Top Chef: Season Three, Episode Nine
Episode Overview:  Last week, the chefs all received an unexpected reprieve when the judges decided that the first battle in Restaurant Wars was a draw.  With the critiques from Judges' Table as their guides, the two teams set out to try, try again.   Working together, one team makes the improvements the judges were hoping to see, while the other wishes they'd never heard the phrase "do-over."  On an individual level, it's Top Chef  Freaky  One chef who'd previously flown under the radar at best and seemed seriously mediocre at worst makes some real strides, while another cheftestant who has been one of the strongest competitors so far heads into a decline so fast it's a basically a nosedive.


The chefs are trying to recover from their failures in the restaurant challenge, but a note slipped under the door with the harsh comments of the undercover food blogger who reviewed their soft opening isn't helping.  The Garage team, consisting of Sara Mair, Dale Levitski, Howie Kleinberg and Hung Huynh, doens't much like to hear it, but are willing to take the criticism if it will make their next go-round better.

The chefs head back to the Top Chef kitchen to find out what's next.  Padma Lakshmi tells them that for this next effort in Restaurant Wars, the teams will have to provide two options for each course.  However, to help out, Tom Colicchio says they will be able to use the services of a sommelier he knows and $200 extra to send on wine.  Why am I feeling this might be a chance for a cameo by Season One's Steven?

Now that immunity isn't at stake, the Quickfire Challenge can be team-based, and so this one is.  It's a mise-en-place challenge; a chance for the teams to compete to see who can do the basic prep work for the kitchen the fastest.  For once, Hung's frenetic nature is something his teammates are thrilled rather than dismayed to see. 

The first part of the challenge is oyster shucking.  On team April, Brian Malarkey is a seafood chef, so he's a natural with oysters.  Tre Wilcox is fast with chickens, and so this leaves Casey Johnson and Chris Jacobsen (CJ) to divvy up beating egg whites or dicing onions.  Casey picks onions because it's not "brain science."

Howie is not fast and he knows it, but he's assigned to oysters.  Sara will do onions, Hung will handle the chickens and Dale will whip the eggs.

Howie slows down his team with the oysters, but not too badly, and Sara is able to make up the time as she totally decimates Casey, who's working ridiculously slowly, and, it appears, with not the best knife.  It's absurd, even Hung is aggravated by it and he's on the other team.  But Sara finishes first, and Hung gets to work on the chickens.  Speedy Hung even impresses Chef Colicchio.  He finishes and Dale starts beating eggs.  He finishes before Tre finishes breaking down his chickens, and so it's a win for Team April.

After the world's most awkward series of half high-fives and uncertain hugs, the "Bad News Bears," as Dale calls his team, are thrilled for their win. 

Tom lets them know that both teams will also get some other assistance, namely the input of a restaurant design guru, Christopher Ciccone.  That's right, Madonna's brother.  And also right: he's the jerky guy from the first service.

The chefs swallow their pride and give Madonna's brother the chance to help him improve.  While he won't win any prizes for congeniality, Madonna's brother is good at what he does, and the teams both think his input will help their spaces become more refined.

 The chefs shop and have to make some last-minute adjustments to their menus in order to capitalize on what is available.  At the wine shop, as expected the sommelier is in fact poncey Steven from Season One.  Although his rather pompous persona can be off-putting, Hung admits he knows what he's talking about and his suggestions will be valuable to the team.  Casey and Brian, meanwhile, have to muddle through the wine selection process as best they can on their own.

Team Garage decides they need a name change, and opt for the French word for four, "Quatre."  Madonna's brother does not like it, but they decide to move forward with it anyway.

Padma, on-again/off-again judge Ted Allen, and guest judge Geoffrey Zakarian, arrive for service.  Tom is going to hang out in the kitchen this time and observe, so all the chefs are feeling that pressure and on their best behavior.

The first restaurant to serve is Quatre.  Ted Allen is not very impressed that Dale is running around in short sleeves and jeans, but the food is good enough to make up for his casual attire.  Other than the lack of originality in the tuna tartare selection, and slightly underdone meat, the food seems to please.  Back in the kitchen, Sara has stepped into an authorative role with no problem.  Howie isn't loving it, but it seems to be working in the team's best interest.  Sara Nguyen and Joey Paulino, recently eliminated, return to eat in Quatre, where Joey correctly identifies the underdone meat as Howie's creation.  Dale has to keep a leash on the "ostentatious chatterbox" that is Steven the sommelier, but all in all, no major missteps from Team Quatre.

Next the judges head to Restaurant April, and things head south quickly.  Although there are few issues with decor or service, unfortunately the food itself is not up to par.  Tre says he's trying to be mellow in the kitchen, but maybe a little heavy-handed authority Sara-style would have been in order.  Then again, maybe his attitude was moot as it appears it's not just how the food was made but actually the design of the dishes themselves that isn't working tonight.  Too many of the dishes served are either unmemorable or truly awful.  Ted thinks his salmon with pesto is one of the "worst" dishes he's had in a while. 

Wow, it seriously looks like there is no way that Tre can escape going home tonight; he is the executive chef, so ultimately, responsibility for these dishes rests on his shoulders.

So what is the verdict?  It does, ultimately, all come down to leadership.   Quatre, as a team, is chosen the best, and Sara is the overall winner for her strong hand in the kitchen.  April is called to the carpet, and although each member of the team failed in one way or another, ultimately, it all comes back to Tre.  Tre is packing his knives and leaving!

At first, it's surprising and disappointing - as Tre is a very likeable guy.  And it initially seemed like this was a perfect example of the flaws of judging someone just on one challenge (in the Top Chef Watch What Happens special the judges mentioned they are compelled to judge this way).  However, looking back, I remembered that Tre has been on the bottom in the past.  He seems to either be absolutely top notch in what he cooks, or maybe risks too much and winds up making something that really misses the mark.  However, with his mellow nature and mature and professional manner, he certainly carried himself as a winner.  It's a shame to see him go.

What do you think?  How do you feel about the chefs who are left, and as the numbers are thinned, who are you rooting for to make it to be the ultimate Top Chef?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)