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April 21, 2014

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Top Chef Episode 7: Stressed, Tangy, American

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BravoTV / Trae Patton

Ashley got the axe this week for salty gnocchi and poorly cooked prawns.

There are a lot of words that could describe the chef’testants remaining this season on Top Chef: Las Vegas. Determined, for instance, or confident and creative. Monotone, applies to some, as does masterful or flailing. The words translate into their cooking each week, too, as the chefs serve up dishes that not only reflect their culinary strengths but also their mental states.

This week’s episode of Top Chef: Las Vegas started off with three words and a local tradition: the slot machine. Instead of pushing a button and waiting for the dings, whistles and lights to indicate bonanza or bust, the Top Chef slots silently gave the chef’testants their three-word Quickfire assignments comprised of a feeling, flavor or texture and regional cuisine. If only we could install these machines at McCarran Airport, tourists would run off in search of adventurous, umami, Middle Eastern eats or romantic, nutty, American cuisine instead of clutching their winnings like dogs on a bone.

Usually topnotch talent Jennifer landed among the bottom three for a scallop dish that wasn’t adventurous enough. On the opposite end of the spectrum was Kevin, whose char grilled pork wowed Florence and earned him the high stakes win (and, per his choosing, $15,000 instead of immunity.)

Then the chefs went home.

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Guest chefs and regular judges enjoyed an al fresco evening of home cooked cuisine at the "Top Chef" house.

For the elimination challenge the remaining chefs were sent back to their not-so-humble abode for a home-cooked dinner party of sorts. You can guess who was doing the cooking.

After breaking into pairs, the teams were each given a grocery bag from a visiting chef and asked to make one family style dish for a table full of judges and chefs.

Words to describe the chef’testants: panicked, motivated, screwed.

Words to describe the judges: amused, relaxed, hungry.

Forget the ingredients in each grocery bag, the hardest part of this challenge was negotiating the limited space in the Top Chef kitchen. Ironically, the chef’testants are rooming in a house with limited cooking space, and for this challenge the four burners and grill were at a premium.

Some chefs reacted well (Team Jennifer and Kevin). Others bitched incessantly (Michael I). And still others rolled over and played possum while their partners did all the heavy lifting, physically and mentally (Ash). Finally, one fell victim to modern electricity in the form of a griddle that puttered out mid-cook (Michael V).

When dinner was served, the chef’testants practically collapsed into an exhausted heap.

Mental state: Almost broken.

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Elimination Challenge Winning Dish by Jennifer and Kevin: Kobe Skirt Steak and Salad

However, the exhaustion of constant twists and insecurity didn’t show up in everyone’s food. Jennifer and Kevin produced a challenge-winning plate of Kobe beef ribs in a tomato-cardamom broth and Bryan and Laurine served up a respectable piece of halibut perched on a corn cake. Voltaggio junior’s take on halibut didn’t fare quite as well thanks to the mechanical mishap, and Michael’s partner, Ash, admittedly took a back seat to let the talented chef do his thing.

“It’s kind of like saying, ‘Do you mind washing paintbrushes for Picasso?’ ” Ash offered as explanation for acting as Michael’s sous chef rather than his partner. A delightfully awkward talk between the two chefs followed, reminiscent of those uncomfortable moments when one person confesses their love and the object of affection simply answers, “thanks.”

The fatal mistake this episode wasn’t Michael’s or Ash’s, as it turned out, but Ashley’s. After serving a plate of gnocchi with spot prawns that was all kinds of off the mark, the promising chef was told to pack her knives and go.

With hugs, a head held high and even tears from the usually stony Jennifer, the stressed, tangy, American did just that.

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