This week "Top Chef" takes the cheftestants out of their element for a kid-friendly quickfire challenge before asking them to get in touch with their roots for a moving episode.
This week the chefs get in touch with their roots, work with miniature pots for miniature judges and [semi-spoiler alert!] say goodbye to one of the bears. We open with an always-confident Mustache Joe letting us know that he’s somehow more confident. Bruce is adopting a child and his son will be born any day now! It makes the Quickfire really hit home when Padma introduces Curtis Stone, head judge of Top Chef Junior, and three children of famous Denver chefs.
The adorable kids wheel in a rack of adorable pots and pans. The caveat? This is child-size cookware. The chefs must update a classic kid’s menu dish using only the miniature cooking supplies on the rack. Curtis says a couple words about how difficult it is to get kids to eat their vegetables and encourages the chefs to update and upgrade the classics, implying that it wouldn’t hurt to make them healthier. The chefs draw knives for what dishes they must improve upon and then it’s off to the races.
Groans abound when the chefs see that the dishes they’ll be working with are of the “corndog” and “chicken teriyaki” variety. The school-aged judges walk around the kitchen asking the mandatory questions to the cheftestants about what they’re cooking and frankly, it’s pretty cute!
After a pretty tame cook, time is called and the chefs offer up their dishes to the three kids, Curtis, and Padma. Adrienne starts things off with her cauliflower crust pizza with ricotta spread, tomato compote, and fried quail egg. She says she’s taking a risk by doing cauliflower crust pizza. (But since we’ve seen this everywhere from restaurants to Whole Foods is it particularly risky?) Nonetheless, the judges and kids love it and get hyped about the coming dishes. The kids don’t seem to like Mustache’s almond-breaded chicken sausage with fresh tomato ketchup and creamed kale take on the humble chicken finger or Joe Flamm’s updated chicken teriyaki—pan roasted chicken breast with gochujang and Szechuan peppercorn glaze with caramelized pineapple—but neither of the dishes lands them in the bottom three. Chris Scott also finds his way into the middle with a chicken rillettes taco with crispy chicken skin and mole even though the kids enjoyed it.
Fatima’s interpretation of grilled cheese—a Caesar salad with crispy grilled cheese croutons, tomatoes, avocado and black garlic anchovy dressing surprised the judges and won over the kids, earning her a spot in the top three (though it was a little reminiscent of Tyler’s tomato soup and grilled cheese crouton last week—she was even on his team!). She was joined by Tanya’s upscale mac and cheese: an orecchiette pasta with gruyere parmesan béchamel crusted with bacon and pretzel crumbs. Adrienne’s pizza rounded out the top and won her immunity.
Carrie’s cornmeal-breaded corndog with chiffonade kale and pecorino romano on a succotash was too spicy for the kids and too dry for everyone earning her a place in the bottom. Bruce’s cornmeal-crusted striped bass and shrimp croquette “fish sticks” with potato and romesco sauce didn’t come together for the kids and also suffered from being too dry, placing him in the bottom. The final chef in the bottom was Tyler who saw spaghetti and meatballs and decided to make shrimp meatballs with zucchini noodles and herbs in a spicy broth. Points to Tyler for thinking outside the box but this made no sense to when he was explaining it and no sense to the judges when they tasted it.
The kids and Curtis leave the kitchen and Padma announces the elimination challenge that will hopefully see the chefs will seize the opportunity to be creative and cook from the heart: create a dish that represents their heritage. This challenge has always brought out the best dishes in chefs(I think back to the rocky season 12 where Melissa and Gregory both broke out of slumps to produce dishes that spoke from their experiences and evoked a lot of emotion).
To get inspired the chefs travel to Comal, a food incubator in Denver that helps immigrant women turn their love of traditional foods into culinary careers. The trip is moving, as the chefs talk with Syrian refugees who miss their home but are grateful to be living in safety here in the United States. After a meal from some of the people who participate in Comal, the chefs head to Whole Foods, start conceptualizing their dishes and head to the restaurant to start prepping. They’re serving 20 people who are familiar with global flavors, many of whom are immigrants themselves. Gregory Gourdet of season 12 is back to offer critiques alongside guest judge former Food & Wine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed.
First up are Carrie, Tyler and Joe Flamm. Carrie’s not sure of her heritage but her grandmother made pierogies and the choice is pretty strategic given that the last time she made a savory dumpling she won the elimination challenge. She offers up a pierogi with herb crème fraiche and fava bean chorizo salad. Tyler’s also unsure of his heritage and struggled with inspiration throughout the challenge. He calls upon his Swedish last name to inject his dish with a part of his lineage and prepares a spiced tri-tip with Swedish potato pancake, Swedish meatballs and pico de gallo with pickled beets instead of tomato. The judges find that the dish is as disjointed as it sounds and Tom calls him “heritage-challenged.” Tom also says Tyler overcomplicated the dish which is the kiss of death of Tom Collichio criticisms. Joe Flamm who, even with the help of many of his fellow teammates, winds up plating until the absolute last second knows that there are a lot of problems with his dish before it hits the table. He made a saffron ribbon pasta with braised squid and Parmigianino Reggiano, a Christmas tradition in his home. Unfortunately, the pasta is cold before it gets to the judges and Tom makes a crack that perhaps there was some improper technique in the execution.
Tanya fares better as she tearfully presents her Louisiana style gumbo with chicken, shrimp and fried okra over rice, a tribute to her mother who passed away two years ago. Next up Mustache and Tu also present emotional dishes tied to their upbringing. Mustache fused his mother’s traditional stuffed cabbage and his father’s Italian heritage with his dish of chicken tortelloni with faro cabbage. His dish garners high praise from guest just chef Mourad Lahlou who called it “immensely technical.” Tu got emotional presenting his Canh Chua with fish meatballs—a Vietnamese bouillabaisse—but the cooking didn’t stand up to his story, Gregory felt the dish cried out for acid and salt.
Fatima, Brother, and Bruce’s dishes follow with varying results. Fatima’s Dal Chawal with Shami kebabs (rice and lentils with a ground lamb patty) hit the right flavor notes but didn’t have enough finesse to make an impression. Brother’s homage to his father’s stewed chicken with dirty rice and spinach was a hit and came with an emotional story that felt organically connected to the dish and perfectly suited to the challenge. Bruce’s Hungarian lamb goulash with spaetzle, braised cabbage, and lemon crème fraiche fell flat because of a failure with the cook on the lamb.
Adrienne and Chris are the last two but couldn’t end more differently; Adrienne is panicking trying to get everything on the plate while Chris is calm, cool, and collected, confident in his soul food cooking and tribute to his heritage. Adrienne’s stuffed pig trotters with collard greens, mustard ham hock jus, and potato croquette recalls the week before her parents wed and her father’s family taught her white mother how to cook soul food. Tom loves the flavors but the pig trotters are underdone. Chris meanwhile presents lemonade fried chicken with collard greens, buttermilk brown sugar biscuits, and hot sauce that looks like a winner as soon as it hits the table. The judges think so too and bestow copious praise upon it.
At judges table, Tom is disappointed overall by the challenge (and I can’t say I blame him). There were a lot of promising dishes but chefs who have performed consistently well on the show did not rise to the occasion. Chris, Mustache, and Tanya are in the top with Chris taking home the win. (I know I definitely want to go to Butterfunk Kitchen and try one of his biscuits after seeing this episode!)
Unfortunately, we have to get to the unpleasant part of the program and it becomes even more unpleasant when they announce the bottom three are our favorite bears Joe Flamm, Bruce, and Tyler. It’s sad that one of them has to say goodbye today but none of them prepared successful dishes and they all know it. Well, almost. Bruce seems confused as to why he’s there until the judges make it clear that the lamb was essentially inedible. Joe’s dish lost the tooth to the pasta by the time it hit the judges table which caused the dish as a whole to fail. Neither of these mistakes measured up to Tyler’s unsuccessful attempt to merge Southern California picnic cuisine with his Swedish heritage. The result of his efforts were "four completely separate things that didn’t belong on the plate together” according to Gail and this unforgivable mistake causes an early frontrunner to pack his knives and go.
Last Chance Kitchen
This week is a doozy with a Chopped-inspired challenge and double elimination that has Claudette fighting to continue in the competition. The chefs are tasked with making two wrongs a right—choosing one of the seven baskets with two ingredients that do not go together and turning it into one harmonious dish. Let the games begin!
Claudette is making a raspberry mole with her basket of bonito and chocolate—her second mole of the season, but nobody’s complaining. Laura has to combine garlic and strawberries and decides to use halibut as a vehicle for her flavors. Rogelio makes a tuna marinade out of his gochujang and sour candies, but the second he says he’s going to fry the sour candy it's pretty clear where this is going. That candy is going to melt in that heat! Lee Anne is struggling with her vanilla and pickles and honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone can make that taste good. She decides to go with a Veracruz chicken and Tom seems to think it’s a good idea. Kwame is using bananas and capers to prepare a traditional Nigerian pepper stew so he can utilize the ingredients for “what they are.”
Tom loved Kwame’s flavor-forward Nigerian red pepper chicken stew with plantain chips, pickled pepper and crispy capers and Claudette’s beautiful seared venison with raspberry mole and bonito flakes. Claudette’s mole takes the win to continue her streak—love a chef with some fight. Kwame is safe as is Lee Anne who’s Veracruz chicken with dried chiles, vanilla, orange and grapefruit juice with cucumber salsa was good enough to keep her in the game. Laura’s strawberry garlic tomato salsa garnish on her halibut is under seasoned and even the flawless cook on the fish couldn’t save her. Rogelio’s attempt to fry the sour candy and incorporate it led to his downfall and they both pack their knives for the second time.
Last Chance Comments
- When was the last time the person who won the first elimination challenge was sent home this early!? I certainly can’t remember and this is a big break in tradition.
- Padma fashion watch 2K17: that white two-piece top and flared pant that looked like a jumpsuit! Queen!
- Tyler had the most animated talking heads. Sad to see him go as a viewer and as a lover of creative dishes. This episode got away from him but I expect to see him kill it in Last Chance Kitchen.
- I’m not feeling the fire as much as previous seasons; this time last season people were getting eliminated for good dishes! This year it feels like the chefs are really focused on strategizing and playing it safe. I hope they’re forced out of their comfort zones a little bit more in the coming weeks.
- Mamma Mia! Both Joes did pasta this week.
- I miss the stew room drama.
- “Everyone cooks.” “Men and women?” “Yes, but women are better at it.”
- 28-year-old Fatima was diagnosed with cancer after they finished filming the show and she has been undergoing treatment. She recently spoke about what it’s been like with Bravo. I hope she has a full recovery and we'll be keeping her in my thoughts.