It’s a new year and a new episode of "Top Chef" has some new tricks up its sleeve.
So far, season 15 of Top Chef has been trucking along without a ton of interpersonal drama, showstopping dishes, or over-the-top personalities. This week’s episode attempts to address this head-on by injecting some fresh blood into the competition.
Those of you who have been following along with Last Chance Kitchen this season (or just reading the recaps) know that Kwame, Lee Anne, and Claudette have all been forces in the kitchen. This week LCK uploaded two episodes that revealed that the winner of a two-part challenge will be re-entering the competition this week. You can read the Last Chance Kitchen recap prior to watching the episode at the bottom of this preview.
With fresh blood in the competition (even though technically it’s not so fresh) and the heavy loss of one of the three bears, the chefs must adjust to the new dynamic in the house. Adjustment is actually key to this episode, which sees the chefs adjusting what they cook, how they cook it and where they’re cooking by sending them on a camping trip (which Fatima is not thrilled about). The dose of reality that another competitor adds to the kitchen causes some chefs to stick to the game plan they’ve been sticking to all season and lights a fire under others, inspiring them to take their cooking to a more dynamic level.
Last Chance Kitchen
So here we are. THE Last Chance Kitchen, now somehow in the middle of the season. In the first challenge Tyler, Kwame, Lee Anne and Claudette learn that they will be returning to the competition this week if they make it through the first challenge and win the second one. The game is afoot as the chefs don their game faces to prepare for what very well may be their last battle on the show, or just the beginning. The first challenge, the chefs must prepare a dish using the head of an animal—difficult meat to develop flavor and make tender in short amounts of time—in forty minutes. In an attempt to redeem himself, Tyler grabs the pig head to prove he can work with difficult proteins. Claudette also takes a risk and goes for the pork tongue, a protein she’s never worked with before. Lee Anne and Kwame both go for fish because it cooks quickly. Tyler’s pressure cooker is melting and he loses his spaghetti squash, which seems to take him off his game. Kwame accidentally puts his flatbread in Lee Anne’s sesame oil lined pan but rolls with the punches.
Tyler’s dish is a pork cheek braised in brown butter currant sauce, sweet potato puree, and spaghetti squash “just like my mom made.” An out of breath Claudette makes taco de lengua, a pork tongue taco with mushrooms, grilled avocados, cabbage slaw and salsa verde. Kwame completes his flatbread to accompany a traditional Thai curry with salmon and garlic chips, or as Claudette so lovingly put it earlier in the episode “he’s made three orange goopy looking things in a row.” Lee Anne puts forward a “Chinese style” braised and fried halibut cheek, sautéed vegetables, lamb and black bean sauce. Kwame took home the win for the first challenge, breaking Claudette’s winning streak and moving him one challenge away from getting into the competition. Claudette’s sneaky building heat on her taco won her a spot in the second challenge as well. Ultimately it was Tyler’s muddied puree that sent him packing his knives and sent Lee Anne to the next challenge.
The remaining three chefs must immediately “cook with their guts” and present dishes that make use of the offal meats wheeled into the kitchen. Claudette goes for the chicken livers, Lee Anne goes for the beef liver and Kwame snags the chicken hearts. Kwame’s making a Puerto Rican dish, Lee Anne is going the dumpling route and Claudette is making yet another dish I’ve never seen before from Mexico. It’s been a real gift to learn about Mexican cuisine through Claudette’s cooking and Tom seems to be feeling the same way this season. But as far as the winner? That's left as a cliffhanger. To find out who makes it into the competition you’re going to have to tune into Episode 5 tonight and find out.