First, a disclaimer: the Top Chef editors must’ve been under a deadline crunch this week, because I didn’t get my normally-the-day-before advanced screener until about six hours before air time. Hopefully, these rankings won’t seem more rushed, the jokes even less thought out than usual — because normally this collection of half-assed nicknames and “your mom” jokes is the result of hours of painstaking research. But if they do, you know why.
This week’s episode began with a short montage package of the cheftestants expressing their shock that Sara went home last week. Us too, guys, us too. That led to some kind of picture-in-picture transition appearing to depict daily life in Portland, with one frame appearing to show guy juggling in the park. Who was that juggler? Was this meant to be a contestant? A depiction of “average Portland man?”
It all became clear when Padma introduced Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein from Portlandia and announced that this challenge would celebrate Portland’s reputation as a mecca for hipsters. This led into another package of each contestant naming their favorite hipster stereotype from 2009 (mustaches, fixed gear bikes, veganism, etc). I guess you could say “the stereotypes of the aughts are alive on Top Chef.” (Notably absent from their description of a hipster: a chef with food-related forearm tattoos)
The chefs were tasked with creating a dish from “hipster” ingredients, like hemp seed oil and alternative milks (“Alternative Milk Hotel” is my indie band name). As an additional twist, they’d have to prepare their dishes on “hipster” equipment, which is to say vintage, electric (gasp!) stoves. Based on their reactions, you’d think cooking on electric stoves was tantamount to sleeping in a cave to these spoiled fuckers.
Padma, meanwhile, seemed to have forgotten her sleeves:
“Give me Larry The Cable Guy, but make it fashion.”
After that, Padma introduced the Elimination Challenge, testing the cheftestants’ skills as potential cookbook authors. The challenge was to “Create a recipe that will take only 90 minutes to prepare. Write the recipe like someone who is not a chef will be following it.”
Solid challenge, in my opinion! Then halfway through preparation, Tom Colicchio showed up to tease a twist: “Be really precise with your recipes, we may have a twist for you tomorrow.”
Oh, you may have a twist? On Top Chef? No way. It would’ve been the biggest twist of all if there was no twist, but the contestants immediately began trying to predict what it might be: maybe they’d be swapping recipes? Maybe the all-star panel of guest judges would be preparing the dishes?
It turned out to be the second one, which wasn’t much of a twist, or at least not a very surprising one. Also, wasn’t the challenge meant to test “how well someone who is not a chef” could follow the recipe? Doesn’t having other professional chefs preparing the dishes sort of take away from that objective? Probably, but hey, there are just things you can’t do during a COVID quarantine Top Chef season. Still, maybe they could’ve had Fred and Carrie hang around for a while to prepare the dishes? Why have experts play dumb when you can get actual dumb people? You guys had my number, I’m pretty dumb.
In any case, some of the chefs excelled and some of them stumbled, and if you’ve watched even one episode of Top Chef this season you could probably guess which chefs did which. It was certainly an episode of solidifying opinions.
Quickfire Top: Gabe, Maria, Dawn*.
Quickfire Bottom: Jamie, Chris
Elimination Top: Dawn, Gabe*, Shota, Maria.
Elimination Bottom: Chris, Byron, Jamie.
7. (even) ((Eliminated)) Chris Viaud
AKA: Stretch. Butter. Kelso. Kelpso. Homer.
Thank God, Chris finally got eliminated. I don’t say this to be cruel to Chris, it’s just that he’s seemed so much like the obvious choice to go home for past three episodes that it felt like watching a cat taking the limbs off a lizard instead of just eating the damn thing. Christ, how many more times are you guys going to make this poor bastard walk of shame out to the judges’ table just so Tom Colicchio can tell him he sucks at pasta?
Not only did it make me feel bad for Chef Chris, it made me wonder how many things I’m convinced I’m good at only because my friends and family and acquaintances are too polite to tell me I suck. I’m much less tall and handsome than Chris, so hopefully it’s not that many.
Yes, Chris once again tried to tilt at the pasta windmill, preparing a sorghum gnocchi. Which, once again, seemed like a failure of concept as much as execution. How many home cooks do you know that are desperate to master a sorghum gnocchi? “Gosh, I just have all this sorghum lying around, if only I knew what to do with it!”
“I love the braised dandelion greens, I think the gnocchi itself is just dense.” “The amount of cheese in there, it’s no longer a gnocchi, it’s more like a cheese dumpling.” (I’ve said it before, Top Chef judges are as rigid as Hitler in their devotion to semantics.)
As my final act of writing about Chef Chris, I’m nicknaming him “Homer,” because he turns “dough” into “D’oh!” (don’t judge me, I’m on a tight deadline over here)
6. (even) Byron Gomez
AKA: Manolo. Burger King. Goldblum.
Chef Byron handed his recipe tester Kwame a three-page recipe with 17 different ingredients for striped bass with seafood broth and beans dish that the judges just thought tasted bland. Probably the only thing that saved him from going home was the judges rightly realizing that they needed to put Chris out of his misery to avoid being outright cruel.
“This is the Neverending Story of recipes.” “It’s way too complicated for what it delivers.” (This is also how my exes would describe me.)
5. (-1) Jamie Tran
Aka: Splat. Police Academy. Womp Womp.
One of the most shocking twists of the entire episode was that Jamie, who uses sound effects rather than words to describe most things, actually turned out to be a decent recipe writer. Unfortunately for her, her decently-written recipe was for a brioche French toast with berry compote and foie gras dish — which sounds weirder than absolute shit. I imagine French toast becomes too French right around the time you start adding goose livers. That dish is Frencher than Gerard Depardieu and Pepe Le Pew wrapped inside a tiny cigarette.
Based on the judges’ reactions, it did not taste much better than it sounded.
“There is a lack of texture here.” “I think it’s too sweet.”
4. (+1) Maria Mazon
AKA: Gas Can. Backdraft. James Brown. Mole Maria.
“I suck at writing recipes, I have ADHD.” (Why did you make so much food?) “Because I’m Mexican.”
Maria tried to get out in front of any potential criticisms this week by blaming her ADHD and Mexicanity for her inability to write coherent, normal-sized recipes. She ended up writing a recipe that prescribed cooking eight pounds of meat to serve six people. Sheesh, no one is swallowing that much meat at dinner, not unless Steve’s mom is invited (Right guys? Right?).
Maria had a decent performance this episode, but she’s still so far behind the three obvious favorites that I’m not even sure she qualifies as a dark horse. I would still buy that cookbook though.
“The whole thing just seemed too much.” “It had tons of flavor, all the meats were nicely cooked.” “So what you have leftovers for the week.” “Or the month.”
3. (-1) Shota Nakajima
AKA: Beavis. Big Gulps.
There haven’t been much in the way of human interest stories this season (and honestly I’ve barely missed them), so Shota discussing his son who lives in Japan that he only gets to see about twice a year felt like a pretty big reveal. I like to make jokes about food as away of avoiding discussing these kinds of things, so, moving on… Shota’s soy-braised pork belly with turnip puree sounded good as hell.
Shota may not have won the last couple challenges, but I have to think Shota, Gabe, and Dawn are running pretty neck and neck right now. Neck and neck and neck.
“I do think Shota’s dish is delicious, it’s so focused.”
2. (+1) Gabe Erales
AKA: Good Gabe. Canelo. Fozzy. The Foz. The Masa Father. Jamón.
It looked like Gabe was going to win the quickfire this week, stealing Jamie’s sound-effect shtick to describe his Hasselback-cut yams served in the form of sausages. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein made a big joke out of no one knowing what a Hasselback potato is, so I suppose it falls to me to explain that Hasselback Potatoes are named for David Hasselback, who famously ate them off the floor while drunk one night on his secret tour of East Germany. Or they’re just named for the Swedish restaurant where they were first served. Whatever you choose to believe.
Big Fozzy ended up losing that challenge to Dawn but achieved revenge in the elimination challenge thanks to his deliciously sauced fish. Which had judge Richard Blaise raving “a wise man once said that if chefs are a symphony, sauciers are the soloists,” whatever the hell that means.
Cool fact, Cliff Clavin, don’t you have a haircut appointment to get to?
“It’s delicious!” “It’s dynamic, there’s a depth of flavor, it’s fresh.”
1. (even) Dawn Burrell
AKA: Hothead. ‘Sheed. Legs. Breaking Dawn. Milk Carton. The Sphynx. Zeus.
Dawn is starting to run away with it now. At the very least, it’s Dawn and Gabe’s competition to lose. In the quickfire, Dawn made a cornbread-style fonio bread that everyone loved. I’d never heard of fonio before, but I feel like it should be a superior version of “fugazi,” not as in the band but as in Italian-American slang for fake. “You calla thees-a the diamond? Basta, skifozo, theesa no-a diamond, she’s a fonio! Dona you bring-a no more a-fonio inna my store!”
It feels like something you say while chasing someone with a rolling pin. Phew, I’ve gone off the rails again.
Anyway, after last episode, a lot of people blamed Dawn for her team losing, because she sandbagged them by not telling them her dish until the last minute. I don’t know if any of that was deliberate (I tend to think she just has a typical perfectionist’s personality, and she didn’t tell them what she was making simply because she was still trying to work it out for herself). But even if it is I feel the same way about it as I do when people say Barry Bonds shouldn’t be in the hall of fame because he was a cheater. Guess what, a lot of people cheat, Barry Bonds was just the best at it.
Whether or not you think Dawn played dirty pool last week, she keeps proving that she doesn’t need to.
Is anyone else terrified that Sara is going to rejoin the competition? She’s looking like a lock to win Last Chance Kitchen and she’s nervously laughing at her own jokes more than ever.