The garage doors with knives have sealed for a second time and chef Celina Tio is among the eight chefs who get to continue to compete to become The Next Iron Chef. She garnered high praise for her entries in the coffee-and-doughnuts challenge and the reinvention of a diner classic challenge on last night's episode. The theme was innovation, and -- as the judges discovered --Tio is never short on ideas.
Secret Ingredient Challenge -- Coffee and Doughnuts. The competition begins at John O'Groat's, a throwback diner in Los Angeles where the chefs must figure out how to incorporate a doughnut and a cup of joe into two dishes in 30 minutes. The audience first sees chef Tio carrying a few dozen eggs. She'll be using them for her doughnut sandwich -- a doughnut griddled with butter and topped with Canadian bacon, fried egg and red eye gravy.
"I would order this in a restaurant," chef Duskie Estes tells a beaming Tio.
Her second dish is a play on chicken and waffles. Tio makes chicken fried livers and hearts.
"I don't think of liver as a breakfast meat," says chef Marco Conora. He earns a sharp retort from Tio on how she loves liver for breakfast.
Ming Tsai proves to be the pissiest chef when chef Bryan Caswell criticizes his donut burger.
"He's had a hamburger with donut buns. I've never had a hamburger with donut buns. But I ain't from Texas; I'm not sure what they eat down there," says Tsai. It's safe to say we won't be seeing a Blue Ginger opening near Dallas any time soon.
Chef Maneet Chauhan makes a killer looking combination of a donut grilled cheese with cheddar and fontina and a basil and coffee fritata. Tio has some harsh words suggesting that the "basil wiped away the coffee." Chauhan earns the win and this does not bode well for the chef of Julian.
Meanwhile, chef Mary Dumont slices open her finger moments after remarking that her bananas are slippery. She makes two banana dishes which are voted the least favorite by her fellow chefs (they again rate each other) and she will be at a disadvantage in the chairman's challenge.
Chairman's Challenge -- The challenge is to take a diner classic and elevate it to a "higher level of deliciousness." Chouhan gets to order for everyone else from nine dinner classics. She sticks chef Tio with baked fish and rice pilaf. A tall order to make a dish in an hour. Chef Dumont must wait 60 seconds as others grab ingredients and she considers cutting host Alton Brown.
Tio tells the camera she will be making a slow-baked salmon with crispy risotto cake and a raw porcini and arugula salad. Dumont panics as she can't get the pressure cooker top off. Chef Conora comes over to give a half-hearted attempt before running away. She gets more desperate until the beefy Texan, Caswell (perhaps powered by donut hamburgers) manages to free the cover. Chef Mario Pagan gives us a bit of foreshadowing when he suggests that he is using a steam bath for his tropical meatloaf, a technique he's never tried.
The Result -- At the judge's table, the judges seem like they're looking for a reason not to like the dish. Michael Symon says the "salmon was cooked absolutely perfectly. Simon Majumdar says the meal was "quite well-balanced." And then Donatella Arpaia suggests "it was so well-balanced that it felt like a typical wedding dish."
"I mean, that was harsh," says Tio in an after-moment interview.
Chef Marc Forgione wins for his inside-out chicken pot pie that featured the ingredients stuffed inside of a chicken and tells the camera that "it's like the Fourth of July inside my head." Chef Caswell takes second for a deconstructed open face turkey sandwich.
Estes advances with an admonition about plating and Tio is the next to move on to the next round. Symon suggests that she be more aggressive.
"I did cook my food but it wasn't enough. I sure as hell better figure it out," says Tio.
The bottom two of the night is chef Tsai, who told the camera he was using six culinary techniques, and chef Pagan. Not surprisingly, we learn that Tsai should have made a simpler dish that centered on the tasty brisket he prepared. Pagan's tropical meatloaf proves to be the worst dish because of the texture and clashing flavors. He is ultimately eliminated.
Line of the Night -- "It makes me blush like a little schoolgirl and you just can't buy that feeling," says Caswell after hearing the praise for his dish.
Kansas Citians can support Tio by voting for her as their favorite contestant. And while you can only vote once in November, you can vote up to 10 times daily for your The Next Iron Chef site. The third season of The Next Iron Chef runs on The Food Network, Sundays at 8 p.m for the next eight weeks.
[Images courtesy of Food Network]