Top Chef: Sh*t on a Shingle, and Other Delights

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Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

Was last night’s episode of Top Chef as mind-numbing as zoning out in front of a Sizzling Sevens machine? A little bit. But, true to form, we just couldn’t pull ourselves away as Padma and Nigella Lawson (a “modern, updated, less French version of Julia Child,” per Eli) ordered room service, sending the cheftestants “scrambling” (word of the day) for sautée pans and the like. Of course, Robin is instantly the villain , leaving her station a mess for Michael after she makes some cruddy cheese blintzes with caramelized pineapple and blueberry (ironic, given that Robin bitched about Eli’s mess in an earlier episode). Michael tells her “I’d rather you be gone right now” as he struggles with his huevos Cubana and the words prove prophetic. (See the clip, below. By the way, if Michael instructs one more person to break an egg into their dish … ) Jen goes on a suicide mission and serves creamed chipped beef, a.k.a. “shit on a shingle” (it doesn’t look very creamy, but it’s doubtful Nigella noticed). Kevin impresses with his play on steak and eggs (cooked with green onion, aged Cheddar, dusted with coffee, and a soft-scrambled egg with crème fraiche), but the winner is Eli with his fried-egg Reuben Benedict with Thousand Island hollandaise.

After Padma and Nigella’s pajama party, we get a little something for the ladies — Kevin under the covers, sporting a CONVICTION tattoo (hopefully not a prison tat). Then, the Elimination Challenge. Remember when Padma said this season actually wasn’t very Vegas-y? Right. The cheftestants must each make a dish inspired by a casino, for a dinner for 175 of Vegas’s “elite” (presumably the casinos’ marketing teams). No shrimp cocktails allowed. Michael draws New York–New York, and, inspired by firefighters, decides to do his version of Buffalo wings (apparently a staple of New York cuisine) — a boneless chicken-wing confit with curry and a blue-cheese disc. Jen goes to something resembling Medieval Times, is probably the only person that has ever looked miserable while holding a chalice, and decides to do something based on The Sword and the Stone — a grilled New York strip topped with red-wine reduction, beets, truffles, and herbs. Her meat looks tougher than if she had grilled Siegfried & Roy’s tiger, causing jet-lagged Nigella to go into “wench mode.” At Mandalay Bay, Bryan gets into the sustainable-fishing message at the shark reef (where he buys a stuffed animal for his 2-year-old, aww), and he ends up making an escabeche of halibut with bouillabaisse consommé and parsley coulis. Good call not to go with the shark-fin soup — Rick Moonen would be proud.

At the Belaggio, Robin, who considers herself an artist more than anything, is smitten with the Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. She decides “gelatin is going to be involved,” and as if that’s not enough of an alarm bell, she says “I don’t want to do what I know, I want to make.” Of course she ends up making the judges wince when her panna cotta turns out too gelatinous and she botches her spun sugar so bad it doesn’t make it to the plate (“more Spamalot than Camelot,” Toby declares — and that’s why they pay him the big bucks). Kevin goes to the Mirage and, after frolicking with dolphins, decides to go “tropical” via a lightly cured wild Alaskan sockeye salmon on top of a salad of compressed Napa cabbage and cucumber. Okay, not that tropical, but Toby Young seems starstruck as he praises the Thai-flavored broth. Eli can’t wrap his mind around the fact that Circus Circus isn’t really a circus, but decides what the heck, he’s going to do a peanut and caramel-apple soup garnished with pulverized popcorn and topped with raspberry froth. Tom finds the soup grainy, and Toby finally gets a chance to say, “like most people who have come to Vegas, he has gambled and lost.” Padma rolls her eyes and is like, “ugh.”

But after the judges get done praising Kevin, Bryan, and Michael (the winner), Eli doesn’t actually lose — even though Padma tells him she’d never want to eat his dish again and Nigella didn’t want to eat it to begin with. Tom doesn’t seem to mind Eli’s dish as much and thinks Robin is a fool for botching something as bush-league as panna cotta, so Robin “I’m Not a Sugar Master” Leventhal is tossed into a Glad bag and kicked to the curb, because there’s some sort of Top Chef rule that says whenever you try to make anything remotely resembling a custard, you go home. Needless to say, the judges seem way more sad to see her go than Eli does.

Next up, Thomas Keller judges the Bocuse d’Or episode and (uh-oh!) Kevin doesn’t like how his steak comes out.