This week on Top Chef, we were down to just four chefs. All of whom, with the exception of John, aka Bangles, were final four chefs on their previous seasons of Top Chef (this being the “veterans vs. rookies” themed season). Meaning, we were already down to the best of the best. Perhaps not coincidentally, they all cooked pretty well this week. Sidenote: How the hell did Bangles make the final four?
On the plus side, better cooking can mean only one thing: that’s right, bitchier nitpicks (*guitar solo, toilet flush, Manswers theme music*). And hoo boy, were this week’s nitpicks bitchy. In fact the elimination challenge hinged on a question of what was worse, not peeling your peppers (“that’s just a pet peeve of mine,” bitched Tom Collicchio, bitchily) or using a sous vide to cook a pork tenderloin (“sous vide ruins the texture of the tenderloin,” whinged guest judge Sean Brock).
I’ll be honest, folks, I have more food opinions than most people believe can be contained in one man, and I have never once considered having an opinion about either of those things. These peppers have SKINS?! Pennington, gather my things and have the servants flayed.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In the Quickfire, the producers pulled the old “having-to-tell-your-significant-other-how-to-cook-a-dish-through-a-privacy-screen” challenge. Only, they didn’t actually know it was their significant other, except for Sheldon, because Sheldon is the sweet one. The guest judge for this challenge was Michael Solomonov, by the way, who apparently didn’t even warrant the usual resume-fluffing cutaway. “Michael Solomonov? He’s like the Jay-Z of South Ossetian porridgery!”
After that, Padma cooked for the group, getting a plug in for her own line of “organic, frozen rice.” FROZEN rice?! (*record scratch*) (“Get a rope…”). I’m guessing this was in her contract, because no one even made fun of her. Actually, I’m kind of surprised Padma didn’t show up in some form-fitting white outfit and then “accidentally” steam up her shirt, tormenting the boys with it. “Hey, Sheldon, havin’ some trouble walking there, bud? Ha ha ha.”
Finally, for the elimination challenge, the chefs were tasked with “cooking a dish that represents your journey here,” with the winner getting to cook at the James Beard House. That’s apparently a big honor, which is funny, because they also revealed that the prestigious “James Beard Award” used to be called the “Who’s Who of Cooking,” which sounds like one of those scam books you have to pay to get your name in. Anything called “Who’s Who” now sounds so sketchy that I bet at least one person in the Trump cabinet lists a Who’s Who book credit in their official bio.
One. (even) Sheldon Simeon, AKA Keanu, aka Hopalong, aka Shel Chillverstein
Shel Chill was last week’s number one and this week he only consolidated his position, winning both challenges. Not to mention apparently being the only chef capable of recognizing his wife’s voice. Good Lord, were those two adorable or what? It’s like they fell in love based on “who would I look cutest with?” Oh, I know, another super cute Hawaiian with an equally soothing voice.
Shel Chill chose to make Carolina gold rice, pulverized into powder and then made into steamed noodles, stir fried with pork belly (yes, please). The show briefly tried to manufacture some drama based on him worrying whether his noodles would set. He even had to use tapioca starch, one of those molecular gastronomy-ish tricks that are usually the kiss of death in a Top Chef challenge. But between Sheldon’s win and Bangles’ Xantham gum mac and cheese triumph I may have to rewrite that rule. Also, it must’ve been amazing because you know those chefs were just dying to rip him for ruining the texture of their precious rice strain. “You made flour out of Carolina Gold rice? That’s like using ribeye to make dog food! Fie I say!”
Anyway, Sheldon went from laidback bridesmaid to super chill bride. Will it last? Who knows, but I’m sure Sheldon will be cool with it either way.
2. (+1) Shirley Chung, AKA Bowl of Hug, aka Hotpot, aka Peppercorn
Shirley spent the first half of this week’s episode annoying Brooke with her piercing voice, the timbre of which is roughly akin to the sound that’s produced when you strike a peacock repeatedly about the abdomen. She could make a souffle fall down with that voice.
I keep saying that Shirley would be unbeatable if she just went back to her wheelhouse — the spicy stew (hence the nickname, Hotpot). She came very close, preparing an oil-poached grouper about which everyone raved. “This should be a signature dish,” gushed Tom.
“The broth is so meaty and so Southern, but the aromatics are so Chinese,” added Gail.
But the best review, and the best moment of the show came when guest judge Sean Brock said her dish was “like getting a hug.”
Hey! Bowl of Hug! That’s her nickname! Did Sean Brock know that? Either way, look how happy Shirley was that someone correctly identified her culinary philosophy:
That was my favorite. Shortly after that, Shirley piercingly screeched “THANK YOU VERY MUCH” and a stand of endangered herons came out of hibernation early and flew north for summer.
3. (+1) John Tesar, AKA Bangles, aka Steve Douchemi, aka Aquaman
I can’t. Believe. This guy. Is still here. Bangles should’ve gone home at least twice before this episode, but I guess his lucky charm bracelet keeps pulling him through. John began the show not being able to recognize his own wife’s voice, possibly because she doesn’t seem to talk much.
Nonetheless, the Top Chef producers continued their Herculean task of trying to humanize John, with frequent cutaways to him getting emotional and discussing himself in the third person. The Old John, before he became a Bracelet Dad, would hear criticism and immediately turn into “a rage aholic,” apparently. He sounds like one of those born-again Christians who has to embellish the tawdry tales of what life was like before they found God. “I was breaking into vaults in a black jumpsuit, stealing priceless art and speeding away on motorcycles, banging different women every night. I’m telling you, I was lost, friends.”
Being asked why his dish was so simple, John proclaimed, “This is the freedom that I found in who I am, and that’s what BJ gave me.”
Man, I’ve watched literally every single episode of this show and even I have no idea what that means.
Nonetheless, John cooked two boring ass scallop dishes this episode and somehow muddled through. How many more times is this guy going to use “because the ocean” as the stated inspiration for a dish? “Uh, I wanted this emulsion to mimic sea foam because the ocean.” “Uh, see, this broth is meant to taste like the ocean, because I grew up near the ocean and we’re near the ocean right now and 70 percent of the planet is ocean and that’s why it’s green and has carrots because one time I dropped a carrot in the ocean. Here, just scoop some of it up with this rye cracker shaped like a surf board.”
Whatever. I knew it was a bad sign when the best knock they came up with for John’s dish was that he hadn’t peeled the peppers in his sofrito.
4. (-2) ((Eliminated)) Brooke Williamson, AKA Biscuits, aka The Girl With The Radish Tattoo, aka The Cool One
Brooke, aka the cool one, opened this episode (rightly) making fun of Bangles for crying, though this would become ironic foreshadowing. In the Quickfire, she had to coach her sister, the only contestant not to be teamed with a significant other. Why? Well, the show didn’t come out and say so, but I’m guessing this was because Brooke’s husband is also a chef and that would’ve been kind of unfair.
Aaaanyway, Brooke’s take on “a dish that represents your journey” was the admirably literal “I’m just going to combine ingredients from my actual winning dishes.”
Brooke’s (believable) justification for this was that she doesn’t like fruity vague talk about “it has foam because I grew up near the ocean!” and tends to take inspiration from, you know, actual food. Sadly, this led her to try to combine too many different things (on account of she’s had so many winning dishes) and she probably got dinged a bit for not playing the game.
Come on, Brooke! You’re the most strategic person on this show! You of all people should know that you just cook whatever delicious dish you want to cook and then make up some maudlin horseshit to justify it afterwards.
On top of that, she tried to cook a god damned pork tenderloin of all things. I feel like I bitched about this all last season. Even when accompanied by a silky egg yolk like Brooke had, pork tenderloin is dull, fatless garbage that bites you in the ass for coming out too dry like 65% of the time. “Sous vide kind of ruins the texture pork tenderloin,” judge Brock said.
Whatever. It’s a bad cut. Wrap it in something fatty or don’t bother. Anyway, the show ended with Brooke getting eliminated, finally shattering her Cool Girl facade and dissolving her into a flood of Bangles-esque tears. At which point Gail Simmons pulled Brooke aside for a pep talk, whispering “Don’t confuse emotion for weakness.”
Which was… dare I say it… and I know I’m talking about a reality cooking competition here… legitimately touching? Ugh, Gail really is the best.
Anyway, if you’ll remember, Brooke finished Season 11 on a tear, then Kristen Kish came back from “Last Chance Kitchen” and ended up winning. All I’m saying is, Brooke has a pretty good chance of doing the same thing. Which would be poetic justice, or whatever the reality cooking competition equivalent of “poetic” is. Classic redemption narrative.