This week’s Top Chef really highlighted Top Chef‘s cruel side, which is probably my second favorite aspect of the show behind the brutal nitpicks of obscure food (“you call this fermented uni foam, you f*ckin’ IDIOT?”). It was time to bring back the winners of Last Chance Kitchen, Top Chef‘s online consolation bracket of past and current losers. It was the finale of Last Chance Kitchen, or at least, the first finale (yes, there will be another). This round pitted Brother Luck from last season against Nini from this season, with the winner getting to return to the house and the competition (loser has to continue sleeping in the Top Chef loser dogloo).
It was hard to know who to pull for, considering Nini got abruptly booted last week — over her front-of-the-house management, of all things — after winning most of the previous episodes. Brother, meanwhile, had an unprecedented run of wins in Last Chance Kitchen only to get eliminated in the one that actually counted — won by Joe Flamm, who went on to return to the house and win the show.
Phew, this is a lot of backstory.
Anyway, Brother went head-to-head with Nini in a mini-Restaurant Wars challenge at the beginning of the episode. Nini’s concept was “Mekong Delta meets Mississippi Delta” vs. Brother’s “Southwestern Japanese.” Viewers (me) and contestants alike were baffled as to what “Southwestern Japanese” would even look like, but apparently it has something to do with the fact that Brother’s parents were strippers.
Nini’s concept seemed to make a lot more sense on just about every level, and they seemed to be neck and neck in each dish, but Brother ended up winning, apparently on the strength of his final dish, a seared tuna atop an apple disc covered in beurre blanc sauce surrounded by pico de gallo — which I think we can all agree sounds weird as hell. Nini cried, Brother was redeemed, the show went on.
Finally, Brother would get his shot at redemption! …Which ended almost instantly, when he was eliminated at the end of this very show. Though as Tom noted, he will get another chance on Last Chance Kitchen, provided he manages to stay in it until the second to last show. I hope he somehow gets all the way to the end and loses again, cementing his legacy as the Buffalo Bills of Top Chef.
After that, Padma introduced the elimination challenge, a 1920s-themed party at an art deco hotel for which the chefs would choose old-fashioned cocktails and make “decadent canapés” based on them. Oh boy, a theme party, I guess that means Graham Elliot will finally get to wear something loud and obnoxious!
As an added benefit, all the cocktail drinking apparently got Padma pretty soused. At one point she was dancing with some rando townies, having a grand ol’ time until she saw the cameras and realized “Oops, I have to go back to work now.”
“These ‘er really inresting camapays!” Padma slurred at the end of the night, before the producers tucked her into bed next to an empty ice bucket to puke in (or so I imagined). I actually watched the show twice just to properly savor the joy of Padma getting progressively drunker. If we can’t have Gail, can we at least have more drunk Padma?
1. (+2) Eddie Konrad — AKA: Smiles. AKA: The Accountant. AKA: Seppuku. AKA: Sweaty Eddie. AKA: Calamity.
We might have to change Sweaty Eddie’s name to Steady Eddie for his consistency in landing in the top three. Just kidding, he’s still pretty sweaty. Eddie got some gentle ribbing for the manic intensity that inspired all of his nicknames at Judges Table, and he defended himself, saying “I’m really not stressed out, I just don’t think maybe my eyebrows and my face portrays exactly, like, what I’m feeling.”
It was probably the most genuinely funny moment of this season. Of course, it’s only fun and games when Eddie actually finishes in the top three. God help him when he’s actually on the bottom.
But Eddie did find success again this week, with some kind of reduced caramelized cream crumble over bourbon-cured salmon (a crudo??) inspired by an old fashioned. Everyone kept thinking he was burning his cream and trying to turn off his burner for him. It seems like a positive sign when none of the other chefs know what the hell you’re doing and you still beat them, which is why I have Eddie on top again. That being said, I feel like Sheldon from a few seasons ago and Eddie should have some kind of road trip together, where Sheldon teaches Eddie how to relax.
2. (even). David Viana — AKA: Maybe. AKA: Superfan. AKA: Mouse.
David wore his sideways baseball cap again this week, which really tripped me out because David does not seem like a sideways baseball cap kind of guy. David seems more like a barbershop quartet hat kind of guy.
Anyway, David came out of the gate strong this season but keeps getting less and less screen time. He didn’t land in the top three this week but I’m keeping him in his slot regardless because he seemed like he was just off the lead and I have to reward consistency. David made a shrimp tartar inspired by a Gin Rickey. Tom said it had a “long finish, like a good cocktail.”
3. (+3) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Sports.
Eric redeemed my irrational belief in him at long last this week, winning the challenge with an oyster inspired by the 12-Mile Limit cocktail. Yes, all three of the top three dishes were raw stuff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: crudos are the anti-risotto on this show. Anyway, Eric’s oyster had a pumpernickel crouton in it and I had no idea I wanted that but now I do. I’m glad there are other contestants who aren’t Eric on this show because he turns my analysis very dull. Nice food, Eric! You’re doing great, pal!
4. (even) Brandon Rosen — AKA: Heydrich. AKA: Biff. AKA: Shhhh.
Brandon seems to get more and more likable even as his screen time gets less and less. Coincidence? Anyway, Brandon made a croquette this week, with duck and artichoke and some other crap, which the judges said was the “perfect canapé.” Brandon nonetheless failed to make the top three, possibly on account of Padma saying it needed more salt. As I’ve said, Padma, she like-a the spice.
Otherwise Brandon is really pissing me off because this season could really use a villain but other than the strange ways he contorts his face there has been precious little to hate about him of late. And trust me, I don’t need much of a reason.
5. (even) Michelle Minori — AKA: Screen Time. AKA: Who? AKA: Yung Shaman.
Michelle quote: “I’m part Italian, part Mexican, and part Native American. I’ve always felt like I have a fire inside of me. Meditation helps me.”
Damn, lady, that meditation must work really well because so far you make Pace Picante Sauce seem fiery.
Michelle made a duck mousse-stuffed gougere this week and Padma said “the mousse made the gougere really soggy.”
Ouch. “Soggy gougere” sounds terrible and is also the name of my French Limp Bizkit cover band (named for the game where French teens in berets stand around smoking skinny cigarettes trying to cum on a gougere).
Anyway, it was an off week, but I still get the feeling Michelle is a favorite.
6. (+2) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager?
Kelsey disappointingly had far fewer on-brand moments this week than last week, when she berated the help for fogging her pearls. But she did do the thing Southern people do, where they think they’re being really subtle with their shade but it’s actually incredibly transparent. The object of her shade was, of course, Brother — whose sin was taking Nini’s place in the house. Oh, please, Kelsey, you of all people should know you’re not here to make friends.
Kelsey ended up in the top three this week, which makes sense. Pretending to be classy while getting sauced on cocktails at a swanky hotel seems right in her wheelhouse. It was her 12-Mile Limit-inspired scallop ceviche that got her there, a dish whose theme Kelsey said was “delicate, delicate, delicate.”
Then she celebrated the win by chugging a glass of sauvy b and tossing it at the fireplace.
7. (even) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Dangles. AKA: Hollow Bones.
Adrienne. Ah, yes, Adrienne. Adrienne is like the person sitting on the dais at a roast that you forgot to write jokes about. Adrienne made shrimp and avocado toast with watermelon, Padma said it was greasy. She still reminds me of a kindergarten teacher. Next!
8. (+2) Justin Sutherland — AKA: New Spike. AKA: Cheech. AKA: Slick. AKA The Weez. AKA: Bacon.
The Weez had to be hella bummed that this wasn’t a CBD oil-pairing challenge. “Did none of the twenties cocktails have weed in them? …None? Really? Okay, that’s cool I guess, I was just checking…”
Weez was wearing his black fedora this week, which matched the napkins he plated his duck al orange-inspired mousse toasts on. I have to think that was deliberate. And that Justin has an entire closet with identical, different-colored fedoras on each shelf.
As for his dish, the judges said he “nailed it,” yet he managed to stay out of the top and bottom once again. Justin has an uncanny ability to stay in the dead center of the pack.
9. (-4) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom.
Extremely On Brand Sara Moment From This Week’s Show
PADMA, introducing the challenge. “This week, we’ll be throwing a 1920s-themed party–“
SARA: “Amazing. That’s so great.”
Damn, Sara didn’t even wait for the end of that sentence. It could’ve been “…and then we’re going to saw our tits off with a hacksaw,” but she heard “party” and she was instantly onboard. PADMA: So stay tuned, after Graham’s funeral, there will be a reception party– SARA: Awesome. That’s so great. This is the best day.
Second Extremely On-Brand Sara Moment From This Week’s Show
SARA (*pouring straight gin into her mise en place*): “I’m makin’ it a little more boozy. …I chose the booziest cocktail.”
Aw, I love you, Party Mom. Just slurring around the house while the kids get butthoused on her rum cake.
Unfortunately, Sara made a charred eggplant puree with a scallop and avocado dish that the judges described as “mush on mush on mush.” Actually, Tom had one of the more devastatingly bitchy disses of the episode when he said of Sara’s dish, “We’re here at a swanky cocktail party and Sara gives us a dip that you could find on the table at a PTA meeting.”
Oof, I hope there were fire extinguishers on set because that is a BURN.
Anyway, that’s why streaky Sara dropped four slots this week. No more scallops, Party Mom.
10. (-1) AKA: The Hair. AKA: Hipster Joe Flamm. AKA: Slouches The Wonder Butcher. AKA: Cool Lurch.
Extremely On-Brand Brian Moment From This Week’s Episode: “My wife is a craft bartender.”
I’m continually impressed by Brian’s ability to look uncomfortable in any outfit. Coming off last week’s win — for his front-of-the-house management, of all things — Brian made a fennel and calabrian chile sausage with fennel-top gnocchi dish, which sounded really good, only he ended up getting behind so he had to just chuck all the sausage on a flat top like a short order cook and throw the gnocchi in the deep fryer. He ended up with a dish so dry that Tom called it “sand in a cup” and a gnocchi so unappetizing Padma called it “a grease sponge,” the second best description of your mom’s physique behind “mush mush mush.”
Anyway, Brian almost went home this week and did not inspire much confidence. He desperately needs to get his mojo back. It seems like he slowly became the kind of guy who writes lengthy training manuals for his employees to try to “build a culture.” Something needs to shake him up, turn him back into that indie rock rebel with tats about how authority sucks. Maybe he takes Eddie’s psych meds by mistake and falls off the wagon? Just spitballing here.
11. (N/A) ((Eliminated)) Brother Luck. AKA: New Guy. AKA: Seat’s Taken. AKA: Son Of Mandingo. AKA: Fusion.
Dammit, Brother, how did you fuck this up so bad? …What’s that you say? Having to compete in two challenges in a row on three hours of sleep? …Okay I suppose I can understand that.
Still, you had to groan at the thought process here. This was a guy who got booted the first time for taking too many liberties with a German food challenge so that he could cook something Asian. This time, he was tasked with a dish inspired by the Southside Fizz. Whereas chef Eric took the 12-Mile Limit and thought of people partying on a boat and was inspired to create an oyster dish — a fairly fitting art deco-era canapé — Brother Luck’s thought process, as he explained it, went: “I figured since it’s Southside, I’d go Southeast… Asia, direction, and that’s why I’m doing a banh mi.”
Thus he somehow ended up making a tiny bowl of marinated chicken thigh. The judges called it a “spice bomb,” and “I don’t even taste chicken, all I taste is hot.”
All things being equal, I thought Brother’s spicy chicken thigh slurry still looked better than Sara’s PTA meeting baba ghanoush scallop disaster, but that could just be my dislike of scallops talking. Either way, there was some beautiful symmetry in watching Brother Luck claw and scratch his way back into the competition over the course of two years only to be instantly booted in the first challenge. Stay nasty, Top Chef.