By People Staff
Updated September 17, 2009 12:00 AM
Credit: Trae Patton/Bravo(2)

There’s the adage “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” — and then there was Wednesday’s Top Chef, where the kitchen was literally an infernal desert. Many of the chefs couldn’t handle 100-degree-plus temperatures — but luckily only one was sent home after serving a meal to ranchers outside Las Vegas.

Quickfire: The cheftestants got a taste of the Southwestern direction the episode was heading when they were asked to cook a dish made from cactus. The slimy item proved to be a formidable ingredient for some, but not necessarily as tough as no-nonsense guest judge Tim Love. The winner of the challenge, Mike Isabella, nabbed $15,000 and praise for properly treating the cactus. (He cured it, by the way, to take the slime out). While the losers, Ash (for his dry tortilla concoction) and Ron, whose dish featured “crab that tasted rancid” to Love — earned his consternation.

Elimination: Speaking of rancid, many of the urban chefs soured when they learned of their elimination challenge — to cook for ranchers at the Sandy Valley Ranch. But despite the rustic setting, Love warned the chefs not to tone down their food. The guests were still expecting a “high end lunch.”

Wild West: When the chefs pulled up to the arid site … where they would have to camp out the night before the challenge — it was apparent that not everybody was suited to the great outdoors. While Robin and Ashley liked the idea of sleeping out under the stars, Eli called the ranch “my idea of a living hell.” Ron, meanwhile, took tree branches which he set around the tent to ward off snakes. It was a “voodoo thing,” his tentmate Ash said, explaining the superstition.

Drama: This week, like when the chefs visited an air force base, the cooking space was severely restricted. The contestants only had firepits in the ground as heating sources and cast iron pans and “crappy plates,” as Michael V. put it. But the pits didn’t bother Laurine, who proclaimed herself perfectly comfortable with the makeshift grill, as did Ashley, who grilled up some halibut despite the increasingly hot conditions. Mattin avoided cooking altogether. The French chef, who failed at his Gallic-inspired challenge last week, decided to make a ceviche with three kinds of fish. “I don’t have to cook anything, really, so I’m feeling good,” he said.

Winners: There’s the other adage that “hunger is the best ingredient” — and fortunately for the chefs, the ranchers had worked up an appetite out on the range. They — along with the judges — especially loved Ashley’s halibut and avocado mousse, Laurine’s use of the grill and brothers Michael V. and Bryan‘s plates, too. Ultimately, though, Chef Love crowned Bryan the winner for his roasted pork loin and polenta.

Losers: As for the bad, Robin‘s drunken shrimp dish was a failure. The prawns, it seems, were rancid and the chef never tasted them before serving them. It was also apparent that Mattin was in trouble when Tom Colicchio spit out his ceviche. The fish was too raw. Or as Colicchio put it succinctly: “It’s gross!” After a quick deliberation, the chefs booted Mattin — and the chef bid adieu to the competition. –Brian Orloff

Tell us: Did the judges make the right decision? Was it fun to see the chefs camping? Who are you rooting for?Trae Patton/Bravo(2)