This episode of "Top Chef" throws in twist after twist, with some chefs earning redemption and others left wanting. 
Top Chef judges in episode 5
The judges are excited to try some elevated rustic cuisine.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

So here we are, the first real major twist this season. The chefs, upset about losing papa bear Tyler, think they’re heading to the next Quickfire challenge, but are actually heading in to watch the end of Last Chance Kitchen’s second round—where Kwame, Lee Anne, and Claudette are in the midst of cooking as if their lives depend on it.

Tom lets everyone in on what’s happening and the current cheftestants are stunned, to say the least. Everyone is intimidated by the potential of one of these three chefs reentering the competition. Finally, time is called and the LCK chefs must present an offal dish that will earn them another shot at becoming Top Chef. Tom tastes Claudette’s picadillo tetela with chicken livers, cherries, and Oaxacan mole mother sauce first. (Claudette has prepared a couple different moles at this point and as someone who has a cursory knowledge of Mexican cuisine I have found her food on LCK some of the most interesting of the season.) Kwame’s “Puerto Rican” inspired dish was next, a chicken heart sofrito with crispy shallots, confit potatoes, potato tostones, and chicken gremolata. Lee Anne is famous for her dumplings at her restaurant in Hawaii and that clearly informed her decision to make some beautiful beef liver dumplings with garlic, shallots, shoyu, ginger, and chili oil.

Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins on Last Chance Kitchen
Claudette gets a shot at redemption by winning the Last Chance Kitchen challenge.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Tom furrows his brow before speaking; a telltale sign that he’s either extremely disappointed or conflicted over how outstanding they all were. Luckily for the chefs, it’s the latter. He was thoroughly impressed that Lee Anne was capable of making such a complex and beautiful dumpling in such a short amount of time but found the sauce “a little on the thick side.” Kwame’s dish was a cacophony of texture and flavor but Tom takes issue with his tendency to plate in small bowls. The food he makes, Tom believes, would be better served if it were allowed to breathe on a plate. Claudette’s flavor of Oaxaca was unexpected and proof of what she can do, but it was slightly anchovy forward. Unfortunately for these chefs, the time for elimination has come and they won’t all be moving forward.

Kwame is the first name to be called, and the first to pack his knives. Tom brings out Padma to present the returning chef with a white chef’s jacket and makes an announcement that he’s going with his “gut instinct.” Given his clear fondness for Claudette’s food all LCK, I immediately projected that to mean that she was heading back into the competition, but what it actually meant was that there’s another twist! Both Claudette and Lee Anne are heading back into the competition in what Tom calls a “completely unplanned” decision. The celebration is brief because Padma immediately dampens the party by announcing the elimination challenge.

Lee Anne Wong on Season 15 of Top Chef
Lee Anne Wong from Season 1 wins Last Chance Kitchen and back into the competition.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

The cheftestants are taking to the wilderness! They must camp overnight and prepare a dish using native Colorado ingredients in the great outdoors. The pantry table of ingredients is wheeled in, and the chefs must plan smart because the ingredients that they take from there are the only ones they will have in the middle of the woods. Oh, also, Padma warns the chefs that it looks like snow so they have to be prepared to work in the elements.

Tanya and Fatima hate camping (truly women after my own heart) and are not excited about this challenge. In fact, the only person who seems excited about cooking in a camp is Carrie, who is ready to put her native Colorado roots and vast experience camping with her Dad to use. Bruce immediately decides he wants to make pasta with a heavy meat ragu, something that sounds perfect for camping and difficult to execute in the cold. This doesn’t exactly seem like a creative stretch for Bruce, who has already made a fresh pasta and two gnocchis, but given the circumstances of the challenge, executing any dish is risky and I’m cautiously excited to see what the chefs are going to whip up.

During the ride over to the mountain shop to buy cooking supplies with their $100 budget (yes, even more restrictions!), Tu starts getting anxious over his initial plan to smoke rabbit over aromatics and herbs. After hearing what all the other chefs are doing, he sticks to the strategy that he’s been using all competition to try and do something different from the rest of the pack to stand out. He makes the decision on the drive over to do rabbit three ways.

When the chefs pull up to the campsite they’re flabbergasted by the conditions. It can barely be called a campsite, a more accurate description would be a snowdrift. The bigger men begin to shovel the snow to prepare their campsite as the women trek all the materials over.

Brother Luck and Tu Phu on Top Chef.
Brother and Tu grill into the cold Colorado night.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Carrie basically sets up the entire tent herself and helps everyone set up the fires necessary for cooking. She decided that in honor of a recipe her father made while camping, she was going to make a cake. And in order for that to happen, she has to somehow make an oven. To accomplish this she cleans the snow down to the dirt, puts a base of coals and wood down and then used the existing snow to trap the heat in that area. She burns her first batch of cakes because the tin mugs she bakes them in conduct too much heat and scalds the sides, but she adjusts and prays for the best using her last bit of batter.

Joe Flamm and Joe Sasto on Top Chef.
The Joes, Flamm and Sasto, take in the mountain air.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Tom comes by to check up on everyone, brings them some smores and introduce them to their guest judge, Naomi Pomeroy, the chef/owner of Beast in Portland, OR. The chefs do some sledding on baking sheets, which is adorable; Bruce shapes his fresh pasta using his mandolin board, Chris is worried that his dish is too simple and “just a bowl of chili,” and the wind is making Tu’s oil too cold to fry the rabbit properly. Time is called and the judges come to the middle of the woods in some very fashionable snow gear to taste what the chefs have been cooking up.

Chefs presenting camping dishes on Top Chef
The chefs present their dishes al fresco.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

The platters the chefs put together look like some of the best food all season on this side of the TV. Joe Flamm made a braised and roasted squab under faro, mushrooms, and asparagus that Padma noted “smells good” before she dug in. Mustache Joe made a roasted trout with a mug of trout fumet from the bones accompanied by some foraged greens. Gail went nuts for the fumet, saying “I’m actually totally freaking out about the fumet like I now want to drink fish fumet at all my campsites.” Bruce’s egg yolk cavatelli with a wild boar sugo, roasted ramps, carrots, and fresh ricotta captivated the judges who also loved his pasta-shaping technique and resourcefulness. Adrienne’s quail stuffed with mustard greens, purple corn grits, grilled peaches, and a peach juniper quail jus, and Fatima’s cacao-spiced duck breast, sunchoke & pine nut mash with a blackberry-chili jam both looked great but didn’t evoke much from the judges. Neither did Brother’s slightly overcooked lemon herb pheasant with rutabaga, caraway, and ramps nor Claudette’s guajillo spiced elk with confit sunchokes topped with a strawberry rhubarb guajillo sauce.

Carrie and Lee Anne wowed the judges with two vastly different dishes. Carrie’s maple & pine nut upside down cake with strawberry, rhubarb, raspberry, honey oats, and blueberry jam impressed everyone with her resourcefulness in making an oven and how nuanced and composed the dessert was. Lee Anne’s woodsy, hearty “Mother goose” goose confit with goose cracklings, fiddlehead ferns, black garlic, crushed purple potatoes covered in a fruit sauce captivated the judges as well. Mustache, who served alongside her, was incredulous that the judges were scraping her serving plate for seconds.

Tu, Tanya, and Chris did not fare so well with the judges. Tu’s rabbit three ways: soy poached hind leg with carrot duxelles, loin medallions, and fried foreleg with Szechuan gastrique was a mess to look at and apparently not pleasant to eat. Chris’s buffalo chili and buffalo flank steak with onion, bacon, agrodolce, roasted mushrooms, and charred carrots were lacking heat and suffered from dry, overcooked meat. Tanya’s grilled lamb loin chop, warm faro salad with beets, roasted wild mushroom sauce and blackberry compote confused the judges because of the plating and multiple sauces.

At judges table (covered in Colorado-appropriate calfskin rugs) Bruce joined Carrie and Lee Anne in the winner’s circle. Tom called Lee Anne’s sauce “one of the most delicious things I’ve tasted in a long time.” Naomi called Carrie’s cake “delightful,” and Gail loved Bruce’s pasta. In another surprising move, Bruce takes home the win and the judges turn to the bottom three.

Bruce Kalman and Joe Sasto on Top Chef.
Bruce Kalman takes home his first win of the season.
| Credit: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Tanya, Tu, and Chris face the judges for their disappointing dishes. When Tanya explains how she intended for her dish to be eaten (the mushroom sauce with the faro and blackberry compote with the lamb), Padma immediately realized how the dish should have come together and let out a satisfied “ah!” Chris and Tu admitted to second-guessing their own choices which led to their downfall. Ultimately Tu’s thoughtless garnishes and poorly prepared rabbit sent him home and Chris is back to fight another day.

Last Chance Comments

  • Wow. What an episode. So excited to see Lee Anne and Claudette back in the competition, they clearly injected a lot of life and fight into the other chefs.
  • Gail commented, “the more limits we give them, the better they cook” and that’s exactly how I feel about this season of Top Chef. Every time they are put in conditions or given circumstances that force them to be resourceful, they are an interesting group to watch and put out creative and beautiful looking food. The platters presented today were by far the most appetizing looking plates that have been served this season and it really did feel like a classic episode of Top Chef. There were strategic misfires and technical mistakes but for the most part, everyone in this episode finally started cooking like they’re competing on Top Chef.
  • Carrie was the MVP of this episode. She has really earned redemption from the first couple episodes where she was circling the drain. (I’m sorry you didn’t win against Bruce’s millionth pasta dish, girl. Next ep.)
  • Bruce strumming the guitar while Chris Scott wrote that little diddy of the top of his head! So cute!
  • “Waking up in the morning is like waking up from the crypt.”
  • “Good morning sunshine!” “NO.”
  • More Fatima Talking Heads! More Tanya Talking Heads!
  • Super surprised to see Kwame taken out of the competition. He was consistently in the top during his season and Tom has always loved his cooking. Sorry to see you go, bud.
  • At this point in the season I really would like to know more about Chris’s background and what exactly Amish Soul Food means/is.