The Other Side of the Fence

The Season 4 finalist handicaps the new cheftestants.

I was never nervous during my participation on the show last year. You just do what you do - it's no big deal. But, I was terribly nervous for the new bunch of chefs as they found out that their first Quickfire challenge was actually an elimination. Holy shit...

What everyone needs to realize is that every contestant's worst fear is being the first one out. So, to know that you might not make it to the first real challenge had to rattle some nerves. I thought it was a great reveal from a viewer's perspective. And let's face it - it's a lot more exciting to witness the agony of defeat than the thrill of victory.

The skills test seemed easy enough. Peel 15 apples with a pairing knife. First one gets immunity, the next few are safe. I was a bit freaked out by the bloody apple incident. It's a game, so I know the rules, they probably didn't mention blood as a disqualifier. As a chef, I think you have to treat all the food with the respect that it will be eaten. Thomas Keller once told me that it's not a football game. Now, Top Chef is a bit more of a football game, but still.

The remaining chefs have to brunoise the apples. Great idea here. If they're peeled correctly, that will be easier. For the record, a tight brunoise of what looked like a quart or so is difficult and it's a technique that drives me crazy. To really get it tight is a precise, tedious task. I still look at the paint job in my new house and it makes me want to kick a window in when I notice the slightest imperfection. Brunoise, and BTW Lauren it's not pronounced "Brun-wah," is NOT a very tiny chop, which it often becomes. Tom picked through a few containers, but he was pretty lenient here. I mean, he actually called Dale Talde's monkfish a filet in our season's skill relay (sorry buddy). The remaining and no doubt scared shitless chefs have to now cook with the apples. Another great turn. Bear in mind that the first cooking Quickfire is very quick. Go try to do it tonight at your house. Turn the clock on 20 minutes and then have someone jumble around your pantry ingredients. Or in this case, go cook in your backyard. I felt nervous for these chefs, for sure. Although, I do think the surviving chefs from that Quickfire have gotten their feet wet in the timing of the show.

Lauren and Patrick make salads. Salads only win salad challenges. Dumb, easy way out. Right away I knew one of them was brioche.

Leah and Rhadika actually cook. Chutney equals automatic explosive flavor, good call. Scallops and apples and two attempts at restaurant dishes - nice work. They're in the clear.

Lauren's cafe salad is worse than Patrick's introduction to lunch cookery salad, so she's packing her pairing knife. There are two good things to know here, Lauren. First, losing doesn't discount your career. Second, the 14 or so others who will be told to PYKAG will be scarred with an incident that people will remember. There are so many contestants whose names people don't remember. Did you really want to be the girl who always made pasta? The guy who shaved that other guys head? Or the angry lesbian on "that cooking show?" You'll be alright.

Then my favorite elimination challenge so far, ever. Go walk around a neighborhood and get inspired. I would have loved that! See, there are only two things that get you success on Top Chef. Point-of- view and technique - it absolutely takes both.

The chefs have to go head-to-head. I like this as well. It's a great way to see their style. The cuisine doesn't matter. A good chef does their food and pulls in the theme.

The pretty surfer is frantic. Ariane is frozen, Patrick is nervous, but cute. Richard is Chatty McChatenstein. Jamie is all like, I'm hard core shut the F up. Note - gotta like all the full sleeve ink going on here. It's the new faux-hawk. Stefan and Fabio are nice and easy, I think they're gonna make out at some point.

Jean Georges walks in, which is like Michael Jordan walking onto a basketball court. Well, maybe Tony Parker is a better example because of the accent.

The chefs explain their dishes. Fabio reads his like he's just won the Oscar for cinematography. A few say they have never used their ingredients, which they purchased themselves? None of the food gets me excited. There's a sous vide here, a foam there, here a risotto, there a risotto, everywhere's a faux-risotto.

Risotto makes me want to take a nap.

You can tell by the judges' smiles that some of the chefs have earned a little respect.

Besides Tom's approval of Stefan's hairstyle, he seems very happy with him. I think Padma wants to put Lil' Eugene in her purse for nailing the Indian theme. Gail's indifferent. Jean Georges is thinking about his next concept.

On to the stew room where the chefs are surprised about what's happening. "Really, they haven't decided yet?"

In a new twist, at least for the opening round, the winners and losers come out. Stefan wins. He feels like he can take it all. I know it's a good feeling. Eugene and Leah get props. They now have validated confidence.

Patrick and Nikki, sorry again, Ariane, are left. Ariane wears a commis' cap and she cooked like one. Patrick is a culinary student and he cooked like one.

For a moment we hear what we will hear throughout the season. What's worse - technical error or a lack of point of view?

A long pause and a stunning look from Padma - it's too early in the game for her to feel bad or show emotion.

Patrick is filleted. Culinary students all over the country just crumbled their applications. It's not going to happen, ever. Nor will a career caterer, a middle-aged career changer, a sommelier, a food stylist, or a nutritionist ever win Top Chef.

Now to the standings: In my honest opinion, the few who looked like they may be in it for a while: Stefan, Fabio, Hosea, Lea, and Jamie (not sure why on Jamie, just a feeling).

The few who could be in trouble: Ariane, Jeff, Richard, Danny, and Alex.

See you next week! Check in on me at

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