The top 11 hopefuls file into the kitchen, led by Tommy and his necklace from Star Trek/Zoolander/The Capitol of Panem. His statement piece represents voodoo and his Louisiana roots, he explains, adding he’d really like to win this mystery box challenge since he has yet to win one. Derrick and his ever-exposed arms remind us he’s the only one left who has snagged a boxed victory and he’s looking to repeat here. With that, the chefs lift their lids and several metric tons of rice spill out, everywhere. Man, think of the poor production interns who were tasked with cleaning this needless mess up. “That’s right! Rice, rice, baby!” says
your dad Graham Elliot.
No one is more excited than Hetal because she’s a vegetarian Indian who practically lives off rice. You’re probably aware of this if you’ve ever heard her speak, since I think she’s legally obligated to repeat this fact every 60 seconds. Well, Hetal, here’s your domain. You better own this challenge. This dish must look and taste extra amazing because the winner’s recipe will be featured in Family Circle. Everyone freaks out and I’m scratching my head until I realize I’m thinking of Family Circus, the comic strip. Though Family Circle also draws a laugh from me when Christina Tosi claims the magazine has 17 million readers, a stat that I find highly suspect. There simply aren’t enough doctor’s offices littered with the issues to justify those numbers.
The rice battle commences and everyone trots out their backstory bullet points again via their plates. That means Claudia’s making something Latin, Hetal’s going traditional gujarati, Shelly’s got coconut and island flavor going and Tommy’s sticking to Southern. We get it, Fox. You’re like the United Nations of culinary diversity. The only surprise is Christopher’s offering: pineapple fried rice. It reminds him of his mother who left him when he was 11 and of whom he has few memories. One of the good ones is of her making him this meal, he tells Christina. Christina makes noises and words like she cares, though after she eviscerated him last week, her empathy feels super fake. Derrick’s going back to his roots, too, by making…a sushi roll. Wait, what? “I grew up with a ton of leftover Chinese food and sticky rice.” Mmkay. With minutes left, Gordon again reminds us that Family Circle is still a magazine in existence and it’s 500 million readers are eagerly awaiting one of these dishes.
With that, time is up and the judges walk around, looking at what they want to taste. Derrick thinks his dish belongs in “any high-end magazine” (Sooo…not the one the judges keep mentioning?), which means he’s visibly crushed when they call forth Hetal and her khichdi with peas, cauliflower, and tomatoes. It’s Indian comfort food, like a rice porridge, and it looks very colorful and bright. Gordon tastes and declares, “It’s you; classy, delicious, and tastes expensive, though, it’s about the heart and flavor.” An odd combination of praise, Gordon. Though Christina out-weirds Gordon when she exclaims, “I feel close to you and your family through this dish.” It’s a plate of food, Christina. Take it easy.
Next up is Tommy, who is as shocked as you are at this news. “Tommy’s struggled,” says Claudia, “so to hear him called was thrilling.” Graham begins by motioning to Tommy’s whole body and says, “We don’t know much about you aside from glitter and show.” Careful, Graham. Judgments based on appearances are for shallow people and/or TV recappers. No one says anything about your bold glasses, your penchant for colorful bow ties, or your tattoos. “We’ve seen Tommy. Now we’re going to see rustic Thomas,” Graham concludes. Ugh. Just taste the food, guy. Tommy’s jambalaya—which looks really goodcomes courtesy of his aunt Lorraine, “who made everything in her black iron skillet, which never cooled down.” Graham loves his bite, as does Gordon who tries to be too deep with his feedback and inadvertently makes a joke about sleeping with Tommy.
Last up is Claudia, which means Derrick and his uncovered arms are pisssssed. Claudia made arroz con leche molotes, atop a custard and orange marmalade. It’s so great, Christina’s speechless and Graham speaks Spanish before dancing with a giggling Claudia around the table. So who wins? Who gets the coveted spot in the “household” magazine that reaches 1 billion people?! Tommy, who again is as shocked as you are. (Psst. Hetal. What happened?) Tommy’s over the moon, brings up Family Circle again—who MUST be paying per mention at this point—and says this is the beginning of his dream to create a Creole cookbook.
Off to the pantry Tommy and the judges go, where Graham starts a seriously convoluted diatribe that somehow equates Tommy’s marriage to peanut butter and jelly. Or to “exotic” pineapple and ham. Or “sophisticated” basil and tomato. The gist here is Tommy will pick a duo of flavors for his fellow contestants to use in the elimination challenge. (If I could say it in one sentence, how come the judges couldn’t?) Tommy chooses and frolics back into the kitchen with the pizzazz of a Vegas showgirl and ascends the steps to the balcony of safety with a great flourish. “I’m feeling the power and control,” Tommy grins. “It’s like being some evil queen on a throne.” Good for you, but let’s not let your first major win go to your head, homie.
NEXT: Bring your A-game if you’re going to question Gordon’s taste buds.