Last week, the judges thinned the herd a bit: We said goodbye to a cocky, moonfaced 22-year-old chef who did unspeakable things to a pig carcass, a zen vegan who struggled with a sloppy plating job, and a bunch of other forgettable cheftestants who hardly had a chance. This week, we have one more group of chefs competing for jackets before we get to the most exciting event, the qualifying round for the not-quite-losers who remain on the bubble.
The third group of 10 file into the splendidly shiny-floored Top Chef kitchen and are greeted by Tom, Padma, who's looking more and more like a Na'vi this year, and new judge Hugh Acheson. I’m not quite sold on Hugh as a judge. I still haven’t forgiven him for snapping at that mouthy student scientist on his season of Top Chef Masters, in which he packed his knives and went not once but two times. I do, however, admire his bravery in proudly letting his uni-brow grow thick and healthy. It’d be so easy to tweeze or wax, but maybe those few hundred hairs at the crux of his t-section are the source of his culinary mojo.
For the challenge, there are 10 trays, each of which holds an ingredient and another plate covered by a cloche. (I don’t think I’d ever used the word “cloche” prior to a couple months ago when I bought a pair of them as a wedding gift -- they really class up your takeout). The chefs must decide on their ingredients amongst themselves without knowing what lies under the cloches. Chefs Andrew Curren and Ashley Villaluz rock-paper-scissor over the mushrooms -- Andrew wins, thus tempting fate and creating an alternate timeline in which Ashley won the mushrooms. Other than that, the choosing of ingredients progresses uneventfully. Ashley and Chaz Brown’s picks are influenced by their spouses back home -- good idea? We'll see.
I expected something truly disgusting like ox blood or sweetbreads to be under the cloches (drink every time you encounter the word “cloche” today!), but it’s something far scarier: clocks revealing how little time the chefs have to prepare their dishes. Depending on how long it takes for each of their ingredients to cook, the chefs either have 20, 40, or 60 minutes for the challenge. Although the time limits seem to be staggered fairly, I do feel for the 20-minute group; the time it takes to do certain things like gather supplies and plate dishes is somewhat fixed no matter what you’re cooking, and 20 minutes is nothing.
Further, I have a feeling the critiques will be especially harsh this heat. The judges didn’t do the best job rationing their jackets last week, so they’re going to be pretty stingy this time around.
NEXT: Andrew gets his shrooms