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First Impressions - June 13

Last time we saw the Top Chef 3 Contestants, they were looking to critique the past contestants. Now it is they who will be critiqued, and by the end of this episode, one of them will also be a past contestant. Welcome to Top Chef 3.

We start with 15 contestants. We will end with one. Let's meet the 15.

Sara Mair (33, Chef/Cheese maker) - She's from Jamaica and thinks outside the box. She tries to think outside the rules, and that can get her into trouble in this sort of competition.

Clay Bowen (27, Sous Chef, Santa Barbara University Club) - He's from the South and he didn't go to culinary school. he also doesn't think that the South has been represented that well, and he's looking to change that. He looks like a good ol' Southern boy. He's also doing this for his deceased father. AwwwwBarf.

If Clay looks like a Southern Boy, then Joey Paulino (29, Executive Chef, Cafe Des Artistes) looks like a true Paisan, belly and all. "I'm the biggest baddest m*ther f*cker here. I'm from New York. I'm here to kick a$$."

Dale Levitsky (33, Chef/Consultant, Cre Cafe and Wine Bar) is looking to open up his own place. The win would not only give him the capital, but would validate him as an excellent chef, though it is hard to believe his 'Keep it simple' philosophy while he's brandishing a mohawk.

Tre Wilcox (30, Chef De Cuisine, Anacus), the lone African American male, has 'Gotta Have Passion' tattooed on his arm. He loves to watch people eat his food and he has...yes..passion.

Sara Nguyen (25, Executive Chef), is honored that the contestants are going into Casa Casarina (Versace's old mansion). She is an Asian female who reveres everything about Miami.

The Asian Male counterpart is Hung Nuyhn (29, Executive Chef, Guy Savoy), who reveres nothing. Hung is the loud emotional one, and is a 'Certified Professional A$$hole' (his words, not mine). As someone who has known Marcel (Top Chef 2 Finalist) for the past 5 years, he is almost certainly going to be painted as the villain in this series (my words, not his).

Micah Edelstein (32, Owner, Wandering Chef Caterer), is a long brown-haired accented beauty, who describes cooking as art, adding that no one told Michaelangelo how to paint. I sense major conflicts with her.

Sandee Birdsong (39, Executive Chef, Tantra), switched gears and is a chef in the Miami area. She's also switched gears in the hair department - she has a nice blonde mohawk to match Dale's brown one.

Lia Bardeen (27, Executive Sous Chef, Jean-Georges) works in Manhattan, where you have to have drive to thrive. She thinks that this drive will give her an edge. She looks like the perfect yuppie-yorker, complete with short haircut.

Chris 'CJ' Jacobsen (31, Private Chef) is a tall lanky guy from Orange County. He also has had cancer, which is in remission, but not without costing him...well... 'I have a false testicle and I'm ready to cook'. I don't think CJ will get too many ladies with that line.

Howie Kleinberg (31, Executive Chef, The Food Gang) also looks paisan and from NYC (though he's in Miami) - and he's got a bald head to back it up. Insert Howie/Joe as Kevin/Drew Amazing Race references here.

Brian Malkrey (34, Executive Chef, Oceanaire) - He's got the slick back hair to cover that receding hairline.

Camille Bacerra (34, Executive Chef/Owner, Paloma) - Camille is also from Brooklyn and specializes in 'Food Done Right'. I can see the women butting heads in a major way this season. That should be very entertaining :)

Casey Thompson (29, Dallas) - A mulletted brown/blonde woman.

Returning to the show is both Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio. Joining him this season is Queer Eye's Ted Allen, and Food and Wine Magazine's Editor in Chief Gail Simmons. The prizes? A feature in Food and Wine Magazine, a Showcase at the Annual Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, a dream vacation in the Swiss Alps and $100,000. And oh yes - the title of Top Chef.

After the schmoozing has finished, Padma and Tom introduce the chefs to the competition. Tom says that he's not the mentor, but he is the head judge (but we all know he will be mentoring). With that - it's time for the first Quickfire Challenge - at the party.

Challenge - To use the appetizers that they have been munching on for the past half hour to create their own appetizer (or Amuse Bouche, if you really want to be fancy about it) in ten minutes.

Fortunately for the chefs, there's fruit, cheeses, meats, fruits and other raw products that are easy to make things out of. Unfortunately, they can't use their own utensils and are stuck to use the plastic knives as cutting tools. Micah avoided the expensive oysters, knowing that people would be gunning for the expensive stuff. With that, and after ten minutes worth of scrambling, time is up and we get to see the first plating of the new class.

We don't get the entire list of what each contestant made, but we do get Howie's poached shrimp with heirloom tomatoes and champagne basil-vinaigrette, Micah's Tuscan Sushi Revisited (Italian Ham with Figs and Balsamic Dressing), Dale's Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese, Radish and Sea Salt and Clay's Fruit Gazpacho served in an apple. Now an Amuse Bouche is supposed to be a little small bite sized thing, but Clay made it like a full-fledged appetizer, and the lack of culinary knowledge may come to hurt him this task.

Sara shows Tom oyster over pineapple, while Hung whips out an impressive Hamachi with Creamy Egg Rice, Grapes, Chili Sauce Olives, and Pesto Vinaigrette. Tre displays a Hamachi of his own, with Avocado, Strawberries and Champagne in an oyster shell.

Tom's least Favorites - Dale's dish (cheese was too aggressive), Clay (Too big, which didn't fit the challenge) and Tre (champagne was too strong and paled to Hung's Hamachi). Tom's three favorites was Micah's, Sara's and Hung's. The winner, because of the balance and personality...Micah. She's not going to change anything, but she does know that she is immune from the next elimination.

The chefs all convene at the Fontaine Bleau resort in Miami, Florida. They get a beautiful view, which they all go to look at - except for Hung, who starts checking out the refrigerator.

Clay is feeling bad about himself because he didn't know anything about an Amuse Bouche. He invites everyone to make fun of him (which they do) and then he talks about his father, who took his own life. he hopes that this will work out for him, but no one thinks that he is going to make it past episode one and quite honestly, we are finding out way too much about him this early in the competition, which is always a bad sign...

Howie is ready to go, while Hung doesn't care about anyone's credentials. That Hung, always making nicey-nice. And with that, we go into the Elimination Challenge.

The challenge - create a Surf and Turf meal. The catch - these 'proteins' are very exotic. Rattlesnake, anyone?

The contestants draw knives to determine the order. Joey goes first and wants to cook something 'safe' to stay in the competition. Both Hung and Sara go for the Black Chicken, which they have used for their own cuisines.

Brian (who drew 10) notices that everyone is being conservative, while Tre, who notices that he is in the bottom in the Quickfire Challenge, decides that he wants to make a good impression and be exotic. Dale, who was also in the bottom and was even more unfortunate to pick 15, decides to go with the Alligator Tail and the Monkfish Liver - which he's never tasted. Uh oh...

The chefs have $30 to spend while they go shopping. Chefs 1-8 get to cook first, while chefs 9-15 cook second. The special guest judge - Anthony Bourdain, who is VERY picky - and very adventurous, according to CJ, 'He's not afraid to eat the brain out of a live monkey'.

At the market, Joey is noticing that Micah is helping Clay out. Joey is upset for 2 reasons - 1. Clay should be a grown man and do things by himself, and 2. If Micah told Joey what to do, he'd tell her to go f*ck herself. Shades of future controversy?

The chefs have 2 hours to make everything happen. Howie is not used to this and he's taking his time to make sure that things happen to make the best food possible. Sandee is using her injector to pump some more stuff into the frogs legs, while Joey is going for the rib-eye steak. Clay thinks that his Cajun style will win Bourdain over, and he's going to make the fish cajun-styled. Lia hopes that she will have enough time to make her fish beautiful, while Howie hopes he has enough time, which is running down. Howie plates his risotto and gets the frogs legs...when time runs out. Howie doesn't plate the frogs legs when time runs out, and he only has one half of the proteins down. 'I guess we all know who's going home' mutters Howie as he leaves the kitchen.

The chefs come in to display their wares, and this time, we have the full plating. Yay!

Joey -
Seared Buffalo Rib-Eye, Grilled Scorpion Fish with Mediterranean Salad and
Potato Chips

Sara N. -
Razor Clams with Sweet Corn Chowder, Buffalo Rib Eye with Black Truffle Sauce

Clay -
Pan Seared Wild Boar and Cornbread Dressing with Scorpion Fish
Gail called it her least favorite dish. Tom called it inedible. Anthony called it DOA - a home-cooking sort of thing, but not in a home that he wanted to live in. Ouch.

Lia -
Crusted Rack of Boar with Sesame Chili and Lentils / Sea Urchin Panna Cotta
Gail thought that Lia's was the best in appearance and in taste.

Casey -
Alligator Fried Steak and Braised Greens with Razor Clams

C.J. -
Ostrich Tartare with Horseradish Spider Crabs with Anise and Tomato Broth
Tom loved that CJ combined both dishes into 1 meal.

Sandee -
Cajun Frog Legs with Spider Crab Jambalaya
Gail thought it was playful.

Howie -
Sea Urchin and Chanterelle Risotto (Sans Frogs Legs)
Howie is embarassed to present an incomplete dish. Anthony loved what he had tasted, but was disappointed that there were no frogs legs. Tom was disappointed too, because it seemed like Howie had plenty of time.

Now it's time for the second shift. Hung wants to prove himself, while a flustered Brian thinks it will be hard to deal with proteins that most people have never worked with. He does get help from Sara M, who likes to help everyone. Camille is confident in her Kangaroo and ABalone, since she does have experience in both of it. Hung, who has also had experience in what he has, is confident, as is Tre, who is not used to losing. Dale is using a wild dish that will either help in win the challenge, or knock him off the show. Based on what Howie and Clay have done so far, Dale, I don't think you need to worry this episode - especially since Brian got too ambitious and didn't completely plate his dish either. Brian, meet Howie.

It's time for the second squad -

Tre -
Roasted Ostrich Filet with Heirloom Tomato Risotto and Abalone Sauce
Tom thought the meat was perfect and seasoned well. The abalone is very crunchy and well done. Anthony thought it tasted classical and was perfectly executed.

Brian -
Hair of Medusa with Sea Eel with electric venom soup.
Brian did not plate the salad, but at least he got both proteins down. Anthony would love this dish - if he was drunk. Ouch! He says its a good bar dish, but not something he'd serve.

Camille -
Spicy Maple Crusted Abalone Fritter / Pan Seared Kangaroo with Herb Sauce and Salad

Sarah M. -
Braised Black Chicken and Geoduck Ceviche with Cucumber Ribbons
Anthony loved the preparation and Sarah's confidence. Gail wanted to see a little bit of color.

Hung -
Slow Cooked Black Chicken and Raw Geoduck with Fennel
Anthony is impressed with the duck.

Micah -
Seared Kangaroo with Sweet Potato Pudding / Poached Egg topped with Monkfish
Liver / Ostrich Carpaccio with Monkfish Liver

Dale -
Mustard-Seared Alligator Tail and Monkfish Liver with Apple Hash
Gail thought the alligator is too tough.

The judges thought that the level of the chefs were very high, and while not everything was a hit, it was very good for the most part. Anthony thought that the failures was failure of nerve.

For the first time this season, we get the good chefs. They are Hung...and...Tre. Tre knew that Hung is going to be there, and he thinks that Hung is the only person that can outcook him. Hung says that not everything needs to be in color, and that the mouth needs to be the final judge. Tre loved the way that he cooked his dish. Both chefs tasted each other's dish, and they admitted that each chef was worthy. Gail says that the person who won the first elimination challenge in the first two seasons also won Top Chef. That person this season to win the first elimination is...Tre, who feels redeemed from the first challenge. He wins a set of Bourdain's books and a bar hopping trip with him in NYC. Heh.

Tre and Hung come back - and ask 4 people to show up. Those people are Howie, Brian, Clay and Dale. The second meeting is the one that you do NOT want to be at, because they are the least favorite dishes.

Brian admits that he's here because he was being too ambitious. He says that he tried to fry them, but Gail said that you could even fry her big toe and it would taste good. Heh. Brian also says that he wasted too much time on deciding what would be plated, and Anthony agrees, 'The only thing worse about making a wrong decision is dithering on that wrong decision'.

Dale says that his lack of knowledge of the items brought him here, admitting that he didn't like the texture and that he cooked it too long. Anthony called him on playing it safe and trying not to be the worst. We all know why Howie is there - he never plated the Frog Legs and wanted to recrisp them, and Anthony asked him what his major malfunction. Howie turned around and quoted from Anthony's own book saying that he preferred to make it right, spurned Anthony to call Howie a son of a bitch. Ouch. Finally, Clay didn't know why he was there. He gets called on the fact that his mistakes were fundamental ones. he didn't know how to cook the meat, and hence it was terrible.

Brian's dish wasn't completed, but he didn't commit any egregious crimes, according to Anthony. The same can't be said about Clay, who's food was awful. Howie didn't plate his stuff on time and it was a serious failure. Gail - 'What is a more serious crime, not plating the frog's leg...' Tom - 'Or Clay's dish?'

It's harsh, but that's what it's going to boil down to. Do you get rid of Howie for fundamentally screwing up the rules, or do you get rid of Clay for fundamentally screwing up his dish? You get rid of...Clay, who even admits that the nerves get to him. So much for seeing more representation from the South this season. Clay leaves, and he says that he doesn't need a fancy title to be a Top Chef. Sure you don't. Just a reminder to all people going on a culinary competition - make sure that you know the culinary techniques, because there's a reason why you should go to school.

Next week - The heat gets turned up, as all 14 people get to cook in the kitchen at the same time. We'll see in 7 days who can't take the heat and has to get out of the kitchen.

 

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