This was a very exciting week on Top Chef, as last week we learned in the upcoming preview that the chefs would be tasked with “celebrating the legacy of Muhammad Ali through your dishes.” And I, for one, was dying to know how one would honor a boxing legend and civil rights hero through a crudo and/or ceviche. Can one win a congressional medallion of honor posthumously? (The medallion is made of veal and covered in a mustard-cream sauce).
But before that could go down, there was a quickfire challenge, based on another Kentucky legend: you guessed it, Colonel Sanders! Because what better way to honor Muhammad Ali than to make him share an episode with a guy who George Wallace once considered naming his running mate during his segregationist campaign for president in 1968? (That’s a fun fact for you.) Actually, no one knows whether Colonel Sanders was all that racist (despite dressing like a southern dandy and growing up in the Jim Crow era), though Papa John certainly tried to claim he was as a deflecting maneuver. Anyway, Muhammad Ali, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bourbon… what other Kentucky things can Top Chef base a challenge on? All I know is that if there isn’t a Hunter S. Thompson or Jennifer Lawrence challenge I’m going to be flipping over tables.
In the KFC challenge, the contestants had to make fried chicken, but they were only allowed to use the herbs and spices that they could identify in a blind taste test — always one of Top Chef‘s best recurring challenges. Then they had 30 minutes to use their herbs and spices on some fried chicken. I think we can all agree that 30 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to butcher, bread, fry, and serve fried chicken. A couple of them even talked about their “brine.” Brine? You have 30 minutes. You can’t brine in 30 minutes, at best it’s going to be a dip.
Oh and almost all of them used the deep fryer. Laaaaaame. Half of fried chicken is getting the oil type and temperature right. If you’re all just going to use the same giant vats of vegetable oil there’s not much to differentiate you. Solid fats all day.
Then in the Muhammad Ali challenge, everyone was given a particular fight, and tasked with creating a dish based on that fight, to fit each course. Which was kind of disappointing, because it was more like “here’s an African dessert to represent the Rumble In The Jungle” instead of “here is why I believe this poached snapper with harissa aioli best represents the legacy of famed boxing hero Muhammad Ali.”
Also, the chefs all received information packets on the fight they were cooking for. Which just meant that each presentation turned into a fifth-grade book report on some Muhammad Ali facts they’d just read. “In conclusion, Muhammad Ali is a man of contrasts, just like this Southeast Asian inspired cured halibut…”
It would’ve been so much better if the chefs just had to work from memory and then got fact-checked during their presentations. “Jeff, I thought your pork belly was a little under-rendered, and also, Muhammad Ali never showed up overweight for his fight against a white bartender from Cleveland, you’re thinking of The Great White Hype, starring Peter Berg and Damon Wayans.”
Then the elimination was yet another heartbreak for a former favorite. It seems the best way to jinx yourself this season is to win a challenge.
1. (+1) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Sports.
It’s taken him long enough, but Eric has finally turned into the favorite I thought he was in the first few episodes. Even so, he still landed in the bottom three in the fried chicken challenge (he named seven spices correctly, third place), despite winning last week’s challenge with a delicious-looking… you guessed it, fried chicken wing. I’m telling you, this season is weird as hell.
Luckily he got to do a dish for the Rumble In The Jungle, for which he cooked Fufu dumplings and red stew. I’ve never had those things but that’s probably the point: Tom can’t get pedantic about how al dente pasta should be or the proper looseness of risotto if you cook him something way outside his comfort zone. Knowing your brand is half of Top Chef and pretty much everyone could learn from Eric. He’s looking like a fufufavorite going into the home stretch.