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Art Smith and Thierry Rautureau (aka "the chef in the hat" who I will call "Fedora") are repeat performers who were both kicked off in earlier seasons and are back to play ball. Since Art was last on, he's opened five restaurants, won two JB awards and lost 120 pounds. He's ready to pounce. Not much has changed for Fedora but it's "no more Mr. Nice Guy." Clark and Mark the business-and-life partners from Arrows Restaurant came together but they're competing as individuals. Patricia Yeo used to be Chris Cosentino's boss and he tells us she's tough. She looks all little and sweet and then all of a sudden she's all "Top Chef Masters is war." Whoa. The unknown newcomer of the group Lorena Garcia has only one restaurant in Miami International Airport and made those new healthy burrito bowls for Taco Bell but she seems like fun. And by fun we mean loud, young and foreign. Keeping in the spirit of Vegas, the Quickfire starts off at a blackjack table.
They pick partners and Curtis deals cards as ingredients. They'll have to cook their whole hand. The first two all go a little too perfectly together for everyone - duck and peaches, steak and garlic, langoustine and quinoa - and then the third pairing is the kicker - bologna and pork tenderloin. Art and Lorena immediately click, he started salsa-ing when she walked into the room and she explains she and Art are so similar in that they both make soul food for the AMERICAS (you know, North and Latin). The judges enjoy everything but the langoustine quinoa dish has a parsley sauce that tastes like wheatgrass. Cosentino and Yeo's Buffalo de Gato Pescato is fried and clearly the most scrumptious so they win.
On to the elimination challenge. The chefs will be taking on the buffet and are split into red and blue teams. In the obligatory run to Whole Foods, we learn that Art is the slowest shopper alive and (most importantly) that Takashi and Fedora are best friends and completely adorable together. They have $800 left over and Fedora screams out "we're going to eat at Jaleo tonight!" Love.
Since "buffet" wasn't exactly elimination challenge status, Curtis comes in with lottery ticket twists and they scratch off their fate. Art and Debbie get immunity (lucky for Debbie since she's on the bottom after her wheatgrass quinoa), Patricia and Cosentino both with ANOTHER thousand, as do Clark and Fedora. Missy and Takashi have to switch teams and Kerry, Lorena, Mark and Sue lose 30 minutes but we don’t really care. Gold tickets then come out and reveal the red team is cooking a Mexican buffet and the blue team is cooking Indian. Sucks to be Blue.
As they start to prep, Missy almost immedaitely slices her pinky. She wants to keep going but the paramedic comes in and sends her to the hospital. Eek, this cut is actually really bad. She's told she needs a skin-graft and she still wants to compete. Girl's got spirit, but turns out it's very serious and she'll be out of commission for three to four months. At the end she apologizes and ducks out, it's not worth ruining her hand and whole career for. Curtis guarantees her a spot on next season.
The red team steps up for Missy and takes care of her dish. Art and Cosentino fight over scallions and radishes for garnish. Art is all 'I need them to do the best for Missy' and Cosentino is all 'you have immunity, I need to help myself.' He has a point. They've been butting heads from the start. Cosentino wanted to do his small dish and Art says it has to be grand and fabulous. Cosentino eventually gives him the scallions and Art kisses him on the cheek (coincidentally you can watch both of them - officially cooking reality show sluts - on the most absurd show ever Time Machine Chefs).
Then, the performers walk in: showgirls, pirates and mimes, oh my! But they're just background for this challenge. The judges are the usual James Oseland, Ruth Reichl and first-timer former LA Times food critic Krista Simmons.
The Mexican buffet does very well. Kerry made Mexican steak, Patricia made chicken and beef Adobo with cornmeal pancakes and Missy's zucchini salad, Art made pan de tres leches, Cosentino made pork and beans and Lorena made "Leche de Tigre" Ceviche salad. Oseland likes everything. Krista is the most critical but she's probably overcompensating because she's new. They like Cosentino's pork and Art's dessert best.
The Indian buffet, somewhat hilariously, is a complete fail. Sue made "Indian" spiced chicken breast with lentil rice cake and tomato ginger jam, Clark made heirloom tomato compote with fried green beans, Mark made curried corn soup, Fedora made Masala salmon and beef shoulder with spiced cous cous, Takashi made an "Indian" dumpling and Debbie made an "Indian" lemon meringue tart. The food is okay but none of it is Indian at all. They all hate Sue's chicken, they thought the salmon and shrimp filling in Takashi's dumpling could have been lighter, they like Fedora's (phew) and then Reichl and Oseland fight over if Debbie's lemon tart, which leads to the best line of the episode, when Reichl declares "I am the queen of lemons, this is very sweet." Game over. Krista's scared and says "I'm with her." (Runner up best line, when Art says, "I want to go cook on that pirate ship, I've got lots of booty.")
Red team obviously wins and Chris takes the $10K prize. It's been a good premiere for Cosentino. The blue team obviously loses and they all admit they didn't prepare an Indian buffet. The elimination comes down to Takashi and Sue. Debbie would've lost if she didn't have immunity but so goes the game. It's clear to us that Sue is going home, she is the lesser chef but they're more positive about Sue's than Takashi's. When they discuss Takashi's at the end it's almost as if it was re-shot as justification to keep him in, they each say something fake-positive about his food: Reichl respected that he didn't do Indian, Oseland was intrigued and Krista said it has vibrancy. Bravo!
Lo and behold, Sue goes home and all we'll remember her for is screaming out, "B*tch you ain't getting the tortillas without my cinnamon!"
Takeaways: Cosentino and Art are at the top, Fedora is so freaking adorable and we like Takashi and Lorena. Jury's still out on the couple. Debbie will be next to go. Kerry seems completely insignificant. Sorry, Missy.