Fourteen cooks remain after last week's comfort food challenge, which saw Diane Khristianne and Sarah triumph with their dishes. Now, it's all about malbec as episode four -- "Daring Pairings" -- gets underway. Anthony Bourdain and his fellow mentoring judges have chosen five secret ingredients each, and the teams will be cooking up spoonfuls for award-winning sommelier Andre Mack and chef David Kinch, from Los Gatos' award-winning Manresa.
"That's a Michelin two-star chef out there. He likes clean, bold flavors," Malarkey tells his team. Indeed, Kinch does.
Nigella's quintet of secret ingredients includes calf's liver, harissa, couscous, ground lamb and lamb sausage. Malarkey chose figs, almonds, bone marrow, filet mignon and sea salt -- which, hello? That seems like a total waste of an ingredient, unless Malarkey's choosing it means no one else can use it. But they can. So why?
Bourdain -- no big surprise -- has chosen meat, meat and more meat. There's steak, chorizo, beef tongue, lamb kidneys and lamb chops, and he's already pouring great big glasses of wine. "Stay in the neighborhood of Argentina, big hunks of robust meat," he tells them.
Diane, showcasing her usual sense of tact and humility, tells the camera, "That's not what I want to cook right now. He thinks this is Anthony's kitchen. It's my kitchen."
Ludo has chosen white miso, bonito flakes, charcoal, smoked
"What am I going to do with these things? I've never seen them before," Sarah frets.
As the hour ticks to a close, the teams each choose a spoon to put forward, including Uno's Thai beef salad, Erika's lamb chop with lemon-zested goat cheese and Adam's squab with a red wine reduction.
" I chose Gregg because I want him to just shut up his mouth," Ludo tells the camera, explaining his decision to go with Gregg's bonito-crusted short rib.
Kinch and Mack give the win to Gregg, much to the dismay of pretty much everyone not on Ludo's team. The move gives Gregg immunity and Ludo's team gets the assistance of both Kinch and Mack.
"Gregg has a tiny tad bit of arrogance," Erika says tactfully.
"He's just someone I want to hit all the time," Diane says.
"It's the axis of evil," Bourdain says, "Gregg, Ludo and David. I'm not happy."
Now the teams are on their own -- well, except for Ludo's, which has Kinch and Mack there to help. The challenge: A food and wine pairing with one of four distinctive wine styles, including German riesling, California chardonnay, a French Cotes du Rhone and Italian Barolo.
We get a glimpse into Ludo's kitchen where Kinch and Mack are doing their best to be helpful. Kinch warns Shawn against using artichokes, which make wine taste tinny. Shawn ignores him. Mac questions his use of vanilla with Chilean sea bass. Shawn ignores him too.
Mack tries to warn Sarah against trying something totally new in an elimination challenge. She ignores him, then sets a pan on fire. Again. Kinch tries to tell Paul not to start his lamb too soon. "Don't turn it up. You gotta trust me on this. I keep telling you, you're fine," Kinch tells him. Paul tries to ignore him too.
To think that Bourdain was worried. The editing may be skewing things here, but Ludo's team does not seem to be using their significant advantage at all.
The hour's up and the stream of spoons start coming out, bearing little mouthfuls of rack of lamb, a riff on the chicken and the egg theme, blood sausage and miso-orange glazed salmon. Jeff's seared sole with sweet pea puree has Bourdain snickering, "I'm transported back to 1986." Khristianne's Barolo-braised duck delights Malarkey, who says, "I thought that was sexy."
Shawn, who nearly went home last week, has offered up a vanilla-poached Chilean sea bass with goat cheese ravioli.
"I feel really confident," he says, just as Nigella lets out an expression of disgust.
"Somebody put goat cheese, fish and vanilla?" Ludo says incredulously.
"Who would do that?" Bourdain asks.
Shawn, whose ego apparently knows no bounds, is indignant. "I've got a (expletive) Suzy homemaker," he says, sneering at the judges. "I've got a leprechaun and a guy who hasn't cooked for (expletive) 20 years."
Shawn goes off to sulk in the hall. Diane, of all people, gives him a pep talk.
Chutes of shame and glory
When all's said and done, six cooks are lined up in the chutes. Khristianne's duck and Ninamarie's braised pork shoulder are the judges' favorites. At the bottom, two each from Nigella's kitchen — Erika and her orange-glazed sea bass and Huda and her too-sweet zabaglione — and two from Ludo's. Sarah and her salmon with clam salad, and Shawn's vanilla fish are both on the chopping block.
Shawn argues vehemently, until Bourdain tells him, "It was an actively unpleasant mouthful of food for me." Malarkey reminds Ludo, "You said, 'If this was somebody from my team, I would send them home.'"
In the end, Erika and Shawn are out, with Ludo telling the latter, "You remember what I said to you, Shawn? If I see you here again I will have to let you go. I'm a man of my word."
Do we even need to say Erika leaves with grace, and Shawn disdainfully snarls his way out? Didn't think so.
Next week: It's the big sandwich challenge. Meanwhile, if you'd like to sample one of those winning comfort food dishes from last week, you'll find the recipe for Khristianne's seafood chowder at www.mercurynews.com/food-wine.