STARS AND STRIPES Except there were no stars and the only stripes are on Padma's pants.
At its heart, the challenge asked the contestants to make a dish that highlighted their chosen ingredient. The teams split up and discussed their plans of action. Some chose to truly make their ingredient the center of their dish, like Lizzie and Danyele, who took coconut curry chocolate and made some sort of chocolate dessert (never mind that they were supposed to be making lunch). Others just used their ingredient as a garnish. CJ and Tyler, a burger with pickles? How inspired! Not. And that was the problem with this challenge as a whole. No one was especially creative. And when the groups did get imaginative, they also got weird. Now I know there's not a lot you can do with rose petal jelly, but dousing duck and cabbage with it doesn't seem like the best idea.
Another issue was the fact that no one wanted to speak up for themselves. I get that there's tension within the groups and no one wants to cause a problem, but come on! Tyler wanted to use the spicy dill pickles to make an oyster dish, which sounds absolutely revolting to me, but at least it's more creative than his partner CJ's pork burger. CJ may be a veteran of Top Chef, but that does not make him better than you Tyler. Speak up for yourself! Similarly, John was concerned that Josh wasn't properly searing the pork, while Josh opposed cutting the pork into medallions in the first place. But neither said anything and then they were later called out on both by the judges. Why didn't they just talk to each other? Readers, it stresses me out.
The moment of truth came: the judges -- Hugh Acheson, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and, of course, Padma -- and vendors assembled. Four dishes were brought out first. Brooke and Stefan's rose petal jelly-based duck was deemed too sugary, while the duck was labeled "tough." John and Josh's pork medallions and popcorn grits were just as unpopular. "Those grits suck," Hugh said bluntly. The meat wasn't a hit either, with judges criticizing both the shape and the cooking. Micah and Kristen's cheese curds fared no better, while Bart and Sheldon's candied salmon salad was tasty, but lacking in its central ingredient.
The next three dishes did even worse. CJ and Tyler's burger was "soggy" and would have worked better as a slider. Its biggest strike was the lack of creativity in using the spicy dill pickles. Eliza and Josie brought out the cardamom bitters' flavor in their fishy broth, but the dish was thought to be too salty. Tom seemed especially disappointed with Lizzie and Danyele's coconut curry chocolate dessert, complaining about its lack of firmness (specifically using the word "squirt" -- ew). Ladies and gentleman, challenge failed.
NEXT: Nobody likes a whiner.