If you thought Anthony Bourdain and his gang of three -- Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey -- hadn't picked enough chef-testants or cook-petitors last time around, you were right. They're still six short, so it's time for another round of blind spoonfuls and pack-your-knives-and-goes.
Pacing is definitely improved on the second installment of ABC's new cooking competition, as 16 cooks vie for six spots during an episode that -- thank heavens -- lasts one hour, not two. Malarkey needs someone with good technique and a little flair. Nigella is looking for someone with a good palate, who can balance flavors well.
The final six
First up is Jennifer Mueller, the restaurant consultant, who calls herself the "LeBron James of cooking." She's clearly got his ego. Her salmon niÃ§oise with a beet gastrique is, she says, "Jennifer in a little spoon." It's too sweet for the judges.
Huda Mu'min, a D.C. caterer, serves up garlic shrimp and grits. "The heart wants what the heart wants," Nigella tells her, pushing the green "yes" button. Ludo does likewise, leaving the decision up to Huda, who joins Team Nigella.
We get pros. We get home cooks. We get an investment banker in suspenders, tie and crisp business shirt, with a black bandanna tied around his head like a sushi chef-wannabe. Seriously, dude? And we get a few more contestants signed to teams, including a Los Angeles chef, whose
Erika Monroe-Williams, a former news anchor who hosts cooking segments on TV -- and is married to former San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams -- puts out a really pretty lime-and-coriander crusted tuna. Nigella says she has trouble with dishes that mix sweet and savory, all signs are pointing to no -- and it's a yes. Shrieks of delight all around. Nigella's team is complete.
Arrival of the vegans
We get a raw vegan "foodist" from Venice Beach, Christina Ross, who wears a hot pink tutu and loves hula hoops, and a Santa Barbara personal chef, also vegan, who says Bourdain is never even going to realize he's tasting vegan food.
"I suspect vegetarianism," he promptly announces.
Ross' dish is a horrifying chocolate mousse with, we're told, coriander, cocoa nibs and orange peel -- and that coriander is cilantro. There are leaves of it all over the place. Malarkey's eyebrows shoot up, Ludo looks deeply disturbed and both Nigella and Bourdain cover their mouths.
"There's something going on here I don't understand," Bourdain says.
Then the doors slide up and the giggly Ross is revealed, tutu and all.
"It all makes sense!" Nigella says.
Ludo asks Ross how she cooks in that outfit, and as Ross tells him she has many tutus, the doors close on her, literally in mid-sentence. If her hands had been any more outstretched, they'd have been sliced right off.
"I take it you didn't like it," she says, her cheerful voice muffled by the door.
"How could I eat that?" Bourdain says. "I want to vomit with terror."
The teams are set
A brash New York culinary instructor, Gregg Drusinsky, is up next, working on gorgeous spoonfuls of a Singapore-style lobster with coconut milk and curry paste as he explains he's "borderline neurotic -- not exactly insane-crazy."
"Let's see who we've got in the chute of terror," Bourdain says as Drusinsky is unveiled.
"As a French guy, a French chef," Ludo starts, only to have Malarkey say, in tones of amused exasperation, "Why does he always start off with this?" "Are you jealous because I am French?" Ludo shoots back, before pushing his green button. Malarkey does too. Drusinsky -- a former saucier at Le Bernardin -- picks Ludo, much to Malarkey's consternation. Three out of four members of Ludo's team are people Malarkey wanted.
By show's end, the teams are full -- Bourdain has finally picked his last competitor and somehow, despite the "blind test" nature of this, he has managed to recruit four really good-looking women. Time to fire up the stoves.