The judges deliberate over the chefs' takes on German fare.

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

In a tense episode, two chefs go home, but only one was told to pack their knives.

Carolyn Lipka
January 11, 2018

The physical toll of Top Chef is beginning to wear on the contestants as we open on them recovering from their grueling camping trip in the snowy Colorado mountains. The remaining bears share a protein shake, Brother is uneasy about Claudette and Lee Anne rejoining the competition, and a pregnant Lee Anne is feeling the physical toll of being at such a high elevation.

Tanya, who is more exhausted of “negotiating all the egos” in the kitchen (are there egos this season? I feel like Mustache is the only one still in the competition that comes with an attitude every week.) is on the phone with her family in an attempt to recharge from the stresses of the competition. Right before the chefs leave for the Quickfire, Lee Anne is taken to the hospital because she has a high heart rate, dizziness and a headache that could prevent her from cooking. (With most chefs, you hope they tough it out on the competition, but with Lee Anne I was genuinely worried for her baby! She’s pregnant you guys!)

So as Lee Anne is taken to the hospital the rest of the chefs enter the kitchen to see Padma standing next to none other than Top Chef loser turned Top Chef winner turned seemingly-full-time food television judge Richard Blais. He flips over a giant chalkboard to reveal the chef’s next challenge. On the chalkboard are dishes that are on the chef’s menus at home written beneath their names. A quick back and forth with the chefs reveals that each of these dishes requires days to properly prepare. Inspired by Buzzfeed's 30-second Tasty videos that have swept Facebook by storm, the chefs must prepare a version of their aforementioned dishes… in thirty minutes. Easy peasy!

Fatima is panicking because her dish, a fried chicken biryani, requires days to properly build flavor. Because she is one of the first people to ever really represent the foods of Pakistan and that region on Top Chef the pressure on her to live up to a cuisine that Padma knows in and out is clearly weighing on the young contestant. Meanwhile Adrienne is struggling with the proportions of her hush puppies, Claudette is the most frantic we’ve ever seen her (you would think after her Last Chance Kitchen streak she’d have this 30 minutes thing down pat) trying to beat up an octopus to get it tender enough for her dish and Mustache is off making a scallop gnocchi? (I don’t know. I’ve watched the episode three times and I still don’t know.)

Mustache Joe and Bruce scramble to make the 30-minutes work.
Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Unfortunately, the bulk of Claudette’s dish did not make it to the plate and the first to present, she could only offer the judges a dollop of pineapple salsa. Carrie’s Prince Edward Island mussels with red coconut curry, Tanya’s mushroom tart with walnuts, mixed greens and a radish salad, and Joe Flamm’s halibut salmoriglio with oregano, tarragon and baby leek sauce didn’t seem to make much of an impression on the judges but also seemed like properly executed if somewhat less-than-exciting dishes. Bruce’s roasted duck Diavolo with Fresno chilis, rosemary, lemon, and garlic sounded good but the duck was overcooked, he admitted to the judges.

Joining Claudette in the bottom were Adrienne with her dry, overly sweet crawfish-stuffed hush puppies topped with molasses cane and Fatima’s ill-executed buttermilk fried chicken biryani with cumin yogurt sauce and a kachumber salad. (My heart broke when Padma chewed Fatima out for not representing the flavors of their region properly. She’s trying Padma! She only had 30 minutes!)

Fatima struggles to amp up the flavor in her Quickfire dish.
Courtesy of NBCUniversal

In happier news for the chefs, Brother, Chris, and Mustache are vying for the prize of immunity and a showcase of their dish in their very own Tasty video. That kind of exposure is huge for any chef these days and it’s a great additional prize. Brother’s squid ink paella with Arborio rice impressed the judges by making paella accessible to the home cook. Mustache’s scallop gnocchi with wild mushrooms, cauliflower, and sauce bourguignon blew Richard away with its creativity and depth of flavor. Ultimately it was Chris’s pepper pot shrimp with jerk spice, peppers, and onions that took home the win.

Richard exits the kitchen as he’s done his duty and in comes elimination challenge guest judge Keegan Gerhard, the chef and owner of D Bar Denver and a prominent purveyor of German cuisine. Keegan announces that the chefs must create a German-inspired dish and a Radler (a German drink mix of 50/50 beer and some kind of fruit soda) for 200 diners at an outdoor festival. In order to educate the chefs about German cuisine, they go to his restaurant and try different beers and dishes. Gerhard is clearly passionate about German food and hopes that the chefs can elevate the cuisine like Top Chef is wont to do.

Back in the kitchen, Chris is thrown by the emotional struggle of dealing with the limitations of his recovery from alcoholism and the beer-centric challenge has him facing some demons from his past. Mustache pulled a classic over-thinking move and when Tom comes by to check on his station makes a comment about whether or not the meat he’s mixing will be enough for 200 people, it throws him into a tizzy.

As the chefs arrive back at the house, ready to play, Lee Anne is sitting in the kitchen, returned from the hospital. She announces that she’s leaving the competition because the mountain challenge gave her altitude sickness. To go from being in the top to leaving because of a physical complication is heart-wrenching, especially as Lee Anne's presence certainly had the positive effect of raising the bar for the other chefs.

 The show must go on, without Lee Anne, and the chefs arrive at the Top Chef Oktoberfest to begin prep. It’s raining onto the grill, the wind is tossing umbrellas and breaking glasses, and the chefs are once again battling the elements to complete their dishes. Mustache says “mamma mia” on camera. It seems like everyone is struggling as the crowd arrives and the judges come by to start trying their dishes.

Claudette successfully completed her dish and stuck to her flavors while rising to the challenge with a grapefruit and mezcal Radler paired with a cilantro lemon liver beef schnitzel and potato salad. Chris made a Radler that Padma loved with honey clove but his (store-bought) sausage sliders on a pretzel bun with potato salad and caraway slaw didn’t fare so well. Luckily his immunity prevented him from worrying too much. Carrie’s jalapeño and limonata Radler evoked a visceral negative reaction from Tom but her duck fat “Hasselhoff” potatoes, bratwurst, and sauerkraut were a big hit.  Joe’s middling ginger apple Radler paired with pork dumplings, nutmeg, mace, garlic, and shallots once again put him in the middle of the pack with few comments or critiques from the judges.

Padma felt Fatima redeemed herself with her flavorful and delicious-looking black forest cake with chai mousse, chocolate sauce, and a kirsch compote even though her black cherry Radler didn’t rise to the dish.

In the winner’s circle, Claudette was joined by Tanya for her peach and ginger Radler paired with pork and apple croquettes in cheddar mustard sauce and Bruce for his blood orange Radler with smoked pork belly, goat cheese spaetzle, and cherry mostarda. The judges felt that Bruce beautifully executed a delicious dish in his own style with a clear point of view. Claudette’s dish had bright exciting flavors and the heat that she added (habanero ash!) elevated the dish, giving German cuisine that extra edge Keegan was looking for. Tanya’s Radler pairing was flawless, allowing the drink to really enhance the dish, which also provided the level of elevation Keegan sought. Tanya took home the win, which includes a three-night trip for two to Thermal Club in Palm Springs sponsored by BMW. Not too shabby.

That left Brother’s Asian-German fusion, Adrienne’s under-seasoned fish and Mustache’s drooping handlebar for the bottom three.  Mustache made an apple, ginger, and beet Radler with wollwurst pretzel sausage in an apple beer cheese sauce. The sauce promised cheese but only delivered apple, the sausage was dry and the drink was too sweet but the judges agreed that the flavor of the dish was still interesting and dynamic. Keegan chastised him for over-thinking and scrambling to use every technique in his arsenal. (This is a pattern we see on Top Chef with young, talented, technical chefs, and if Mustache learns to edit he could very well be taking home the title.) Brother’s chai tea Radler and summer sausage egg roll with bok choy, apple, and potato was culinarily confused and did not read as German to the judges, the attendees and to me, your humble viewer. Adrienne once again struggled with under-seasoning her dish: a brined arctic char with asparagus and pumpernickel crumble she paired with a smoked ginger apple Radler. Tom liked the Radler but was disappointed by the lack of salt in the dish.

After what appeared to be a contentious and lengthy discussion, the judges decided to send Brother home because he failed to address the challenge. I was a little surprised by their decision, especially because Brother has been one of the consistently strong competitors this season, but that’s the nature of the game. You have one off day, you go home. See you in Last Chance Kitchen, Brother Luck.

Brother Luck is sent packing to 'Last Chance Kitchen.'
Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Last Chance Comments 

  • No Gail this week, much to my dismay. Her absence really highlights how much the panel benefits from her input. I stan for Gail. I’m a Gail stan. 
  • As much as I am personally beefing with the producers of Top Chef for some of the new technical choices this season, I owe them my life for getting Mustache to say "mamma mia" on camera.
  • Both of Brother’s parents were exotic dancers in Asia. Brother—when you’re done with Top Chef hit me up, I would love to write your memoirs.
  • Brother also had some fun Twitter banter with Chopped judge Alex Guarnaschelli this week. Love a crossover.
  • Poor Fatima. After getting called out by Padma in the Quickfire you could feel how upset she was. I loved the backwards cap. What can I say—I think Fatima is endlessly likeable and the food she cooks all looks incredible.
  • “Me, I don’t even know what a hashtag is... I’m lying I know what a hashtag is.”
  • I really am going to miss Lee Anne. There’s nothing I love more than a badass competitive female chef and she really was the OG.
  • Last Chance Kitchen will continue this week with Brother and Tu battling it out, and the chefs will still have the chance to re-enter the competition at the semifinals.

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