Nine episodes in, the grueling pace of the season has begun to wear on Top Chef's older contestants. Stefan is applying thick coats of wrinkle cream to his forehead. He's got to keep his thumb-ish dome baby-soft if he hopes to keep trying to marry younger women. Young women demand smooth foreheads. It's a sign of virility. If Stefan is feeling the stress of the show, one can only imagine how John is doing, who is scores of years older. Over the course of a few weeks, he's had to change the prescription for his forehead glasses like three times. The two of them can't hope to keep up with Sheldon, who gleefully sharpens his knife each morning. Does he sleep in that red hat? I hope he sleeps in more than that red hat.
The guest judge on this week's Quickfire Challenge is a stranger to our cookpetitors. They mumble, "Who is that?" Padma introduces Bob Kramer, a "Master Bladesmith." I did not know that "Bladesmith" was a thing. Why not just "Blader"? Doesn't it sound much more natural to say that Bob Kramer is a Master Blader? "He is one of the finest Master Bladers in the country, and though at this point in his life he does not Master Blade as frequently as he used to, people pay upwards of 500 dollars an inch every time he Master Blades." Bob Kramer worked in kitchens for ten years, and then he "got sucked into the world of making custom knives." Oh yeah, don't get me started on the world of custom knives. It's an infamously addictive world, and not a day goes by we don't hear another tragic story about a young professional vacuumed into the vortex of the glamorous custom knife world. Once a man has discovered Master Blading, it's hard to get him to stop.
The Quickfire is a test of knife skills, and the chefs have ten seconds to shear a completely nude Bob Kramer bare. That completed, they begin the Quickfire. It's a relay race: the chefs split into three teams of three. In Round 1, they must sharpen a dull knife until it's sharp enough to cut paper. Sharpening a knife involves running it back and forth across a wet stone, and cutting paper involves running a knife through paper. This round was about as interesting as watching paint cut through paper. Sharpen that knife! Cut that paper! To make the contest visually interesting, the pieces of paper have "Top Chef" written on them and that is very visually interesting. I felt like I was watching Avatar, I didn't know what to look at first. John calls for a check before Kristen is ready, yet it's his own knife that can't slice the paper. Kristin says something about "karma" and I hope the Buddha is not wasting his time evaluating this show. But it's Brooke's difficulties that hold her team back, and they're eliminated.
In Round 2, the chefs must tourne a whole crapload of potatoes, which is a French technique. It basically involves cutting the potato until it is a smaller potato, and it looks annoying and difficult. I am sorry to criticize French technique, as I understand that much like that country and its people, it is without reproach, but why not just use a smaller potato? Pick them earlier. Save a lot of time and hassle in the kitchen. Josie cuts herself, and unfortunately she both disqualifies herself and survives the injury. John's French-trained hands aren't fast enough to compensate for Josie's loss, and his team is gone.
Micah, Sheldon, and Josh are all that remain, and in Round 3 they race against each other to break down a rabbit. That is not to be confused with when you have to Breakdown a rabbit, which involves offering to give the rabbit's wife a ride to the gas station in your 18-wheeler and then kidnapping her and pretending you've never met the rabbit before in your life. I feel like Josh would be pretty good at that, but he is not as good at this. He jokes, "It's exactly like breaking down a cat." I don't think he's ever broken down a cat, either, or at least not with a chef's knife. Micah has a "very Zen moment" as he works, as described in the popular book Zen and the Art of Slicing Rabbit Flesh Off Its Tiny Rib Bones. He wins this Quickfire. His prize, according to Padma, is immunity and "a beautiful night with Bob Kramer." What? Oh, she said, "A beautiful knife from Bob Kramer." That makes more sense.
The Elimination Challenge is a trip down Memory Lane, and like all fond nostalgia for times gone by, it involves Kindle Fires, a device we have known and loved for years. Each of the nine chefs will be assigned a memorable moment from the last ten seasons, and they must cook a healthier version of it. Stefan wonders how he can cook a healthier version of any one of the low-cut Padma tops that he has had tattooed on his cortex. Alas, they are moments involving food. All your old favorites are there: "Who took my pea puree" and "This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop" and "I'm not your bitch, bitch." My eyes kind of glazed over while they showed the old clips, because it made me realize how long I've been writing about this show and it was a lot to handle. The winner of this challenge gets fifteen grand, as always "furnished" by Healthy Choice, and their dish will become a new Healthy Choice Top Chef Cafe Steamer.
Man, I know I've made jokes about them before, but it is always funny to me that they are called "Cafe Steamers." What an evocative name for a food product. All I have to do is read "Cafe Steamer" on a box in the freezer section of my grocery store and I am immediately transported to Paris in the 1920's, where I am smoking clove cigarettes and arguing with Ezra Pound about the best way to prepare Escoffier's famous steamed chicken. I love cafes and all their steamy food. I feel like that the only thing the person who came up with "Cafe Steamers" knows about cafes is from that General Foods French Vanilla Cafe "Jean-Luc!" ad.
We are treated to a scene of the chefs shopping at the market. Lizzie is saddled with updating Jamie's scallops, and she is displeased at the fishmonger's scallop selection. This will prove unfortunate later. Josie barrels into the store with a baby, I think. It's probably a football she painted a face on.
Back at the house, the chefs cuddle up with their Kindle Fires and some microwaved Healthy Choice steamers. Sheldon asks, "Anyone want one?" and Stefan just stares at him. Brooke recounts the pea puree incident, where some pureed peas went missing and got served by another chef. Dramatically, she says, "To this day, we don't know what actually happened." Yes, it is generally considered one of this country's great unsolved crimes, like who really killed JFK and why the Black Illuminati decided to kill conscious rap in the early 90's. The third National Treasure movie is going to be about finding out what happened with the pea puree. John's dish was originally judged by Anthony Bourdain. He reminds us that he was buddies with Bourdain, and that as his drinking buddy in the 80's, he hired Chef Tony. Do we have John Tesar to thank for Anthony Bourdain's career? That is definitely the worst thing he did in the 80's, by a nose.
The healthy aspect of this challenge is an important one, and some of the dishes like grilled cheese and chicken pot pie are difficult to adapt. Brooke is confident she will excel here, as cooking healthy food is a regular part of her life. She says, "I went through kind of a heavier period," and truthfully I thought for a second she was talking about her flow. A few minutes later she yells, "Does anyone have an extra towel?" and I was like, oh no, it's back.
The nine chefs will be judged by a dining room full of Top Chef superfans as well as Padma, Tom, Wolfgang Puck, and former Top Chef Masters Wylie Dufresne, Jonathan Waxman, and Chris Cosentino. This is a scary bunch of chefs to cook for, and they are made all the more intimidating by how white Wolfgang's teeth are.
I am curious where they found these Top Chef superfans. Was there a quiz? "Question 1: How good is LOL Work? A. So Good. B. The best." One of the diners appears to also be a superfan of ear gauges. It must get tiring being a fan of so many things and also stretching your ears out.
The chefs serve their healthy food, and it is hard to make restaurant food made without fat look interesting. Josie, after barking, "OH MY GOD" so loud an RV in the parking lot flips over, puts out an herb-roasted chicken with steamed vegetables, and I would not eat it. Stefan's red pepper soup is good, but his grilled cheese is on the greasy side. John's umami risotto is not cooked properly. Some of it is overcooked, some of it is undercooked. Maybe he sweat too much into it? He was sweating a lot. He needs one of Josie's headbands.
Sheldon has ugly-looking beef carpaccio, and Lizzie's scallops are grey. Josh, whose never-ending quest for pork redemption is nearing Biblical proportions, makes a delicious-looking soy-glazed pork tenderloin with a smoked cashew puree. His dish is an update of Michael Voltaggio and Isabella's pork belly they served to the troops a few seasons back. The dish got a standing ovation from the troops, and Tom reminds Padma that she did, too. Is he making a boner joke? She definitely wore a leopard print dress to that meal. She makes the waiter pour her fifteen more glasses of wine.
The last heat of chefs all make great stuff. Brooke makes smoked salmon with forbidden black rice and an English pea puree, Kristen deconstructs Carla's pot pie into a poached chicken breast and carrot puree with a garlic and tofu emulsion, and Micah's makes smoked duck with miso polenta. Padma calls in Josh, John, Kristen, Lizzie, and Brooke to the Judges' Table, which leaves only four chefs behind. That's a lot to call in. "You five served the best and worst food we ate today and for one of you this will not be a memorable moment." What? Is this a logic puzzle? Is Padma taking the LSATs because I bet she would not do great. Josh, Brooke, and Kristen are the judges' favorite, but their unanimous choice for winner is Kristen. She's got another fifteen grand. Her trip to Korea is going to rule and it's almost like she has enough money to bring somebody else now. We can eat so many of her new Cafe Steamer meals while we pack.
John and Lizzie are on the bottom. John pulls a classic, "I'm not making excuses, but..." and then makes so many excuses. He blames it on the pot, and that is also my excuse for why I order so much Chinese food for myself that I get a free two-liter bottle of soda. John is being very obnoxious about why the pot was to blame, but then Josh, who has already not lost, pipes in that he had no problem with finding a flat-bottomed pot. Did you have any trouble finding a towel, Josh? If not, jam it in your mouth. I do not like this new thing this season of contestants piping in like this. It's all very uncouth. I love couthness.
Padma dramatically unveils a tenth Kindle Fire, containing the moment from this tenth season John and Lizzie will cook-off to. Does one cook-off to something, or at something? I don't know. Padma tells the other chefs, "The rest of you can return to stew." To decide who gets to stay, John and Lizzie will recreate CJ and Tyler's horrible pork burger. The star ingredient is again pickles. John is furious and still so full of excuses. "My risotto was unevenly cooked because I couldn't find a pot. She served foul food." Go back to Dallas. She had only one option, to buy scallops, and she had to do it at Central Market. You were bad at looking for a pot because you wear your glasses in the wrong place. Relax. He steals all her dill pickles that she offered to share, and then gets indignant when called on it. "I could have just taken the entire jar of pickles!" You are already so likable, John, just imagine if you had held the jar of pickles out of Lizzie's reach. She would have kneed you in the groceries, old man. Wipe the spittle off your mouth.
John's lamb patty is not quite as good as Lizzie's chicken burger, and she gets to stay. John is heading home. He's furious. "I got the shaft today. I think it's bullshit. I could have been a real, real big asshole." He yells, "I could have just kept all the pickles! I have all the pickles!" He sounds like a lunatic. Congrats, Dallas! He is coming home.