Showgirls, Seitan and Bloody Seafood: Top Chef Las Vegas Recapped

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As predicted, last night's Top Chef: Las Vegas premiere featured a sin-related challenge, a parade of showgirls and a bloody relay to shell clams. As usual, this season features "the most accomplished group" of chef-testants yet and we can only remember the weird-looking ones a day later. But if we've learned anything from our past Top Chef experience, it's that getting attached to any of these enterprising entrée-makers only results in heartbreak and living vicariously through a cooking show. It's already too late for us.

The night kicks off with the obligatory intro/moving into the house montage, where we meet the strangely tattooed and pierced women (Jesse and Jennifer Z.), the androgynous Google chef (Preeti), the pair of brothers (Bryan and Michael), the burly ginger who forfeited a full ride to M.I.T. to pursue a culinary career (Kevin) and the lovely, self-described "freaking bitch in the kitchen" (Jennifer C.). With hasty introductions out of the way, the chefs pile into production vans and zip off to "the beautiful new M resort and casino," where a slick-looking manager leads them through a kitchen full of state of the art General Electric appliances, and to their stiff host, Padma. One greasy chef breathlessly exclaims in a confessional that she is "even more beautiful in person."

A pack of showgirls enter the kitchen for no apparent reason other than an extra G in the budget and to drive home the fact even though these chefs will be chained to three tons of Glad-sponsored plastic products the entire season, they are in Vegas, baby. The chef-testants proceed to pull out poker chips from a top hat to determine relay teams for the Quickfire. Ironically, leukemia-stricken Robin pulls the immunity coin and does not have to compete.

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The teams assemble to compete in the Quickfire seafood relay -- shucking fifteen clams, peeling thirty shrimp, cleaning up five lobsters and butchering two chops from a prime rib. The clams prove to be the most difficult leg, separating the weak (Preeti and Jennifer Z., who bloodies her entire station) from the worthy (Jennifer C. and Michael). Mattin, the Frenchman in a Pamplona-inspired scarf, secures his team's lead by whipping through the lobsters efficiently and the blue team wins.

But only one person can win the Quickfire $15G, so the victorious relay members spend 30 minutes preparing the best seafood dish they can muster and Jennifer C. wins the extra cash with her tasty clam ceviche.

After the requisite rushed Whole Foods shopping sequence, the chefs gather at Wolfgang Puck's Cut restaurant to prepare a dish based on their personal vices for the elimination round. Jennifer Z. stands out because of her earlobe-mutilating earrings and her choice to cook seitan, a risky move for the bloodthirsty judge panel.

Nearly every contestant drowns their dish in alcohol, because, you know, that's their vice. Some contestants think outside of the bottle and draw on other crutches like procrastination, a hot temper, plastic surgery (rack of lamb, two coconuts) and bacon donuts. Ron, the Haitian who looks more like Christina Aguilera's bodyguard than a foodsmith, tosses aside that silly vice theme to instead cook a dish reminiscent of his immigration to the U.S.

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The judges are served the seventeen dishes. Wolfgang whips a bacon doughnut across the room because it is too heavy and takes issue with the amount of pureed foods on plates before alleging that another dish resembles chicken testicles. Burly, M.I.T.-dropping Kevin wins the first challenge with his arctic char, slowly cooked to reflect his procrastination. And ear-torture-device-wearing Jennifer Z. is sent home for her chunky, unappetizing seitan. End of the episode!

Diss of the night: Padma purrs that Jennifer Z.'s seitan tastes like a "vegan bar midnight special."



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