This week on Top Chef there were a lot of moments when I screamed “Nooooooo!!!!” at the TV. One competitor stuck $500 Iberico ham through a meat grinder and used it to make a broth. Another used canned crab. And yet neither of these transgressions doomed their committer to defeat, because another chef used a heat lamp like they were working the window at McDonald’s. And none of them got dressed down or belittled enough for it, if you ask me. Not enough shaming this season. It’s not Top Chef if no one cries over a poorly made gastrique.
This has been a season of the unexpected and, frankly, it’s exhausting. I don’t know who to even root for. The underdog/favorite dynamic seems to shift minute by minute. What I wouldn’t give for a new Fati, a new Isaac Toups (Peppah!), hell, even a new Bangles. Instead, this week revealed the winner of Last Chance Kitchen. And that winner was (*drum roll*) …Chef Michelle!
Oh good, more of the world’s shyest Top Chef competitor. And to think, we had a 50 percent chance of more Sweaty Eddie. Michelle seems nice, and like a really good cook, but let’s be honest: she is not great TV. Reality TV runs on alcohol and extroverted sociopaths. Michelle is more like the salutatorian who’s too bashful to raise her hand above her chin. Instead, she leaves it folded into her body and almost imperceptibly raises four fingers when she knows the answer.
Michelle returned for a garden challenge, the chefs having to cook with the vegetables and herbs they planted earlier this season. “Nothing more fascinating than watching someone make salads,” I always say. I bet there were more salads on that set than in the rest of Kentucky combined.
Then they found out that everyone who made it through this week’s elimination challenge would move onto the finale in… Macau. Phew, okay, at least that’s an interesting choice. I pray that one of the competitors will lose a pinky to the Triads, that’s the only thing that could salvage this season.
First though, they would have to make it through this week’s elimination challenge, in which the competitors would cook for their mentors. Sadly, all of the mentors were about as buttoned up and subdued as this season’s crop of competitors. Can’t we bring back Wolfgang Puck or someone? Remember him? Just throwing dishes at the wall and cackling like a banshee while he force-taught a competitor risotto as she sobbed? Man, that was awesome.
Oh, also, they had to “buy” their ingredients at a horse auction. They had $500 to bid with and the rest to use at Whole Foods. Which actually turned out to be kind of anti-climactic because there were only six of them, which apparently wasn’t enough for a bidding war. Probably should’ve done this earlier in the season. And forced the loser to cook with discarded horse dicks or something.
This episode’s saving grace? They finally brought back Gail. Hell yeah. Bring back Gail! Bring back Gail! It’s like all my chants have been answered.
1. (+1) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom. AKA: One-Upper. AKA: Abe Fro-ma’am. AKA: Jiggle Juice. AKA: Kanye.
Look, I’m as shocked as you are about Jiggle Juice being number one on this list. But after a top three finish in seven of the last eight challenges (her one miss being the most memorable, her brutal waffle shaming in episode nine) I can’t deny her.
This week, Sara had the most well-kept garden, and if you believe her, a plan for what to do with her herbs and vegetables once the time inevitably came. Sara is a drunk but also a homework doer (I have a theory that the world is divided into homework doers and improvisers), and I respect that. Most writers tend to share that disposition. Anyway, Sara rode her spring squash to a top three finish in the quickfire, with a delicate byaldi, which is apparently some type of ratatouille. I don’t really “get” squash. The texture makes no sense to me and I never know which parts of it I’m supposed to eat. I think I need to take a squash class. But that’s neither here nor there.
The judge of this quickfire challenge was Chef Ouita Michel, who Sara had to cook a Beard dinner with earlier this year. You wonder if Sara might’ve won if the judge judging it hadn’t been worried about appearing to play favorites. Also, nice pun synergy having a chef named “WEED-uh” judge the garden challenge.
After that, Sara bought some Iberico ham at the auction, which is one of my favorite foods of all time. It’s like more delicate prosciutto where the fat liquifies on your tongue and OH MY GOD ARE YOU PUTTING IBERICO HAM INTO A FUCKING MEAT GRINDER?!!?
That’s right, Sara used a $500 ham (at least, $500 according to the show — they can cost a lot more than that, up to 10 times as much) to make a damned broth (a ham-walnut stock with poached fish). That had better be some amazing god damn broth (and in fairness, it did sound really good). It must’ve been, because she won.
Any way you look at it, Sara is on a hot streak going into the finale. Which she’s going to need in Macau. She does seem like the competitor most likely to wake up in a warehouse somewhere after a black out gambling binge. Studious gardener Sara is cool, but I hope jello shot Party Mom Sara comes back to us in Macau.
2. (-1) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Sports. AKA: Thesis.
Eric has seemed like a favorite probably the most over the course of this season, and he opened this week doing some kind of variation on the Bernie dance.
That was legit. Sadly he ended up in the bottom three in the quickfire with some ill-advised sounding coconut milk take on a gazpacho (no thanks). In the elimination challenge, he got to cook for his mentor, Brian Voltaggio, the less scenestery of the famous Voltaggio Bros. Eric made a wagyu tenderloin with some kind of grain melange where all the grains were cooked separately and colored with sorghum. Which all sounds like a huge pain in the ass and a high degree of difficulty.
The judges all seemed to love it, except for Tom, who pissed and moaned about the lack of fresh herbs. Sheesh, you take the guy to one garden challenge and now it’s all he can think about.
Anyway, Eric seems to have the clearest point of view (GHANA) and frequently the tastiest sounding food, but he always seems to be one degree of execution from the win.
3. (N/A) Michelle Minori — AKA: Screen Time. AKA: Who? AKA: Trivia. AKA: Pixar. AKA: Meesh. AKA: The Quiet Storm.
Michelle is back, baby! Which has to be exciting for… I dunno, somebody. Michelle’s mentor revealed that “Meesh” is very shy (doy) while Padma dubbed her “The Quiet Storm.” Which is a much more badass nickname than Michelle’s actions probably warrant. This week she talked about how much she respects radishes.
Michelle made salmon. Apparently, it was very feminine. Which is good, I hate when my fish is all full of toxic masculinity, all telling me to deflect my true emotions and shit. Anyway, Michelle is going to Macau. I hope she learns to let loose there. That’s a great rom-com premise.
4. (-1) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager? AKA: Bambi.
This week’s most on-brand Kelsey moment:
[When the boys were yelling in the other room] “Are they still yelling? …I literally can’t.”
This week Kelsey made a good-looking salad but ended up in the bottom three on account of it was too ricotta-y. Still, you have to call that a victory for Kelsey. Kelsey is from Alabama so she’s probably only read about salad in books. …Well, seen them on TV, anyway.
After that Kelsey made gumbo, for which she used canned crab. Man. After all the grief Sara got for “boxed waffle mix” in episode 9 I can’t believe Kelsey using canned crab wasn’t a bigger deal. My experience with crab is that it’s either the best thing ever or inedible, and I assume the inedible times were because it wasn’t fresh enough. That must’ve been some extraordinary canned crab.
Not only did she use canned crab, her reasoning for buying it was so that she wouldn’t have to do all the work picking the shells out herself. And then the biggest knock on her gumbo ended up being the judge who got a shell in his. What perfect poetic justice in that storyline! Luckily another chef beefed it even harder. See, this is why I never believe the “Top Chef is rigged” conspiracy theorists. If this show was rigged the eliminations would be a lot more thematically tidy.
5. (even) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Dangles. AKA: Hollow Bones. AKA: Sniffles. AKA: The Apple-Cheeked Assassin.
Speaking of thematically tidy, how perfect was it that it was the OG waffle box bus thrower’s mentor who called out Kelsey for crab shells? That was Adrienne’s mentor, Chris Coombs. Ah, so that’s where the Apple Cheeked Assassin learned her Machiavellian tactics. It’s all starting to make sense.
This week Adrienne revealed that she grew up on a Connecticut farm where she’s the eighth generation of her family to grow up in the same farmhouse. They showed a flashback photo of Adrienne on the farm, in which she was wearing a sweatshirt that said “MAINE,” which is doing nothing for my ability to differentiate New England states.
Adrienne landed in the bottom two with her sub-par duck, which was cooked perfectly but lacked spice, which is incredibly unsurprising from the chef who made that abomination of a “seafood taco” a few episodes ago. She immediately held back tears at Judges Table and avoided going home, doing nothing to defy the commenter conspiracy theory about weaponized white woman tears. I don’t think you can credit the tears though, considering the other guy used a damn heat lamp. Which brings us to…
4. (even) Justin Sutherland — AKA: New Spike. AKA: Cheech. AKA: Slick. AKA The Weez. AKA: Bacon.
The Weez was off to a great start this week, winning the gardening challenge, which seems thoroughly unsurprising in retrospect. A challenge combining horticulture and fedoras? Who else but Justin?
Then, in the elimination challenge, Justin bought yellowtail to make a crudo, which as we know Top Chef judges love, but prepared it “two ways” which as we know the Top Chef judges hate. “Every time a chef prepares something two ways I wish they would’ve just prepared it one way,” said Tom.
Dammit, Justin, how did you not know that?? This is where that weed-induced short term memory loss bites you in the ass. To make matters worse, Justin finished early and put his dishes under a heat lamp to keep them warm. I hate to harsh a dude’s mellow, but really? Heat lamps? With a fish dish? Where half the plate is raw?
We all knew Justin was getting eliminated after that. Huge bummer, but at least now The Weez doesn’t have to worry about figuring out how to smuggle his weed into Macau. I hope he and Spike Mendelsohn team up for a fedora-themed fine dining concept.