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Top Chef Recap: Jason Stratton Struggles in Santa Barbara

Spoiler alert.

Top Chef [Official Site]

It's time for Top Chef: California, episode 3, where we see way more of Jason Stratton than in the previous two episodes. And it's not altogether good for the Seattle chef.

In this episode, the road trip aspect of the season begins, and the group heads to Santa Barbara.

They first visit the Santa Barbara Harbor for a lesson on sea urchin, and Jason, sporting a loud flower print shirt, clues us in on the delicacy: "What you actually eat are the gonads," he says. "Who doesn't like a little gonad." Thanks for that.

Next they move on to Sanford Winery, where Padma tells us the Quick Fire challenge, which will unfold with the grape vines as the backdrop, will involve cooking an uni-centric dish and pairing it with wine from Sanford.

We finally get more Jason, with guest judge Dana Cowin of Food and Wine chirping that she recognizes one of the chefs in the crowd. Jason! He was, of course, selected in 2010 as a Food and Wine Best New Chef, which he describes as "the proudest moment of my life." There's also a shot of the cover of that issue, which involves a smiling group of nominees including Jason Stratton as a baby chef.

Back to the Quick Fire. Jason makes a salpicon with crab salad and chooses a chardonnay to pair. Dana Cowin says the balance of flavors is lovely, but Padma wants more uni. Jason looks a little bummed. He doesn't win.

Next, the Elimination Challenge, to create a surf and turf dish with a teammate. Jason works with Frances, the quirky chef who has been struggling a bit thus far. Things become more worrisome when Jason agrees to let their dishes lean Asian, which plays more to Frances' strengths. She admits she's glad they didn't pick Italian, Jason's specialty. They agree to go with Thai flavors. Jason says he doesn't cook Thai, but he's on a team, and he's willing to compromise. Aww.

Their proteins are pork and black cod, and Frances says, "We think we're going to win because Jason is my long lost twin." More aww. More Jason in the flower print shirt. If nothing else, he should win a style award for his outfits this season.

Tom Colicchio shows up while everyone is prepping to announce that the teams are now actually going to be competing against each other. The losers of each pair will be up for elimination. Bummer, as most people were happy to be paired together.

And now Jason has to cook a Thai dish all by himself, with no help from Frances. That said, Frances has been pretty weak so far, so our man should fare ok.

The dishes are being judged by a bunch of hoity-toity So-Cal food luminaries, including some fancy looking ladies, nary a wrinkle among them. Jason and Frances present their dishes last, and Jason admits he's worried there's not enough spice or acid, and he makes some last minute changes which he says he's nervous about.

Jason's dish is a grilled pork loin with steamed crudites, Thai-style egg, and green bean salad, and it's a flop. The judges ask Jason if he's familiar with Thai, which he says he's not. They feel sorry for him. We all do. Dana says she wants so badly to vote for Jason because, "I know he's an incredible cook." Word.

Luckily, as predicted, Frances' dish sucks more, so she's on the chopping block and Jason is safe. Phew.

And what do you know, Frances gets the boot. It was time. She heads to Last Chance Kitchen for a shot at redemption.

Next week, the chefs head to Palm Springs to cook in the desert and on a golf course. For a more detailed recap of the episode, Eater National has your back.

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