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'Top Chef': Ash falls on his sword, but someone else goes home

October 7, 2009 | 11:00 pm

Thank you, Ash, for giving me something to write about this week.

Had it not been for your strange outburst of Mike V. worship, I'd be rattling on about how it's no surprise to see Jennifer, Kevin and Bryan on top. Again. The only difference this week is that Mike V., who I maintain will be in the Final Four with the other three, found himself on the bottom -- and, really, through little fault of his own.

Something tells me that had his pancetta-wrapped halibut been cooked properly, had the power not gone out, had he been one of the few chefs to have his own stove-top burner, he would not have been on the bottom.

But he was, and so was his partner, Ash, who early in the challenge decided he was OK taking a backseat to the wonder of working next to the tanner of the Brothers Voltaggio. Mike V. is in fact the more creative and skilled chef of the two. But in a competition, no one could have predicted Ash to throw himself under the bus by proclaiming Mike V. the Picasso of the "Top Chef" kitchen.

Asked by Padma if he minded playing second fiddle to Mike, Ash replied: "It's sort of asking if you mind washing paintbrushes for Picasso, in my opinion. Frankly, I think Michael is amazing and I don't mind washing paintbrushes."

Whoa. Tom is floored, and not in a good way. Mike V. is humbled beyond all belief. At this point, I think "See ya, Ash! Nice knowing you." The episode even included a bit showing Ash deciding to set the dinner table while Mike V. was still cooking because Picasso over there had so fully taken control of the cooking. And yet, sending Ash home (this week) was not to be!

If not Ash, I thought, then Eli. He re-salted the gnocchi, he sauteed it in a way that the judges didn't enjoy, and left the difficult task of cooking the spot prawns to Ashley. But Ashley goes home for those raw prawns -- and her inability to defend herself properly. A surprising decision.

One down. Mike I., Ash, Laurine, Robin and Eli to go.

I should also note that while I would ordinarily have agreed with guest judge Tyler Florence about contestants needing to handle whatever problems come up in the kitchen, this week's problems were unique, and in Mike V. and Ash's case, not fixable. Only some of the chefs had access to the four burners in the house. Everyone else had to use electric appliances in random rooms of the house. It's no wonder the power went out with everything going at once. There's no fixing improperly cooked fish when it's your main protein and you have no extra product. There's no not sending it out.

Also, kudos to the producers for -- I assume -- editing most of Toby Young's "wit" out of the episode. Thankfully, they left in the only one that mattered. Tonight, he decided to quote, or rather paraphrase, the immortal words of Cher in "Clueless." Was it not Alicia Silverstone who compared frenemy Amber to a full-on Monet: "It looks OK from afar, but up close, it's a big old mess."

Makes you really miss "Top Chef Masters" judges Gael Greene, James Oseland and Jay Rayner.

-- Denise Martin