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NYC is boiling hot!

Anyway, after the most gratuitous bikini-bottom shot to date (which is a real feat), we're at the house. Seriously -- they just open with two girls in tiny bikinis running into the ocean. May I ask, why aren't there comely Floridian gents ever frolicking on the shore?

Speaking of gents, Howie is talking about how he "has some wins under his belt...and likes being the underdog." Except he says underdawg. Also this makes no sense, if he has a couple of wins, how is he the underdawg? Whatever! I'm just happy to have a new episode.

I was excited to report this week that we're rid of one supercilious British type until we meet our guest judge for the quickfire challenge...a supercilious British type, who has come straight from central-casting decked out in a ridiculous dandified suit. However, my attention is fixed on an entire kitchen of liquor! My, my! I would like a nice cool cocktail right now, on the rocks. Maybe a gin and tonic would be very refreshing. Maybe two. Maybe I could get Hung's monkey to make it for me.

I also like the sight of a boozy kitchen because I like to cook with a cold cocktail in my hand, not wine. Usually this is because I'm sweating over some stove because I have committed to some ridiculous meal with which I'm trying to impress someone who usually has no interest in me, (the red-faced, cranky and quickly drunk chef), but usually likes my non-sweating and repulsive friend daintily chopping parsley or mint (but never garlic or onions!)

But I digress.

Anyway our guest judge is some sort of ridiculous mixologist from the GIN COMPANY THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED because I'm sick of all of the product placement on this show. The challenge is to make an appetizer that works with the drink the chefs are given, martinis and cocktails with ridiculous "flavor profiles" like strawberry and melon and mint and chocolate. Which seems unfair for some people who have more ludicrous combos to work with.

Anyway, our product-placement ambassador, I mean, our head mixologist, is frantically peddling his wares, talking about the "vapor-infused botanicals" and how fine dining establishments now have mixologists who specialize in pairing cocktails with wine!

Hung looks disgusted and says that he "doesn't like hard alcohol...it doesn't go with the refined food I make." Hung seems 11 years old right now, but somehow, also 72. Ah, the mystery that is Hung!

Casey's drink is a strawberry balsamic rickey.

I'm curious as to what a rickey is, and what with having the powers of the Internet at my fingertips, I should probably look it up. But, it's late and night and I want to post this as soon as possible in the morning -- BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT YOU! -- I'm not going to. Suffice it to say that I peg her as the winner because any drink with balsamic in it is going to put her a few steps ahead than some poor chump who has to use chocolate and mint to make an appetizer.

Hung has some sweet martini and decides, (because he is 11) that "sweetness always goes good with creaminess!" I agree..for dessert.

Appetizers not so much.

Joey and Howie, because they are the same person, both make scallop dishes.

Lowest of the Quickfire:

Joey ("too robust, clumsy") and Hung ("a little muddled. Needs richer stronger flavors".)

The mixologist disparages Hung's fatty salmon Meyer lemon creation as "too sweet" to which Hung, in his best Inherit the Wind courtroom bellow, retorts, "So you're saying sweetness doesn't go good with creaminess!" Oh snap!

Best of the Quickfire: Casey, Tre and Dale

Casey wins. Casey had done a French toast baguette with some foie gras thrown in to cut the alcohol. Our mix-master uses the opportunity to talk about how great the Gin* is, saying Casey's appetizer "brought out the botanical vapors*!" or some such sales-motivated drivel. Casey says of her win, "I'm proud of what I made. I'm thrilled."

* Full confession: I have a bottle of said alcohol in my freezer and made myself a drink during the commercial break.
** I didn't notice any '"botanical vapors" ...I'm a barbarian!

THE CHALLENGE

The challenge is to create a four-course tasting menu as a group. Each course will be three versions of one ingredient and there will be three chefs to a team.

Let me just say: In life, as on TV, I detest group work.

I hate group work on Top Chef because it seems like a gimmick, and often I feel the wrong person is sent home. I'd like to keep it strictly about the food, not the amusing but ultimately unimportant squabbles between chefs.

I hate group work in life because...I always hated it in elementary school. As a nerd, I was always paired up with the slowest person in the class. So, instead of learning I was there teaching someone how to read. Teaches teamwork, you say? You know where you should learn teamwork? IN GYM CLASS.

Anyway, Malarkey -- sans hat, I think -- suggests drawing for teams. Which seems like a good idea. A very good idea, from someone who wears ridiculous hats!

However, when Dale finds himself on a team with Casey (who has immunity) and Howie (who is Howie) he very wisely suggests that he do a dessert and takes volunteers for his dessert team, abandoning Immunity Jane and Howie.

After Dale's rebellion, there is a scramble for teams as people choose team by ingredient/course.

Casey, who I feel seriously bad for, winds up on a team with Joey and Howie! Who hate each other! That would drive me absolutely homicidal within 10 minutes. My blood pressure increases just thinking about it. She tries to get involved with the planning but they shut her down because she has immunity.

I think Howie and Joey, even though they hate each other, as the same person hate "the other" more. They also keep saying to themselves, to each other, and to the camera that she has immunity.

Joey says, "I start getting cranky right away." REALLY?

Howie says, "I wasn't thrilled with my teammates." REALLY?

Casey looks upset and worried.

See? Group work sucks.

Brian, Hung and Lia are doing the first course: scallops. Casey, Howie and Joey are doing the second course: duck. CJ, Tre and Sarah M are doing the third course: beef. Camille, Dale and Sara are doing the fourth course: pastry.

Back at "the penthouse." People are planning. Casey is eating and Joey and Howie, who I willhenceforth refer to as "The DoubleBitch Twins" faux-accents a-blazing, are complaining to each other about having to work with Casey because "she's the wild card." They also hate that she isn't planning more. She can't win! If she plans she shouldn't, because she's not up for elimination, and if she doesn't plan, she's lazy.

Off to the supermarket! At the supermarket, things change. The scallops are frozen, so the first course trio decides to change to shrimp.

The duck trio switches to tuna because the duck was expensive.

The pastry group, at Dale's suggestion, decides to incorporate pineapple in their dessert. Pineapple seems like a tricky thing to work with. I would avoid fruit if I weren't comfortable with dessert. Stick with vanilla bean or something. Also, something about pineapple as a fancy dessert depresses me; maybe it would excite me before airplanes and the wonder of canning. Perhaps if I lived in colonial times and a ship was returning after three years and had an orange for me I would be excited by a citrus-based dessert.

At the checkout, the tuna trio (the doublebitch twins and Casey the Martyr) argue about what to put back. Casey says to Joey, "Do we need SO MANY shallots?!" He tries to make her give back some of her ingredients. Bitchiness abounds.

During prep, Casey reconciles herself to her fate. "Sometimes in a kitchen you're going to work with people you don't like to work with." This is true. Usually it's my family, but I can relate.

OH MY GOD TOM COLICCHIO IS HERE! EEEEEEEEH! He looks very attractive this week.

Tom Judge-Not-Mentor Colicchio walks around to the various tables, making comments. At the tuna trio's table he asks if the three tuna dishes are really relating to each other. Which is a good point. Probably he picked up that everyone hates each other. After Tom leaves, Joey freaks about about how "Chef Tom just likes to ruffle my feathers a little bit -- he knows he can get under my skin." He starts cursing and slamming around the kitchen, which Casey says is really a waste of time. Seriously. Get over yourself Joey! Tom isn't out to ruffle your feathers. As if he cares about your feathers! Sheesh.

Sarah of the pastry team is using powdered gelatin to make a dessert, but it starts clumping. She decides to freeze it.

Apparently, the chefs are cooking for some sort of dinner club. Which involves a hilarious set-up of Padma, Tom, Ted Allen (WHERE IS GAIL SIMMONS?!) sitting at a dinner table with the dinner club who are all adorned in weird sashes and medals. Huh?

Padma says, very unconvincingly, "I love your sashes." Tom looks like he's going to laugh.

The first course of shrimp goes well. People love Lia's, which is shrimp poached in olive oil, some avocado, lime, cucumber and other ingredients. Hung has made sauteed shrimp with corn pudding, bacon and corn salad....and SHRIMP FOAM!!! It is a homage to Marcel? Marcel and Hung apparently worked together and are friends.

The second course of tuna is about to come out. Howie says at his restaurant, he has the "luxury of working on a dish until it's perfected." I would say in a restaurant you don't have that luxury. Whatever! He's an artiste. Casey has made a 'Tuna tartare bird's nest' that doesn't sound or go over so well. Howie makes a coriander crusted seared ahi tuna with citrus soy drizzle and cilantro salad. Joey makes a confite of tuna with extra virgin olive oil, crispy shallots and bacon. I would say he should assume that we assume that the olive oil is extra virgin -- but whatever. They seem to like Joey's and hate Caseys'.

Third course: the beef trio.

Tre says he's happy to work with CJ and Sarah M, they are "both very talented." Aww. Tre really is sweet. AND HOT! CJ makes a carpaccio with sherry vinaigrette. Sarah makes a butter braised beef tenderloin with white truffle sauce (which someone at the table says is like "something from Denny's." What? One of the pretentious diners is trying to sound like Anthony Bourdain. Amateurs.) Tre makes finishes on "a robust end" with a black pepper seared tenderloin.

The fourth course:

It is, as Dale says, "looking like a mess." He wisely markets his dessert as a "free-form" (sloppy) "tropical tart". He says it would have been fine if they were "cooking for blind people." Joey, 1/2 of the bitchiest duo in the world, says dessert looked like a "circus" but then says "they took a big chance and I respect them for it."

Camille has made a pineapple upside-down cake.

People are hating the dessert. One person compares it to "English dessert...which is absolutely dreadful."

The Judging:

Winners:

The shrimp trio is agreed to be the best. Of them, Lia is the winner. Tom compliments her "knife work and handiwork.' Which is a great compliment! Lia's prize is to be the "chef for a charity event in the Hamptons." "Thank you very much," she says, unconvincingly -- that's right Lia, your prize is to work for free.

Losers:

The tuna trio and the dessert trio.

The dessert trio was "all pretty bad" says Tom. The guest judge, who I don't care enough about to look up, says it was a "hodgepodge." Sara is getting some flak for taking a chance with the gelatin that didn't set. Dale is in trouble for being the one to suggest pineapple. Camille is in trouble for her upside-down cake, which had cornmeal in it and I guess didn't have a good texture. She says, "I was happy with the initial product I had made, it was like a muffin," which the judges tear apart.

The tuna trio. "Why wasn't there cohesion on this team?" Says Tom.

Because they hate each other?

Tom says, "the big reason you were here was Casey's dish was really weak." Casey admits that the dish was under-seasoned, but says there was no soy sauce left. (It's true -- Howie the Soy-Hog finished it.) But then she forgot to salt it apparently.

Casey gets a HUGE guilt trip about how she has immunity but her dish was bad. Have they forgotten who she was working with? Seriously I do feel bad for her. She couldn't win! If she suggested anything she was supposed to keep her mouth shut, because she had immunity, but if she didn't take a strong part, it was because she had immunity and didn't care. She points out that the judges have made a "guilt blanket." Guilt-blanket - I own a few of those. Back in the holding area, she apologizes profusely to Joey and Howie.

Ahem. Take a deep breath: I'm going to give some credit to Joey and Howie here. They didn't point fingers at her at all in the judging and they don't now. Well done! But don't go changing on me.

The judges just didn't like Camille's cake. "Dull and heavy, and quite frankly just not that good at all."

"Camille", says Padma, "please pack your knives and go." Padma adds, "Good luck to you."

Camille, who I really do like, does not pull a Micah. She makes a gracious voice-over exit: "I'm quite sad about being eliminated but anxious to get back to New York." She talks about how it was a great experience, and says "this will change the way I cook dramatically." She tells the chefs, "You guys are so brilliantly talented and I want you to rock hard."

The chefs are so upset to see her go. Dale feels awful. She is spun around, hugged and clearly really loved. Then I see...what's that? Is Joey CRYING? His face is all red and tear-stained!

Camille says "I had fun doing it...that's what cooking is all about."

I'm crying too! My god, I feel so emotional. Is it the gin? Or am I shook up to find that Joey secretly has the heart of a Teddy Bear?

Did your blogger's Grinchy heart grow two sizes?