn't put up a fight although he wanted penne.

Back in the kitchen, Brian is feeling frustrated by Sara N.'s slow pace.  Howie doesn't like all of Sara M.'s questions.  Tre and CJ, however, are so in sync, they find they barely need to speak.  They are working to their goal of individually freezing all their ingredients.

So is Hung, but apparently, Joey isn't getting the message.  He wants to get all the food - as individual portions, not ingredients - into their freezing containers by the end of the prep session.  Hung had been determined to individually freeze everything, but strangely, he doesn't put up a lot of resistance when Joey ignores this and moves ahead with his own plan.

The next day, Tre and CJ use their full hour to pack and all the other teams - who, like Joey, threw all the ingredients in together - sit, watch, and realize their error.  They were given a full hour to package and this is why; they should not have combined the ingredients until after the freezing.  Hung is feeling really apprehensive and regretting giving in to Joey.

At the store, Hung's fears are confirmed.  His pasta is mushy from having absorbed the hot pasta sauce.  All of the teams get their dishes cooking right away, as they will probably need all ten of their allotted minutes to get their large blocks of food cooked.  Tre and CJ, on the other hand, hold off, thinking they might only need about six minutes for theirs.

Casey and Dale didn't package their separately, but they are pleased with it nonetheless, and tell Rocco that when he comes around.  He pointedly asks them if they tasted their dish, but they just continue to ride high on their flavor.  Sara N. and Brian are excited about the "flavor packet" they included with theirs, although there is no explanation provided to us as to why the separate packet is a good thing.  Rocco seems impressed with both the flavors and the process in the dish Tre and CJ prepared.

Dale and Casey's confidence in their dish appear to be well-founded, as they quickly find takers for all their entrees.  Howie and Sara M. only give away three, while Hung and Joey can't even find any folks interested in free food.

At the judges' table, as expected, Tre and CJ make it back as one of the best, as do Casey and Dale.  Tom Colicchio likes Tre and CJ's dish, and appreciates how they grasped the freezing process, but has a quibble with the idea of black truffle being truly Mediterranean.  Dale and Casey's pesto was one of the best Rocco has ever tasted, but he did get a frozen meatball (the reason for his pointed comment) and Tom did not like their canned artichokes.

In the end, Tre and CJ won for all-around quality and understanding directions, and for their win, get two tickets each to Italy, and the honor of sending back to the judges the worst teams. 

No surprises there: it's Hung and Joey and Howie and Sara M.  The judges grill Hung about his knowledge of the proper process, and why he didn't fight harder for his way.  It is odd - considering how argumentative he can be with the judges - that he didn't stick up for his way with Joey.  Joey seems to wish Hung had, admitting sometimes he needs to be hit on the head repeatedly to finally hear what someone is saying.

Tom says that he's not exactly sure what Sara M. contributed to the team because he saw her taking a backseat both in preparation and delivery.  She defends herself, but Howie hears it as an attack, and he lets loose with a torrent of abuse in her direction.  While the editing of Sara has been a little ambiguous, it does seem like Howie is building up a lot of this anger in his own head.

He lets loose with more of it back in the kitchen as they wait for the judges' decision.  However, he got himself worked up for nothing - it's actually Joey who is going home. 

Joey is devastated and breaks down crying as he hugs his teammates goodbye and gives his final interview. 

Now we're down to nine chefs of Top Chef, and can expect more strong emotions as the eliminations continue.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)