By Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey
7:10 AM PDT, August 16, 2012
This week, the chefs leave the comfy confines of their climate controlled Vegas kitchen for a more rustic setting.
But first, Curtis introduces the Quickfire by revealing a huge salad bar that the chefs will use to compose a salad.
"Here's your salad bar," he says. "It's as big as a whale. And you've got eight minutes to make it set sail."
The chefs dash into the challenge horrified at the short time limit, without getting his musical reference. Der.
Eight minutes is indeed a crazy short time, and they are more frenzied than normal. Some chefs keep it simple, some are more ambitious: Art makes a watermelon soup, Lorena is on grill, charring cauliflower.
Eight minutes are up, and the chefs sit at a table in front of a big screen TV to watch the judges as they sample the dishes. They are surprised and thrilled to see Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider from the B52's as the guest judges. Did they think Curtis was just having a case of word soup?
Both Kate and Fred are vegetarians and Kate, at least, seems very excited to try the salads. Fred doesn't take his sunglasses off the whole time and looks perturbed and/or hungover.
The salad tasting commences. Thierry has added blueberries to his salad, and Kate mentions she doesn't like fruit and vegetables mixed. As a fellow fruit/vegetable separatist, let me just say HERE HERE! It's really entertaining to watch the chefs as they hang on every word of the judges. You can see they really care and take every comment seriously.
Kate and Fred come back to the kitchen to say hello to the chefs and declare the winner.
Art says that his favorite B52 songs are "Love Shack" and "Rock Lobster," "Because those songs came out when I came out!."
"That was a good one" says Fred, dryly. Even though he's still got on his sunglasses you can actually FEEL his eyes rolling. I am obliged to point out that "Rock Lobster" was released in 1979, and "Love Shack" came out 10 years later. But let's not get bogged down in musical facts.
Thierry, Kerry and Lorena have the favorite salads. The judges all agree on Lorena's smoky cauliflower salad as the winner. She's very happy to win 5K for her charity, Alliance for a Healthy Generation -- which works to fight childhood obesity. She also gets immunity for the next challenge.
To explain the Elimination Challenge, Curtis introduces Louise Benson. Kerry makes a face that screams, "WHO?!." She enters and Curtis explains she is Chairwoman of the Hualapai Tribal Council.
The Hualapai are the Native American tribe from Arizona. She works on the Hualapai Ethno-Botany project, which brings together tribal elders with the youth to pass down the history of how to use their native ingredients in food, medicine, and craft. Kerry clearly wishes he could take back his earlier incredulous pout.
The chefs will be working in teams of two to create family-style dishes for the Tribal Council. Clark points out his Dad used to teach Indian Education at the University of Arizona, so he feels like he has an advantage.
Dinner will be served on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and they'll be traveling helicopter to get there. The chefs are giddy with excitement. Except Takashi.
Quote #1 of the episode, regarding Takashi's fear of heights: "I hate heights. I cannot change a lightbulb sometimes."
Chefs pair up and each pulls a knife to determine which native ingredient they'll be working with. Art and Lorena have quail and prickly pear, Takashi and Thierry have venison and Banana Yucca, Chris and Patricia have rabbit and squash, and Clark and Kerry have beef and corn.
The gang packs into two helicopters and flies out of Vegas, around the Hoover Dam, and down into the Grand Canyon. They are all clearly awed by the landscape.
Quote #2 of the episode, from Chris: "Now I know why the Hualapai didn't want to leave -- As arid, as dry and as harsh as the conditions may be, that's one hell of a view to wake up to in the morning."
Kerry says, breezily, "So we get off of our helicopters into our Lexus RX's ..." Groan. I know that brand integration is unavoidable with these shows, but they could at least TRY to make it a bit more seamless. His attempt at an offhand product call out sinks like a brick.
The team is taken to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which is a glass horseshoe shaped platform that allows you to walk over the edge and see the bottom.
Takashi takes one step onto the platform and turns right back around. Moments later he is shown moving slowly onto it, clearly anxious. He does manage to get all the way out and is proud of his accomplishment.
The team is taken to their outdoor kitchen, which consists of tents and grills on the edge of the canyon. As prep begins, Art waxes poetic about his love of Lorena: "If I was straight, I'd marry her." The Art + Lorena love fest continues with kisses, high fives, and lots of calling each other "baby."
Thierry thought he was working with yucca root, which a starchy tuber, close to a potato. When he starts chopping up the Banana Yucca he discovers they are actually the flowering fruit of the cactus, and look more like figs. He's befuddled what to do with them.
Clark and Kerry are making beef with sage pistou, red berry fondue, and chili ragout. So their strategy is rhyming things.
Aaaaand here come the rain clouds! The rain starts, and it's putting out the fires on the grill.
Chris disassembles his grill to turn it into a plancha so it stays hot. Way to go, McGuyver! He also kindly shares with others.
Thierry decides that whatever Banana Yucca is, it will taste good if he fries it. Solid logic.
While the other Chefs are laughing and playing their reindeer games, Clark and Kerry are silently souring on each other. Clark is irritated that Kerry is taking too long to plate his dishes in a fancy "New York style" when it's family-style service. He snaps at Kerry as everyone hustles to complete their dishes.
The tribal council arrive, looking incredible in their traditional dress. Curtis thanks the council for inviting them onto their land. James Oseland says it's so beautiful he never wants to leave. He then asks Louise from the Council if she's single because he wants to marry her. She declines but points out the single lady at the table for James to focus his attention on.
Art and Lorena go first, and launch into a long diatribe about how food is about love and spirituality and they love each other and you take food with you in your heart and blah blah blah. Patricia explains the rest of the gang is worried their food is going to get cold if Art and Lorena don't put a sock in it.
Dinner is served. The critics dissect each dish. The members of the Hualapai mention more than once how the food reminds them of their childhood. One of the tribe members says that when they hunt and cook they just EAT the food. They don't take time to say "Oh this seasoning is just exquisite!" and pokes fun of the judges, which gives everyone a good laugh.
Interstitial: The Hualapai women perform a traditional dance on the edge of the Canyon. It was beautiful and moving, until they grabbed the chefs to join in. Then the whole thing took an awkward turn.
Curtis calls teams Chris + Patricia and Takashi + Theirry to the Critics' table and announce they had the favorite dishes. Takashi and Theirry take the prize with their venison and Banana Yucca.
Theirry shrieks "Holy S---!" and then covers his mouth like a little boy caught by his Mom. It's adorable. He has won using an ingredient he had heretofore never even seen, which is very impressive.
Quote #3 of the episode, from Kerry as they await elimination: "Maybe they're going to say that some spirit of the Hualapai has come down and say that no one is getting eliminated tonight." No such luck, Kerry. "Top Chef" is a cruel and fickle mistress.
The critics all loved Lorena's sauce, and she's got immunity, so we know she's in. Most of the criticism is about uneven cooking, which is no surprise given the rain splattered grills.
Clark gets asked to go for his substandard corn dish. He thanks the judges and other chefs and walks away, though considering they're on the edge of the Grand Canyon, I'm not sure where he's wandering off to. Don't do it, Clark!
Next week: A pool party hosted by Playboy Bunny Holly Madison, where we see lots of shirtless men and James Olmstead breaking out with some poolside push-ups. This may be the first Top Chef in history that's preceded by a parental warning. Until then!
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