This week on Top Chef, the remaining five chefs all hopped on a plane to travel to Macau (where da fuq you at, MA-CAU), the Portuguese-run, barely-legal province of China where gambling is legal and seafood is plentiful. Actually, we never actually saw the contestants get on a plane, presumably because Bravo couldn’t convince an airline to sponsor. Bummer. I wonder if they had to fly coach.
The Macau trip was a perk for the chefs who made it to the final five, except not really, because the five previously eliminated chefs also got to go, so they could be sous chefs for the remaining contestants. It happens every season. I bet it’s even more fun to just be in Macau without the pressure of trying to win the competition. I wish they’d done a spinoff episode that was just a montage of Sweaty Eddie traveling around Macau — riding on the back of a scooter, having awkward interactions with locals, getting chopsticks stuck in his sunglasses, etc.
Sidenote: can you believe Lurky Brian got to go to Macau and not Nini? Life is so unfair.
Judge Graham Eliot apparently owns a restaurant in Macau, which meant he and his stupid white frames got to play tour guide. Oddly, on his home turf in this tropical setting, Graham’s wardrobe was the most subdued it’s been all season. This meant he looked merely like a ska fan rather than a ska frontman.
The quickfire involved a trip to the market and some local seafood — including the famous stinky egg. It was a bit of a letdown to introduce the stinky egg and not make anyone eat it. Come on, Top Chef, Chekhov’s stinky egg. At the end of the challenge Graham chose a winner, which he described as, and I quote, “the person who threw down on some sick flavors.”
Graham is the dork’s Guy Fieri. I can’t decide whether he got wedgied too much as a child or not enough.
After that, the sous chefs were introduced, holding a collection of ingredients, which the remaining contestants would have to incorporate into their dishes for a Chinese New Year Celebration at the MGM Macau. In a season disappointingly light on Padma smirking at sexual entendres, we did at least get to watch her sensually slurp a shrimp head:
4. (Tie) (-3) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Sports. AKA: Thesis.
Quickfire Protein: Snails
Quickfire Finish: Bottom Two
Elimination Partner: Justin
Elimination Dish: Coconut curry, braised pork shoulder, and crispy pork ears, with lychee glaze and Thai chili
Elimination Finish: Bottom
Okay, look, I’m ranking everyone tied for fourth this week. There just isn’t a favorite this season! Everyone is up and then they’re down and then they’re up again! This is the closest to a pick ’em I’ve ever seen on this show.
As for Eric, he desperately needs a good friend to come and slap the coconuts out of his hand as soon as he picks one up. The man essentially makes two types of dishes, dishes that win and dishes with coconut in them. Everything about that elimination dish sounds great… if it hadn’t been weighed down by the coconut.
This after he worried about the texture of his snails in the quickfire — “they’re a little chewy…” he said charitably — which Padma went on to describe as “a cross between chewy and rubbery.” Ouch.
During the judging, Padma started to criticize him because “I can’t pick out individual flavors and spices.”
To which Eric responded, “I have to respectfully disagree…”
Oh no, Eric! What the hell are you doing? I mean, yes, not being able to identify individual spices is a bizarre criticism of curry, but there’s nothing to be gained from clapping back at Top Chef judges and my God, man are you really going to mansplain curry to the Indian lady? Incredibly, this turned out not to be Eric’s undoing (we’ll get to why below).
Another fun moment was when Eric got Justin as his sous chef, who dubbed their team “the Wayans brothers,” before doing the Carlton dance. Work on your references, Justin.
Eric’s strengths this season are seeming like the class president, having a clear point of view, and making food that sounds good as hell. His weakness is execution.
4. (-1) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager? AKA: Bambi.
Quickfire Protein: Gumfish
Quickfire Finish: Top three
Elimination Partner: Brandon
Elimination Dish: Mushroom broth with peas, greens, orange rinds, portuguese sausage, cashews, cilantro, and chives.
Elimination Finish: Winner
Kelsey was the vicarious voice for all of us at the beginning of this episode, summing up her incredible travel experience, “I feel like we’re in some sort of crazy movie.” Evocative imagery, Kelsey, have you considered becoming a novelist?
Kelsey seemed to play against type this week, making fast friends with a market stall vendor — in contrast to her yelling at the help not to make eye contact with her during Restaurant Wars — which was tempered somewhat later on in the episode when she referred to said vendor as “my little friend.” Ah, well. Two steps forward, two steps back.
After a solid-looking fried gumfish in the quickfire, Kelsey returned to “her little friend” for some flour, but there was a language barrier. “She gave me a bag with white stuff in it. So… it could be anything.”
Come on, Kelsey, if there’s one thing I know about chefs it’s that they’re usually pretty good at recognizing white power in bags. Kelsey chose Brandon as her sous chef this week, thinking his Asian food experience would be her secret weapon. And who knows, maybe it was, she did win. She was actually going to cook pork belly until she heard that Adrienne was also cooking pork belly, and so she talked herself out of it, not wanting to go head to head on pork belly with “The meat king,” Brian. Uh, did no one see Brian go home for screwing up pork?
Anyway, it worked out for her. Kelsey hasn’t strung two good episodes together all season, so it’s hard to tell whether she’s peaking at the right time or if this was just a perfect storm.
4. (-3) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom. AKA: One-Upper. AKA: Abe Fro-ma’am. AKA: Jiggle Juice. AKA: Kanye.
Quickfire Protein: Giant Scallop
Quickfire Finish: Bottom Two
Elimination Partner: Eddie
Elimination Dish: Shrimp and cauliflower grits with poached walnuts and pork shank.
Elimination Finish: Bottom
Sara came into this episode sounding confident, talkin’ all sorts of trash about the local vegetables she knew and how much she’d prepared for this. She even had me onboard. I wrote “never underestimate a homework doer” in my notes, just before Sara landed in the bottom two of the quickfire, making a fool of me.
She chose the giant scallop thinking it’d be like a regular scallop, but then it turned out it was super tough. I guess the giant scallops have all that extra shell to lift so they get super ripped. Sara got all flustered wondering what to do with it. “Pound it flat and fry it, like abalone!” I shouted at the screen, to the chagrin of my dog.
She ended up shaving it thin, which clearly wasn’t the right choice.
In the elimination, she chose Eddie as her partner (good choice!) and made shrimp and cauliflower grits, which actually sounded pretty good. A lot of the other competitors tried to Monday Morning Quarterback her, being like “I don’t know whether the Chinese will appreciate shrimp and grits…”
First of all, I’m pretty sure Chinese people will be able to appreciate the concept of shrimp + starch. Secondly, was the assumption that the people at a Top Chef party were all going to be locals? Please. That crowd was 80% expats and friends of the producers.
Anyway, the dish sounded good, and when Tom and Graham ate it, they concluded “really solid dish!” Then Padma and guest judge Jowett Yu tried it and Padma said it was salty. Later, at judges’ table, Tom was all “see the problem with that broth, Sara, was that it was just too salty.”
WHY YOU LYIN’ ON SARA, TOM? He liked it fine until the supermodel showed up and made everyone agree with her. I mean I probably would’ve done the same. I don’t think Sara was ever in danger of going home this week, but they had to play it up for TV.
4. (N/A) Michelle Minori — AKA: Screen Time. AKA: Who? AKA: Trivia. AKA: Pixar. AKA: Meesh. AKA: The Quiet Storm.
Quickfire Protein: Cuttlefish
Quickfire Finish: Winner
Elimination Partner: David
Elimination Dish: Pork lettuce wrap with cold noodle salad.
Elimination Finish: Middle
Was Michelle in this episode? I didn’t take many notes for her. Wait, wait, no — I can remember… she revealed that she has a special advantage in China, being that she lives in San Francisco, which has lots of Chinese people… Then she made some… lettuce wraps… and they were… good… but not good enough for the win…
Also, did anyone else get an awkwardness contact high when Padma was like “As the Chinese say, congratulations and be prosperous,” and Michelle was all “Oh, that’s so sweet, thank you,” as if Padma was talking to her and not just introducing the next challenge? It was like watching someone call the teacher “mom.”
Anyway, I don’t have much to say about Michelle, as usual, but part of me hopes that she wins this thing and then the shyest contestant in Top Chef history has to travel the country doing press and events like Miss America.
5. (even) ((Eliminated)) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Dangles. AKA: Hollow Bones. AKA: Sniffles. AKA: The Apple-Cheeked Assassin.
Quickfire Protein: Razor clams
Quickfire Finish: Top Three
Elimination Partner: Brian
Elimination Dish: Fried sticky rice cake, hoisin braised pork belly, roasted chili aioli.
Elimination Finish: Eliminated
Phew, somehow Adrienne made it to Macau without her chunky earrings getting held up in customs. That must’ve been a relief for the Top Chef producers. Is this how people dress in Connecticut? Adrienne looks like a kindergartner who dressed as her teacher for Halloween.
Her decisionmaking also seemed faulty this week. “I know, I’ll pick Brian, he’s like the meat king!”
Dammit did any of you actually see Brian’s episodes? He literally got kicked off for cooking his meat badly like three episodes in a row!
It’d be easy to blame Lurky Brian for Adrienne’s loss — and fun — but the thrust of the judges’ criticism this week seemed more that Adrienne’s dish was too small. After Eric tried to mansplain curry, all Adrienne had to do in order to not go home was to just shut her mouth and agree with the critiques. She even could’ve cried for good measure — the crying white woman is batting 1.000 at judges’ table this season.
Instead, Adrienne nodded through the judges reasoned critiques and responded, “wellllllll, yes and no…” Which was kind of like when a commenter on this site starts a comment with “Ummm” and I immediately want to punt them into the sun without even reading what comes after. It’s that pedantic string of Ms or Ls that’s so infuriating. There are a lot of ways to gracefully receive criticism, and none of them start with “Ummmmm, actually…”
Not to mention that the thrust of Adrienne’s counter-critique was “wellllllll, actually I thought it was quite brave of me. The guests were expecting lots of food and I subverted their expectations.”
Alas. I guess now we’ll never get to see what chunky earrings Adrienne would’ve worn to the finale. You know how Tiger Woods used to wear red when he was in contention on Sunday? Like the chunky earring equivalent of that. Yeah.