This episode bored me and I didn’t even feel like recapping it, but my OCD won’t let me skip an episode. Neither the challenges nor the actual food prepared was actually exciting (to me), but let’s take it from the top.

The chefs are hanging out after Giselle’s elimination, and Phillip still won’t admit what his fellow contestants and the judges have been telling him all night: that mash potato-cream business was horrible. Nope, he’s just misunderstood. I’m all for standing behind your dish, but dude, if everyone around you hated it, maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t that good.

Oh well. New day, new location, and this time they’re off to San Diego, where Padma and renowned Baja-cuisine chef Javier Plascencia welcome the chefs to the beautiful city by the sea.

Quickfire Challenge

Who didn’t see this one coming? Yep, it’s a fish taco challenge. Local seafood and Baja-Cali style cuisine, it’s obviously a no-brainer. They only have 20 minutes, and it’s a sudden death Quickfire. I’m definitely happy those are back: just whittle them down to the strongest competitors and have them cook their hearts out. More tv time for each contestant, not too many confusing names and faces… sign me up!

AngelinaOf all the chefs, Chad is probably the one who has the most to prove, seeing as his own restaurant is a few blocks away from their location. Everyone’s excited to cook, and Angelina should be the one who absolutely kills it, being Latina, right? Well, yeah… except she plated on the cutting board and never actually placed any of her food on the actual dishes. This automatically disqualifies her, and she throws a little tantrum when she realizes time’s up. I feel kinda bad for her – if anyone’s on the bottom, it should be because their food sucked, not because the judges never got to taste it. Phillip has a self-satisfied smirk on his face, which makes him a douchebag in my book, even more so than his delusions about his god-awful mash-cream thing from the previous episode.

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Karen’s oyster taco with kimchi sesame salsa, pickled red cabbage and avocado, Chad’s grilled thresher shark taco with oyster and sea urchin salsa and sal de gusano and Kwame’s wahoo taco with truffle cream and chipotle salsa land on top, and the winner is Chad, who’s so happy to win a challenge on his home turf – and to have immunity.

As for the rest of the chefs, Jason’s yellowfin tuna and black summer truffle taco with jalapeno, dill and ginger, Isaac’s cornmeal fried soft shell crab taco with cane sugar vinaigrette and marinated tomato, Wesley’s apple and mango taco with fried tortilla and lobster, Amar’s beer-battered ono taco with guacamole and marinated cabbage, cilantro and jalapeno, Marjorie’s grilled wahoo (ono) taco with truffled melted leeks and radish citrus salsa and Carl’s roasted bay scallop taco with poblano & tomatillo are in the middle.

Phillip’s yellowfin tuna taco with seared foie gras, caviar, truffle and chiles also lands in the middle of the pack. It sounds to me like his thought process was “let’s grab all the luxury ingredients and throw them in there to impress the judges”. The judges didn’t criticize the dish so he was super-confident his taco was perfect. Phillips is like this season’s Marcel: “I don’t understand. Am I not supposed to be making yummy food?“. Ugh.

Angelina is automatically up for elimination, making the judges’ lives easier, as they dont’ have to pick 2 more least-favorite dishes, which Wesley is supremely thankful for, as his mango tago didn’t go over very well. Unfortunately, his relief is short lived: Angelina picks him to compete against for the sudden death cook-off because “he can get in his own head sometimes”. Her follow-up comment that there’s no weak link in the bunch, as she’s surrounded by talented chefs, immediately makes her more likable, but in the end it’s all down to the cooking.

Sudden Death Cook-Off

The two chefs have 20′ to prepare their take on a Ceasar salad – it doesn’t have to be a salad, but they can only use the ingredients chef Javier uses in his own version. The fact that they have to work with the same ingredients evens the playing field, as it’s down to each chef’s cooking skills, and the cooking scene is mercifully brief.

This time both chefs have something on the plate: it’s Wesley’s fried egg with anchovy remoulade, grilled romaine, croutons and lime zest versus Angelina’s crostini with garlic, olive oil, dijon vinaigrette, grilled romaine and anchovy.

Wesley’s egg was perfectly cooked and chef Javier liked the simplicity but would have like more of the condiment. Angelina’s crostini idea was a hit, but she could have used more sauce. In the end, Wesley’s dish sends Angelina packing and she’s very mature about her loss, hoping that Marjorie wins the whole thing, so I’m rooting for her to kick ass in Last Change Kitchen.

Elimination Challenge

As soon as the Quicfire is over, Tom, Richard and Emeril show up with 6-packs of beer to have a little toast, as we’re now halfway through the season.

After a long la-di-da about San Diego’s budding craft beer scene, the chefs realize it’s not just about celebrating. They each have to cook a dish that captures the essence of the beer they (randomly) chose: Tom’s

Padma’s yellow label golden ale highlights jalapeno, ginger and tamarind; Blaise’s red label stout uses ras el hanout, chocolate and beets; Emeril’s green label beer is all about NoLA, with coffee, cayenne and tangerine; lastly, Tom’s blue label wheat beer, with lemon, coriander and banana. Isaac definitely isn’t thrilled about the inclusion of banana. “How do I make banana savory? Oh yeah, that’s it: I’ll just freeze banana in liquid nitrogen and then stick it up my ass” ahahaha gotta love Isaac!

The chefs are off to Whole Foods to shop, and then to Blaise’s restaurant, Juniper and Ivy, where they’ll be cooking their dishes, but not before Emeril pays them a little visit at home to discuss the competition and offer such phenomenal insight as “Big time” when Karen comments on the mental aspect of the show.

And this is where the episode got boring for me. None of the dishes seemed exciting, and the competition just seemed unfair: Padma’s or Emeril’s beer ingredients are far more easy to work with than freaking banana! Isaac lands on his sriracha “banannaise” idea: Am I high or is this good? Again, I love this guy.

Time’s up and it’s time for the judges to taste the dishes.

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Working with Padma’s yellow label, Chad’s opah dish is full of nutty flavors along with heat, sweetness and spice, all of which complement beer, while Amar’s chicken and jalapeno popper impresses Blaise with the sweet & sour play.

Karen, Wesley and Jeremy had Richard’s beer; Karen’s duck breast worked great with the cocoa nib, as did Jeremy’s duck with the granola, but Wesley’s lamb was overcooked and dry and his beet puree was one-dimensional. Uh-oh. 

Next up, Emeril’s green label: Marjorie’s gnocchi was delicious but the beer didn’t really come through, Phillip’s duck worked great but Carl’s short rib lacked salt and replicated the beer too closely.

Finally, the banana beer (Tom’s blue label), and it’s time for Kwame, Jeremy and Isaac’s dishes. Isaac’s crab salad banannaise was not a huge success but he could have done without the corn veloute; Kwame’s mojo was a huge hit with Tom, but Jason’s pork and squid meatball had a weird texture and was underseasoned.

Judges’ Table

The judges are all in agreement about which dishes they liked (and hated) the most, and it’s time for the chefs to face the music.

Amar, Karen and Kwame are on top this week, both in terms of flavor and representing the beer. Their dishes were excellent but none more so than Karen’s, who finally lands a win. I really like this girl so I’m happy for her.

On the other end of the scale we find Jason, Wesley and Isaac. Banannaise aside, Isaac is the first to admit that he let the banana get to his head and ended up presenting a strange dish. Wesley is even more humble: he knew right from the start that the overcooked piece of lamb couldn’t be saved and wasn’t Top Chef material. Jason gets a lot of flack from Richard about his meaballs being “one of the strangest things Blaise has ever tasted”, which kind of pisses me off because I was never Blaise’s biggest fan. Jason agrees that this dish wasn’t his best, and the judges have a tough decision to make.

In the end, the pressure got the best of Wesley and he is sent home, which makes me sad. I hope he kicks ass in Last Chance Kitchen and comes back to kick some ass, mainly because he seems like such a nice guy!