Top Chef: Shut up, Toby. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

I hate to give the chefs, especially Eric Ripert, short shrift with this week's recap title, but it needs to be said as often as possible. The Toby Young Era needs to come to a close immediately if not sooner. Pablo fucking Escolar? Are you kidding me? This wouldn't even be funny in print; in person, it's the pinnacle of that cheek-flushing embarrassment that you feel for all of mankind for having to share a genome with this clapper-monkey.

I wanted to title this recap something about za'atar, the heretofore unknown spice who got top billing throughout much of the Elimination Challenge. Props if you picked za'atar in your Top Chef Fantasy League draft; you earned some points last night. It joins vadouvan and last year's ras al hanout on the "Hesaywhat?" Index of Top Chef seasonings. Still don't know that Penzey's will be seeing a run on either, but who knows?

The producers are clearly trying to burn us out with the surety of knowing that face-time with the Sidekick 2 will get a brother eliminated, because it's been wrong as often as it's been right this season. Fabio gets to call home to the wifey this time, and it's as yelly and multilingual an affair as you'd hope or expect. I just wanna peench his cheeks.

Everyone's favorite French teddy bear chef, Eric Ripert, is waiting with Padma in the kitchen. Just in time for the announcement of his new show, conspicuously not on Bravo. I'd guess that he's annoyed with being billed in the press as "frequent Top Chef guest judge" almost more than "award-winning chef of Le Bernardin," but I don't think dude gets annoyed at anyone. Could there be a better or more likeable foil for someone like Anthony Bourdain? Don't think so.

The Quickfire Challenge will pay respect to Ripert's reputation as a piscatorial whiz; the chefs will compete in a three-round fish prep tournament. Round one: fillet two sardines, using Ripert's. Soft, small, and with delicate bone structure, these guys prove a challenge for pretty much everyone except Stefan (typical). Jamie and Carla are eliminated, while Leah of all people does a respectable job and finishes second (despite whining, "I should just go home right now" while considering her crappy track record with fish).

Round two: arctic char, same task. This time, Leah actually just stops in mid-debone, and gives up. She literally gives up, retires, stops working. Just stands there, arms crossed, looking pathetic. This time, Hosea's fish knowledge shines through and he is clearly the best of this round. Fabio and of course Leah are done.

Round three: this is the one everyone was waiting for. Freshwater eel, freshly killed but still twitching and writhing. It's Hosea vs. Stefan (again!) FTW. Hosea has clearly never watched Iron Chef, as he is clueless to that which Stefan is hep: nail down the head and peel back from there. Stefan's technique is pro-level, and his station is immaculate afterwards. Hosea's fillets look like hell, although in a vacuum they're not bad for a first-timer. Stefan takes the win.

Eric invites all the chefs over for lunch at Le Bernardin the following day, and naturally this means that they all wake up at 10:30. Lazy bastards. Tom and Eric are waiting for them at the table. Everyone will enjoy a six-course meal...which should have been clue enough as to the Elimination Challenge, although it's not made clear until after the meal. Each chef will have to re-create one of the six dishes they just enjoyed (or not, in the case of Jamie, who was bored with the food by the third course).

Stefan, as QF winner, gets to choose. The rest go to the knife block. He picks the baked lobster with asparagus and hollandaise; Hosea tells the confessional that this is typical Stefan, and the dish is the easiest of the six. Maybe, but dude beat your ass in the QF, fish man. You win, you get to pick the easy dish.

The knives assign the rest: Carla gets oil-poached escolar with potato crisps in a red wine béarnaise. Hosea chooses za'atar-spiced monkfish with black garlic. Uninterested and sucky Leah selects the very alliterative baked mahi mahi with white miso and matsutake mushroom miso sauce. Fabio will prepare the sourdough-encrusted red snapper (or znapper, as he says it) with basil consomme. Lastly, sourpuss Jamie is awarded the sauteed black bass with braised celery and Serrano ham peppercorn sauce. That was the dish she disliked the most from the meal, and I'm sorry to say that it serves her right for being a grouch.

The chefs will get two hours to prep and practice, as well as receive some constructive criticism from Chef Ripert, and then will head to the Le Bernardin main kitchen to do the final cooking for the judges.

There are some new experiences for the chefs in this challenge, which is a very good thing. Jamie's never broken down a Serrano ham. Carla's never poached in olive oil before. Hosea's never used za'atar (who has?). On the other hand, Stefan's old hat at pulling out lobster butts, and someone somewhere assigned Leah to be the head fish cook at a restaurant. With her lack of intuition and technique (see: big, Paula Deen-sized hunk of butter in her miso sauce), I don't know that I'd assign her to make cat food.

Line of the night isn't so much of a line as it is a phrase. Fabio's delightful pronunciation results in him calling Eric Ripert (pronounced like "repair") "Eric Ripper," like he was some sort of serial killer. Now that show would not be on PBS.

When Eric the Ripper comes around to check up on the chefs, it's clear there's still work to be done. Hosea has shellacked his monkfish in za'atar, and Stefan cooked what should have been raw asparagus. We learn later that Jamie "didn't have time" for Eric to taste her dish, so she went without critique. Friggin' martyr complex. Quit being such a grumpy asshole.

The time has come for the chefs to serve the judges (Ripert, Colicchio, Padma, and the insufferable Toby Young). Fabio's znapper goes first, and I'd like to add that it was very nice of Bravo to include side-by-side photos of the original dish and the TC recreation. Clearly, Fabio over-toasted the sourdough; it's too done, and too thick anyway. While the subtlety is lacking (a common theme, as you will see), Eric is generally pleased and thinks the flavor is very close.

Leah struggles to get her fish cooked evenly, and serves an inconsistent meal to the judges. Eric's is overcooked, Tom's is undercooked. She looks dour and mopey, as usual. Only the flavor of ginger comes through, and everything else is muted and bland (kind of like Leah!). The miso is almost completely absent, as she just plopped a little bit under each piece of fish. The sauce is oily (hello, butter) and doesn't integrate with the miso at all. Toby also takes an inexplicable and apropos-of-nothing shot at Caribbean fish. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

Ahem. Stefan goes next, and plates some fine looking lobster along with a hollandaise that looks more like spinach-artichoke dip. Eric reveals at the table that they make theirs in a blender, while Stefan did it by hand. Even with the beyond-viscous sauce, Padma tells Eric that Stefan is "dangerously nipping at [his] heels." Clearly, Stefan is the front-runner once again.

Longshot Carla, though, has something to say about that. She's classically trained in French cooking, mind you. While 20 minutes is insufficient to get the frying oil hot enough for her chips, she deduces that the red wine "béarnaise" isn't really a béarnaise and nails it. Eric, who appeared to be warming to Carla at lunch, praises her faithfulness to the original concept. Tom is impressed.

Hosea the fish man comes up with his monkfish, and he's not riding a wave of confidence, exactly. His fish looks wet, sloppy, and overseasoned -- and turns out to be wet, sloppy, and overseasoned. The fish, Eric explains, is seared before seasoning is applied, rather than encrusted (wouldn't the menu have called it "encrusted," Hosea?) before cooking. The sauce is pretty close to a match, though, so at least Hosea's doing something right. Still, Tom criticizes him for being the fish guy and apparently not knowing that monkfish needs to rest before being sliced. It's bad when you're even less precise than Leah, bro.

Jamie pops up from inside her garbage can to offer up a lackluster piece of black bass. In her creative lethargy, she leaves the celery over heat for too long, and it reduces to nothing but overcooked celery and salt. Yum! She knows it, and has to serve it anyway. Meh meh meh. It's a salt lick. The dish looks close, but Toby's hyperbole-meter is pegged on the less-than-mediocrity of Jamie's performance. Eric, to his credit, is obviously and rightfully uncomfortable with Toby's method of expression. Good on ya, Eric.

Padma comes to the stew room and calls out Fabio, Stefan, and Carla. They're the obvious top three. Stefan, pleased with his performance, is only knocked for his thick sauce, and knocked lightly at that. The only thing that will keep him from winning this is whether degree of difficulty, and the distance between baseline skill and how close the chefs came to approximating Eric's skill, will weigh more heavily than whether the final dish tasted close to the original.

Carla is the obvious competition for Stefan this time around. While Fabio defeated Eric's expectation of burned bread and made a respectable and tasty znapper, Carla took arguably the most challenging dish and picked up on the right hints and took the food in the right direction. There were no major flaws to her recreation; only the soggy chips. If only Toby were as flawless. His "Pablo Escolar" line was forced, unfunny, and clearly left the room in awkward silence for a few beats.

But in the end, even Carla's superlative effort could not carry her past Stefan's excellent technique and mimicry; he wins one hell of a prize. He'll get to shadow Eric at his three restaurants, get put up at a swanky hotel, and then accompany Ripert to the Food and Wine Festival at Pebble Beach. Oh, and he gets a copy of Eric's book too.

Out come the losers, and everyone at the judges' table is scowling except Ripert. Seriously, how could anyone not like this guy? Hosea takes his lumps for the errors of his technique, and at least claims that he knows what he did wrong without the judges telling him. True or not, Tom gives him credit for proper hindsight (that's always been a little bewildering to me, that the judges buy that as often as they do).

Leah, on the other hand, had no understanding of her dish whatsoever. Clearly wasn't paying attention at lunch, and presented an un-subtle, greasy pile of blah. Tom also calls her out for quitting during the Quickfire; he asks if she feels like this it the time to quit the whole thing, and of course she speaks up for her renewed conviction.

Padma wished she could have quit Jamie's course (that's how you do a cornball pun, Toby), as it was unpleasant both to the tongue and to the eye. Tom notes again that she appears to "get it," but couldn't put "it" into practice. The dish was basically inedible, however. That's not good.

So despite a complete failure in all aspects of chefdom (and a really ugly duckface pout), Leah survives another week and is now one elimination away from the final four (which appears to be the predetermined goal of this season). Jamie's awful black bass, born of a terrible attitude toward things she dosn't like, gets her booted. I won't miss her; she did nothing to endear herself to anyone but herself, as far as I'm concerned.

Next week: There's apparently Vaseline and a star filter on the lens as the chefs try to not embarrass Tom in front of Wiley Dufresne and some old guy who could die. And Fabio damn near cuts off a finger.