Top Chef: Purple is not a fruit

Tricksy, Bravo. Very tricksy. Last week, Alex's sudden discovery of the microphone was taken as a clear indication that he was doomed. This week, Melissa takes the stage and screws up the formula. Are we supposed to believe she has an actual personality?

And are we supposed to believe that Stefan really does have the hots for Jamie? Jamie, who plays for the other team? Sure, she's cute. Sure, it's the Real World Syndrome. But do I think that it has anything to do with true love (lust), instead of alcohol and an attempt to get her off her game? No. If Stefan showed us anything this week, it's that he is a masterful check-raiser. But he's got some great shirts ("I make good babies"? Nice.).

The Quickfire is one of those cool spelling bee-style competitions we've gotten in seasons past. This time, the chefs will pair off and taste a sauce. The challenge is to say how many ingredients you could name, with the option of calling your opponent's bluff and forcing him to actually name as many as he says he can. Did I mention that Stefan's a good check-raiser? This is his game.

Round One is shrimp and lobster bouillabaisse (thank you, Bravo, for spelling it correctly). Eugene guesses fish sauce (fish sauce??), Stefan re-raises twice on Jamie (what was I saying about putting her off her game?) and then actually successfully names as many ingredients as he says he can.

Round Two is Thai green curry. After a very strong Round One performance, Hosea continues to nail his sauces. Stefan feigns non-confidence and then names eight ingredients. He's the friggin' Terminator. Radhika, meanwhile, can't call her own raise and fails.

Round Three is Mexican mole (actually "mole sauce," which is the same as saying a sandwich comes "with au jus"), and this final round is true spelling bee style. Carla flames out on the very first guess. It's down to Hosea and Stefan, and it is in fact Stefan who guesses wrong first (with tomato paste). Hosea nails his final ingredient, and is given winner's immunity for the week. Dude's got chops, for real.

Knife-draw for the Elimination round groups the chefs into four thematically divided teams: Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue. It's a wedding-themed challenge (Ariane tells us she knows because she's married; she's also old), and Gail glides in to tell the chefs that they'll be cooking for her bridal shower: forty chicks who LIKE TO EAT. UNH. Unless the food is veal or black beans. Gail doesn't play veal and black beans. Okay, veal -- but what's wrong with black beans?

Team Old (Hosea/Stefan/Jeff, looking like superpowers for sure) decides to go heirloom tomatoes and Old World classic recipes. Great concept. Team New (Daniel/Carla/Eugene) has some wacky ideas for how to express "new". Eugene suggests (shock) sushi. Eugene, meet pigeonhole.

Team Borrowed (Ariane/Jamie/Radhika) is the most discomfiting, as Jamie decides "hey, you're Indian, right? Let's do something with that!" But Jamie, Radhika's been trying this whole competition to get away from being the Indian one! Lastly, Team Blue (Fabio/Melissa/Leah) realizes there's no blue foods (literally, there "isn't no any blue freakin food"), and goes for emblematic rather than literal. Their main focus will be on the ocean.

At Whole Foods, no one gets behind the counter this time. Fabio continues to win me over little by little, and Daniel shows just what kind of tool he really is by appearing to buy store-made peach sorbet. Carla's running around using some kind of bird call she uses to attract her mate, but the rest of her team is strangely staying far, far away. Stefan is being a little patronizing to his teammates (he's been talking Jeff down for his savory tomato sorbet since they broke into teams).

Once the chefs get back into the kitchen, the menus start to come to life a bit. Tom arrives to pressure and intimidate the chefs (as he is wont to do), and is generally dubious of Team Blue's level of innovation (and also that they're trying to make blue corn blue--I mean, how could they??). Team New just makes him make googly eyes and get the hell out of there. He's anticipating a tough crowd of foodies at the shower.

Two very odd segments follow. The first is the night between prep days, with a group of chefs out on the balcony at night. They're all sitting, chatting...Daniel's standing there facing everyone doing bicep curls with some freeweights. Seriously, what is he? Meanwhile, Eugene decides that he's going to do his sushi banchan style, which means basically self-serve, or build-your-own. Stefan pooh-poohs that, remarking that "women don't want to make their own food." I can't believe that you've been twice-divorced, Stefan. Really.

The second odd segment is our weekly mid-break vignette. Stefan is crowding Jamie onto her (bunk) bed, bottle of beer in hand, pressuring her to kiss him; none of that tongue bullshit, just a kiss. Strangely (and remember how I said I thought she was a show stalker who just wanted to be a part of something on TV?), Carla is there too. It's like she's been photoshopped into the background of every scene.

The day of the shower arrives, and the chefs get prepping at Twenty Four Fifth. Fabio: "You don' wanna piss off the bride day before the wedding." Smart man. Team Old serves first; with all those hungry female eyes staring at the all-dude team, I'm reminded of the last scene in the Castle Anthrax from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Hosea's shaking hands are making his gazpacho glass rattle on the plate. It's kind of embarrassing!

Team Old offers a tomato carpaccio with sorbet, a gazpacho with mint, and a tomato terrine with eggplant and balsamic vinegar. Stefan thinks the sorbet is a complete wrong move; the diners all love it. On the other hand, they find his terrine a bit bland (that's what happens when you make a dish you can't taste before serving).

Team New has a mishmash of responsibility, which often translates in Top Chef-speak as "our whole concept is weak, and by spreading out the blame we hope to survive by attrition." Surf-n-turf build-your-own sushi, frisee salad in a wonton cup, something with peach barbecue sauce, and yuzu sorbet. The presentation is messy, and Eugene offers no explanation on what the diners are to do with the stiff sheets of nori plopped on their plates. Daniel, in a fit of what passes for creativity on his part, plops a couple mushrooms under Carla's salad as a "fun surprise." As a dog owner, I'm not fond of finding small brown surprises under anything. The diners aren't, either.

Team Borrowed is sweating their lamb. Ariane is the lamb cooker, Radhika is the lamb marinater and raita maker, and Jamie is the carrot puree-er and secret spice (vadouvan) provider. This team doesn't know jack shit about lamb if they think that what we saw on the screen is undercooked. I've eaten lamb served closer to raw than that, and I'm not in the culinary capital of the world. Radhika, indignantly: "I'm not serving rare lamb to these women." Um, why? As it turns out, they all love it. Actually, the whole course goes over quite nicely.

Team Blue, with their blue corn-crusted Chilean sea bass, roasted corn puree, and Swiss chard, nominate Fabio to do the talking. He's so dreamy. And it completely works. Panties all be droppin'. It's like one of those knife demonstrations at the mall; "ooh!" "ahhh" "ha ha ha!" Unfortunately, the food does not similarly entrance them. "Old people food" is one phrase used to describe it. Gail is concerned about the political correctness of serving sea bass. Pfft...women.

Guest judge, and Food and Wine editor, Dana Cowin joins the regulars for a bit of criticism. Teams Old and Borrowed are the clear frontrunners, and they're summoned to Judges' Table. The star of Team Old's strong lineup was indeed Jeff's sorbet (take that Stefan, who looks part pissed, part abashed). Jamie's vadouvan carrot puree was subtle for having such big flavors, and the lamb was perfect in every way. The winner, clearly, is the one who brought the best flavor to the table...Ariane? No one standing there expected that, including Ariane. She didn't, and correct me if I'm wrong, provide any flavor. She cooked meat.

Team Old People Food and Team Mushrooms Look Like Poop are brought out for their beatdown. The judges, especially Tom, are none too pleased with either team. Eugene and Carla acknowledge that their plate was flawed, but crazy old Daniel is happy as a pig in shit about it. It is at this point that it was obvious he was done. He's got some kind of mental disorder, and that's saying something when he's standing next to Carla.

After Daniel and Eugene make sure they know each others' phone numbers (despair abounds), and Team Blue is given a stern warning about not sucking anymore, Daniel is indeed dismissed. Crazy and completely tone deaf, his obnoxious beard and manic demeanor will probably not be missed by any TC fans. His only defense? There are wrong decisions in football games, too. Wha??

Next week, Martha Stewart, more event catering, and an apparent refrigeration malfunction.