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'Top Chef' Season 5, Episode 11: One Fish, Two Fish, Another Bloody Fish

"In Germany, skinning an eel is like riding a bike, you just have to know how it works." Stefan was pretty happy to be German this round.

20081119-topchef-season5.jpgThis week, Eric Ripert guest-judged, and unlike past visitors, he was actually pretty nice. In fact, he had a calming, reassuring presence, which can be rare for Top Chef. In return, the contestants basically worshiped him. It was an Eric Ripert church gathering. As a fish god in the restaurant world—and with this episode so centered around fish—this seemed acceptable, but it definitely said something bigger about Top Chef. The episode was actually cheffy. Less psychodrama, more cooking skill and technique. "Where's the sex, the catfights, the intrigue, the duplicity, all we have besides the cooking is Toby Young?" Ed was instant-messaging, craving more drama.

The only drama this episode was the international friction. From the start, Hosea let everyone know that he was the last American male chef standing. "I'll take these Euros down." Whenever Ripert (and his French accent) favored fellow members of the European Union, Stefan and Fabio, Hosea was fuming.

[Warning, spoilers ahead.]

Quickfire: Filleting Fish

There were three parts to this Quickfire, all of which involved filleting fish.

The first: tiny sardines. Like so tiny, I was worried for their poor Top Chef fingers.

Everybody was looking at Hosea since he's the one with seafood restaurant experience. "I don't deal with small fish." Oops! Guess he was part of a big fish restaurant. Jamie also admitted she was screwed. "I've never cleaned a sardine in my life." Blood was spurting everywhere. Obviously this made for some great facial contortions and comments from Carla. "Mine looked like crapoly, even by my standards." Crapoly. I do not kid.

Leah somehow snuck by as one of the better filleters, despite her annoying attitude. "I should just go home right now." That was kind of her deal all episode. She'd act pretty entitled, make an "are you kidding me?" face, put her hands on her hips, and was like, so over this show.

In the second round, they had to fillet arctic char. (Less tiny.) Seafood Chef Hosea still couldn't prove himself, and seemed jealous of the two other males (the EU crew). But at least he attempted the task. "Mentally, I just shut down and was just over it." Leah, on the other hand, was over it again.

Round three was fresh water eel, the still slithering kind. "In Germany, skinning an eel is like riding a bike, you just have to know how it works." Stefan was pretty happy to be German this round. Sure enough, he filleted beautifully, and as an impressed Ripert pointed out his station was "very clean." This had Hosea hating on the EU again. "He's been doing eel since he was like three years old. Another reason why Europe is so great."

The Main Challenge: Recreating Le Bernardin Fish Dishes

All dressed up and ready for a dinner party at Le Bernardin, Ripert's restaurant, the contestants tried fish dish after fish dish in the private dining room. Lots of oohing and aahing followed. "When I was younger, I wanted to be in theater, but now when I grow up, I want to be one of his dishes." Oh, Carla.

They were all transfixed, until they realized this decadence was somehow related to the challenge. Wait, there are six dishes and six contestants?! "It's like recreating the Garden of Eden." Ah, I kind of love it when Carla talks.

Stefan got first dibs on a Ripert fish dish given his kick-ass filleting skills. He picked the lobster, "the easiest" according to some jealous competitors. As Ed pointed out, Carla and Leah seemed overmatched in this challenge, and Jamie had never braised celery in her life (she ended up with the black bass and braised celery).

But back to Ripert being a hunky, teddy bear of a guest judge. He went around to their stations, handing out pointers as if this wasn't a merciless death match. The show continued to be Ripert-centric, but there was something heartwarming about the whole vibe. It wasn't annoying.

When the judges finally tried the completed dishes, they showed "before" and "after" shots, which was pretty funny for some reason. How ugly will it look?! It's kind of like weight loss before and after shots, except you actually don't want to look drastically different after.

Leah's mahi-mahi proved once again that she still doesn't really care about the game. She added butter to her miso (yeah, Ripert never did that). Stefan's fish, on the other hand, eerily mimicked Ripert's. His precision was unanimously praised, and might have made Ripert nervous he'd be out of a job soon. Carla also got snaps, this time with her oil-poached escolar. It didn't, to use her words, look crapoly. Hosea's on the other hand, did. And the look on Padma's face when she tried Jamie's over-salted, over-reduced celery. Major crapoly.

The Results

Stefan and Fabio (woo, European Union) joined Carla in the winner's circle. The proud/goofy look on Carla's face was pretty cute. The loser trio, on the other hand, got a verbal lashing from the judges. How did Seafood Chef Hosea not let his monkfish rest first? Why did Leah add butter to her miso again? And why was Jamie's dish so toxic?

Bye bye, Jamie. It was nice knowing your tattoos and hamburger graphic tee. I think she fought the good fight. RIP Team Rainbow.

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