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Top Chef Debriefing: Sexy Salads, Unsexy Box Lunches

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With the current crop of cheftestants down to seven and tensions rising, yesterday's episode of Top Chef had plenty of bad vibes involving almost all the kids. The opening scenes set the tone, as Spike, Lisa et al. reinforced last week's assertions that Dale is, in fact, "a little bitch." Dale, undeterred, showed off his pot belly in the bathroom and continued to dominate the competition, even pointing out that he's won five of 20 challenges. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Perhaps the only moment in the entire episode when the negativity took a back seat was when guest judge, season two alum and all-around sweater-wearing dreamboat Sam Talbot showed up, leaving the young chefs (especially Antonia) with stars in their eyes. To the recap:

Quickfire Challenge: It's really too bad that Ryan got kicked off so long ago, because this challenge—make a "modern sexy salad" for Talbot—was pretty much tailor made for the ex-Myth Cafe man who already made salads in every challenge. And he even knows all about sexy dishes. Anyway, Richard's "play" on salad and Lisa's banana salad were the losers, and Spike finally notched his first win, which allowed him to try to screw over his colleagues in the Elimination challenge.

Elimination Challenge: For the EC, chefs had to create a healthy boxed lunch for Chicago cops following several stipulations. Spike's QF win allowed him to "block" ingredients from the others, which he delighted in. Unfortunately, the Hatted One thought it a good idea to put olives and grapes in chicken salad alongside a slice of tomato. As promised in the teases, Lisa's brown rice was "sabotaged," though no cameras caught the mysterious saboteur, leading both Dale and uber-nice Stephanie to point out that Lisa was full of shit.

Quote of the Episode: "Mmmmmm ... It's very strange!" —a monotone Padma, on Andrew's very subpar salmon maki roll with faux pine nut/parsnip "rice."

The Winners: Stephanie, for her meatball/mushroom soup (and unlike Andrew, for realizing that cops like hearty food); and the overall winner Dale, for his Vietnamese bison lettuce wraps.

The Losers: Andrew, for his bite of strange non-sushi; Spike, for the aforementioned chicken salad; and Lisa, for her shrimp stir fry that had undercooked shrimp that were "nasty" according to Ted, undercooked brown rice, and really wasn't even a stir fry.

Outcome: After all three chefs on the chopping block mouthed off to the judges, Lisa took the low road by throwing crazy-but-lovable Andrew under the bus by pointing out that he didn't follow the rules of the challenge. In the end, Andrew got the (surprise?) boot, which didn't seem entirely fair, given that Spike and Lisa have both been treading water for some time now.

Highlights: Tom gagging from Lisa's sauce in the kitchen, Dale's belly, Sam Talbot looking like a supersized version of David Silver, Richard rocking a headband, everyone getting pissy at judges' table, Lisa scaring the judges into keeping her (again!), Richard inexplicably asking every cop "if they like burritos," Andrew's overall melodramatic departure.
· Complete Top Chef Coverage [~ESF~]