Last week our friends enjoyed the cuisine and culture of Florence, a.k.a. "Meatball City." This week they stay in Italy, driving themselves to Bologna (population: 382,460). The teams are unchanged, which means Jenna and Liz must continue to hash out their resentment and discombobulation vis-à-vis each other. Jenna berates Liz in the roomy backseat of the Infiniti X5-J302 Crossover Sport Utility Sedan, or whatever the name of their weird blobby car is.
Before you can say, "Apollonia I’ll phone ya," our chefs are in Bologna. (NOTE: Click that link and keep hitting refresh.)
The teams’ first challenge is cheese-based — they must locate three wheels of substandard Parmigiano-Reggiano inside a massive cheese-aging warehouse. Remember, these cheese wheels are enormous; they look like ottomans. (A green triangle printed on the side of the cheese either means it’s improperly aged, or that many airplanes and ships are lost inside it.)
Red Team finishes first and races to deliver one of their funky footstools to Tamburini Salumeria, a famous market. Nobody will give them directions; John isn’t happy about carrying the huge block of "greasy as hell" cheese around town while Jenna’s entreaties in Italian fall on deaf ears.
I’m sorry, what’s this? Black Team lucks out with a knowledgeable local, and delivers their cheese before Red Team! This is a cheese-related turn of events I did not anticipate, not even in my wildest cheese-fantasies entertained while eating huge mouthfuls of cheese.
Next task: Find twelve specialty items in the market and take them to Ristorante Pappagallo, one of the shining jewels in the crown of Bologna’s cuisine (I assume). Our friends love being in this gourmet Italian market with its fancy olive oils and spreads and crazy dried-out animal meats, but of course they can’t really savor the moment because they’re being forced to run around and make frantic asses of themselves. (My notes: "Avery is revealing more and more of her mysterious tattoos, but they’re the kind of tattoos that are so loopy and cursive you can’t tell what they say.")
Black Team brings their bag of groceries to Ristorante Pappagallo — only to realize they forgot Parmigiano-Reggiano! What a wily cheese, that one; is it any wonder Parmigiano-Reggiano is known in Italy as "the quicksilver fiend?" (JOKE) Nicole was in charge of checking off items; her oversight is unforgivable. Of course, she has immunity for the week — this is the first of many failures she’ll make without consequence over the course of the episode.
Thanks to Nicole’s failure, Red Team wins the shopping challenge! Next, they need to find Curtis Stone and Cat Cora (not a burlesque dancer with whiskers) at the Piazza Maggiore. Red Team finds Curtis and Cat! Red Team wins $10,000! They also win a very special Exceptional Ingredient, the most fleeting, precious ingredient of all: time. They’ll get an extra hour in the kitchen, which I assume will be devoted to bickering, per their specialty.
The teams will take over restaurants that specialize in Bolognese cuisine. You know that means: It’s time to make some emm-effin’ tortellini.
Red Team invites Black Team to dine with them at Pappagallo. They sit at separate tables. It’s awkward, very Capulet and Montague. Riccardo Facchini, the executive chef, blows their minds with a priapic column of mushroom salad, a coffee cup of tortellini, and other phenomena so exotic and bewildering I feel like I’m watching Prometheus again.
Jenna goes into strategy mode and asks Facchini to reveal his secrets — but in Italian, because nobody on Black Team understands Italian. This offends Black Team, but screw them, I admire Jenna’s chutzpah. Facchini rewards Jenna with a torrent of nonsense the Italians regard as language.
Black Team takes over a restaurant called Il Cambio (Italian for "The Cambio"). Nicole says Bolognese cuisine is more sophisticated than other Italian cuisine: "It’s not just comfort food." After seeing Chef Facchini’s creations, I can only agree, as they caused me profound discomfort. Avery teaches classes in how to make pasta, so she’s about to make some delicious pasta from scratch! (My notes: "I’ve never made pasta. How do you make it? With eggs?")
Unfortunately, Avery’s pasta dough has big chunks of rock salt in it, so it can’t move through the crazy paper-cutter device. Meanwhile Nick and Nicole fight over how she’s chopping the steak. As the extent of my chopping-philosophy is "let’s turn big chunks into small chunks," the nuance of this debate is lost on me, but Nick really feels like Nicole is doing a disservice to the entire history of culinary preparation.
Red Team fares little better: John starts making his pasta dough while Jenna barks orders and opinions, adding a condescending "honey" and "sweetie" to her every criticism.
As the dinner hour approaches, Black Team is dying — they enlist the dishwasher to help make tortellinis, as well as some of the wait staff. Avery: "Tortellini hell is breaking loose … this is the worst [BLEEP] day ever." May I nominate that immortal phrase as her next tattoo?
Curtis and Cat arrive with some famous Italian chefs. A loud man named Paul Bartolotta starts holding court about how special Italian food is. I gotta say, I do not trust this fellow at all. I refuse to be brainwashed into believing that Italian food is any different from any other kind of food! Food is food, people. It’s mostly vegetables and grains and whatnot.
Nick’s antipasti is a mushroom salad with arugula purée. The Italian chefs are impressed! Avery and Nookie’s tortellini with squash and prosciutto is destroyed — the dough is thick, wet, and gummy, "like from a Chinese restaurant," per one diner.
The sauce Nicole’s been working on is garbage and the meat is a mess. The diners are aghast at the toughness of the meat and the saltiness of the Brussels sprouts. Will Nicole’s ham-handedness sink Black Team?
Over in Red Team’s restaurant, Jenna’s four-cheese plate is controversial, rather like her. But John’s tortellini with parmesan broth is "infinitely better" than Red Team’s tortellini, according to one anonymous Italian diner. And Liz’s pork loin with eggplant purée is a hit, even though we were set up to believe it would be a disaster.
The diners are sated. Judgment time is at hand. Curtis can’t wait to ask how awkward it was for the teams to eat dinner together. Nick rewards Curtis’s impish curiosity by announcing that he can’t believe Jenna actually asked the chef to speak in Italian.
Nookie and Avery are skittish while discussing their tortellini. Curtis announces that Nicole’s beef "was almost inedible, it was so tough." It seems Nick is vindicated for holding Nicole in fathomless contempt.
John and Jenna both hate on Liz’s pork dish; Jenna delivers a stirring condemnation of its saltiness. Curtis is appalled: "You’re sabotaging your teammate!" Jenna doesn’t care. She will not be denied the pleasure of throwing Liz under multiple busses.
And then we learn something shocking: Liz’s dish was actually the diners’ overwhelming favorite. Somebody call You Just Got Faced Monthly, because Jenna just got FACED.
Red Team wins. John grabs most valuable chef; his tortellini was "classic." But really, Liz should win most valuable chef, for not beating Jenna over the head with an 80-pound block of greasy-as-hell cheese.
It’s time for Black Team’s reckoning. Avery, Nick, and Nookie all hate that Nicole has immunity. Nick can’t believe how much work he put into trying to save Nicole’s crappy dish, and now he can’t even vote her off.
Note to our contestant friends: Any chef with immunity is going to totally fuck up in the kitchen. I know I would! If I had immunity, forget about chopping some meat incorrectly: I’d spend the week drinking Prosecco out of an old lady’s shoe. In fact, that sounds so fun, I’m giving myself immunity right now.
Nicole votes to eliminate Nick. Nick can’t vote for Nicole, so he chooses Avery. Avery, in turn, chooses Nick. It’s up to Nookie: He chooses Nick, whose face almost collapses in on itself with frustration. Nookie promises to avenge Nick by destroying Nicole in the very near future. To her credit, Nicole looks ashen, guilty.
Next stop: Thailand! Note to locals: EVACUATE.
David Rees is an artisanal pencil sharpener.