Top Chef New York: And a Martha in a Pear Tree

On last night's Top Chef, we got Martha Stewart, Natasha Richardson, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and dishes inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas. It was dizzying (these one hour and 15 minute episodes are a little long, no?). And then they livened up some very boring food with a surprise ending...

Note: We reveal the winner and loser below.

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This episode was all about Christmas. In the quickfire challenge, the chefs had to prepare a seasonal one-pot meal for Martha Stewart. Then, for the elimination challenge, they catered the amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research), creating dishes based on one of the 12 days of Christmas ("three French hens" and so on...) Here are our thoughts:

1. Martha should have been the guest judge for the entire episode. We're pretty sure Martha could have scored a ticket to the amfAR benefit. And then we could have heard more comments like this one, on scallops being a winter ingredient: "Those are January! Up in Maine? We go diving for those." Martha diving for scallops—as if she's just pouring a cup of coffee. That's why we love her.

2. "One-pot meal" does not equal washing the pot and starting again. We were expecting lots of stews, and instead we got chefs searing meat, then washing the pot, then making another dish. A few people stuck with the idea of building layers of ingredients and flavors, but Ariane should not have won for her steak and puréed cauliflower. Our vote was for Jamie's kale and potato stew with scallops (below).

3. We're seeing The Ariane Effect on this show. She keeps winning for, let's face it, cooking meat really well and sticking to simple comfort food. So the judges should not be surprised when the other chefs start making chicken pot pie and every incarnation of risotto and polenta under the sun. We're sure Ariane's food tastes good; otherwise, Martha Stewart wouldn't have been impressed. But if the judges want a wow factor, stop rewarding cauliflower purée.

4. No "Four Calling Birds"? Weird. If they needed to leave out one, why didn't they eliminate "Ten Lords-a-Leaping"? Yes, Jeff was spot on with frog legs, but when Whole Foods didn't have any, he was really up a creek...

5. We may have shed a tear. Well, almost. It was really sweet to see all the chefs pitch in to help Hosea and Radhika when their food spoiled. Hooray for the holiday spirit. And then Hosea ended up winning for his pork loin.

6. No more scallops! Jamie's room-temp, raw scallops sounded downright awful. She also did scallops for her quickfire dish, and if next week's preview is any indication, she cooks them again.

7. Gene should have gone home. In fact, no one went home in this episode. In an act of Christmas charity, Tom spared all the chefs but gave them a stern lecture on how mediocre their food has been. Which means the next episode should be great. But back to Gene: We didn't even remotely understand his dish. Look at it (below). Would you want to eat that?

We could go on and on. A lot happened last night (Melissa: how can you mess up beef with gorgonzola? And Michelle Bernstein was grumpy, grumpy- no fun to watch). But we'll leave it there and get your thoughts. What did you think of last night's episode?

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Related:
Episode 1: Ethnic Foods Galore
Episode 2: Hot Dogs and Angry Chefs
Episode 4: Lights, Camera, Kathie Lee Gifford
Episode 5: Make Your Own Sushi at a Bridal Shower?

(Images: Bravo)

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