Top Chef - If at first you don't succeed...

There was, quite frankly, a shitload of cookery tonight. So much, in fact, that the traditional opening pun of this season of Top Chef was set aside in favor of a silent cliche, to save time: cherry blossoms. Okay, so we never have to spend any time on those again this season.

This week's Quickfire was a somewhat bizarre challenge paying homage to Padma and Tom, two new parents on the Top Chef crew. To win $10,000, the chefs will have to create a dish that is satisfying for the adult, and both puree-able and culinarily appropriate for the baby. Thankfully, they didn't also have to pour it over bread and bake it into a prison-safe casserole.

Oh yeah, and there would be two Quickfire winners, one chosen by each of the parents. I wanted to make a comment with the last recap about Amanda (the former drug abuser) getting into a fight with Alex (the one chef who might actually sell her drugs), but decided to be nice instead. Lo and behold, Alex commented this time around about how he'd spend his $10k on "a hooker and an eight ball, please." Readers, you tell me: is he legitimately gross, or a saucier gangster just posturing for the cameras?

So, we learned a few things about the chefs this week. Kenny also lost a wife to an early demise. Angelo is probably as obnoxiously pedantic with his son as he is on the show. Stephen doesn't understand that finely brunoised apples won't be a choking hazard to a baby after they're pureed. And Lynne is remarkably boring, even when she's indignant about being ignored. Okay, maybe that wasn't much of a revelation.

It's hard to analyze dishes that are meant to be pureed, but props to the judges for eating both the grown-up and baby versions. Angelo, annoying as he is, made a very pretty layered puree of his poached tuna with fenugreek broth. Lynne's flavors were nice and translated well to puree. But Tom chose Tamesha's textured vegetable chowder and salmon puree and innovative licorice oil, while Padma picked Kenny's grilled chicken and mango salad-slash-very dangerous choking hazard. ::eyeroll for stephen::

There are often little threads that connect the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges--there were no such connections this week, at least that I could discern. The chefs were asked to plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals for the Hilton family of restaurants, suitable for room delivery. Fresh, healthy, creative, and easily executable by the kitchen staff. The chefs were told to pair off, and to prepare to cook tourney-style. Breakfast and lunch would see two teams each be declared safe, while dinner would pit the last three in a battle royale for survival. Both chefs on the losing team would be eliminated.

Teams: Tim/Tiffany, Stephen/Amanda, Arnold/Lynne, Alex/Ed, Kevin/Kenny, Kelly/Andrea, Angelo/Tamesha. Past contestants Spike Mendelsohn, Mike Isabella, and Bryan Voltaggio were the guest diners, along with Beth Scott of Hilton and DC chef Nora Pouillon of Nora.

With 30 minutes for breakfast, I counted four hollandaises in this fresh-n-healthy challenge. Ed and Alex crashed and burned, with Ed dropping the ball on their hollandaise as well as the central prosciutto/potato cake on one of the plates. Amanda and Stephen were safe with a confit of pancetta and poached egg dish, as were Tim and Tiffany for their fairly predictable but nonetheless tasty crab cake Benedict with asparagus and an unnecessary potato hash.

The clock moved to 45 minutes for lunch prep, and the remaining chefs amplified their anxieties. Kelly got all desperate and morose, while Kenny and Angelo both fueled themselves on being pissed at not winning the first round. (Angelo also spends some time praising the hot, "inner lion"-ness of Tamesha, as well as making direct and unveiled innuendo about wanting to sleep with her. I'm really not sure what his game is, but I fear it's no less misogynistic than Isabella at his worst.) Alex and Ed rebounded from their disastrous breakfast with a strong ricotta gnudi and diver scallop dish. Angelo and Tamesha produced a two-dimensional beef carpaccio, but the complimentary flavors of jicama, Asian pear, cilantro and kimchi seemed strong. Andrea and Kelly, on the other hand, served uncooked canned beans in their panzanella and overcooked their red snapper; Padma would have sent it back, while Eric would never have sent it out to begin with. Ouch.

Dinner service was granted a full hour, and the attitude problems between Lynne and Arnold are getting pronounced. Lynne pushed for a late start to the squid ink pasta, while Arnold wanted to make sure there was enough time to get it cooked properly. The other two teams prepared beef short ribs, which portended that one would make it and one would be up for elimination. Indeed, Kevin and Kenny were relegated to the bottom two with Arnold and Lynne and their mussels, while not only did Kelly and Andrea survive the round, but were given the overall win. They get to pick from a 6-night trip to either Barcelona or Venice as a reward. Well then.

I have a problem with this, in that there seemed to be two options for the judges. Either the judges planned on giving the win to the best dish of the dinner round--which is odd, since that team would have by definition produced poor to mediocre breakfast and lunch dishes--or they were prepared to call out a "safe" team to reward a good breakfast or lunch dish--which would have made Judges' Table kind of complicated. I just don't think the challenge was framed right for the selection of an overall winner (if at first you don't succeed, try try again until we are forced to give you the win); it was great for finding a loser, though.

Well, mostly great. The complaints leveled against each team were pretty nitpicky. Kevin and Kenny's short ribs lacked sufficient glaze (as always, Tom cuts through the BS to point out where the team went wrong in executing the dish), and the inclusion of horseradish was too soft-pedaled. Lynne and Arnold had a nice concept and the sauce was great, but the pasta was sorely undercooked; this was, of course, 100% Lynne's fault and in the face of Arnold's repeated suggestions. Lynne just sold him down the river, which would seem odd if she hadn't turned into a crabby old lady halfway through the Elimination Challenge and clearly just wanted to get away from all the young brats in the kitchen.

So, guess who lost. Lynne, we hardly knew ye--and were fine with that--but Arnold will be missed. The cheery little guy wanted everyone to know how much time he spent on his image, but in the end wanted to prove that he was more than just a Louis Vitton bag. Sadly, that's exactly what he was: a tasteful affectation completely unappreciated by classless old broads.

Next week: Heads bump in the kitchen, and shoulders bump at service--with potentially disatrous results? Only the editors know for now!