For a moment it seemed like the fifth episode of “Top Chef: Vegas” would be different. Michael V. was struggling with cactus and feeling iffy about camping, Ashley wasn’t snarling, and the previously negligible Laurine was actually doing something worth capturing on camera.
But then the moment passed, and I remembered I was watching “Top Chef: Voltaggio Bros. and Jenn C. take it all,” not “the Twilight Zone.” Doobie doobie do.
The shake-up started with the high-stakes Quickfire Challenge where the chefs were given a lot of cactus to work with courtesy of the rat bastard audience at home who voted it as the special ingredient for the challenge. Curses, Middle America, curses! Padma channeled her Carl’s Jr, persona and in a breathy bedroom voice told the cheftestants to “[make] something succulent with these succulents” for guest judge Tim Love of the Lonesome Dove Bistro. Succulent. Succulent. Oh yes, the heat is on.
Everyone has a different reaction to the challenge. Mike is excited because, unlike most of his peers, he actually knows how to prepare cactus, Mattin is like so nervous because “it’s like so slimy and has needles in it,” and Ron starts doing his Chewbacca thing. “Rar rar rar, you stay the heck away from cactus!” Apparently, it’s poisonous in Haiti. Or at least, I think that’s what he said…
Unsurprisingly, Mike Isabella, the only one who seems to know what he’s doing, gets the nod and $15,000 for his cured cactus and tuna ceviche. It’s sort of slimy, he’s sort of slimy – it all makes sense. Michael V., who is in the bottom three for his sushi rolls, isn’t so impressed. “I’d rather be able to create interesting flavors than take the slime out of cactus.” You and me both, Michael. You and me both.
With no immunity awarded during the Quickfire, everyone has their game faces on for the Elimination Challenge where they will cook lunch at the Sandy Valley Ranch for two dozen cowboys. This ain’t gonna be no BBQ and coleslaw affair – the chefs can do whatever they want, but it has to be considered fine dining. The kicker (because hello? This is “Top Chef” and there is always a succulent kicker) – they won’t know what the cooking conditions or equipment will be like until they arrive at the ranch. Yeehaw!
The chefs do their little Whole Foods scramble and are then shuttled off to their destination that, according to the always sound bite worthy Michael V., “[looks] like a scene from a horror movie.” It’s hot, there’s more of that poisonous slimy cactus everywhere and even Ron is getting the heebie jeebies. He’s taking trees apart, talking about voodoo and snakes… it’s all good times on the ranch.
Ashley, Mattin and Robin, on the other hand, are super stoked. Ashley grew up in the middle of the woods, Mattin grew up on a farm, and Robin just loves getting dirty (Ron refuses to comment on that).
In addition to sleeping in tents and tepees, which Eli finds completely “asinine” (way to use your words, “fat” boy!), the chefs must also cook their dishes in cast iron pans on open fire pits – in 110 degree heat. With only an hour and fifteen minutes to complete their dishes, the scene at the ranch is more than a little chaotic. Ron starts screaming for a sword (hopefully to decapitate Mattin whose squeals are growing quite irksome), Robin is talking to her prawns about getting drunk, and Ashley keeps falling down and dropping things. It’s a mess, but a fun mess – like watching Cheaper by the Dozen with food instead of vomit.
Soon the motley crew of ranchers are arriving for the lunch, and Ashley comments that it looks like “They’ve been growing their beards since they were 14.” It makes me wonder, how long has Kevin red beard been growing his? I just love him. LOVE him. Especially when he starts playing with the horseshoes. Did you know he grew up with a regulation size horseshoe ring in his backyard? I kind of want to pinch him and squeeze him all over for that little gem of a revelation. But I won’t since I’m worried that bacon grease might come out and I hear that’s just murder to get out of clothing.
So the chefs start serving their dishes and that whole “Twilight Zone” theme I was hoping for disappears without a trace. It’s pretty clear what’s going down. Mattin’s ceviche three ways and Robin’s prawns are inedible, and Bryan and Micahel V. are pulling out all the stops with roasted pork loin over corn polenta and braised dandelion, and dashi with miso and mirin cured black cod, respectively. While Ashley puts up a fight with her take on a BLT – a halibut dish with avocado mousse, and Laurine impresses with her sautéed arctic char, it doesn’t take a brain scientist to figure out how things will ultimately play out. Bryan wins it for his dish that Tim Love says best met the specifications of the challenge. Once again, Michael glares. Once again, the ladies are left in the dust.
As for the bottom heap, it’s unsurprising that Mattin gets axed for his foul ceviche that had Tom up and scrambling away from the table as soon as he took a bite. Apparently, it was not very succulent. Mattin must pack his neck scarves and go.