She then shared that the "Diet Dr. Pepper" QuickFire Challenge (GAG!) would be to create a tasty dessert for today's diet-conscious diner - without using sugar. Interesting challenge, but I find it down-right laughable to somehow equate Diet Dr. Pepper with healthy. Sure, it's calorie-free, but there's a reason that I haven't touched a diet soda of any kind since I got pregnant. I just don't trust that whatever's making Diet Coke taste so good (believe me when I say that I love nothing better than a DC out of the fountain) isn't also rotting my insides.
Needless to say, in the absence of sugar, fruit and honey dominated this challenge. I was personally intrigued by Stefan's dish (you had me at chocolate mousse) and Radhika's dish (bread pudding is a gift from God). They chose Radhika, Leah (A crepe with ricotta, strawberries and balsamic reduction), and Jeff (frozen yogurt and a dessert spring roll - I think - this dish was kind of confusing). Radhika was named the winner for the second week in a row, and was awarded with immunity.
Because Padma didn't share their challenge with them after the QuickFire, it wasn't a big surprise to see Tom show up at the apartment later to speak with the chefs. He explained to them that their elimination challenge would be very open - they would be free to make any dish that expresses their culinary viewpoint that can be served family-style for a party of 12. He also told them that since this challenge would be the first for the new judge (replacing Gail while she basks in newly wedded bliss, apparently), the tasting would be blind. Interesting twist, huh?
Tom split the chefs into two groups (group 1: Fabio, Hosea, Jamie, Eugene, Melissa and Radhika; group 2: Stefan, Jeff, Leah, Ariane, Carla) because the kitchen they would be cooking in would be too small to accommodate them all at one time. Group 1 was then whisked off to Whole Foods to get started.
As the chefs from this group started to get prepared, it was obvious from the start who would be in trouble. Not surprisingly, Eugene and Melissa fell into that group. Eugene was making a whole fried snapper (not a bad choice) but would be serving it with daikon "pasta" with a tomato basil sauce. Um, no. That does not sound good. I love radishes as much as the next person, but this combo sounded kind of rank to me. Melissa thought that her fried tuna tacos would wow the judges. Seriously? Fried tuna tacos? Hello, bottom three. Jamie did something that could have bit her in the ass, once again choosing scallops as her protein, to be served with a salad of fennel, oranges and olives. Sounds yummy, but seriously - scallops again? This prompted Fabio to utter the best line of the night (and possibly the season thus far), "This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop."
Once group one was ready to serve their dishes, it was revealed that their judges would be not only Tom, Padma and new judge, Toby Young, but also the chefs from group 2. AND, they would get to watch them all taste the food and comment. Ouch. This was especially painful for Melissa, as Toby (who is like a foodie Simon Cowell) said that her tuna tacos tasted kind of like cat food. Wow. Eugene was also universally panned, as was Radhika's bisque, although that was pretty much moot since she had immunity anyway.
Then it was time for group 2 to head into the kitchen. I was intrigued by Stefan's dish right off the bat, as I love German food. He made a duck with bread dumplings and braised cabbage, which sounded yummy and hearty. Ariane proved once again that she knows how to cook her proteins (and how to make pureed cauliflower) with her skate wing w/pineapple and pureed cauliflower. Both of these dishes were clearly loved by the judges. Not so much with poor Carla's seared scallops with pea risotto and gremolata topping. The gremolata was apparently uber-garlicy and overpowering and the scallops were deemed an after-thought.
After the challenge was over, the top three were called into judging: Ariane, Stefan and Jamie. All three dishes were praised, and Jamie was named the winner. Finally. This dish didn't sound all that strong to me (although it did sound tasty, as I love the combination of fennel and orange), and I thought Stefan's was so much more of a risk. But Jamie finally got her win anyway, and was clearly over-joyed. I think the top three tonight are pretty much the favorites to wind up in the top three at the end of the season, although I could see Hosea, Leah or Radhika sneaking in there as well. In my heart I hope that Fabio makes it that far, because he and his one-liners have become my favorite part of the show this season.
I don't think there was a doubt in anyone's mind who would be heading to the bottom three. Poor Eugene and Melissa have already outstayed their welcomes, and Carla is getting there very quickly. I thought for a second that Toby was going to talk them into keeping Eugene for another week (ugh, no!), but I guess the judges who knew their histories talked him into giving Carla another chance. Although I fully expect her to be eliminated next week, I think she deserved to stay, because her dish didn't really sound all that bad compared to radish "pasta" and cat food tacos.