While chef Celina Tio forced the judges on The Next Iron Chef to like her cooking, she ultimately couldn't make them fall in love. And so she was eliminated in the seduction-themed episode that aired last night.
In the reality cooking show equivalent of "it's not you, it's me," host Alton Brown informed her that she had cooked her best, but two other chefs had been better.
Secret Ingredient Challenge: Liquor. There's a lot at stake in the penultimate episode: Two chefs are going home and the other two advance to Kitchen Stadium for the show's finale. With the theme of seduction, get ready for lots of uncomfortable jokes and chefs talking about ingredients like their girlfriends.
First up, the cheftestants have to make a signature cocktail and tasty bar snack in 30 minutes.
"I'm a chef. I'm not a mixologist. But being an Iron Chef is all about trying new things," says chef Tio.
All four chefs appear to be flustered by this challenge, which will be judged by mixologist Charlotte Voisey.
"This is the seduction challenge, so I'm glad I'm not just cooking for Canora and Chef Tsai," says chef Marc Forgione.
Chef Tio makes an English Summer cocktail (gin, elderflower, and an orange-thyme simple syrup) served with oysters on the half shell topped with lime, jalapeno and salted radish. It earns her first place votes from chef Marco Canora and chef Ming Tsai.
"Even if I thought mine tatsed the best. I would never vote for myself," says chef Tio. Midwestern politeness has no place in reality television and this will ultimately prove to be Tio's undoing.
Chef Tio votes for chef Forgione's Smoky Sophistication (mezcal, cumquat and champagne) and chips with sour cream dip. Chef Forgione likes chef Canora's version of the Aviation (gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice) and cherries stuffed with goat cheese. Voisey also votes for chef Canora, who she earlier complimented for spanking his mint. Since the guest judge's vote carries more weight, Canora gets the victory.
Chairman's Challenge: Expensive ingredients. It's hard not to love good theater. Host Alton Brown is standing in front of four sealed safes, which hold the ingredients that th chefs will be asked to feature in a three-course meal. Chef Tio picks first and gets the Hawaiian Moi Fish. Chef Forgione gets Maine lobster and chef Tsai finds American Wagyu beef in safe three. Chef Canora then exercises his right as the secret ingredient winner to steal the beef before he opens the fourth safe in a very "Let's Make A Deal," type moment. Chef Tsai gets mangalitsa pork, while Alton Brown makes dire pronouncements about what this could mean for chef Conora.
The chefs have 30 minutes to shop at the five restaurants inside the Aria Resort -- it's high-end "Supermarket Sweep." Chef Canora gets to determine where everyone goes first. He takes all the yuzu at the Japanese restaurant, while chef Tio only grabs three of the five summer truffles in the Italian restaurant. Again, ruthlessness is required for victory.
"If the judges don't see my personality in these plates, I must be soulless," says Tio.
It turns out they think her soul is very nice, they're just not soulmates. Tio earns high praise for a Chinese style sashimi and olive oil poached moi fish. But her seared moi fish is dinged by judge Donatella Arpaia for not enough salt.
"At least this time, I didn't forget her food," says Arpaia, who seemed to have a palate that differed greatly from Tio's and the other judges.
After chef Canora is declared the winner, Tio is sent home, ostensibly finishing in fourth place. And in a surprise move, she's joined by chef Tsai, who served lardo with an apparently serious texture problem. Chef Forgione joins Canora in the finale.
"I gotta beat these suckers. I've got to bring it home to Kansas City, man. Let's show the world that the best chefs aren't only in New York City," says Tio, moments before the decision was announced.
She certainly showed that a chef from Kansas City is tough to beat. As to whether it was an East Coast bias or the reality of the dishes that were served, we won't know. But on this night, two chefs from New York City were the best on The Next Iron Chef.
Line of the Night: "I'm having a romantic, seductive moment with my slab of wagyu beef," says chef Canora.
The third season finale of The Next Iron Chef will air on the Food Network Sunday, November 21, at 8 p.m.