On the last episode of The Next Iron Chef, Mario Pagan was booted and Ming Tsai declared he would never be in the bottom two of a challenge again. We'll see, Ming. We'll see.
Challenge one for the night is based on the theme of resourcefulness, and the secret ingredient is pickles. Pickled cucumbers, pickled tomatoes, pickled garlic -- hot, sweet and everything in between.
Bryan Caswell wonders aloud how something as astringent as pickles could be used for cooking. Well, they let Rachel Ray cook, and she's pretty astringent, right?
The newly too-svelte Alton Brown takes a giant pickle and sticks it in his mouth. I swear this is the first thing he has eaten in months.
It seems Duskie Estes and Mary Dumont both want to use the butter lettuce, but there is only enough for one. I think all TV shows should be required to have a segment in which two contestants have a fight over something to put their pickle in. Heh.
Caswell reports in that he is making cherry tomatoes stuffed with andouille. Now Caswell is putting his sausage into things. Heh again.
Three of the four remaining female chefs all decide to pitch in and help each other out as times runs down, and then they say something about girl power. Listen ladies, the Spice Girls are so 1996.
As in the first two episodes of the show, the contestants will judge each other's food in the first round.
Ming is overwhelmed by the spiciness of Marco Canora's pork-stuffed cherry peppers, as is Celina Tio. Flash to the interview clip, with Canora saying the ol', "if you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen" line. What if I can't stand the Ming?
Caswell unveils his Barcelona red hot, as he calls it. He warns everyone that it will be hot and it is supposed to be hot. Chef Tio complains again. I'm starting to like her about as much as I like Ming Tsai.
It's a duck liver mousse on toast with a pickled corn relish on top for Marc Forgione. Caswell likes it; everyone likes it. Seems Forgione will be tough to beat in the coming episodes.
Chef Estes takes it on the chin from the judges for her pickled pepper poppers with lobster lettuce leafs. Nobody likes the flavor, and her presentation is messy.
Ming Tsai's pick for most successful is Caswell. Maybe he isn't so bad. Caswell is also picked as the best by three others, but it isn't enough to overcome the votes for Forgione. He is your winner.
You can call Estes the El Loserino.
Alton then previews the next challenge for everyone and says they will all go deep-water fishing. C'mon, if I didn't know better I would say someone is rigging this for Caswell. He tells everyone they are screwed.
Everyone is told they can only cook what they catch, so the stakes are pretty high.
The Houstonian known as WholeFish on Twitter pulls in the first one, a nice scorpion fish that we are told is buttery.
Something does seem a little fishy (wow, really?) though. Everyone is pulling in bigguns one after another. Did they forget to show us the trip to baited pond?
For the elimination challenge, Forgione gets the advantage of trading one of his fish for someone else's. He chooses Tio's snapper.
They all have to prepare a two-course tasting menu in one hour.
I have to say, Chef Tio's dish sounds amazing. She is making a seafood soup with her scorpion fish and clams.
Among other things, Forgione is making crispy fish-skin popcorn. Sounds cool, looks cool.
You can accuse me of not being very culinarily adventurous if you want, but I've never been one to mix melted plastic with seafood. Chef Tio almost burns the place down with a plastic mixing bowl that she set directly on the burner, and as a result her couscous is dumped on the floor.
Mary Dumont is doing a saffron mussel soup to accompany her rockfish.
Cut to Caswell asking for micro-cilantro. He breaks down his dish, a sand dab carpaccio with agua fresca. For the second course he decides to do a raw scorpion fish salad with charred prawns and plums. Also, while cleaning the dab, he finds the roe sack, a huge score that he will smoke.
Maneet Chauhan has been a little quiet in this episode so far. She is whipping up some banana leaf-wrapped scorpion fish marinated in coconut milk and saffron rice with fish stock.
Estes makes a point of making sure her plates are presentable and references that she got reamed last time for messiness.
Canora can't find his lemony artichokes as time expires.
The judges are told they need to grade on resourcefulness.
Estes gets high marks for her bacon-wrapped sardine (the bait from the fishing expedition) and her seared scorpion fish.
If Caswell knows what's good for him, he will find a way to poison that Forgione dude and get him off the show. Again he rocks the judges' worlds with a snapper nicoise salad and fish en croute.
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SHOW ME HOW
The first bad review of the night goes to Mary Dumont. She gets bashed for having residual grit from her clams and too much sweetness in her pineapple fish tartare.
You look like a linebacker and cook like a ballerina. That was a judge's comment to Caswell during his session. He kicks butt again and blows them away with the roe. Chauhan takes it on the chin as her presentation gets slammed.
Chef Estes and Chef Canora are picked as the top two, with Canora as the winner. It must be the power of the ponytail that put Canora over the top.
Chauhan and Dumont are the bottom feeders, and it is Dumont that gets scaled. They are down to just seven chefs remaining, and the ones still left have been consistently the best so far.