It’s déjà vu all over again!
Once again, we start this week’s episode with fluffy bunny salad chef Virginia flopped down on her bed, in tears for being in the bottom two for the gajillionth week in a row.
As distasteful as I find our sneery Sara, I actually share her sneer today as she offers Virginia a barely half-hearted reassurance. I mean, Virginia’s crisis of self is understandable; but really…cowgirl up, Bunny! To paraphrase Tom Hanks’ character in “A League of Their Own:” “There’s no crying in Hell’s Kitchen!” Bleeding? Yes. Sweating? Yes. Cursing? Abso-effing-lutely. But no crying.
Stifling her sniffles, she joins the three other remaining chefs – Sara, Heather and Keith – back at the restaurant, where they are met by Chef Ramsay.
He gives them their new challenge: They will each have their own restaurant to run for a lunch service. The winner of the challenge will not only win a prize, but will also have immunity for the next elimination and a guaranteed place in the final three!
Needless to say, each of the chefs is excited, not only at the chance to run his or her own restaurant, but also at the prospect of entering the next service without the possibility of ending up on the chopping block.
The chefs are blindfolded and taken by limo to their restaurants. Visions of four-star venues fill their minds, but they are all remarkably game when they arrive at their “restaurants:” four mobile lunch wagons, also known fondly in many parts of the country as “roach coaches.” Ramsay tells the chefs they will be preparing lunch for one hundred construction workers at the nearby site.
They have an hour to prepare the meals, and they all get busy with selecting the menu and beginning to cook. Keith is preparing a lobster dish; Virginia, a turkey and feta sandwich; Sara, quail with micro greens and berries (For lunch? At a construction site? Wha??); and Heather goes the safe route by making a chicken sandwich with fries.
Harried cooking ensures, although I, personally, was stuck on the mechanics of the whole menu selection process. Did they all have to choose between the same raw ingredients? How did they each come up with a unique menu with no overlap with the other chefs?
And so, Dear Reader, I feel forced to take a paragraph to include another one of my unsolicited and ultimately fruitless unread notes to Fox: Many of us watch “Hell’s Kitchen” because we’re, ya know, curious about cooking. It’s a creative act. It’s entertaining and interesting to see how people make creative things (see: success of “Project Runway,” any making-the-video/movie show, home improvement shows, regular cooking shows, etc.). A swearing Chef Ramsay and inter-chef drama are well and good, but I’m nearly an entire season through this program and I’ve not learned really anything about the act of cooking itself or each individual contestant’s personal food philosophy. Certainly some of the repetitive filler footage could be replaced with some – dare I say it – actual information about food and cooking? End of useless note to Fox, done shaking my tiny fist.
The construction workers arrive, and each will receive one dish from each chef. The chefs try to sell themselves as well as the food. Sara speaks Spanish to some of the workers and Virginia flirts. The workers try the food and then vote for their favorite and least favorite.
Ramsay brings the chefs back to the kitchen to announce the winner. But first! The loser! And it’s Heather! She’s heartbroken…and I am left to wonder what was wrong with her sandwich. Was the flavor bad or was it just that compared to the relative sophistication of the other chefs, hers was the equivalent of “talking down” to the workers? Alas, we’ll never know.
And the winner? Fluffy Bunny! Virginia continues to succeed in the challenges in inverse proportion to her success in the kitchen. Her prize is immunity and a shopping spree with Chef Ramsay.
The punishment for the losers: preparing crates and crates of pinchy crabs for the evening’s meal.
Fluffy Bunny joins Ramsay for a $1000 shopping spree as Sur La Table, and foodie viewers across the country immediately glow a jealous green. She makes her selections, asking Ramsay for his input on some “exotic” items like…a cleaver. Which she didn’t know the name of. That’s right, Dear Reader, she didn’t know the name of a cleaver. Foodie viewers across the country simultaneously smack their heads in disbelief.
Meanwhile, the other three chefs toil through the crates of crabs, and grumble that the construction workers only voted for Virginia because she’s cute and she flirted with them. The Fluffy Bunny walks right into the lovefest, toting her bags of booty from her shopping spree. She bears some little gifts for her fellow chefs, but they are not impressed. As Keith points out, she spent six dollars for him on a gag crab cracker gift when she had a thousand to spend…and that, after he took her to Vegas!
The three chefs are determined to freeze her out of the service that evening, although, since she has immunity, I’m not so sure what this will accomplish. Since there are only four of them, teamwork is going to be necessary to get through a successful service. Ramsay is going to be especially demanding this evening because, as he informs them, three celebrity chefs will be dining at the restaurant.
For the first thirty minutes of the service, it appears that the chefs really are both pulling together as a team and standing out as individuals. Ramsay is impressed and pleased.
But it’s not to last. Virginia once again struggles with her station. Her vegetables are not getting done in time, which is slowing down Heather’s otherwise impeccable meat station. Then Keith chokes when preparing the starters for the celebrity chef’s table: He undercooks the pasta, but rather than start over, he attempts to re-boil the pasta. His dish makes it past Ramsay’s scrutiny out to the table, but the chefs can taste the error, as Jean-Phillipe reports back to the kitchen.
Then it’s Sara’s turn to screw up. She both misjudges the timing for one table and then runs out of salmon for another. Ramsay calls her a “useless cow” and threatens to replace her with Heather. Sara argues back to defend her territory. This time, her feistiness impresses rather than enrages Ramsay. He lets her remain on the station, but takes note of the mixed reviews her dishes receives from the celebrity chef table.
Virginia, meanwhile, continues to be a big old ball of mess. Heather has to jump in to help her, her vegetables get bad reviews from the celebrity chefs, and she has to continue to ask the other chefs to slow down. Ramsay accuses her of pulling back on purpose because of her immunity. She swears it’s not so, but regardless, Ramsay tells her ominously that she is “no longer safe.”
Despite all the bobbles, the team completes the service. Ramsay singles out Heather as clearly the strongest performer of the night, and tells her to go back to the house and nominate two for elimination.
She sits down with Virginia first, and the Fluffy Bunny has a remarkably clear-eyed and mature assessment of herself. She tells Heather she’s going to take herself out of the running because how can she run a restaurant when she can’t even run a station?
Heather seems relieved that, at some level, her decision has been made for her. She joins Keith and Sara in the backyard, and tells Sara that while she will be nominated, she is safe because Virginia will be bowing out. Sara seems a bit put off that she would be nominated at all, which – since the only other option for Heather would be Keith, who’s been consistently solid throughout the entire show – confuses Heather, and, most likely, the viewing public.
Back at the restaurant, Heather tells Ramsay her selections of the Fluffy Bunny and Sara. Ramsay then says – with a straight face – that he told Virginia she had immunity and he’s a man of his word so she still has it if she wants it. OK, what? Look, I heart Ramsay, but let’s face it; one thing he has not been throughout this show has been a man of his word. He’s eliminated people who were not nominated, he already TOLD Virginia he was taking back the immunity (so which word is it that he’s a man of?).
So Virginia dithers for a moment…after all, she’s already conceded that she’s not good enough. But then a deliciously evil grin spreads over her face and she says she’s going to stay just because she wants to! And with that sentence, the Fluffy Bunny finds her inner Alpha Dog. It’s also a moment of rather lovely karmic justice for Sara, who had previously unapologetically sold out Virginia to Ramsay. Maybe Virginia doesn’t really “deserve” to be there, but I have to say I found it enjoyable to see smarmy Sara get what’s she’s had coming for a while.
The preview for next week says there is a “shocking elimination!” The only way that it could be shocking is if Virginia actually makes it to the final two. There doesn’t seem to be any way for that to happen, but Sara wasn’t really destined for it either. So I, personally, don’t blame Virginia one bit for deciding to continue the ride a bit longer. Good for the Fluffy Bunny!
So…is it the finale yet?