Top Chef

Top Chef: Feel the Love

Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

Last night the chefs said howdy-do to Tim “He’s a Cowboy, on a Steel Spatula He Rides” Love. Their Quickfire challenge: Make something using cactus, an ingredient every bit as daunting and slimy as snails. Mattin, obviously familiar with T. Love’s ways, poured on the tequila. Ron was unfamiliar with cactus, since it’s poisonous in Haiti, so he hid it in a sauce. Ashley did cactus-jelly doughnuts. Ash flopped with a cactus sope that he later described as a grilled cheese. The winner was Mike I., who turned out to be a succulent savant — he got the goo out by curing them in salt and proved that if you give this crew any ingredient, they’ll turn it into a seviche. Of course, Michael V. (who twice reminded us that he was one of the strongest chefs in the competition, in case we’d forgotten about his Michelin star) was a gentleman about it: “I’d rather be able to put together interesting flavors than to be able to take the slime out of a cactus.” Douché.

Here’s where the episode went south — south, as in, down on the ranch, but also south, as in, downhill. As if they hadn’t gotten their point across with the Air Force–base episode, the producers transported the cheftestants to the desert, where T. Love awaited with some hungry ranch hands. (It’s only a matter of time before they’re forced to cook in a double-wide at the Bunny Ranch while prosties tongue their ears.) Here they spent way too long bitching about their cooking and sleeping conditions (fire pits and teepees), finding ever-so-creative ways to describe how hot it was, and recalling camping trips gone by (Ashley grew up near an outhouse! Kevin is a horseshoe champ!). We also learned that Ron can fight snakes with voodoo, thinks that people just keep swords lying around, and will probably end up shrinking someone’s head.

As a result of all this, we didn’t see much cooking — in fact, Ron and Mattin decided not to cook their food at all because there were only five pits. Unsurprisingly, both of them ended up on the chopping block — Ron’s seviche (the second to use coconut after Michael’s, in the Quickfire) was a bit sweet, and his coconut cocktail was revolting, while Mattin prepared a seviche “three ways” — gross, grosser, and grossest. His cod was the first thing to be spit out this season. And Tim Love got the quote of the episode: “I’m not well from it — I’m flippin’ sick, man.” Au revoir, mon ami, and next time, don’t mess with Texas. One curious note: The contestants were asked to cook something high-end, so we’re not sure why Mike I. opted for what he called a “JAI-ro.”

For once, Laurine and Ashley ended up in the final four but, yet again, it was between the brothers Voltaggio. Michael did dashi along with that old chestnut, miso-cured black cod, and Bryan, one of the few to cook anything close to a steak, produced a restaurant-caliber roasted pork loin with polenta, dandelion greens, and glazed rutabaga. It was good enough for a third win.

Next episode, Penn and Teller judge a challenge involving magic (expect Michael V. to bust out the liquid nitrogen and maybe even do that thing José Andrés does where he breathes it through his nostrils), Toby Young returns with bull-testicle analogies, and Jennifer C. finally falters.