The final four chefs face off with some quintessential Italian ingredients.

By Korsha Wilson
June 11, 2020
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Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo

There are only four chefs left! After twelve weeks of competition and Gregory’s shocking elimination, Bryan, Kevin, Melissa, and Stephanie are still in the running for the title of Top Chef. We meet our chefs still at Judges’ Table where they’re told they’re hitting the road. Again. “Emilia Romagna is a region of Italy that’s incredibly important in the history of Italian food,” says Padma Lakshmi. The chefs will be heading to Parma courtesy of San Pellegrino for their next elimination challenge. “Parma is the namesake of two very important ingredients: parmigiano reggiano and prosciutto di parma,” Gail Simmons adds. Tom Colicchio, the resident Italian chef of the show, adds that the ingredients are protected by the Italian government because they’re so prized and respected.

Elimination Challenge

The chefs will have to create primi and secondi courses using Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto di Parma as the star ingredients. “A primi is a first course, we’re asking you to use rice or pasta.” A secondi is a main, so they’ll have to use a protein for that course.

With that, the chefs head home for the night before making a road trip to Parma to meet chef Lorenzo Cogo, the youngest chef to be awarded a Michelin star in Italy and their guide for the day. They start with a tour of Caseificio Gennari, a Parmigiano Reggiano factory in Parma. Bryan is excited to see the process of cheesemaking because he’s Italian and feels like he’s connecting with his roots. “I just love how much respect they have for the products,” he says. “I hope that comes through in the dish I cook.” The chefs get to taste a 15-year-old wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, rusty in color and crumbly and they get to take a wheel to cook with tomorrow. Next, the chefs head to Ruliano, a prosciutto di Parma producer that has been in business since 1949, where they’re given a whole leg to cook with tomorrow.

Later the chefs are then given 90 minutes and 300 euros ($341 USD) to shop for additional ingredients for their primi and secondi. “There’s so many beautiful things to cook with. I feel incredibly inspired,” Stephanie says. She’s going to do a vegetable dish for her primi which is a great idea since it will really highlight the beautiful produce Italy is known for. Kevin finds some gorgeous borlotti beans at a market so he decides to make pasta e fagioli, literally pasta and beans, as his primi. Bryan is using his early days as a line cook as inspiration for his secondi. “We used to wrap fish with prosciutto di Parma,” he says. He wants to pay tribute to that time by draping prosciutto di parma over a seared fish. Melissa sees some cured meat and thinks of a Chinese xo sauce. It’s a brilliant idea that ties together her style of cooking with the location just like she was able to do with last week’s congee.

When time runs out, the chefs meet up with Lorenzo where they get one more surprise. They’re having dinner at Antica Corte Pallavicini and will get to spend the night before cooking there tomorrow!

The chefs head to the sprawling working farm, restaurant, and actual castle where they’re greeted by chef Massimo Spigaroli, chef and owner of Antica Corte Pallavicini, and given a tour that includes walking through the property’s 700-year-old cellar of culatello di zabello, a highly prized cured and aged ham. Kevin can barely contain himself. I mean, he has a pig tattooed on his arm for a reason. The chefs are then treated to the meal of a lifetime: a multi-course tasting menu in the very same cellar. While they’re eating they reflect on the journey to this point, the special moments they’ve enjoyed together and what it would mean to win. Melissa is thinking about how much she’s changed as a chef since her first appearance on Top Chef season 12—she’s reconciled with her father who didn’t support her career as a chef which has made her more confident. Stephanie is also feeling more confident and “the happiest” she’s ever been which is beautiful to hear after some rocky moments this season. “I’m ready to crush it,” she says.

Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo

The next day the chefs head to the kitchen to start their three-hour cook time before serving the judges. Stephanie is a little nervous because she’s cooking the prosciutto into a ragu despite being warned against it during the chefs’ tour of Ruliano. Bryan is going simple for his primi and making chitarra pasta with butter, cracked pepper, and cheese to really highlight the cheese. He’s going to make a Parmigiano Reggiano fonduta aerated to create a fluffy texture. Melissa is making anolini en brodo, a traditional dish of veal ravioli in a clear broth. She’s using Asian ingredients like bonito and yuzu and making a clear broth using a raft, a classic technique that’s used to clarify consomme. Kevin is wisely using whey in the filling of his pasta course and the cheese itself to flavor the dish. He’s having a bit of a tough time cooking pork coppa for his secondi. With 40 minutes left, Melissa realizes that her broth got too hot and started boiling, causing the raft to break and make the broth cloudy. With less than 40 minutes to go, she starts over. Will she finish in time?

Padma, Tom and Gail arrive and are joined by chef Massimo, chef Enrico Bartolini, Isa Mazzocchi, Roberto and Enrico Cerea, Maddalena Fossati, editor in chief of La Cucina Italiana Magazine, and renowned pasta chef Evan Funke. No pressure.

Here’s how things shook out for the cheftestants:

Primi Course

Stephanie Cmar

Fresh fettuccine with prosciutto ragu and parmesan

Enrico says Stephanie's pasta is “incredible” because it balances prosciutto and parmesan perfectly.

Melissa King

Chicken agnolini with yuzu and parmesan brodo

Evan thinks Melissa’s “delicate” use of the yuzu in the broth made the dish really interesting and Gail says the flavor of the rind really came through in the broth. 

Kevin Gillespie

Raviolo filled with cannellini beans & parmesan whey under fresh bean ragu borlotti bean brodo and parmesan

Kevin’s dish looks rustic and simple, a bowl of brothy beans with a ravioli in the middle, as he plates it up but there’s a surprise for the judges. Once he gets to the table he goes to each of the judges and adds a hefty spoonful of shaved parmesan on top of their bowls. Padma and Maddalena feel that he should have left off the heaping tablespoon of cheese at the end because it made the dish too salty. 

Bryan Voltaggio

Chitarra with soft egg yolk & aerated parmigiano fonduta

Bryan seems to be having a hard time plating, knocking over things as he scrambles to finish in time. His fonduta looks glossy, heavy and nothing like the golden-colored, aged parmesan the chefs tasted as he aerates it out of a whipped cream canister on top of his pasta dishes. The judges are not a fan of his updated take. Roberto says Bryan’s pasta is “devoid of any love or passion” for the ingredients. Yikes.

Secondi Course

Stephanie Cmar

Prosciutto-braised cabbage with parmesan fonduta, turnip & cabbage puree, chestnuts.

Stephanie’s dish is super homey as she plates it up: a wedge of cabbage that’s been braised with thin slices of prosciutto between the leaves. Evan says it’s his favorite out of everything they had today. “I thought that was really smart,” he adds. Massimo says the dish is like a lasagna made with cabbage and it’s “enjoyable to eat.” Gail says Stepanie’s cooking as of late has been her very best.

Melissa King

Scallops with prosciutto xo sauce & raddichio

Melissa’s secondi is a stunning streamlined dish of seared scallop with chunky xo sauce and curled leaves of bright purple radicchio. The Italian chefs look straight up confused by it, sniffing it and tasting it solo at the table. Enrico says he loves the dish and the combination of Chinese and Italian ingredients. Padma says the xo doesn’t overpower the prosciutto at all.

Bryan Voltaggio

Bass, violina squash, pumpkin seed pesto & prosciutto di parma

Bryan’s dish of fish with prosciutto draped over it looks a little clunky as he presents it to the judges. It looks like a fish dish with a piece of prosciutto just thrown on at the last minute instead of actually integrated into the dish. Isa says the pesto doesn't mix well with the other ingredients and another judge echoes the comments on his primi, saying the dish has “no soul.”

Kevin Gillespie

Roasted pork coppa, with heirloom apples & 36-month prosciutto

Kevin nails the cook on his pork coppa and it looks juicy as he plates it up. Gail loves the use of apples on the plate but Tom thinks the prosciutto is an afterthought. Roberto says the pork is tough and “doesn’t make you want to eat it.” 

Judges’ Table

Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo

“I thought the food tonight was across the board very, very good,” Tom says to the cheftestants. “We were picking dishes apart because that’s what we’re here to do. But you should feel good about the food you made tonight.” The judges’ favorite dishes of the night came from Melissa and Stephanie so they’re on to the finale! Gail commends Stephanie on her bold, savory pasta course and Evan tells Stephanie he loved how she balanced the cabbage and prosciutto. Padma says she was impressed with the technique Melissa showed with her brodo in the primi course. And Tom says the xo sauce with prosciutto was “brilliant.” The winner? Melissa! That’s three wins in a row for the California chef.

Melissa takes her third win in a row.
Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo

And that means Bryan and Kevin are on the bottom. Evan says Bryan’s pasta was cooked the best but the sauce on top “lost all of that beautiful life” of the Parmigiano. Padma also delivers the news that the chefs felt there was no life inside of the dishes they tried from him and he takes the news about as hard as you would expect a chef to. He looks like he’s on the brink of tears. Kevin’s pasta e fagioli was beautiful, but all of the judges felt the spoonful of cheese on top was a misstep and the coppa on his secondi ate “dry and tough.”

So who goes home? In the end, it’s Kevin, who valiantly fought his way back through Last Chance Kitchen.

Kevin is sent packing after a few missteps with classic Parma products.
Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo

And we have our final three finalists! Will Bryan, Melissa, or Stephanie take the title of Top Chef? Tune in to the season finale to find out! Here's a sneak peek of what's in store:

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.