By People Staff
Updated September 10, 2009 12:00 AM
Credit: Justin Stephens/Bravo(2)

Let’s take a minute to digest all that drama on Wednesday’s supersized Top Chef. With its twists and turns (a chef was eliminated after a Quickfire!) and a classical French cooking elimination challenge that led to a second chef packing up and leaving, the episode was truly the first nail-biter of this season. After one chef was bounced early on, the remaining 13 were asked to concoct a classic French meal for Jo l Robuchon … known as the “Chef of the Century” … and a who’s who of French masters like Daniel Boulud. Translation: Bonne chance, chefs!

Quickfire: First, though, all 14 remaining chefs met up with Tom Colicchio and Boulud inside his Las Vegas brasserie. Their challenge? To cook a winning dish using escargot … a.k.a. snails … as their main protein. It was to be a “high stakes” challenge … meaning the losing chef would be immediately sent home. Immediately, the tough talking Mike Isabella soared to the top for his Greek-inspired dish and Jennifer Carroll delighted the chefs with her Yuzu-accented snails. (Can we just hand her the Top Chef title already?) But Kevin Gillespie triumphed in the end for his Southern snail plate with bacon jam. Less fortunate: Ashley Merriman, Robin Leventhal and Jesse Sandlin.

Another Twist: Luckily for the three chefs in the bottom there was a chance at redemption . . . for two of them. Colicchio instructed them to make an amuse-bouche in 20 minutes or, as he instructed, cook “one bite to save your life and keep you in the competition.” After returning to the kitchen and scrambling, the chefs learned their fates … – and Jesse was sent home for her tuna tartare.

Final Words, Part 1: Perennially in the bottom, Jesse looked genuinely gutted to be leaving so soon. “I’m pissed, I’m disappointed and I’m embarrassed,” she said. “I haven’t felt like myself since I got here. . . . . The thing I want to know is that I don’t suck this bad.”

Elimination Challenge: With immunity for his Quickfire win, Kevin learned he could sit out the grueling elimination challenge. Instead, he would join a coterie of famous French chefs at the table to eat his competitors’ food. Meanwhile, the other 12 chefs drew knives emblazoned with either a classic French protein or a classic French sauce. They were told to pair up and create a dish using both in tandem.

The teams were:

Mattin & Ashley: Poussin with Sauce Velout Robin & Ron: Frog Legs with Sauce Meuniere Mike I. & Bryan: Trout with Sauce B arnaise Michael V. & Jennifer: Rabbit with Sauce Chasseur Laurine & Eli: Lobster with Sauce Am ricaine Hector & Ash: Chateaubriand with Sauce au Poivre

The Drama: Clearly the most daunting thing about this challenge was the audience for whom the chefs were cooking. Who wouldn’t freak out about cooking for a Chef of the Century … let alone the other panelists, who included Boulud; Hubert Keller; Jean Joho; and Laurent Tourondel? Cooking for chefs of that stature all but diffused the typical squabbling that occurs when chefs pair off … – well, pretty much.

The Bad: Robin, who was already in the bottom, wouldn’t stop talking, which annoyed her partner, Ron, who wanted to concentrate on his frog legs and represent Haiti well in the French cuisine battle. Mattin Noblia, meanwhile, thought he had the challenge in le sac … as the resident Frenchman in the competition. Turns out, his velout sauce, which he made with an untraditional ingredient, bacon, was among the worst things served that night. Zut alors! And Hector and Ash suffered from a time constraint that threatened to derail their entire steak dish.

Winners: Chef Robuchon’s favorite dishes were Team Rabbit and Team Trout. He especially adored the latter’s deconstructed B arnaise sauce and the delicately cooked trout. So, Bryan Voltaggio was handed the win.

Losers: In the bottom, Hector and Ash had to defend their unevenly cooked meat … and Hector’s poor cutting job which Gail Simmons said looked like it was hacked up with an ax. Mattin, meanwhile, didn’t earn any patriotic points for his non-velvety velout , which the judges compared to a bacon cream sauce. In the end, Hector was sent home for his poorly butchered, poorly roasted steak … ostensibly the simplest dish of the evening to prepare. –Brian Orloff

Tell us: Did you agree with the judges? Who deserved to go home? And was the double elimination a good twist?Justin Stephens/Bravo(2)