Top Chef: Season Three, Episode Seven

Episode Overview: What time is it?  It's time for another team challenge!  Everyone's favorite.  And in case working together wasn't bad enough, this time on Top Chef, they're working together in a really tiny space.  Everyone better keep the knifes away from the spaz attack that is Hung Huynh.   And just in case that wasn't quite enough discomfort, the challenge itself is a sort of pop quiz thrown at the unsuspecting chefs.  One team manages to pull together and work well together as a team.  But for the other team, the presence of one of the least successful team players creates an apprehensive atmosphere that eventually leads to their downfall.

Once again, the cheftestants only have a short time to mourn the loss of their last eliminated fellow chef (Joey Paulino) before it's time to get right back into things. This week's Quickfire Challenge is an appropriate one for summer: the chefs have forty-five minutes to prepare a mix-in ingredients for a plain sweet cream Coldstone Creamery ice cream.

While this certainly sounds delicious, it's deceptively difficult. Finding an original component to add to ice cream that will still be successful as a dessert is a definite challenge.

Some chefs stick to a refined version of classic combinations. Howie Kleinberg figures berries are always great with ice cream, so he scorches some with flame and mixes those in. Dale Levitski also sticks with a traditional pairing, and does a sort of cobbler a la mode in reverse, mixing in the peach cobbler itself to the ice cream.

Other chefs try to make their mix-ins less obvious, but without great results. Hung, in his usual frenetic way, mixing in about 450 different ingredients. One of those ingredients is cauliflower, and, as Dale says, “That's all I'll say about that.” Casey Thompson mixes in a chili paste. It makes the guest judge chef and restaurateur Gorvind Armstong literally shudder. And not with pleasure.

To no one's surprise, Hung and Casey are in the bottom two. Hung has his usual reaction, saying with disdain that Armstrong must want simple flavors for “common people.” Despite his arrogance and hubris, I'm starting to actually feel sorry for Hung ending up in the bottom so often. While he's got a totally annoying personality, there's no doubt that he loves food; it's just clear that his certainty that he's the best is causing him to take risks he shouldn't take.

Dale and Howie are the favorites, and it's finally Dale's turn to win. However, Padma Lakshmi tells them, there's nothing really to win because there's no elimination challenge. Instead, the chefs are going to get the chance to go out on the town nightclubbing.

They're all ecstatic and run home to put on their best clubbing togs.

Come on now. COME ON NOW. Have NONE of these people ever watched a reality show before?

Guess what happens. That's right: there is no nightclubbing for our chefs. Oh sure, they go to a nightclub, but Padma is there to tell them they are going to be cooking for the club-goers not joining them. Sara Nguyen and Casey are upset about having to cook in their cleavage-baring clubwear. Sara Mair doesn't get what their problem is, but Sara Mair is barely wearing a top at all, so clearly over-exposure isn't something that really makes her uncomfortable.

Lucky for Dale, he actually did win a prize: freedom from this Top Chef challenge entirely. He gets to go to dinner with Gorvind.

The chefs are separated into two teams. The black team has Hung, Sara M., Brian Malarkey and Tre Wilcox. The orange team has Chris Jacobsen (CJ), Sara, Casey, and everyone's favorite belligerent loner malcontent: Howie. Howie has proven the strength of his cooking ability, but despite that, no one wants to be on a team with this powder-keg. His presence brings the team spirit down immediately.

The other team, on the other hand, immediately bonds, probably just from the giddy joy of avoiding the team with Howie. The four happily divvy up the duties and the dishes, and figure they'll stick Brian out front with a raw bar in order to free up space in the “Roach Coach” style mobile kitchen.

Over to the orange kitchen. Howie has assumed the leadership role, which CJ, although leery of his temper, thinks is a good idea due to Howie's bar experience. Sara N. isn't too thrilled though, about this turn of events, nor about how her teammates ignore or shoot down her suggestions.

A trip to the grocery store only continues the team dynamics. Black team is happy, cheerful and working together. Orange is frantic and divided.

After the shopping is done, it's back to the mobile kitchens to prep and then serve the hungry drunkards. Brian acts as single-man pep squad for his team as he prepares oysters and ceviche at the raw bar. Tre makes a cheesy grits with bacon-wrapped shrimp, Hung makes a chicken wing and onion ring combo, and Sara M. makes a flank steak taco. The team works well together, and when the club-goers arrive, they get their food out efficiently and quickly and the partiers – including the judges – are pleased.

Things aren't going as well for orange. Sara is dragging with her sliders and milkshakes. CJ's ceviche seems only serviceable, and Howie's un-pressed variation of a Cuban sandwich is kind of a sacrilege in a town like Miami. Casey's quesadilla is tasty, but her chocolate-dipped banana is underwhelming.

CJ tries to chat up the crowd like Brian is doing, but the slow service coming from the kitchen – mainly due to Sara – means the bigger crowd is over at the black team's wagon.

Not surprisingly, at elimination, the judges decide that the black team is the winning team, and Tre is the winner overall. Then it's time for the orange team to hear their fate. Howie pretty much immediately offers up Sara as the weakest link. It might have been true, but for CJ and Casey, they weren't necessarily made aware of this soon enough to help do anything about it. Howie says that Sara is the “baby of the group” and needs everything done for her. Ouch!

Back in the waiting room, Howie tries to defend his comments, but everyone is just kind of over his outburst. Sara, crying, tells him he's “more of an a**hole every day.”

Maybe so – but the judges think an a**hole might still be a Top Chef, whereas Sara's inability to recover from the “demoralizing” effects of wearing a low-cut top to cook and being bossed around by Howie indicate she's not ready.

Sara is going home, but will the judges keep overlooking Howie's inability to work with others? Sure, a jerk can still make it as a chef, but this is a reality competition, not just a cooking contest. And jerks don't often come in first. What do you think? Will Howie's belligerent attitude harm him in the long run or if he continues to cook well, will it not matter? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)