David Moir/Bravo
Stephan Lee
December 12, 2013 AT 07:01 AM EST

Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

If Starbucks is your drinking coffee, it might make sense that Dunkin’ Donuts would be your cooking coffee. For the Quickfire Challenge this week, Hubert Keller instructed the chefs to make a dish using the Dunkin’ Donuts grind. Does the cooking heat burn away the caffeine? For Shirley’s sake, let’s hope so.

Brian took a chance with a risotto — rarely a good idea during a Quickfire — with Andouille sausage and sugar snap peas. “Gotta put your balls out there,” he said. “Let ’em swing.” Ah, what a character. Unfortunately, it was a swing and a miss, and the risk didn’t pay off; Hubert couldn’t taste enough of the coffee. Nicholas also landed in the bottom with his roasted sockeye salmon with hazelnut coffee caramel and hon-shimeji mushrooms. Padma noted that there was too much coffee, while Keller thought the texture of the paste was “unpleasant.” Do all these dishes sound terrible to anyone else? I typically hate when chocolate or coffee is incorporated into savory dishes, unless there’s bacon involved.

In the top group, Carrie satisfied Keller with her coffee custard with candied coffee beans and cocoa nibs. Despite all her apparent self-doubt, Stephanie came close to the win with her sweet potato and goat cheese sauce with a coffee crepe with ham, bacon, and coffee jam. Seriously, she was acting like she’d be asked to leave for her dish, and she had obvious disbelief on her face when Keller said he liked it — who knows, maybe Keller would have given her the win if she’d projected a little more confidence. But instead, Shirley won for her dish that combined chocolate and garlic. She also reminded the judges that she’s Asian. This was a critical win — not only did she win what’s probably one of the last Immunities, but she won $10,000 in cash from Dunkin’ Donuts, which she vowed to use on an A/C unit for her family. I’d prefer $10,000 worth of donuts.

Hurt Locker star and New Orleans local Anthony Mackie entered the kitchen to announce the Elimination Challenge — it was funny but fitting, for some reason, that Stephanie instantly recognized him from 8 Mile. This would be the tearjerker challenge of the season, to make a dish that reminds you of home. The chefs delved into their home lives — Brian was dealing with a very ill father back home, and Nicholas had been working so much that he missed much of his daughter’s first year. Travis talked about having to hunt with his father as a child, which honestly is hell for most gay boys. I hereby take back every mean thing I’ve written about Travis this year. (Well, maybe not all. See: Captain Vietnam).

Ever since the amazing All-Star season, this challenge has never failed to bring out the waterworks, making all of the dishes just a little bit saltier. The one to really break down this time was Nicholas, who started crying directly into his gnudi right before service, which can happen when you put your heart into the cooking.

NEXT: The chefs cry, make us cry, everyone cries

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