This was an episode of Top Chef where no contestant screwed up so royally they had X’s branded on their foreheads. The losing team was the least best, and then, with zero sleep and already deflated spirits, the three bottom chefs were thrown into one last 30-minute death challenge for survival.
"We’re a--holes," said judge Tom Colicchio with equal parts laughter and guilt, for putting the losing team through the wringer. And because the statutes of Top Chef decreed someone must go, the Chicago Six was no more.
Moto sous chef Richie Farina became the second chef to be sent home from the round of 16. The Moto boys — Farina and Chris Jones — were broken up before we saw the pair combine forces for good and evil. Farina’s elimination was as emotional of a sendoff as the show has seen in its nine seasons, because we saw a man at his most vulnerable, beaten raw by a 36-hour marathon cooking session, who was told he’d be separated from his kitchen colleague and best friend. Here’s a man who would "rip his kidneys out and hand it to you," and now his dream of winning $125,000 was dashed in the second week of competition.
Now only five Chicagoans remain, and the odds of a hometown chef winning the show (assuming all have equal skillsets) have fallen from 40 percent to 35.7 percent. Still in contention are Chilam Balam’s Chuy Valencia, Spiaggia’s Sarah Grueneberg, Aria’s Beverly Kim, Sable’s Heather Terhune and Farina’s Moto colleague, Chris Jones.
Farina wasn’t even the worst cook in this episode, just the most convenient target. Their challenge was to create chili for cowboys at the Tejas Rodeo. The 15 chefs were divided into groups of three, as Farina was teamed with Kim and Nyesha Arrington of Santa Monica’s Wilshire restaurant.
Farina, Kim, Arrington — Team Black — took a calculated risk in creating a Pueblan mole/chili hybrid, using bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon to flavor beef brisket. Judges thought this was perfectly acceptable mole (if a tad sweet), except this was a chili cookoff, not last week’s Quinceanera episode. They were named the losing team.
For the second week running, Chuy Valencia's team won the elimination challenge. Credit goes, however, to Houstonian teammate Sarah Grueneberg — on the brink of elimination last week — who ensured their beef chuck, Shiner Bock-braised chili was deemed Lone Star worthy (Texas chili = no beans!).
Already fatigued from a chili-cooking all-nighter, the losing Team Black was given 30 minutes to repurpose their mole chili into a winning dish. The chef with the worst dish would be sent home.
The three chefs did what they could running on empty. Kim strained the mole into a sauce that accompanied seared tuna and habanero creamed corn. Arrington crusted Black Tiger shrimp with Fritos and served this with roasted corn salsa. Farina also used Fritos to crust pork tenderloin, which he served with potato hash, ricotta cheese and chili puree. Judges thought Kim’s tuna was the best reinvention. They thought Farina’s was the least successful: "no acid, no spice, one note," Colicchio said. Farina was sent home.
He walked backed to his fellow chefs to break the news, shellshocked and hands atop head, a dead man walking into the arms of his equally-bewildered colleague Chris Jones.
"I'm sorry," said a tear-filled Farina, voice breaking.
Jones: "I love you."
Farina: "I didn’t show what Moto can do."
Some shows, you see contestants playing it up for the camera. They can turn on the waterworks at will to drum up sympathy points. Here, you can’t help but believe a man genuinely shamed to leave so early, and a best friend devastated his colleague and confidant would no longer stand along side. It’s all televised fun and games until you’re told to pack your knives and go.