Dear Top Chef producers: This is what a good Top Chef episode feels like – realistic challenges, practically no dramatic back biting, only one shamefully awkward product plug, and lots of good food. Please make note.
I don’t know if it is because of some of the fat that has been trimmed from this group of chefs, or if, on this particular week, the chefs gave them more substance than drama to work with. Whatever it was, this was easily one of the better episodes of the entire season for me.
After a brief reflection over the dearly departed and John (Josh is ecstatic he is gone, Stefan misses his morning smoking buddy), we go straight into the Quickfire.
We see Wolfgang with his uber-pearly whites, waiting for the chefs to unveil ginger as the focus for the Quickfire (insert plug for Canada Dry ginger ale). The chefs have only 15 minutes to whip up a dish that highlights the unique ingredient, one of Wolfgang’s favorites.
With so little time, of course this is a mad dash. While I harp on TC for ridiculous constraints in challenges, I have no objection to such a tight time frame. Does it happen in the real world? No, of course not. But at least it is a condition that actually tests the chef’s skill instead of makes them jump through hoops like circus monkeys.
The tight time frame did force the chefs to make a snap decision on their dishes and stick with it, and some of their instincts were better than others. Lizzie’s creative watermelon and ginger soup won high points with the judges, but Sheldon’s generic beef stir fry was a flop, tasting “like pedestrian Chinese food.” Stefan impressed Wolfgang with his perfect German accent as well as his fresh ahi tuna with ginger vinaigrette. But it was Brooke’s unique ginger-caramel squid with lime and chili powder that blew him away, earning her immunity for the Elimination Challenge.
Speaking of the Elimination challenge, this year there is a new twist. Padma introduces this week’s guest judge, heavyweight restaurateur Danny Meyer, and teases/misleads us into thinking that we have already hit Restaurant Wars. Instead, each chef must come up with their own concept and create a single dish that encapsulates that concept, serving it to 200 diners at Bite of Seattle. The two winners will each get $10,000 and earn the captains spots for the real Restaurant Wars next week.
I love this because it takes all of the democratic process out of picking a concept, and it really puts the two winning chefs on the chopping block. I don’t know whether to cheer the two winners or prepare to see one of them go home next week. No pressure guys.
Brooke wins for “most potentially offensive” restaurant concept with Un-Kosher – combining Jewish foods like a challah bread ham sandwich. Unfortunately, what offended Gail wasn’t the concept as much as the poor execution of her matzo ball and duck confit soup. Stefan veered off the reservation with his German/Thai fusion dish, but only because the judges wished he had pushed his concept further and left out his mango ice cream lollipop. He may have also lost points after a guy compliments his broth and Stefan repays him by drenching him in it.
And what would a week of top chef be without Josie making things so awkward it makes the viewers at home want to leave the room? As always, Josie spends her time rambling instead of plating, and Tom has NO time for that. Her concept is “Home 305”, that is supposed to showcase the flavors of her native Miami. Then, while rambling, she says that Home is a concept that can be in any city, you just have to change the area code. Oh really, Josie? What would “Home 701” taste like? You gonna stick with Cuban soul food when it opens in Bismarck, North Dakota?
Brooke says it best: “Josie’s stand is almost hard to watch.”
But it was the chefs that listed to Meyer’s advice to cook from the soul that did the best here. Josh’s paid homage to his late father, who was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, with Bistro George. His simple and well-seasoned seared rib eye with cauliflower puree and mushrooms with red wine sauce puts him in the top 3. Sheldon also took Danny’s advice to heart, and cooked a soulful dish that obviously meant a lot to him. It didn’t hurt that his authentic and elegant sour tamarind soup packed layer after layer of flavor. And Kristen – shocker – also lands in the top for her deliberately fancy-pants French concept and her Onsen egg (slow cooked eggs with a creamy yolk and runny whites) gets top marks all around.
Micah, on the other hand, looks into his soul and comes up with Raw, a concept that he says is something you have to know how to do in order to satisfy the housewives in Beverly Hills. What about that doesn’t scream “from the soul?” He wants to show “what raw foods can do for you.” Well, I know what raw foods can do for Micah. They can send him to Last Chance Kitchen.
Josh looks like someone stole his puppy when the judges announce Kristen and Sheldon as this week’s winners, and next week’s captains. But if Josh is smart, he is breathing a sigh of relief, because one of the two of them is SCREWED.
Kristen and Sheldon have to pick their team for next week…before they find out who is going home. It winds up boys vs. girls, and Sheldon gets the short end of the stick with the last kid picked – Micah. Once Micah gets sent home, Sheldon now has to run restaurant wars shorthanded.
Good luck with that Sheldon. I hope you fare well on Last Chance Kitchen next week.
P.S. Carla makes a return this week as Stefan’s Sous Chef….and apparently forgot to take her crazy pills. I was honestly a little disappointed.
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog