Top Chef Las Vegas Recapped: Pork Belly and Patriotism

We've sat through three weeks of Top Chef: Las Vegas already as the chef-testants watched showgirls, dreamed up a sin-related dish and catered the lamest Vegas bachelor party in the history of bachelor parties, but we haven't seen the chef-testants exploring the casino once. Does this mean we should expect a Gambler's Anonymous Quickfire Challenge soon?

A little all-night gambling adrenaline might be what these low-energy contestants need to make their "at-home" segments more exciting. Aside from a near blow-up by Jennifer, as she stews in her twin bed over last week's loss, editors have nothing to work with. They don't keep gasoline or matches in the Top Chef quarters?

For this week's Quickfire at the M Casino, guest judge Mark Peel and Padma greet the chef-testants from behind a mountain of potatoes. Peel attempts to tie the potato Quick Challenge back to himself by explaining that he started out as Wolfgang Puck's "vegetable boy" with a "potato in one hand and a peeler in the other." The chefs have 45 minutes to create a spud-heavy dish, that Padma instructs, should "be out of the world."


Certain heavier chefs are thrilled about the availability of starches and Ron quickly equates food with "peace and love" while Jesse, the robust, painted redhead, explains that to her, "food means comfort." These conclusions could have been made by any viewer or dietary physician on their own.

Preeti, who resembles gender-ambiguous track star Caster Semenya, makes a fatal error by hijacking Ashley's boiling water for her lackluster asparagus. This is a perfect opportunity for a Hell's Kitchen knifing or at least a good old-fashioned cuss-out, but passive Ashley just utters "come on!" and fixes her ricotta dish.

Ash, the sweet-tempered Southerner curses the ice cream maker, calling it a "motherflour!" when his sweet potato ice cream turns out to be more of a custard. Regardless, he is one of the three finalists and brooding Jennifer wins the Quickfire with her steamed mussels and potatoes.

For the elimination challenge, Padma introduces "Colonel Dave Belote, Commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base," who invites the chef-testants to the base to prepare a meal for 300 Thunderbirds, many of them recently returned from oversees and others are about to be deployed. He quickly dispels any misconception that this will be an easy challenge by shouting, "They possess discerning tastes and require specific nutritional requirements."


The chefs reconvene at the house to plan the next day. Since they will be competing as a single team and are unsure of what ingredients or equipment will be available, they appoint immunity-holding Jennifer as the team leader. The rest of the group pairs off into teams an will create a dish each, all with an American theme. Jolly Ginger Kevin chooses greasy Eli because they "bond on a fat kid level." Jesse and Island Ron, the weakest two players, are put together by default and seem defeated already.

Their down-on-their luck attitudes don't change the next morning when the chef-testants arrive at the mess hall to see thousands of canned foods (including artichokes and Spam) and realize that they will be working without stoves and pots. Jolly Ginger Kevin is surprisingly calm since he "used to be in ROTC" and expected this.

After a few fights over kitchen appliances, the chefs finish and are driven to the hangar in a convoy. Two buffet stations are set up and it is immediately clear that Preeti and Laurine's picnic pasta salad is the loser at this competition.


Padma and Gail arrive dressed to the nines, possibly to distract the men from the fact that chowder is being served on a 95 degree day, and jump to the front of the servicemen line.

The judges pick apart the dishes with their plastic utensils and sprinkle a fair amount of "They did the best with what they had," throughout the picnic table analysis. Back at the studio, Mike, Michael, Eli and Jolly Ginger Kevin are called into the judge's table as winners. Michael V.'s braised pork belly lettuce wrap is crowned the winner. (Note: Michael V.'s brother, Bryan, won the elimination challenge last week.)

Preeti, Lauren and Mike are summoned to the judge's table as the losers. Mike is livid that he is included in this group since he was also chosen as a winner, but the shrimp salad that he chose to make as a second dish was poorly constructed, bland, and undercooked. Preeti is surprisingly defiant, and even mouths off, "Did you think there was something inventive about clam chowder on a 90 degree day?" Colicchio responds, "It was a better version of the clam chowder than your pasta salad."


Padma regretfully tells Preeti to pack her knives, and Preeti leaves underneath her own narration: "I really want just want please the customer."

Most ridiculous line of the night: Preeti explained that "The defining moment that made me want to be a chef was 9/11," as she assembled her poor pasta salad.