Originally aired on Wednesday, 06/20/2007

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

Episode Overview: The chefs are back for round two in Top Chef; some chefs are trying to stay on top, while others are fighting their way back from the bottom.


Episode Highlights:

  • The challenges this week focus on the food and flavors of Florida and beach living.
  • One chef goes from the top to the bottom and back again from last week to this.
  • Another chef’s bad attitude is making waves amongs the other chefs.

Last week the chefs all faced their very first elimination on Top Chef, and some are still reeling.  Brian Malarkey, whose eel and snake surf and turf landed him in the bottom is trying to regroup and refocus for the next competition.  Howie Kleinberg, also in the bottom, isn’t content to just step up his game, this time around, he’s determined to win.

Sandee Birdsong is there to compete, obviously, but as she is new to cooking – she just started three years ago – she’s also thrilled at how much she is learning.

Other chefs, though, are just trying to wake up.  Micah Edelstein is not loving living with the other chefs and warns them all that she is not a morning person.

The chefs head to the kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge.  Host Padma Lakshmi introduces the chefs to the guest judge, South Florida restauranteur and chef Norman Van Aken.  He will be evaluating their efforts with the main ingredient for the Quickfire: Florida “sunshine” – citrus fruits.

With the wide array of options, most chefs seem inspired, but Micah is feeling strangely more stumped by the citrus than by the geoduck she cooked with last episode. 

This challenge is the first time that all the chefs have been in the kitchen with one another, and they are feeling a little crowded and challenged by the whole group.  Hung Huynh and Tre Wilcox seem to not mind working near each other as they both seem to feel the other is their only competition in the kitchen.  There seems to be a respectful friendly rivalry between the two.

Norman makes the rounds to try out the dishes.  Chris Jacobsen, aka CJ, seems to have a hit on his hands until Norman discovers an errant seed.  Sandee’s trio of citrus flavors doesn’t impress Norman much when he has to remove a sprig from his citrus flavored shot.  Michah’s avocado soup has become avocado pudding – and this is not a desirable texture.  Lia Bardeen left shell in her salad.  Dale Levitski‘s dish needs oil. 

By the time Norman gets to Sara Nguyen, she is shaken.  She hadn’t expected such criticism, and when it comes time to describe her dish, she can barely get the words out.  This doesn’t impress Norman much.

The next few dishes do, though, with Hung, Tre, Howie, Brian and Joey Paulino all receiving kudos for their efforts.

The bottom three for the challenge are Sandee, Sara N. and Micah.  The top three are CJ (despite the seed), Hung and Tre.  Hung wins, and this ticks off Joey who felt he deserved to be in the top three.

 With the Quickfire out of the way, it’s time to move onto the Elimination Challenge.  The chefs will have $200, two hours of prep and two hours onsite cooking to create an upscale barbeque. 

Tre is thrilled; he’s from Texas and feels that BBQ is a slam dunk for him.  Howie, who’s local, feels he knows the kind of Miami crowd that will show and knows he needs to step up his game.

At the market, the choice of protein is key.  Brian goes out on a limb buying all seafood.   Micah, saying she misses her daughter and seeming that her heart isn’t in this, buys lamb because it’s on sale. 

Back at the kitchen, frenzied prep begins.  Hung is a ball of energy, bouncing around at “nearly a dead sprint” says Lia.  Micah, on the other hand, is a self-described “grump” although the others think it’s more sour grapes at losing the Quickfire than missing her daughter. 

Sandee seems to have the “upscale” part of the challenge downpat, with lobster and pancetta as focal points.  But it’s debatable if it’s actually BBQ, as she is mainly using the heat source to braise the lobster in butter.  She seems to want to avoid falling into a cliched take, since she is from the South, but one wonders if she’s taken it too far.

Tre has opted for salmon, and is focused on winning, saying he is a strong competitor.  Howie is going for a Jamaican jerk recipe, but wonders himself if it’s upscale enough.  He seems to think his strong work ethic will pull him through.  Brian is really taking some risks, doing a seafood sausage.   Sara N. is struggling with her peppers; she didn’t realize that the Scotch Bonnets she selected are among the hottest you can buy.  She cuts them up barehanded and ends up with stinging hands.  She also doesn’t have time to pull them from her pickle when time is called.  Because the heat in a pepper grows over time, this means her pickle is going to be unbearably hot by the morning.

The next day, the chefs kick off their prep.  For some, like Sara N., the task of starting the fire is a little much.  Sara N. has barbequed before, but hasn’t had to actually start the fire herself.  Tre is feeling confident, telling Tom Colicchio  that he could do BBQ in his sleep.

After Tom does his rounds, he lists some concerns.  He thinks that Joey’s dish isn’t upscale enough, Sandee’s isn’t actually BBQ, and Howie jumped the gun by cooking his meat too early, drying it out.

The guests arrive and begin to mingle and try the dishes.  Hung’s dish does well, but Joey is ticked (again) because he thinks Hung stole his cocktail idea from Joey’s Quickfire drink.  Brian pleases the guests with his food and his patter.  One woman puts back Tre’s dish as too salty.

After the event, it’s time to judge.  Micah, Sara N. and Brian are called back first, and it’s to learn they are the three top chefs.  Micah’s lamb had a good combination of flavors, as did Sara’s.  Brian’s creativity really impressed the judges, and they see his success this week as the flip side of his failed risk-taking last episode.

Now Tre, Joey, Howie, and  Sandee head back to hear they are in the bottom.  Tre’s is called out for being either over- or under-seasoned based on which batch the guest got.  He also gets dinged for his cocky attitude saying he could do it in his sleep.  Joey’s homestyle BBQ didn’t meet the upscale requirement, and his desire to serve his food super-hot made it difficult for the guests to eat.  Sandee’s shocked to be in the bottom, but the judges say the food was neither tasty nor true BBQ.  Howie is there for his overcooked meat and underwhelming concept.

Joey is asked who should go, and despite the fact that he didn’t taste Howie’s while he did taste Sandee’s and Tre’s, he points the finger at Howie.  Howie is ticked and responds by saying that Joey is a complainer.   Joey confronts Howie in the room after the judging and Howie calls him a little girl and barks right back.

When the four chefs come back, the judges outline where each judge failed the “upscale BBQ” concept.  Ultimately, it’s Sandee’s failure that seems the worst to the judges.  She is going home, to the huge disappointment of her fellow judges, who momentarily cheer when she comes back in the room, thinking she is safe.  Even hardcore Hung, who’s made it clear he’s not there for friends, says that Sandee is a cool person and that she will be missed.

See you back here next week to see which chef is next to pack his or her knives and go!

– Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of BravoTV) 


Staff Columnist, BuddyTV