Three episodes in and the show's right on track in weeding out the few contestants who have no business being on the show in the first place. I say that because this particular season is pretty top heavy with some creative and skilled chef contestants as well as some really bad ones. The disparity is unfortunately quite apparent, especially among the women. About the only one who can stand toe to toe with the guys in the top half is Jennifer (Ripert's chef). I've mentioned how good she was in the past two weeks and she has not disappointed me yet. If she does well (and I think she will), we probably won't see Eric Ripert show up as a guest judge like he has in the past seasons.
OK, I know it is early but based on what I've seen so far, I'll go out on a limb here and declare my pick for the top 4 chefs who will be in the season finale: brothers Michael and Bryan V., Kevin and Jennifer. Not a big stretch really considering that these four are pretty formidable contestants. Three episodes in and the brothers have each won an elimination challenge, Kevin won the first one and Jennifer had won two Quickfire challenges. Unless one of these guys really stumble or if someone emerges as a dark horse, these four are pretty much a lock for the finale showdown. In the darkhorse category, the possibilities include the annoying Mike I., Puerto Rican Hector or possibly even French poodle Mattin. Even Vegas agees with me. The Sin City oddmakers have pegged Mike V. to win with 7-2 odds, Jennifer at 9-2, Kevin at 5-1 and Bryan at 6-1.
So what happened in this episode? The guest judge this week was Chef Mark Peel, chef and owner of Campagnile restaurant and a former protege of Wolfgang Puck. The Quickfire challenge was to create an "out-of-this-world" dish based on the humble potato in 45 minutes. This spud challenge was won by Jennifer with her mussells in potato sauce. Once again playing to her seafood background and strengths, Jennifer comes through for her second Quickfire win. There was a little drama during the challenge when Preeti accidentally poached her vegetables in a pot of water set aside by Ashley for her gnocchi. Ashley managd to overcome the setback and wound up as one of the top three dishes.
For the Elimination Challenge, the contestants were asked to cook for US Air Force soldiers at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, either returning from their tour of duty or getting ready to be shipped out. Obviously, this challenge brought out the patriotism quotient and some of them mentioned how proud they were to cook for these soldiers. Instead of creating a dish by themselves, the chefs decided to make teams of two and collaborate on a dish. Also, they appointed Jennifer to oversee the entire operation, essentially to make sure everyone gets what they needed and to keep everyone on track. She was the de facto Executive Chef in this challenge and didn't cook as she already had immunity from her earlier win in the Quickfire. This made sense but was it a good decision in the overall big picture? Only time will tell.
The camera showed the judges arriving at the large hanger where the event was to be held, with Padma slinking out of a military jeep in an inappropriately short dress. The airman opening the door of the jeep must've had an eyeful of those legs! Anyway, the challenge went very well, with some pretty successful dishes and some really lame ones. Kevin's and Eli's Southern style pulled pork and potato salad was a hit and so was Mike V.'s and Mike I.'s braised "pork belly" which actually originated as a slab of bacon! Hector's spicy chicken chili was also praised even though the temperature was in the 90's at the event.
At Judge's Table, the pork brothers, Kevin and Eli, together with Mike and Mike were judged to have created the best two dishes of the day. Finally, it was Mike V. with his braised pork belly dish, that was declared the winner. Now each brother has an Elimination win under their belt. Talk about competitiveness! As for judge's least favorie, the judges asked for Preeti and Laurine and--gasp!--Mike I.! It's rare for a contestant to wind up in the favorite and least favorite category but Mike I. did it! And he had his weak Greek salad to thank for. Although he didn't need to create another dish after collaborating with his partner on the braised pork belly dish, Mike I. decided to make one anyway (for the troops, he said). But it was a bad interpretation of a Greek salad, which had nothing Greek in it! The dish was bland, underseasoned and the shrimp, undercooked. Fortunately, the other team at the bottom did even worse. Preeti and Laurine's pasta salad was so ameteurish and weak, either of them would not cop out to coming up with the idea in the first place. Preeti insisted that the dish tasted good (???) while Laurine said that she forgot this was a competition and wanted to make something for the troops. What the??!!
In the end, Preeti got the boot for her insistence that the dish was good. And the Vegas odds on Miss Preeti? 50-1. 'Nuff said!