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Last week was certainly high drama on Top Chef, what with all the cheating, and misunderstanding, and mistakes and backstabbing… and I only hope tonight’s show is just as good.

The morning after the cheating debacle, Marcel is feeling distraught. He was so happy to be a part of the winning team, but then their win was marred by accusations of cheating. Betty knows she’s not a cheater… she just made a mistake. I could dwell here on the fact that all of the other chefs seemed to know the rules for the challenge, and that they couldn’t change the dish on the second day, but I think that’s already been said. Still though, Betty’s either a liar or stupid. I’ll reserve judgment on that one until the end of the show.

Josie is amazed how the chefs sacrificed each other, and knows that only she and Marisa really trust each other.

Sometimes there’s a reason things are left over.
12 chefs remain to battle for the title of Top Chef, and one will be that much closer after winning today’s Quickfire Challenge. The special Guest Judge is Michelle Bernstein, consultant Chef for Social Restaurant in Hollywood. Carlos really, really hearts Michelle, since they’re both Floridians, and the rest of the chefs seem neutral about her.

Today’s challenge involves leftovers, and by “leftovers,” they mean parts of the animal that are usually left over and not always utilized. Parts like kidneys, brains, feet and blood. Lovely. I’m sure this challenge won’t make me a vegetarian.

The chefs have two hours to make their dish, and Guest Judge Michelle notes that it will be a challenge for them to make these ingredients “sexy.” Indeed.

Mia heads straight to the pigs feet, and when Betty sees Marcel grab some pigs blood, she jokes that he looks like a vampire. Ha, ha, ha. You’re so clever Betty. Elia takes sweetbreads, (that word always makes me think of Hannibal Lecter), and Cliff notes that the cuts of meat they have to work with are tough, and need to be soaked or braised for a long period of time to make them tasty.

This challenge is allowing me to expand my list of things I will never eat.
Host Padma and Guest Judge Michelle don’t seem bothered by the fact that they’re about to eat some really nasty foods, and dive right in with Frank’s veal sweetbread and arugula tart with (and this is totally going on my list!) cream of catfish head soup. Now that’s a combination of words I never in a million years thought I would write… catfish head soup. Or should it be cat fishhead soup? I really don’t know. At any rate, Padma and Michelle don’t seem to hate it and move on to the next dish.

Marisa has prepared beef cheeks with home made parpadelle noodles, Sam- sweetbread scallion beignets, which he prepared by braising the sweetbread, and Marcel a veal sweetbread schnitzel. Elia has prepared a simple seared kidney and sweetbread, and tells Padma and Michelle that she did not braise or soak the meats before searing. Cliff presents sautéed sweetbreads and braised oxtail, Michael’s dish is a veal tail and tongue stew, Mia serves some braised pigs feet, arugula and home made corn bread and Josie- braised oxtail and potato puree. Carlos’s dish is sautéed sweetbreads with a garlic cilantro lime sauce, Ilan has prepared almond encrusted sweetbreads with fingerling potatoes, and finally, Betty’s dish is the incredibly disgusting sounding fishhead beef cheeks en brodo. Yummy!

Guest Judge Michelle is pleasantly surprised and calls many of the dishes tasty and innovative. She calls out Josie and Elia for having the worst dishes, and then names Sam, Cliff and Ilan the best, with immunity going to Sam.

I always really liked my prom dates.
The next day, the chefs meet at Social, Hollywood and line up in the ballroom in front of Host Padma. She tells them that Jennifer Coolidge will be hosting a six course luncheon for 60 or her nearest and dearest, and our chefs will be responsible for picking and preparing the courses. Michael is excited because he’s always wanted to meet Stifler’s mom, and I am disappointed in Michael, because Jennifer Coolidge is so much more than that- she was also in A Night at the Roxbury and Pootie Tang.

Continuing with the leftovers theme from the Quickfire Challenge, Padma tells the chefs that they will only be able to use ingredients that are in the kitchen, and those ingredients are leftovers and remnants from the past evening’s service. Oh, and the chefs have to pair up and work in teams, and we all know how much they love that. Judge Tom tells them to pair up, and do it now!

On hearing that they have to pair up, the chefs look around kind of uncomfortably, but finally get it done. Betty and Mia grab onto each other in a weird, intimate hug which makes me think Betty has no idea that Mia completely sold her out at the Judges’ Table last week. Cliff and Sam are a team, so are Marisa and Josie, Elia and Carlos and Michael and Ilan. Not surprisingly, no one wants to work with Marcel or Frank, so when Frank asks him to partner up, Marcel gives us a funny analogy about how it was like being asked to the prom by someone you don’t really like, but you’re so afraid no one else will ask you to the prom that you say yes anyway. Sounds like Marcel has had a lot of experience with this sort of thing.

The chefs next draw knives to determine what course each team is responsible for, and Guest Judge Michelle reveals that the winner of this challenge will get to work with her at the 2006 South Beach Food and Wine Festival at the Sagamore Hotel in Miami.

Communication is key in a partnership.
The chefs rush into the kitchen, and immediately Betty and Mia try to corral everyone so that they can discuss their dishes and work towards a cohesive menu. The other teams have no interest in this though, and instead dive into the walk in to see what kind of ingredients they can use.

From the beginning, Marcel and Frank are not on exactly the same page. Each is really impressed with his own culinary skills, and not so much with the other’s. Marcel is not wowed by Frank’s filleting, but Frank tells us that he’s filleted more fish than all the other chefs combined, and then when there’s a sauce debate and they have to bring in Cliff as a taste tester, Marcel’s sauce wins, and Frank doesn’t take it too well. Basically, there is not much harmony on Team MF. Team MF. That’s funny.

Cliff and Sam are both workhorses, and Cliff knows Sam’s immunity won’t negatively affect his performance in this challenge.

Michael and Ilan are kind of an odd pairing, but they get along, and neither has betrayed the other in the competition yet, so they are working well together. They decide on a paella, and I am happy to finally see something on this episode that I would eat.

Teams Josie & Marisa and Carlos & Elia have both decided to make some sort of short drink featuring basil. Really? Two separate teams thought it would be a good idea to make a basil drink? Josie and Marisa change their drink, and Cliff comments that their course is the 5th, and is traditionally protein, not weird salad, pineapple chunks and a pink drink served in a spoon.

Judge Tom is watching over all of the teams so that no one cheats, or cheats and pretends they just made a mistake, and comments that the group is not working together, and the menu does not flow. He states it’s going to get tense in about an hour when the teams realize their time is running out, and then he smirks in a way that makes me positive he’s looking forward to some drama. Oh, who am I trying to kid? So am I.

That’s a happy little fella’.
The guests start arriving, and Jennifer Coolidge makes a special trip to the kitchen to thank the chefs for their hard work. Personally, I think she should wait to thank them until after she eats, but I guess she just likes to roll a little differently than I do.

The camera pans through Jennifer’s guests and we see a lot of culinary people, but no Christopher Guest or Parker Posey and I’m very disappointed.

Back in the kitchen, Judge Tom looks bored with his job as playground monitor, and tells us that the teams will each have 20 minutes to plate their courses, and if the plating is not completely finished, the dish cannot go out and they are disqualified. The chefs present their dishes and they are:

First course: Marcel and Frank with their duo of salmon and beets.

Second course: Sam and Cliff with foie gras and diver scallops.

Third Course: Michael and Ilan with seafood paella and soft shell crab.

Fourth Course: Betty and Mia, (Team BM) with a seared duck napoleon. I’d like to interject here that all of the pairs have been helping with the plating, and when it’s time for Betty and Mia’s pastry tower with overcooked duck on top, Sam comments that he’s embarrassed by the puff pastry, and the dish should not even be sent out.

Fifth course: Marisa and Josie with their Awakening Trio. They state it is hard to plate because it is so delicate, and when it is served the Judges and other chefs are not impressed and call it “disconnected.”

Finally, the sixth course is Carlos and Elia with their dessert trio. Elia does not want the other chefs assisting with the plating, but somehow one of the dishes goes out with only two if the three desserts, and by the time it comes back to the kitchen, Team CE’s time has run out and they can’t fix the error. I’m a little confused here. I thought that if a team could not complete plating the dish in the allotted time, they would be disqualified. So, were Carlos and Elia disqualified? Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention, or misunderstood the rules… it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I couldn’t understand something on this show.

The courses are done, and the guests applaud the chefs, and the chefs applaud themselves, and then trudge back to the kitchen to drink and await their fates.

You can’t recover from bad choices.
Time again for the Judges’ Table, and they don’t have a lot of kind words for our chefs. Judge Tom thinks that the chefs are not trying to win- they’re only trying not to lose, and mentions all of the fantastic ingredients in Social’s kitchen they could have selected, but just ignored. Guest Judge Michelle is disappointed with the chefs and upset that they didn’t use the great ingredients.

The Judges call in the top two teams, and they are Ilan & Michael with their seafood paella, and Sam & Cliff with their foie gras and diver scallops. Michael and Ilan are crowned the winning team, and Guest Judge Michelle declares Ilan the winner of the challenge, which means he gets to travel to sunny South Beach so that he can be her gopher for the duration of the Food and Wine Festival. Yay for Ilan!!

Host Padma asks the best to send in the worst, and they are Betty & Mia, Marisa & Josie and Carlos & Elia. The Judges start with Betty and Mia, and Judge Tom tells them he was really disappointed with their dish. Mia says that she loved their dish so much she went into the walk in to cry after they presented it, (but did you actually taste it, Mia?) but both Mia and Betty say that in retrospect they should have left off the puff pastry. The Judges tell them the duck was overcooked, and move on to eviscerate the next team.

Josie and Marisa say they’re both responsible for the dish and thought their combination was cohesive, but when Judge Tom asks them if they thought they could possibly win with that dish, neither woman has an answer.

As for Elia and Carlos- well their juice tasted like the pomegranate had been left sitting out for two days and had gone bad and they should have tried to do one dish well, instead of doing three little mediocre dishes.

The judgment comes down to bad choices, and although all three teams are guilty, Josie and Marisa are deemed guiltiest and sent packing.

Next week Elia goes a little nuts, and Frank threatens to beat Marcel into an unrecognizable pulp! Looks like a can’t miss episode!