The chefs are off to summer camp for some baked beans and a brunch buffet challenge.

By Korsha Wilson
May 15, 2020
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Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Can you believe it? This season of Top Chef is more than halfway over and we’re only a few weeks away from finding out who will take home the title. This week, we find our cheftestants processing the shocking "Restaurant Wars" elimination of frontrunner Kevin in the break room after Judges' Table. Bryan V. is especially feeling the sting of the elimination since he and Kevin were good friends. They head home for a night of rest at their house in the Hollywood Hills.

The next day the chefs are up bright and early and find a note from Padma. They’re heading to summer camp! Everyone looks downright exasperated at the idea of getting outdoors. “I wanna cook in the city, please,” says Brian M. Lee Anne is having flashbacks to her time on Top Chef Colorado where they went camping… and she went home because she got sick. Nevertheless, she and the other chefs pack up and hit the road.

The chefs arrive at the gorgeous Pali Mountain Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains and head to the scenic overview where they’re greeted by Padma Lakshmi and season 16 winner, Kelsey Barnard Clark! “Being up here in nature gets me excited for grilling season,” Padma says to the cheftestants. You know what that means. It’s time for a grilling-themed Quickfire!

Quickfire

The chefs have thirty minutes to make a grilled dish starring Bush’s baked beans and the winner gets $10,000.

Time starts and the chefs get grilling. Stephanie doesn’t have any ideas of what to make and is spending a lot of time just looking through the displays which is not a good sign. Gregory grabs baked beans, pineapples, chilies, and lettuce and plans to combine them all into a composed dish with a white bean vinaigrette. Karen and Brian M. are both going the Tuscan beans and kale route with their dishes,  but since there’s no stock Karen uses a smoked ham hock to make a broth. Bryan V. and Melissa are both using southern-style beans and Lee Anne is making a bean empanada which sounds delicious. While all of this is going on, Stephanie still doesn’t have a dish in mind as time winds down. Brian M. goes rogue and grabs some pine needles from trees near his grill to char on top of his peppers which surprises his fellow cheftestants. With seven minutes on the clock, Stephanie is still freestyling a bean burger patty but doesn't have a binder to keep her patties from falling apart. She finds a loaf of bread and tears into it to add the insides to her black bean mixture. Melissa is also having trouble—the dough for her small bean pies is too warm so it’s not holding her bean filling. She throws them into the fryer anyway hoping they retain enough filling to taste good.

Time runs out and Kelsey and Padma taste through the dishes. On the bottom are Stephanie’s black bean burger that didn’t hold together and Bryan V. who just can’t seem to win a Quickfire at all this season. Melissa also lands on the bottom because there weren’t enough beans in the filling of her pies. On top? Karen who created a lot of flavor with her ham hock broth, Lee Anne’s empanada, and Gregory’s grilled salad because his dish had multiple textures. The winner? Lee Anne! She’s stoked because it’s her first Quickfire win and she gets $10,000 to put towards her upcoming wedding. Awww.

Elimination Challenge

The chefs find out that they’re not alone at Pali Mountain Camp. There’s actually a group of moms from all over the country there for a bit of R & R. That’s where the cheftestants come in—for the elimination challenge, the chefs will be pampering 200 moms with a “spectacular” brunch buffet made from ingredients in the camp’s pantry. Each chef will make two dishes to build a full spread of options and they’ll have four hours to prep ahead of their serving time. Oh and brunch will be starting promptly at 9 a.m. “It’s going to be an early morning,” Padma jokes. Yep.

The chefs have some downtime before their super-early brunch shift the next day. Padma has arranged for some “summer camp activities” like zip-lining and trapeze jumping for the chefs to get into. I would personally skip those things, but the archery and ax throwing that the cheftestants get to do look really fun! Brian M. agrees. “The blood’s flowing and people are having fun,” he says. “We did really need this.” That night the chefs get to cook themselves dinner and hang out around the campfire.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, the cheftestants are up bright and early for their challenge. Lee Anne had a hard time sleeping because of the karaoke party that was happening underneath their bunks. I wish I could tell you that was the worst of it. The chefs check out the pantry and realize that there’s not much there. “Not only was there not a diversity of ingredients but there also weren’t a lot of ingredients,” Karen says. Gregory says it’s “sketchy at best.” As the chefs start to plan they realize that they’re going to have to share ingredients. “This is like straight up Hunger Games,” Melissa says. She graciously decides to take whatever is left over to make a salad and congee. Karen is using Stephanie’s technique from the Quickfire and freestyling her dish as she goes. She’s got some pork and grits and is running with that as a concept. Bryan V. has a very clear idea of what he is making: shallot cakes and roasted carrot salad which sound perfect for a mom's brunch. Karen finds some corn and decides to make corn cakes for her second dish.

With a little under two hours to go, chefs Tom Colicchio and winner of Top Chef season 14 Brooke Williamson enter the kitchen to chat with the chefs. Things seem to be moving along fine with everyone’s dishes until Brian M. realizes that he missed the meeting when the chefs set up the hot line and no one reserved a spot for his dishes. He’s pissed and decides to use one of the rolling hot boxes to cook out of, which is a weird choice because it’s hard to control the temperature in one of those. Things go off the rails for Gregory as well. He runs out of time and replaces the egg in his dish with spinach. Will this be another week of a frontrunner being on the bottom? Lee Anne realizes the oven she cooked her clafoutis in steamed her dish instead of baking it, giving it a heavy texture when it should be light and fluffy. Uh-oh.

But there’s no time to adjust. Just outside of the doors there’s a crowd of moms ready to feast on a brunch buffet. The doors open and 200 moms plus Padma, Tom, Gail Simmons and special guest judges Kelsey and Brooke take their seats as the mimosas start flowing.

Here’s how things went for the cheftestants:

Melissa King

Dish 1: Romaine salad with grapefruit and maple buttermilk vinaigrette

Dish 2: Ham congee with fried shallots and fresno chili

The judges are not impressed with Melissa’s pantry salad calling it “just some vinegar on some romaine lettuce.” Tom thinks with seven chefs left she should have tried harder and they all agree that Melissa went a bit too heavy with the ham in the congee.

Stephanie Cmar

Dish 1: “Breakfast Salad” sweet potato, eggs, avocado and cranberries

Dish 2: Buttermilk biscuits with fresh whipped ricotta & banana bacon jam

Stephanie’s “breakfast salad” doesn’t look very appetizing when she plates it, but Padma says she “really enjoys it.” The judges have no complaints about the biscuit either, with Kelsey saying they’re “great.”

Gregory Gourdet

Dish 1: Fruit salad of pineapple, berries, marinated with habanero & vanilla

Dish 2: Marinated mushrooms with roasted tomatoes and wilted spinach

Brooke seeing spinach on Gregory’s mushroom salad immediately asks if the eggs were giving him trouble which he says yes to. The judges think it was a successful pivot. They also like the heat in his fruit salad.

Lee Anne Wong

Dish 1: Mixed berry clafoutis

Dish 2: Cinnamon nutmeg donuts with coffee creme anglaise

Lee Anne’s steamed clafoutis gets called out by Gail right away and the judges agree that there’s no texture and “too many berries” in the dough. Things don’t get better with the donuts: they’re dense and “taste stale” according to Kelsey.

Brian Malarkey

Dish 1: Spicy shrimp & chorizo soup, goat cheese, chili, cilantro

Dish 2: Fennel crusted NY strip steak, leeks & potatoes, with horseradish dijon hollandaise

The judges look confused while they’re eating Brian M.’s stew. It looks great, but Gail says it has “no flavor” and Kelsey says “it’s one note.” The judges really like his take on steak and potatoes though, with Padma saying the steak is “really tender.”

 Karen Akunowicz

Dish 1: Corn cakes with feta cheese, hot & sweet syrup

Dish 2: White corn grits with braised pork and parmesan cheese

Karen’s dishes look stunning as she puts them up for the judges. Brooke likes the grits but wishes they weren’t topped with fresh parsley. The judges unanimously love the corn cakes though, liking how sweet and salty they are.

Bryan Voltaggio

Dish: Coriander-roasted carrots with salsa verde

Dish: Potato-shallot cake with gruyere fondue & braised bacon gravy

Sticking to his fine dining roots, Bryan V. is using tweezers to plate up his buffet dish, which Tom makes fun of him for. But the teasing stops when they taste his dishes and levy rave reviews. “It tastes super homey… but it looks totally elevated,” Gail says. Tom is impressed that Bryan V. was able to get so much flavor out of commercial ingredients in the camp’s pantry.

Judges’ Table

The chefs are finished and head to Judges’ Table to hear how they did. Tom acknowledges that this was a really “difficult” challenge for the chefs. “Some of you made the best dish you could out of a really tough situation,” he says. Brooke says that she’s shocked that no one made eggs for a brunch-themed challenge to which the chefs agree and cop to the fact that their “plans changed.” The chefs that had the judges' three favorite dishes are Karen, Bryan V., and Gregory. Gail tells Karen that the corn cake was the perfect buffet dish, while the judges admire how Bryan V. stayed true to his style of food, even on a buffet. Brooke commends Gregory for making a dish that didn’t miss the egg. The winner? Bryan Voltaggio! That’s his first win of the season!

And on the bottom, we have Lee Anne, Brian M. and Melissa. Tom is shocked to hear that Lee Anne didn't check the oven to make sure it wasn’t set to steam before cooking her clafoutis and Brooke tells Melissa that the romaine salad was her least favorite dish of the day. Padma is shocked to hear that Brian M.’s overcooked shrimp and bland broth cooked for two hours since it had no flavor. So who's out? In the end, it’s Lee Anne who is asked to pack her knives and go.

And that’s it for week nine of Top Chef. Take a peek at the next episode below:

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.