The chefs take on alternative flours before pairing up to turn two different flavors into one harmonious dish.

By Korsha Wilson
April 24, 2020
Advertisement

It’s a new day in the Top Chef house and the cheftestants are ready to face their next challenge. Brian M. and Nini are bonding over their love of crystals which Nini uses to shoo away “bad energy” in the competition. They charge their crystals up by letting them soak up some Cali sun and they’re on their way to the kitchen. The chefs are greeted by Padma Lakshmi and a special guest, chef and master pizza maker Chris Bianco. “I can tell you, you learn things when you burn things,” he offers the chefs and with that, it’s time for this week’s Quickfire.

Quickfire

The chefs have to create a dish in which non-wheat flours like blue corn flour, almond flour, brown rice flour, and quinoa flour are the star ingredient. “Alternative types of flour are becoming more and more popular every day,” Padma says as the chefs begin mulling what they can make. They’ll have thirty minutes and while there’s no immunity on the line, there is a cash prize of $5,000.

The clock starts and the chefs make a mad dash for the flours. Melissa grabs almond flour and is planning to make a duck fat financier, which seems like an intriguing, savory twist on the classic French dessert. Bryan V. grabs hazelnut and rye flours which he combines to make a crumb that will go with fish. Gregory is making pancakes using tapioca flour, a recipe he’s very familiar with because he’s been gluten-free for the past 10 years. Brian M. decides to make ice cream again after last week’s disastrous attempt which will be a great victory or another crushing defeat if he can’t pull it off. He makes his base but can’t figure out how to turn on the machine. Oh boy. Lee Anne is making dumpling balls using buckwheat flour and Nini is making bánh xèo, Vietnamese rice flour crepes using her grandmother’s recipe. Stephanie is just freestyling a dish as she goes but lands on blue corn flour gnocchi which sounds really interesting to say the least.

As the clock runs out it seems both Brian M. and Bryan V. are in the weeds and may not finish their dish in time. Bryan V’s dish is really complicated and has roasted radicchio, a sauce, seared fish and a baked element to get on his plate while Brian M’s coconut flour donuts keep falling apart in the fryer meaning he only has ice cream. As time runs out, Brian M throws his hands up, saying “this is the worst dish ever made in the history of Top Chef!” His dish… doesn’t look great but we’ll see what Padma and Chris say.

Padma and Chris make their way through the dishes, seeming very pleased with Gregory’s light pancakes, Nini’s banh xeo and a few of the others until they get to Brian M.’s dish. Before they can even step to their plate, Brian tries to sell them on it and instructs Padma and Chris to close their eyes. “Imagine this luscious donut filled with this raspberry jam served next to a coconut ice cream,” he says. “Next level. Over the top.” It sounds delightful except that’s not at all what he’s serving. Padma looks pretty miffed as she looks down and realizes that she’s being sold an idea of a dish instead of the real thing. Yikes.

At the end of the tasting, Bryan V. is on the bottom because Chris felt like the dish wasn’t “forward” with its use of alternative flour. “Damn. This is my third Quickfire on the bottom,” he says. Also on the bottom, Brian M.—who literally tries to hide behind the other cheftestants—thanks to his “incomplete” coconut ice cream. On the top are Melissa’s financiers, Gregory’s pancakes, and Nini’s banh xeo. Chris picks Gregory’s pancakes as his favorite which is two in a row for the west coast chef! He’s proving he's definitely a very strong competitor. The chefs say goodbye to Chris Bianco and are ready to learn about their next challenge.

Elimination Challenge

This week the chefs are celebrating the 100th season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic by teaming up into pairs to create dishes that are as harmonious as this world-famous orchestra’s performances.

The chefs pull knives to determine which flavor profile they’ll have to highlight (sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami) and have to pair up with a chef who has a different flavor profile. There are some clear pairs that work like sweet and salty while pairings like umami and sour will prove more of a challenge. Some chefs go for working with people they like instead of by flavors: Karen and Nini (umami and sour) immediately grab one another as do Bryan V. and Eric (sweet and bitter) who used to work together. Stephanie and Gregory (sour and salty), and Kevin and Melissa (sweet and salty) instead go by what flavors they pulled and what they'll work with best. That leaves Lee Anne and Brian M. to be paired together again after their awful flare up at the judge's table two weeks ago over Lee Anne’s underseasoned crudite. “He has thrown me under the bus already once and we’ve been on losing teams together multiple times,” she says, worried about her chances. “But in the end he’s my partner now and we have to work as a team.” We’ll see how that goes. Her fears are amplified when Padma tells the chefs that there will be two chefs going home at the end of the challenge. Their guest judges for this challenge are Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic, 60 members of the orchestra and Timothy Hollingsworth, chef and owner of Otium in Los Angeles. The chefs head to Walt Disney Concert Hall to meet Gustavo for some inspiration before their two-hour prep and cook time at Otium restaurant.

"Every instrument sounds completely different,” Gustavo says as the chefs look around at the gorgeous, honey-colored wood of the concert hall that’s home to the LA Phil. Gustavo tells the chefs that the harmony of using different ingredients in a cohesive dish is a lot like blending the sounds of each instrument into one performance. Kevin and Melissa are inspired by the roof of the building to make a cabbage dish that will display their sweet and salty flavor profiles. Eric and Bryan V. decide to make a duck dish with a maafe caramel based off of a peanut stew which sounds like an interesting take. Lee Anne and Brian M. are up for a challenge with umami and bitter which pretty much rules out any sweetness. Their brainstorming session seems fraught as they keep cutting each other off mid-sentence as they discuss ideas. They eventually land on making a beef dish with vegetables.

At Whole Foods the chefs have 30 minutes and $700 to get what they need. Lee Anne makes a dash for the endive and cleans it out as Eric is reaching for some which is a pretty cutthroat move especially after last week’s amazing show of kindness from the other chefs when she was in a tough spot. Bryan V. can’t find duck so changes the dish to pork, a completely different protein. Karen and Nini are buying a lot of fish, it seems, and Lee Anne and Brian M. are still butting heads even at the register. “Shopping with Malarkey is like shopping with monkeys on crack,” she says.

Later at Otium, things seem to be moving along swimmingly despite the difficulty of creating dishes that can only highlight two flavor profiles. Brian M. and Lee Anne fight tooth and nail even at plating which doesn't bode well for their dish. “If Lee Anne and I cannot come to an agreement on how to plate this the wheels are going to fall off,” Brian M. says. Padma, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and guest judges Gustavo Dudamel and chef Timothy Hollingsworth take their seats in Otium’s dining room which means it’s time to taste and see if the chefs were able to create harmony.

Here’s what our cheftestants made and what the judges had to say about it:

Gregory Gaudet and Stephanie Cmar

Flavors: Sour/Salty

Dish: Sea bass glazed with miso, mirin & sake with sauteed celeriac, pickled apples, bacon, & yuzu

Stephanie and Greg’s dish is gorgeous with a pool of light green sauce around a mound of vegetables and a piece of fish. Stephanie is definitely feeling the pressure with a double elimination on the line and doesn’t want to be the reason Gregory goes home. Tom is impressed by how everything in the dish highlights the salty and sour flavors, not just a salty component and a sour component. Gustavo says that every element worked really well together but Timothy thinks the slight spiciness in the broth, thanks to jalapeños, “pulls away from the dish.” Padma says she would order this dish “again and again and again” in a restaurant.

Melissa King and Kevin Gillespie

Flavors: Sweet/Salty

Dish: Fish sauce caramel roasted cabbage, with apple, & cured pork crumble

Gail says “damn, this looks good,” as Kevin and Melissa present the judges which is a good sign! Their dish looks really simple and really beautiful, a cabbage wedge seared hard with crumbled pork on top. “What I love about Melissa and Kevin’s dish is when you put it in your mouth there’s this bang of flavor,” Padma says. Tom says it’s a dish that would stand out on a menu and Timothy says the sweetness and the saltiness “flirt back and forth with each other.” 

Lee Anne Wong and Brian Malarkey

Flavors: Umami/Bitter

Dish: Beef with miso anchovy hollandaise, bitter greens, charred orange puree and mimolette crisp

Despite all of their fighting, Lee Anne and Brian M.’s dish looks delicate and spring-like, with lots of pretty vegetables surrounded by pale hollandaise. Gail says it’s the best food they’ve had so far from Lee Anne and Brian and that it’s not “overwrought or over thought” which both of these chefs typically struggle with. Gustavo says it’s like they took one hundred notes and put them all together. Timothy says it’s “well balanced” and Tom says it’s “beautiful.”

Bryan Voltaggio and Eric Adjepong

Flavors: Sweet/Bitter

Dish: Pork with maafe lacquer, and bitter greens

The dish looks really simple after the first three groups' presentations. Their pork loin is crusted with a sumac, coriander, and black pepper crust that looks and sounds tasty but also dry. “This dish is incredibly subtle and incredibly focused but I think they could have drawn out the sweetness a lot more,” Gail says. Timothy says some cooked down apples or honey glaze or something would have really beefed up that sweet component. Tom says the ratio of crust to meat is off.

Karen Akunowicz and Nini Nguyen

Flavors: Umami/Sour

Dish: Tomato broth with poached cod, and pickled cucumbers

Karen and Nini worked really well together but their finished dish looks incomplete. It’s a fillet of fish in a pool of reddish broth with some tomatoes and herbs. Tom says the dish is “beautiful” but it reads sweet and sour instead of sour and umami. He wishes they would have roasted the tomatoes instead of just compressing them and serving them raw. Gustavo says the dish needs more balance.

Overall, the judges seem to like each course so it’s tough to say who is going home tonight and who is winning. In the Top Chef stew room, the chefs reflect on the challenge saying it was really about melding two voices into one. They’re happy with how they did but it really seems like the looming double elimination is weighing on them.

Judges’ Table

“The food was fantastic tonight,” Tom says. “All in all I gotta say it was a fantastic meal.” The judges still have to pick a favorite, though. Timothy names Melissa and Kevin as the winners, which is another feather in the cap for both of them. Lee Anne and Brian M. also get a shoutout and are told they were so close to winning. Gregory and Stephanie are in third place because of the spiciness of the broth underneath their cod. But they’re safe, so on the bottom we have Nini and Karen and Eric and Bryan V. The judges thought Nini and Karen’s dish was too sweet and that Bryan V. and Eric’s dish lacked enough sweetness. It’s a tough call but someone’s gotta go home even though they made good food. “I don’t want to see any of them go home,” Padma says. In the end, it’s Nini and Karen, #TeamBestFriends, who are asked to pack their knives and go...

Oh, but there’s a surprise! One of them is going to have a chance to get back into the competition. Right now. The chefs from Last Chance Kitchen walk in with their knives, meaning it’s go time. Watch the two-episode midseason showdown in LCK here. If you don't want to know who wins just yet, don't scroll down all the way for the spoiler.

In the meantime, here's a sneak peek of episode seven:

So who wins the first Last Chance Kitchen redeption of the season?

It's Karen Akunowicz, who bests both Lisa Fernandes and her umami/sour challenge partner Nini Nguyen in two back-to-back challenges for another shot at the title.

And the best part is LCK isn't over yet, so stay tuned for more surprise comebacks.

Season 17 of Top Chef airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on BravoFind additional interviews, chef bios, and more at BravoTV.com/TopChef.