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Well, we’re already on the second episode of the new season of Top Chef… and I’m just not feeling it yet. I miss the frenzy of Dave, the bitchiness of Tiffani, the coolness of Leanne, and most of all I miss the pomposity of Stephen. It’s hard for me to let go and welcome the Season 2 contestants with open arms, but I will try my best.

Up first tonight is a rehash of last week’s premiere episode, where we said goodbye to a woman we’ll completely forget about until she shows up at the reunion show and causes all sorts of drama. Our group of chefs is now one smaller, and one person is that much closer to becoming the next Top Chef. The chefs really know this, especially Otto who knows he needs to bring his best work to the table, because he somehow managed to stave off elimination last week.

The chefs sit around the house, drinking and mourning the dismissal of what’s her name. They’re all acting sad, and there are even some tears, but I think it’s all just an excuse for everybody to get good and drunk.

Judge Tom Colicchio + 4:30 am = One very rude awakening
The chefs are happily sleeping off their binges when they are abruptly awakened at 4:30am by Judge Tom Colicchio. 4:30 am! I’ll bet it was really hard for the chefs to get up that early, especially since some of them probably crawled into bed around 4am.

Judge Tom announces that they’re all going to a local fish market, and they have to get there early so they can get the good fish. Mia is less than thrilled with this news because she’s feeling a little under the weather, but figures she’ll just have to work through the pain.

By 6am, Judge Tom and the chefs are ready to meet Host Padma at an unnamed fish market somewhere. I wonder what Judge Tom did while he waited for the chefs to get ready. Played video games? Read Entertainment Weekly? He probably just sat silently in a chair and judged everyone.

Host Padma greets our chefs and tells them that they will each have one hour, and $100 to shop for fresh fish, then they’ll have 30 minutes in the kitchen to concoct a sushi dish. Sushi, eh? The chefs seem pretty excited, well, the chefs except for Mia who ducks behind a car to retch. I guess the thought of hanging out in a fish market for an hour and then making a dish with raw fish doesn’t sound so good to someone who is battling the flu. I hope she can get through the day without projectile vomiting all over the kitchen’s stainless steel appliances.

I’m writing this from my Ikea Apartment
The chefs barter for their fresh fish, and then head back to the Kenmore Kitchen… wait... the Kenmore Kitchen? With a Calphalon Corner and an All-Clad Alcove? Gotta love the product placement.

Moving on, the chefs are introduced to the special Guest Judge for the Quickfire Challenge; famed sushi and Japanese cuisine chef, Hiroshi Shima. The chefs seem to know who he is, and are very excited to be preparing sushi for such a famous sushi expert. Marcel is really geeked to cook for a “bad ass Japanese chef.” The chefs get to work, and it is a crazy thirty minutes. Frank tells us that he really wants to win this challenge, and I’m assuming everyone else probably does too, but it’s not good enough to want it on Top Chef- you have to earn it! Oh, and Ilan is wearing bright red pants. Just wanted to throw that in.

We only get to see a few of the chefs’ dishes, and they are:

Frank: Prawns Pompano fish, East Coast fluke and Big Eye tuna

Michael: Sashimi Tuna with sesame oil and a corn starch slurry. There was something else too, but my mind turned off when I heard the words “corn starch slurry.”

Cliff: Hama Hama oysters with ginger, soy and mango sauce.

Mia: Sushi hand roll with red snapper, which Judge Shima calls “not very appealing.” Ouch.

Otto: Mackerel sushi with crabs, scallops and scallions. Judge Shima is very impressed with the rolling. Why do I think Otto must have had a lot of practice with recreational rolling in his youth?

Elia: Mackerel sushi with olives, sea urchin and New England Snapper. Judge Shima loves this dish, and tells her that it’s the first time he has enjoyed flavors like this.

Ilan: Abalone sashimi, uni on rice and scallop in the shell. Judge Shima calls Ilan’s dish fresh and lively.

Now I know nothing about sushi, and have never eaten it, so I really can’t judge these dishes at all, so I only know I would not have picked Michael and his corn starch slurry. Judge Shima crowns Cliff the winner of the sushi Quickfire Challenge, because the combination of oysters and mango was wonderful, but the oysters still had the flavor of the ocean. So, that would be the flavor of salt then? I’m sorry- again I don’t now much about sushi, but I guess in this case, ocean flavor is a good thing. I know my cats certainly think so. They love that Ocean Flavor Meow Mix!

Teamwork… this should be good
It’s Elimination Challenge time again. Tonight, Host Padma tells the chefs that LA is multi-cultural. Wow- I did not know that! Top Chef always teaches me amazing things. Two of the huge Asian influences in LA are Vietnam and Korea, so tonight our chefs will be breaking into two groups with one using Vietnamese influence and the other using Korean influence. The groups need to work together to create one hot dish and one cold dish, and they’ll be serving these dishes at a charity event called Project By Project. The event is to benefit the LA Asian community, and will be attended by 1000 people. Oh, and there will be other, established restaurants represented, so our chefs really need to shine to make a good impression.

The teams will each be given $500 to shop for ingredients, and will be judged not only on the quality of their dishes, and how well they incorporate the Vietnamese or Korean influences, but also on how well they work together as a team. Uh, oh. That’s never a good thing.

Team “We’re happy and work well together”
Team Vietnam gathers around a table and talks passionately about what they want to do. Well, the women talk passionately about what they want to do, and the men kind of sit there quietly. The team knows they want to make spring rolls, and Josie thinks they need to make Pho, which is a traditional Vietnamese stew. Ellen is really excited about using bok choy and baby bok choy, and Josie is really excited about using cilantro and lime. The men are excited that the women are planning the whole menu.

The team elects Josie the leader for the task, since she has quite a bit of experience with Vietnamese cooking, and the team decides on their hot and cold dishes, and then throws in an extra dish for good measure.

The next day, Team Vietnam spends their $500 in a specialty store, and calmly prepares their dishes, and even gets Judge Tom’s nod of approval.

Team Vietnam is drama- free. And kind of boring.

Team “We hate each other and just want to drink”
Not so much for Team Korea. To get in the proper planning mood, Ilan and Frank mix huge pitchers of sangria, and proceed to get their drink on. Well, everyone proceeds to get their drink on, except maybe for Elia, who feels they should actually be planning their menu. The men continue to drink, and no one is making any decisions, and it is just a mess. Finally, Team Korea decides to utilize pastry chef Marisa and have her make a dessert, and the others will work on some sort of pork dish and kim chee.

The following day, Ilan declares that he needs to stay away from sangria, and the team goes shopping, also at a specialty store. Team Korea is not quite as organized as Team Vietnam, and their shopping trip is pretty hectic. At check out, they realize they’re over budget and have to put something back. They do, and all is well… until they get out to the van, and Otto remarks to Marisa that he thinks they got a whole box of lychees for free. For free? Well, wouldn’t that be… stealing, Otto? Marisa certainly thinks so, and is extremely bothered by this. She feels it’s not fair, and it will seem like they’re cheating.

Back at Kenmore Kitchen, Team Korea continues their chickens with their heads cut off routine, and everyone rushes around madly, trying to get their dishes prepared. Marisa and Elia are working together on the dessert, but instead of working, they seem to think it’s more important to talk about the lychees. Marisa wants to play by the rules and tells Ilan that they’re cheaters. Ilan doesn’t think it’s a big deal, and that Otto made an honest mistake. Marisa disagrees and she and Elia tattle to Judge Tom, who freaks out and calls a Team Korea meeting. Many members of the team did not know about Lycheegate, but Otto admits that he knew they hadn’t paid for the lychees and he just wasn’t thinking clearly. He leaves to return the lychees to the market, and Team Korea is down one person.

While Otto is gone, pastry chef Marisa works to get her dessert under control, (what? Shouldn’t a pastry chef be awesome at desserts?), Ilan complains about the fact that the dessert is not under control, and the team tries to make kim chee in two days. Good luck, Team Korea.

Don’t harsh my Ming Tsai mellow!
It’s game day, and both teams arrive at the Project By Project fundraiser to set up their stations. They have one hour to set up and start bangin’ out their dishes. The teams decorate their spaces, and Otto tries to help his team, but really just makes a mess.

The teams are introduced to the special Guest Judge, and it is Ming Tsai. Hello! You may remember Ming Tsai from the Food Network, or as the owner/ Chef of the Blue Ginger Restaurant. Personally, I remember him from my dreams. And, I may have shared just a little too much there. The chefs are happy to see Ming Tsai, and he lets them know he’ll be looking for great flavor.

Team Vietnam rubs elbows for good luck while Team Korea sweats and falls apart. Then we see the only bit of drama tonight from Team Vietnam, when Michael uses a dull knife to cut the summer rolls, they fall apart, and Josie micromanages him and speaks to him like he’s a child. Michael’s response? “F*****n’ spring rolls, dude!” I couldn’t agree more Michael, although presentation is always important.

The throngs of people arrive, and both teams seem pretty busy, although Betty on Team Vietnam is really working the crowd and drawing people to their table. Ming Tsai hits Team Vietnam’s station first, where they are serving summer rolls on top of pickled watermelon, pork Pho with carrot vermicelli and a cucumber aloe refresher. Ming likes all of the dishes, but doesn’t think they’re particularly traditional.

Over at Team Korea’s table, Ming Tsai is served braised pork over sticky rice with kim chee and jasmine pannacotta with tapioca and a candied taro chip. Judge Tom thinks the dessert has way too much gelatin, and Ming Tsai states it is not a traditional Korean dessert. Marisa replies that they used Korean-ish ingredient. Hmmm… not sure if that one’s going to fly, Marisa. All of the Judges agree that the pork dish is incredible, and at this point it’s really hard to tell who’s going to walk away with this challenge.

And the challenge goes to…
Time for the Judges’ Table! Judge Gail thinks both teams were on the ball, and notes that Team Vietnam chose Josie as their leader, but Team Korea did not have a leader- maybe because no one wanted to take responsibility in case the challenge was a disaster.

Ming Tsai loved Team Korea’s braised pork dish, but the rice was mushy, and every good chef knows that if the rice is mushy, you throw it out and make another batch. Padma preferred Team Korea’s pork dish as well, and so did Judge Tm, but he didn’t like Team Korea’s dessert. The Judges decide that Team Vietnam worked better together, and that Betty was the star of that team.

The Judges bring Team Vietnam to the table, and tell them their pork dish was dry, and that they won the challenge. What a fake-out! They name Betty the winner of the challenge, and she is awarded a very special sashimi knife from Ming Tsai, and he tells her that it’s one of only about a hundred in the world. Oooh… rare! Betty is pleased with the reward, but also feels kind of bad since it was a team effort. Don’t worry Betty- these people are all bound to stab you in the back eventually!

Team Korea hears the cheers from the Judges’ Table and knows that they’ve lost. Cliff is mad that they lost because they couldn’t work together, and I find that interesting, because I honestly do not remember seeing him once during this challenge.

It’s Team Korea’s time at the table, and there’s a lot of he said/ she said about the lychees and incompetence. The Judges dismiss the chefs so they can discuss who should go home, and it sounds like it comes down to Marisa or Otto. Yes, I think Otto was kind of an idiot about the lychees, but Marisa is really getting on my last nerve, so I hope she’s the one sent packing.

Team Korea is called back into the room, and in a strange turn of events, Otto bows out of the competition. Wow. Maybe he felt really, really bad about accidentally stealing the lychees, or maybe he simply realized he was in over his head in this competition, but the Judges accept his resignation, and he is sent to pack his knives.

Well, if you thought tonight’s episode was a little lacking in the drama department, make sure to tune in next week to see Betty tell one of the other chefs off, and Michael threaten Judge Tom!