Top Chef: These Flavor Profiles Don’t Run

For one blessed week we are given a reprieve from the relentless Las Vegas-ness of this season. I’m sure next week it will be back to “make an omelet from these pawned items that tastes like sadness,” and “you have half an hour to spend a child’s college fund in order to cater this Elvis impersonator’s convention, because Las Vegas.” But for this week it’s all potatoes and army. But first, the chefs are sitting around on lawn chairs (is the waterslide broken? Because why on Earth isn’t everyone on the waterslide?) talking about who is the nicest. Can we eliminate six people this week? I am just counting down the weeks until this show is a manageable number of people who hate each other too much to sit around wasting my time. For example: Laurine, whoever that is, interviews that she feels intimidated by some of the other contestants because she went to school 11 years ago and decided she didn’t want to sacrifice everything to be a “rockstar” chef. She can go home, right? Can someone call her a cab? Do they even have cabs in Las Vegas? Can someone call her a party bus?

The guest judge this week is Mark Peel, and he spent a long time with a potato in one hand and a knife in the other. That’s what she said! (?) The Quickfire Challenge is to make an “out of this world” dish using potatoes. Why is “out of this world” in quotes? I think it’s so the contestants know they don’t have to take it too literally.

Jesse: I made French Fries in space.
Padma: That is ridiculous. By the way, you know that your elimination is simply a matter of time, right?

Anyway, you say potato, I say potato. Jennifer says steamed mussels in a yukon gold and blue potatoes with lemongrass potato sauce. So she wins. Again. She is obviously going to make it pretty far this season. Her and the king of the Gummy Bears.

Mikey Bottle Service, the douchebag, thinks that Jennifer’s win is favoritism at this point. Favoritism how? At what point? Relax, goon. Oh, and Jesse is on the bottom again because she made her soup too spicy, which she claims after the fact to have known she was doing? Ruining it? So she slaps herself on the forehead and is like “I hate me!” Aw. That’s fair, though. She is terrible at cooking on a show about being good at cooking. What’s to like?

This week’s Elimination Challenge involves cooking for 300 United States airmen and their families on a military base. You know what they say: what happens in Vegas happens right before people are shipped off to Iraq. They won’t be doing any shopping, and they won’t know what is available in the kitchen until they get there. Yikes. Everyone agrees that Jennifer should be in charge of the kitchen since she has immunity. And that they should make American food. Love it or eat it.

Cooking for the troops might seem like a gimmicky, empty grab at some pathos and deeper meaning for this bubblegum show, but you can’t really hate on it. In the end, even with the self-congratulatory pats on the back that this episode constantly gives itself for basically SAVING AMERICA through one good buffet-style meal, it’s still a nice thing to do, and we are still in the middle of two wars, and one imagines that the soldiers enjoyed and appreciated it. What you CAN hate on, though, are all the contestants’ attempts to one-up each other on the really feeling it. So and so has a sister in the army. So and so’s grandfather has the all time high score in Medal of Honor. But Preeti takes the Ugh Cake:

Incredible. I sure hope she gets eliminated later in this episode just for this comment. SPOILER ALERT: yes and no.

So the kitchen is full of canned goods and industrial cooking machines. No pots and pans! No burners! So many beans! But also there is pork belly? Which might later turn out to be bacon? Well is it bacon or pork belly? A military kitchen is stocked with pork belly? A military kitchen is not stocked with pork belly. And Le Petit Prince makes bechamel sauce, so I don’t know how hard it could really be to cook in this kitchen. Jennifer runs it like a pro. Because of how she is a pro.

Padma shows up dressed to kill. She is like a human predator drone. Lethal, with nothing inside. Fueled by alcohol.

The troops really enjoy the meal. Everyone is so proud to be cooking for them. According to the guy from Haiti it has always been his dream to cook for 300 soldiers in an airplane hangar while competing on a reality show. Very specific and seemingly made up on the fly dreams really do come true! At one point, one of the soldiers says “this potato salad, I really like it, I wish they had stuff like this in Iraq, it’s very good, thank you.” Whoops, my heart just broke.

So, team Gummi Bear and Bacon Jew and team Douchebag and Brother 1 are in the winners’ circle for their pulled pork barbecue/potato salad combination and their “pork belly” in a lettuce wrap/shrimp salad combination, respectively. Except that while the judges loved the pork belly wrap, they actually hated the shrimp salad, for which The Guy Who Owns Neil Strauss’s The Game in Hardcover takes full credit. So after one of the two brothers wins, they bring in the losers, Preeti and Laurine, they also bring King Barf of Fart Mountain back, too. And he is pissed. Later, back in the stew room during deliberation, he will talk jokingly about how pissed he was. Oh, this guy is the worst. People who treat getting irrationally angry and just being an overall terror to other human beings as some kind of badge of honor should go to jail. They have kitchens in jail, right? You can cook for all your fellow goblins, you creep.

“Hating women is, like, my schtick.”

In any case, Preeti loses. Fair enough. Bye. Any three of them could have gone home. Who cares? There are still so many terrible chefs on this show. It’s an eliminator’s market.