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Top Chef Debriefing: A Long-Awaited Elimination

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Last night's episode of Top Chef might have been the best one yet in the post-Ryan era, and it's about time. Corporate shills were virtually non-existent, actual chef skills were tested, no Uncle Ben's rice was involved, not one but two ghastly monkfish made cameo appearances, and both challenges were wildly entertaining. Since the challenges were team-oriented, the cheftestants picked knives to form two teams, and as it turned out, the teams were pretty uneven. On one side were four ringers: Richard Blais, Stephanie, Andrew and Antonia. And then poor Dale got stuck with the Junior Varsity team of Nikki, Spike and Lisa. Poor Dale. Poor, pissy Dale.

Quickfire Challenge: It was the return of the relay race. The tasks: supreme five oranges, turn two artichokes, filet a monkfish and make mayonnaise from scratch. Even though a gloating Lisa got the JV Team off to a big lead, they still lost after Spike fumbled away the lead with the artichokes and Nikki couldn't make mayo without a food processor (she even stopped to take a break!). In a sign of things to come, Dale got so pissed about losing that he punched a locker.

Elimination Challenge: Instead of "restaurant wars," the two teams catered a wedding for two restaurant professionals. Both teams pulled an exhausting 36-hour day between prepping, cooking, and the event itself. Blais, Stephanie, Andrew and Antonia choose to cater to the bride's half, and at her behest, put their twist on Americana. The JV Team took the groom's side with an Italian theme, and proceeded to run around with no plan. For better and worse, Dale did everything and Nikki refused to take the lead and its incumbent responsibility, even though she was the only one with Italian cuisine experience. Tick, tick, tick.

Harbinger Quote of the Ep: "Why are you still here?!" —Dale, on his teammates.

The Winners: In no surprise, the Varsity Team won the wedding challenge easily. Antonia's pizzas and Blais' brisket got high marks, and guest judge and super pastry chef Gale Gand of Tru lauded Stephanie's wedding cake. Blais was the official winner, since he took the leadership role, but he ended up splitting his prize with Steph.

The Losers: Only Lisa came out roses on the losing team, because her ugly cake tasted good. Spike and Dale had a bitchy showdown in front of the judges, Gail Simmons was entertained and Nikki again eschewed any semblance of responsibility.

Highlights: Lisa's incredibly aesthetically-challenged cake that looked like brown Legos, Andrew’s "culinary boner", Antonia's rule that Andrew was not allowed to talk to the guests, Dale defining the term "petulant" throughout, Richard giving his win to Stephanie (and them splitting a Crate and Barrel gift cert).

Outcome: Finally, Nikki got a long-overdue boot. Ironically, after somehow lasting this long by being in the middle of the pack, this challenge should have been her time to shine.

[Photo courtesy]