Adding to the weird tension was just how many pots were boiling. The kitchen seemed extra frantic and hazardous this week, and I wasn't at all surprised when Shirley got splashed by scalding water. Most of those pots, by the way, were probably Nicholas'. He was trying to do an absurd amount of cooking. He took his insanity to another level when he all but accused Carlos of turning the temperature on the oven from 275 to 500 degrees, causing his quinoa to burn. Nicholas, perhaps you were too busy trying to create a life-size carrot sculpture of Tom to notice that you were incinerating your quinoa? I'm just glad none of the teenage servers got hurt in the process.
Umm. Speaking of which, that brings us to another awkward part of the episode... I thought the decision to use all those young kids as the waitstaff and not as guest judges or something presented a problematic image. They did, however, provide some great, perceptive commentary about the food.
Shirley, fresh off her Quickfire win, started things off with a seared snapper with crustacean broth, a disk of silken tofu, and Napa cabbage. Basically the chefs had nothing to say but, "SO GOOD. DROOL."
This week, Nina had a real make-it-work moment. Her agnolotti was breaking apart due to the heat, so she adapted and decided on a house-made fettuccine instead. The judges' praise was nearly as glowing as it was for Shirley's dish. The charred calamari turned out perfect as well.
From the start, Shirley knew Brian's choice to serve boneless, skinless chicken for this challenge was nuts. You don't need to resort to boneless, skinless chicken unless you're crash-dieting to get in shape to play a superhero in a Marvel movie. School cafeterias use it as a cheap, easy way to inject a boost of protein into kids' bodies. You don't use it to impress Tom Colicchio. Most of the judges thought the dish was pretty tasty, but they couldn't get over the meat and an undercooked potato on Emeril's plate.
Carlos was freakishly prepared to serve his braised pork belly dish. It was as if he knew he wanted to serve it all season, and he chose a challenge this late in the game to finally show it off. Everything on the plate was harmonious, and Emeril loved that you could taste every element.
For all the crazy work Nicholas was putting into his log cabin made out of carrots, his dish turned out looking plain, sad, and chunky. The tuna looked recently thawed. I loved how the description of the dish just said, "Several preparations of carrot and fennel." Favreau joked, "This was inspired by the comedy of Carrot Top?" Padma appreciated the sophistication of the sauces, but Tom wasn't impressed by the slices of raw carrot and thought nothing was linking the sauce and the tuna together -- perhaps the quinoa would have achieved that. The Café Reconcile kids put it best. "It's not nasty or nothing... It's just too gooey." From the mouths of babes.
When it came down to picking a winner, it was a tough call, but it ultimately went to Shirley. It seemed like the right decision -- the judges all had specific things they loved about Nina and Carlos' dishes, but when it came to Shirley's, they were just like, "YUMMY." Her dish just hit them in the gut.
The two-way race for worst was almost too close to call. Brian chose a lame ingredient kind of as a lack of ambition. Nicholas was ridiculously, stupidly ambitious and failed to execute. Who failed more egregiously? Whose judgment was most clouded? In the end, they chose to eliminate Brian. For me, it was a toss-up, although I would have loved to see Nicholas' pride beget his fall. (Ooh, Biblical.)
Has Nicholas unfairly gotten this far? Is Shirley now the frontrunner? Is quinoa-gate the new pea puree?