Gift exchanges get the best of the cheftestants as 'Top Chef' takes on the holidays.

By Korsha Wilson
Updated: December 21, 2018
Courtesy of Bravo

Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. Fun for all the chefs will call their favorite time of year. Well, not quite. After a tough elimination challenge last week, the Top Chef chefs are celebrating the holidays and the joy and stress that comes with cooking for loved ones — or judges.

We open up on an “overwhelmed” Nini Nguyen whose win of last week’s elimination challenge is still sinking in. Eddie Konrad is still guilt-ridden over last week’s team challenge when he spent too much of his team’s budget on lamb causing everyone to skimp on their ingredients. “Watching Natalie [Maronski] get eliminated was just crushing,” he says. 

The chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen which is decorated for Christmas, complete with wrapped boxes with bows, Padma Lakshmi, and Richard Blais and Brooke Williamson in ugly Christmas sweaters.

Quickfire

The chefs have to create a dish based on their favorite holiday dish but will only have two minutes to conceptualize a dish and shop in the pantry for their ingredients. At the end of that time they’ll only have the ingredients in the box to cook from— nothing else.

Courtesy of Bravo

Time starts and all of the chefs take off running, dashing to grab as many ingredients as they can before time runs out. “It’s like going to the mall on Black Friday,” David jokes. “Where’s the Christmas spirit? Where’s the love?” As the clock winds down, the sounds of bottles of spices and oils hitting the floor can be heard as the chefs grab for whatever ingredients they can to make their holiday dish. “All these ideas are going through my head and I start to panic,” says Kevin as we see him rushing around the pantry. Meanwhile, Eddie is fairly confident that he’s “literally got everything [he] could possibly need” for his dish.

Courtesy of Bravo

Time runs out and the chefs are ready to cook but there’s a catch (there always is). They’re going to play a game of White Elephant, or “Yankee Swap” as Brian Young says they call it in Boston. Basically, it’s a “mean-spirited gift exchange” where one by one the chefs pick a box and keep it or steal the box of someone who has picked already. As they get started, there are a lot of steals as the chefs fight to get the boxes that have a good mix of proteins, dairy, lemons and limes, and spices. “I will cut you in your sleep,” Kelsey warns Brian after he takes her box.

Once everyone has their box of ingredients they have 30 minutes to create a dish. Brian is planning to roast a chicken which seems like there won’t be enough time to do but he’s deboned it so it cooks faster. Sara celebrates Hanukkah and wants to tie her Jewish heritage into the challenge so she’s making a play on chopped liver. Justin got Kevin’s box that contained five types of flour, bacon, kimchi, and ground beef so he’s making meatloaf which is just about the most creative option that could’ve come out of those ingredients.

At the end of the time, Eddie’s on the bottom for a curry that lacked a punch and Justin’s meatloaf that Richard called “a salt bomb”. Kelsey’s play on bacon wrapped asparagus also missed the mark by failing to remind the judges of the dish that inspired it. In the top were Kelsey’s chopped liver which Brooke says was “a lot of flavor packed into a little bowl” and David’s carbonara leeks which Richard Blais says were “very surprising and incredibly creative.” The judges also loved Nini’s nut and cranberry chutney served with apple slices. The winner? David! This is his second Quickfire win in a row and he’s pumped to win in front of his “man crush,” Richard Blais. He’s got immunity this week.

Back at the house, the chefs are surprised to see the house decked out with holiday trimmings and Tom and Graham waiting for them. “We decided to surprise you guys with a little holiday cheer,” Tom says. But there’s a very special guest waiting around the corner. It’s world-renowned chef Eric Ripert and the chefs proceed to fangirl their hearts out at the sight of him. “This is like a culinary legend,” says cheftestant Eric.

Courtesy of Bravo

Padma, Richard, and Brooke join the crew at the dinner table for a Christmas feast. Everyone takes turns talking about the holiday food traditions that they have with their families back home. It’s a sweet and touching moment between the cheftestants and the judges that is quickly ended when Padma asks, “what’s missing from this table?”

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The smiles leave the chefs faces as it dawns on them that this lovely Christmas meal is actually the basis for this week’s challenge.

Elimination Challenge

Each chef has to make one of the 13 desserts that are part of a Réveillon de Noël, a traditional Christmas feast in France. They’ll have two hours and they have to make it in their home kitchen. All thirteen of them. 

Time starts and the chefs head into the kitchen. Nini smartly sets up her station near the freezer as “a plan of attack” while the other chefs struggle to find space in the cramped kitchen. Sara is making biscuits with a sweet whipped cream which is a great move because they’ll cook in time. Kelsey is doing a dessert trio of biscotti (which requires a double bake), pot de creme and macarons which is one of the hardest pastries to nail. It’s incredibly ambitious to try to do all three of those things in two hours. “I cut meat, I don’t bake,” Brian says as he scrambles to come up with a dish. He’s decided to do a shortbread biscuit. Justin is taking a really unconventional approach and making a blue cheese mousse with nuts and fruits.

The phrase ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ has never been truer than it is when most of the thirteen chefs have to bake their desserts and there’s only two ovens and a toaster oven available. Kelsey’s macarons are in trouble because people keep opening the door to check on what they’ve made and it’s dropping the temperature. She abandons them and sticks to the pot de creme and biscotti as a play on milk and cookies.

At the end of the buzzer, it’s well after midnight and the chefs have to present their dishes. Here’s how things played out:

Edmund “Eddie” KonradStrawberry shortcake with almond streusel and fennel
Eddie has shown a bit of a pattern during each challenge: stress, cook, stress, do well at judges' table. It’s the same this week with Tom and Eric remembering how stressed he was in the kitchen, but loving his colorful strawberry dessert because of his clever use of fennel and soft streusel.

Pablo LamonDark chocolate, coffee and black pepper ganache with raspberry sable
Pablo’s tart ends up looking pretty basic and the judges think it could’ve used a creamy element.

Brian YoungSweet and savory biscuit, dried fruit, jam and pickled cocoa nib with pistachio butter and sour cream
The judges were underwhelmed by Brian’s sweet and savory biscuit. “I thought Brian’s dessert was pretty much lacking across the board,” Graham says. “I don’t want to eat biscuits for a while because of Brian’s biscuit,” Richard says. Yikes. 

Nini NguyenBlackberry and lemon vacherin
Tom praises Nini’s “elegant, simple and beautiful” dessert that shows off her pastry chops. Eric liked it too but points out that it wasn’t his favorite of all the dishes. 

David VianaBanana cream cheese trifle with macadamia nut and bacon streusel
Padma is a big fan of David’s “tart and sweet shot glass of fun” and Brooke loves the fresh thyme leaves that are interspersed throughout.

Kevin ScharpfRicotta cake with ricotta whipped cream and macerated cherries
While cooking, Brandon told Kevin that he found his dessert to be a little salty and the judges echo that sentiment. “I’m a big fan of putting salt in desserts but I feel like it went overboard,” Brooke says.

Sara BradleyBiscuit with hibiscus and ginger infused berries, coconut ‘whooped’ cream and macadamia nuts
Sara just slightly misses the mark with undercooked biscuits and out of whack proportions of whipped cream, fruit and nuts. “It’s too bad cause it could have been delicious,” Eric Ripert says. 

Kelsey Barnard Clark Pot de creme with citrus topping, lemon poppy seed and cream cheese whip
Kelsey’s dessert is Eric Ripert’s favorite out of everyone because of the “perfect” consistency on the pot de creme and biscotti. “I think it’s a perfect little treat for Christmas,” Tom says. 

Adrienne WrightAlmond daquoise, whipped ganache, blood orange and red wine marmalade with orange sorbet
Adrienne pulled out the big guns with a daquoise, a layered cake made of hazelnut and almond meringue. “The daquoise itself is really pleasant,” Eric Ripert says. The rest of the components, however, were a letdown. “It just felt like watered down orange juice,” Brooke says of the sorbet.  

Brandon RosenWhite chocolate mousse, caramel, blood orange, candied orange zest with toasted pecan cake
Padma did not like Brandon’s dessert “at all” she says because all of the textures of the different components were the same. “The caramel was an unpleasant surprise,” Richard says which might be the first time in history anyone has said that about caramel. 

Justin Sutherland Bleu cheese mousse, crumbled goat cheese, chestnut and bacon crumble
Tom is not a fan of Justin’s play on a fruit and cheese plate. “If you’re going to do a cheese course put some elements around it that complement it, don’t just make a mousse.”

Michelle MinoriWarm baked chocolate with roasted cherries, ginger and hazelnuts
Michelle served one of the more basic desserts in a simple ramekin and it doesn’t seem like it impressed the judges at all. “The texture’s not right,” Eric Ripert says as he shakes his head.

Eric AdjepongBofrot with creme Anglaise, blackberry and blueberry fluid gel and chocolate crumbs
The judges loved Eric’s “simple” and “great” play on a beignet inspired by his childhood in Africa. “The creme Anglaise, you get all of the vanilla, it’s done well,” Richard says.

Judges' Table

The next morning it’s time for the chefs to head to judges' table to find out who won and who’s going home. Tom says that he’s surprised that everyone got a dessert on the table after having a meal and drinks and Eric thinks that some of the chefs really got the inspiration for the challenge. Kelsey, Eddie, and Nini come out on top with the judge’s favorite dishes of the night. Nini wins again thanks to her modern and delicate dessert. That’s two in a row!

Courtesy of Bravo

Now the judges have to single out their least favorite desserts which are Kevin, Pablo, and Brian. Brian’s quick pickled cocoa nibs tasted like raw vinegar which is the last thing you want at dessert. Tom says “there was something wrong with everything” on Pablo’s plate including a chocolate sauce that had seized up. Brian’s overly salted dish compels Tom to tell him to not put elements on a plate if you know they’re “that bad”. In the end, it’s Kevin because his dish was so salty it was inedible.

Courtesy of Bravo

Kevin is headed to Last Chance Kitchen where he’ll have the chance to cook against Natalie and Brother Luck.

Episode 4 of ‘Top Chef’ in Kentucky airs Thursday, December 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. ‘Last Chance Kitchen’ streams immediately following the show at BravoTV.com/Last-Chance-Kitchen. Find additional interviews, chef bios, and more at BravoTV.com/TopChef.

Read our Q&A with last week's eliminated chef, Natalie Maronski, here.

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