Chillin' and Grillin': Sandee Goes Up In Flames On Top Chef

A business trip to London delayed my watching this past week's episode of Top Chef ("Sunny Delights"), but it was a pleasure after returning to LA after a way-too-long flight and endless waiting for baggage (thank you, LAX!) to come home, still gin-soaked and rather hung-over, and catch up with the gang on Top Chef.

This week's Quickfire Challenge was a fruity affair focusing on Florida's most important ingredient...citrus (or "sunshine" as Padma called it). Guest judge Norman Van Aken, the "Godfather of Florida," was tough to please. He was most put off by Micah's avocado soup which turned out more like avocado pudding and was also annoyed at Sarah for not even being able to describe her dish (she mumbled something about shrimp). Sarah was not only confused about her dish but also seemed bewildered by the fact that Norman Van Aken was "so critical with his critique." Um, isn't that what critique is? The top three competitors were CJ (in spite of seeds in his dish), Tre, and Hung. Tre's hot and cold salmon looked delicious but it was Hung's slow roasted sea bass with citrus crumble that marked him the winner of the challenge, keeping him and Tre in stiff competition.

A champagne barbecue hosted by Lee Schrager was the brief for this week's Elimination Challenge. Most of the contestants went into the challenge feeling confident except for Micah who was missing her daughter (or moping about losing the Quickfire Challenge, as Hung suggested) and Sarah who almost spent all of her money on meat at the store and then, during prep, burned her hands on scotch bonnet peppers, clueless to the fact that they are in fact one of the hottest peppers in existence (um, duh!). Once at the challenge, Sarah continued to have problems, this time with the amount of charcoal she was using (a mountain-sized pile), prompting Sandee to name her the "Queen of Charcoal."

Surprisingly enough, both Micah and Sarah came out on top for this challenge. Sarah's Korean BBQ was a smash, partially due to her decision to serve her food in easy bite size pieces. And it was Micah's creativity with her dish, lamb with grilled halloumi and pomegranate sauce, which drew the attention of the judges. But it was Brian who came in first with his seafood sausage which perfectly fit the brief of upscale barbecue and gave him a chance to redeem himself after last week's snake and eel catastrophe.

On the bottom of the list were Joey and his boring barbequed chicken, Sandee and her poached lobster, Howie and his dry pork, and, shockingly, Tre, last week's winner. The judges complained that his dish, a peach glazed salmon, was either too salty or too bland. At the judging table, Joey and Howie criticized each other's dishes which escalated into an argument about who was more of a man which was funny because they were both acting like bratty little boys. I kind of hoped that they would both be booted but it was Sandee who came up short. Her decision to poach the lobster and then just heat it on the grill did not impress the judges who were looking for a real barbecue dish. All of the judges agreed, though, that the level of food was excellent this round and the bar had been raised high early, which means it's only going to get tougher. Howie and Joey better dry their little baby tears and get cooking.

Next week on Top Chef ("Family Favorites"), the chefs are tasked with working with some exotic shellfish; CJ makes a muddy mess out of tuna; and the contestants get themselves into hot the jacuzzi.

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at