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Top Chef Debriefing: Meaty Challenges Leave a Quartet

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The good part about last night's episode of Top Chef was that both challenges were clear, direct tests of the final five contestants' chef skills, since the time for jumping through Uncle Ben's Instant Rice hoops or manufactured plotlines about chefbians is over. The bad news, though, was that with all the cheftestants playing nice—even Spike and Lisa seemed less nefarious than usual—the episode was a bit of a snoozer, with most everyone playing it safe just to get to the Final Four. And also, Dale's delightful antagonism was missed. Sniffle.

Quickfire Challenge: We got a taste of Chicago's steak affinity as the QF entailed the butchering of some dry-aged rib racks at Allen Brothers butcher plant (complete with nuclear holocaust outfits), then cooking the finished steak to a perfect medium rare. Richard whined about missing his two-hour sous vide, couldn't quite get his steak medium rare and finished on the bottom with Stephanie. Rick Tramonto of Tru/Tramonto's Steak inspected the steaks sans tasting, and Spike, who comes from a family of butchers, breezed through the choppage to win the challenge.

Elimination Challenge: For the EC, the chefs had to create an appetizer and entrée for Tramonto Steak and man the kitchen for one night. Much like the last time SpikeyBoy won the QF, his "advantage" over the others came back to bite him in the ass, because he somehow opted for (got stuck with?) frozen scallops. Stephanie, Antonia and Richard all played it relatively safe, not wandering too far from steakhouse fare. Lisa's peanut butter mashed potatoes weren't as bad as they sounded, though she once again screwed up a shrimp dish. Meanwhile, Gail Simmons brought along (surprise!) former TC winners Harold, Hung, and Ilan to dinner.

Starry-Eyed Schoolgirl Quote of the Episode: "It was so nice being with Tom in that setting." —a glowing, smiling Antonia, on working with Tom in the BOH.

Judges' Table: As Tom pointed out, the challenge was a revealing one because it was self-contained and the chefs just had to make two dishes of their choosing, a declaration that turned out to be a little ironic. Richard had the best dish of the night, but Stephanie won the challenge and looks like the favorite going into the finale. Lisa and Spike finished on the bottom; then Tom rolled his eyes at Padma's comment that "Lisa has an amazing palate."

The Loser: Due in part due to something he couldn't entirely control (the frozen scallops) and the sudden absence of headwear, Spike ultimately got the boot. The judges thought that Spike should have ditched the scallops once they were frozen, and to which Spike sassily countered that the scallops were in Tramonto's walk-in and they shouldn't be there if they weren't high quality. All-around embarrassment ensued.

Highlights: Cameos by the past winners, Ilan's t-shirt, Spike getting sassy with Tramonto about his scallops, Tom's continued head games with Richard, Gail's bright yellow shirt, hand-holding at judges' table, Lisa's radical new haircut seen in the previews.

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