'Top Chef' All-Stars Los Angeles Recap: Episode 7—'Pitch Perfect'
A Last Chance Kitchen winner re-enters the competition, Danny Trejo drops by, and the chefs must pitch a concept for the upcoming Restaurant Wars.
The chefs are fresh off last week’s shocking double elimination where Karen Akunowicz and Nini Nguyen were told they’d have the chance to duke it out in Last Chance Kitchen and get right back into the competition. Stephanie is feeling sad because she’s lost her fellow Padma’s Angels, Nini and Karen, but she’s hopeful that one of them will fight their way back. Bryan V. is a little shaken up after being on the bottom with Eric. “Just one mistake can send you home,” he says. “Being put in that position is extremely motivating.” Can he pull off his first win of the season this episode?
The next morning the chefs enter the Top Chef kitchen and find Padma Lakshmi waiting to tell them who won Last Chance Kitchen the night before. It’s Karen! She’s greeted with a round of applause and cheers. She barely gets to say hello before it’s time for a Quickfire challenge.
This Quickfire has a special guest judge: Machete actor and restaurateur behind Trejo’s Tacos, Danny Trejo. The cheftestants will have to impress Trejo by making a perfect taco in thirty minutes. “The good thing about a taco is that it’s really versatile,” Trejo says. But there’s a catch, of course. Padma shows the chefs a display of machetes that they’ll have to use to create their dish. And with that they’re off, running to grab machetes which seems incredibly dangerous. With machetes in hand, they head to their stations to start cooking.
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Brian M. wants to combine Mexican and Asian flavors for his taco with a mole Baja shrimp taco but can’t use a blender. He has to use a mortar and pestle to create a mole that has a minimum of like fifteen ingredients. Kevin and Melissa look like they’re having a blast with their machetes. Eric is making a rockfish and chorizo taco with mango crema which sounds delicious but a little difficult given the time constraints. Karen feels tired but like she’s got a “renewed energy” to win the whole thing. She’s gunning for that immunity. Gregory is making a fresh tortilla for the first time ever which is bold but could really set him apart if he nails it. Kevin is using a store-bought taco shell and focusing all of his attention on an al pastor filling. As the clock winds down, Gregory still hasn’t made his salsa because he’s been struggling to make a perfect tortilla. He ultimately has to chop some chilies with the machete and put it on top of his fish.
Time runs out and Padma and Danny make their way around to the cheftestants stations tasting their tacos. On the bottom? Gregory’s rockfish taco because it was too salty and Eric’s taco because the tortilla-to-filling ratio was off. On top are Lee Anne’s fish taco, Karen’s taco with kimchi, and Stephanie’s lamb taco. Danny picks Stephanie as the winner! She’s got immunity going into the next challenge.
It’s almost time for Restaurant Wars where the cheftestants have to come up with their own concepts and run a full dinner service. But this season will be a little different. “Restaurant Wars is a rite of passage but in order to compete in Restaurant Wars this season you’re going to have to make it through the pitch,” Padma tells the cheftestants. The chefs are going to have to create a concept, a mood board, and then pitch a restaurant concept idea with one or two dishes that represent what they have in mind. The guest judges are two accomplished restaurateurs: Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Chicago and James Beard Foundation Award winner, and Kevin Boehm, the restaurateur behind Boka Group. The chefs have thirty minutes to shop at Whole Foods Market and three hours to prep tomorrow before presenting their concepts to the judges. The two favorite pitches will become the two restaurants featured in Restaurant Wars next week.
With that, the chefs head home. Some seem more confident about their ideas than others. Brian M. and Kevin both have multiple restaurants under their belt and know exactly what they want to do. Lee Anne, who is in the process of opening a restaurant at the moment, is feeling conflicted about which idea to go with. Eric wants to showcase a restaurant called “Middle Passage” which will continue the story he started last season telling the story of the Transatlantic slave trade through food. Karen’s concept is a dim sum restaurant which sounds really cool and very different from the Italian cuisine she’s currently cooking at her restaurant in Boston. Stephanie is feeling a little out of her league because she hasn’t opened a restaurant before.
The next day at Whole Foods, everyone seems to be a bit frantic as they shop for ingredients. Stephanie still hasn’t fully conceptualized her dishes which makes shopping for ingredients difficult. Kevin is using his mother’s family as his inspiration for his restaurant “Country Captain,” wisely homing in on a focal point and source of inspiration to clarify his ideas. Later, in the kitchen, the chefs get to work on creating dishes that bring their concept to life. Gregory is pitching a Haitian-inspired concept with fresh red snapper and grilled oxtails which sounds amazing. Melissa has an idea for modern Californian cuisine with Asian flavors that sounds great but she hasn’t thought about how it would work for more than twenty seats. Then Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and Padma walk in with Stephanie and Kevin Boehm and take their seats right in the kitchen to watch the chefs cook. No pressure.
Time runs out and the chefs start their presentations. Here are the concepts, what the chefs made, and what the judges thought:
Restaurant: The Country Captain (Family-style Southern Restaurant)
Dish: Braised and roasted curry chicken with bread & butter pickles, hot chow chow
First up is Kevin who has a very clear concept and motif as he presents his dish and vision board to the judges. Kevin Boehm asks about how Kevin G. sees the rest of the menu and price point to which he answers that the sees it as a seasonal and a very good value at $49 per person. The judges seem impressed with how tight the concept seems. “I can visualize myself sitting on the verandah in Georgia,” Tom says. Stephanie says the layered spices of his chicken dish are great.
Restaurant: Middle Passage (Food from the African Diaspora)
Dish 1: Tamarind glazed duck with coriander, green peppercorns, cardamom & collard greens
Dish 2: Berbere shrimp with charred vegetable broth
Eric is putting up two dishes to really show his concept to the judges and is struggling to get everything on the plate as time runs down. The judges seem to like the duck but look confused eating the shrimp dish and as he’s explaining the concept it doesn’t seem like he has it entirely fleshed out. When Padma asks what the service style is going to be like he says “casual but still formal” which, frankly, doesn’t make sense. Kevin Boehm says the duck is a “mess” which Tom agrees with and points out that the broth on the shrimp dish is over-salted. “This is just a lot of bad technique,” he adds. Stephanie says food aside, the concept itself is muddled.
Restaurant: Kann (Haitian WoodFired Cuisine)
Dish 1: Braised oxtail, sauteed plantains with caramel onions
Dish 2: Marinated red snapper with cilantro, lime, garlic, ginger, rice & peas
Gregory is paying tribute to his Haitian roots with Kann, a restaurant named after the Haitian word for sugarcane. His dishes look spectacular: braised oxtails, fried plantains and a whole fish, perfectly blackened on a bed of vibrant red and orange peppers. Gail asks if Gregory thinks the Haitian community will embrace these dishes and if he feels they’re “authentic.” He says yes and that there’s room for seasonality within the cuisine. Kevin Boehm loves the oxtails and says it’s “got a point of view.” Padma says a Haitian restaurant would be a great way to introduce a large swath of people to this cuisine.
Restaurant: Thatcher and the Rye (Mid-Atlantic Cuisine)
Dish 1: Crab rolled jicama with green apple, cucumber, and dill pickle mignonette
Dish 2: Game hen with sunflower seed risotto, shellfish broth
Bryan is staying true to his Maryland roots and presenting a concept that explores Mid-Atlantic cuisine. His two dishes highlight shellfish from the area and have Bryan V.’s trademark amount of finesse and technique attached but that’s not how he describes his concept. “I want this restaurant to be a lot more accessible,” he says. The judges like the food but think it doesn’t match up with Bryan’s idea that it’s going to be an “everyday” restaurant. They want him to own the fact that he makes beautiful, fine dining cuisine.
Restaurant: Three Black Crowes (Modern Global Dim Sum)
Dish 1: Focaccia dough scallion pancake, dungeness crab salad, yuzu brown butter aioli
Dish 2: Sweet potato dumplings in red curry with kaffir lime peanuts
It seems to be smooth sailing for Karen as she plates up her dishes to present to the judges. She does a good job of explaining how some of the menu would be served family-style and that some dishes would be wheeled through the dining room in a cart like a traditional dim sum restaurant. Gail liked both dishes but doesn’t think any of them were "Asian" enough. Tom says he wishes she had leaned more into exploring a mashup of Chinese and Italian flavors.
Lee Anne Wong
Restaurant: Hanai Mama (Modern Hawaiian)
Dish 1: Salted egg curry Mahi Mahi bites
Dish 2: Coconut and mango beer braised pork belly
Hanai means “adopted family” in Hawaiian and is the perfect name for Lee Anne’s concept which honors her adopted home of Hawaii. Tom says he’s “not feeling this” and the other judges agree. Stephanie says the pork is under-seasoned while the fish is over-seasoned and Gail says the concept doesn’t feel different than many other Hawaiian restaurants out there.
Restaurant: Lucy C’s (Modern Elevated Comfort Food)
Dish 1: Smoked salmon pâté with salt and vinegar chips
Dish 2: Pork schnitzel, grilled lettuce purée, celeriac remoulade & romano beans
Stephanie doesn’t feel too confident about her concept or her dishes which isn’t a good sign. The dishes look interesting but not cohesive. Kevin Boehm says it feels like a “non-concept concept” while Tom says if this is a sampling of her restaurant, he’ll “pass.” Kevin keeps the burns coming by adding that maybe she should’ve named her restaurant “immunity” since that’s what’s going to keep her in the competition. Ouch.
Restaurant: D2 (Baja Asian Street- Mexican-Asian Street Fusion)
Dish 1: Shrimp & Himachi Aguachile
Dish 2: Braised oxtail with gochujang mole
Tom expects Brian to knock this presentation out of the park since Malarkey’s opened up 19 restaurants and has experience pitching his ideas. In true Malarkey fashion he’s ready to present and even throws in a couple of buzzwords like “millennial” and “street food” into the mix after asking a server to check his teeth to make sure he looks great. He waxes poetic about being inspired by a love story—and not just any love story, the one between the dragon and Donkey characters from Shrek which is how he got to D2 as the name. Seriously. The judges like the fact that he’s having fun with his concept and think the gochujang and the date braised oxtail is a perfect dish to showcase the kind of flavor combinations he’s going for.
Restaurant: Sabrina (Modern Asian Californian Cuisine)
Dish 1: Ahi tuna, Asian pear, fermented black beans, shiso leaf
Dish 2: Corn agnolotti with Chinese lap cheong, xo sauce and yuzu
Melissa has a clear idea of her concept which matches her style of cooking—lots of clean flavors highlighting Asian and Californian ingredients. Her two dishes are gorgeous and vibrant, matching her vision board’s beautiful mix of cool colors and warm wood tones. Stephanie says the agnolotti is the most “well-crafted dish we’ve had all day” and Tom says both the dishes and the concept were elegant, understated, and beautiful.
The judges have some clear favorites as the cheftestants head in to face the Judges' Table. Tom praises the concepts that came from the heart and acknowledges that some people weren’t comfortable pitching ideas. On top are Gregory, Kevin, Brian M. and Melissa. Padma loved the feeling of Gregory’s concept and that he communicated it so effectively to judges. Stephanie commends Kevin on thinking about every detail of his restaurant and Gail says Malarkey’s dishes were a great choice. Kevin Boehm says Melissa showed “Michelin-level” technique with her cooking. The two concepts that are going to be in Restaurant Wars next week? Kevin Gillespie’s “Country Captain” and Gregory Gourdet’s “Kann.” It’s going to be really interesting to see how these two concepts shake out with all of the chefs backing them up.
And now the bad news. On the bottom are Eric, Lee Anne, and Stephanie. The judges tell Stephanie that while she has immunity, both her concept and execution were off. For Eric, the judges loved the concept of Middle Passage but the execution of the duck and the shrimp didn't live up to expectations. Kevin Boehm says Lee Anne’s concept of modern Hawaiian food wasn’t strong enough to carry a restaurant. So who goes home?
It’s Eric because of his technical mistakes. He still has a shot through the continuing season of Last Chance Kitchen and promises that he’s going to “redeem” himself there.
And that’s it for week seven of Top Chef. Take a look at what's in store on episode 8 below: