This week on Top Chef, the winner of Last Chance Kitchen returned for what Bravo claims is this season’s second-to-last episode. Should we believe them? In a season that has given us three separate Last Chance Kitchen winners, I’m convinced they’re going to drag this out for at least four more episodes. Not that I’d complain. This culinary drama is all I live for anymore. Besides, what else do they need to make room for, The Real Hendersons Of Simi Valley? I swear every show on this network is just a play on the last name of some obnoxious family who’s the seventh-degree spinoff of a Housewives show. The War of the Roses had a less complicated genealogy.
Anyway, since this episode introduced the final Last Chance Kitchen winner (*allegedly*), that meant the loser of this show would get arguably the rawest deal, getting kicked off just before the finale (or in part one of the two-part finale… I dunno… semantics) without a second chance to redeem themselves. First Fati and now this? We want culinary justice!
And what did the show have in store for this most consequential of ‘sodes? The first challenge was, naturally, a sasparilla pairing challenge. You know, that old test of classical French technique. In a nearly unforgivable oversight, the producers apparently couldn’t even secure Sam Elliott to guest judge.
Instead, the show brought on Wylie Dufresne, formerly of WD-50, currently of Du’s Donuts and world-famous pioneer of molecular gastronomy. Good old Wylie, he’s going to hold onto that prog rock haircut if it kills him.
I’ve never eaten at his restaurants but I’ve seen him on a million cooking shows, and I don’t really have anything to base this on, but I always sort of assume Wylie Dufresne is like the Rush of food. You know, he never sold that many records, but everyone who bought that record opened up a comic book store. I like to imagine Wylie Dufresne in his prep kitchen, squinting at some vinegar pearl or powdered yak oil in satisfaction while fog machines blanket the room and giant moog crescendo builds for 17 minutes NEENER NEENER NEENER/NEENER NEENER NEENER, NEENER NEENER NEENER NEENER NEENER NEENER…
Anyway, I guess DuFresne was present because the challenge was to create a “gastro-pub inspired” sasparilla pairing. I never interpreted “gastro pub” to mean molecular gastronomy, but apparently the show did, which was awesome, because it meant Today’s Tom Sawyer was expecting a monkfish salad shaped like a bonsai tree and instead got Chef Carrie’s fifth interpretation of “Fancy Toast.” Chef Wylie’s verdict? A masterpiece of subtle culinary bitchiness: “Some of the dishes, while not wildly creative, were very tasty.”
Tom briefly considered this before deciding to pretend it was a compliment. Ahh yes, that tasty food. It’s not especially innovative, but the Plebs can’t get enough of it. (*flips combover behind ear, packs up 17-piece drum kit*)
For the elimination challenge, Padma promised: “We’re going higher than we’ve ever been before.”
At which point I immediately thought Colorado… legal weed… HOLY SHIT TOP CHEF IS GOING TO HAVE THE CHEFS COOK EDIBLES!
Mustache Joe had already his weed pen halfway out of his pocket when Padma added: “You must create a high-end, high concept dish, to serve in the highest restaurant in America.”
Oh. High… as in… altitude. They’re going to cook… at altitude. (*reluctantly stubs out joint*) I guess that’s cool too.
For this challenge, Wylie Dufresne was joined by Chef Paul Liebrandt, who apparently has a restaurant 18,000 feet up in the Alps, so he’s something of an authority on high-altitude cooking. He’s also so reserved he makes Wylie Dufresne look like David Lee Roth. Does, uh… Paul Liebrandt ever speak above a whisper? I bet the sound guy wanted to murder him. Anyway, Liebrandt was there to give the chefs sub-audible advice while they tested their dishes before the big challenge. Which was… nice. Cooking is mostly trial and error, while Top Chef mostly tests improvisation. I’d like to see more challenges that involve practice.
Wait, did I end this intro on an earnest note? Aw, dammit.
5. (-3) Chris Scott — AKA Silky, aka Good Damone, aka Amish Soul Food, aka Creme Brulee, aka Reverend Sweets, aka The Creamy Brown Brother, aka Dr. Chocolate.
You guys, I need a moment. I can’t believe Cool Chris, the coolest dude in the history of Top Chef, just got eliminated. I’m pouring out a seltzer water and lime for my man Cool Chris.
I don’t want to say that Cool Chris getting booted was the worst elimination this season (that would be Chef Fati) but it was still a bitter pill. Early on, Cool Chris was just being Cool Chris, doing his thing, cooking some chicken-fried steak and landing in the top three on the quickfire. Sample exchange:
COOL CHRIS: Joe, what are you making?
MUSTACHE JOE: [blah blah blah something about a tartare]
COOL CHRIS: Mah man.
I can’t believe this is the last time I’m going to experience the vicarious joy of Chris telling someone “my man.” What a terrible day.
Anyway, Cool Chris would have us believe (and who wouldn’t) that at least he went down swinging. With a hearty “it’s time to get down,” Chris began cooking a crispy black pepper quail with corn pudding, butternut squash, and maple bacon cornbread, which he said was “maybe the best dish I’ve put out all season.”
The judges even mostly liked it. Unfortunately, they mostly liked everything, which forced them to nitpick. It came down to Carrie’s well-executed but less risky dish vs. Chris’s less “refined” and “clunky” crispy quail, which I gathered was slightly overcooked. This from Paul Liebrandt’s long, sub-audible critique of Chris’s dish which Tom Colicchio had to give the Cliff’s Notes to at normal human volume. “I think what Sir Low Talker over here is saying is that the quail was overcooked? I dunno, man, I don’t speak boarding school.”
I don’t want to say that Carrie deserved to go home more, but taking the guy who wants to put soul food on the map and be the first Michelin starred soul food restaurant and kicking him off because his food wasn’t “refined” enough does seem like a bad look.
Cool Chris seemed to take the setback in stride, which makes sense. He’s cool, after all. It would’ve been nice to see him win, but at least he made it to the final four (briefly?). And in all honesty, if I could only choose one chef’s food from this show to taste, based on sight alone, it would be Cool Chris’s, hands down. Lemonade brined fried chicken and corn pudding? My man.
4. (N/A) Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka C-Pap, aka Chicago Beef, aka Bob’s Big Boy, aka Flamm Bae, aka InFlammable, aka Cliff Clavin, aka The Sheriff Of Tiny Hat Town
Congratulations to your Last Chance Kitchen winner (third winner?), Joey Cheeks! I’m guessing he’ll be the first person kicked off in the next show. He just runs too hot and cold. One minute he’s making something awesome, the next minute he’s making nutella banana stock for his salty oatmeal. Dude is streaky, is what I’m saying. He’s the John Starks of this competition.
This episode was no different, he just happened to have his good dish/bad dish flop the optimal way (never underestimate a good flop). First, he cooked a pork porterhouse with sasparilla pickled carrots in the first round, and you knew he was in for it as soon as Padma took a bite. She frowned and asked, “how’d you cook this pork?” The subtext of which, you could tell by the frown, was “how did you f*ck up this pork so bad, idiot?”
I love Padma. She has a worse poker face than my dog after he chews something up.
For the elimination challenge, Joey Cheeks pulled an Adrienne and name-dropped his former boss, Art Smith (Oprah’s former personal chef!). That was his inspiration for “drop biscuits,” cooked with buttermilk-braised pork loin and pea puree. He was going to ride this pork horse till the hooves fell off, and this time it worked out, landing J-Flamm in the top three. By the way, did anyone get pea puree flashbacks as soon as he said “pea puree?” Now every time someone says “pea puree” I’m convinced I’m going to have to hear the words “pea puree” 17 million more times and have to take a shot after each.
No drama this time, though. Joe Cheeks is back, for now. And even though I’m pretty sure he’s going to get booted next episode, it’s nice to have him around. He was the only one who roasted Paul Liebrandt and his “bad guy in The Matrix outfit.”
Good on you, Joe. Top stuff.
3. (+1) Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Fish, aka Halle Bearnaise, aka Le Bernadin, aka Salt, aka Salon
I’ll be honest: I did not think Adrienne would make it to the finals. That self-criticism notebook she keeps must be paying off. That said, she’s an even longer shot than Joey Cheeks to win this competition. (Basically a stone cold lock for second or third though).
This week, Adrienne made sasparilla glazed chicken (“chicken cooked nicely” “very tender”) and some butter-poached lobster with “mountain bread” and caviar. In Tom’s words: “This is a competent, well-done dish. Is it exciting? Not really.”
Which kind of sums up Adrienne’s time on this show. She’s come off looking like a really good session musician. She can shred, for sure, but can she write a hit song?
Still, she’s clearly come a long way in this competition. My favorite case-in-point example from this episode was when Adrienne and Chris were talking about beurre monté (by the way, hey producers, how about some little pop-up video style titles that translate the food words? That’s infotainment!) and Adrienne said “I used to make 25 pounds of beurre monté a day.”
….But where, Adrienne? Where did you make the beurre monté? Was it at….
How do you miss that opportunity to name drop Le Bernadin (pronounced with the italics)? Like jazz, sometimes it’s about the names you don’t drop.
2. (+1) Carrie Baird — AKA Tots, aka Chee-eese, aka Crost-Tina! Come Get Some Ham!
Carrie opened this week’s episode revealing that she was once a competitive skier. This was a medium-surprising reveal, but she quickly went back to being incredibly on-brand for the quickfire challenge, by cooking “the top of the French onion soup.”
Which is to say… Chee-eeeeeese! Say what you will about Carrie, but the girl knows her wheelhouse, and that’s an important thing to learn (and to be fair, she only had onions, lemons, and honey to cook with, plus the pantry). Mustache Joe nearly lost his mind, “She’s not going to win with another f*cking toast, is she?” he fumed, whilst creating an emulsion of ostrich pearls in clarified dingo butter.
But win she did. And in a challenge judged by Wylie Dufresne, no less. It was like her brilliantly low-brow idea was so simple that it came back around to being high brow. It was like Geddy Lee told her “play me a song” and she busted out a Creedence cover on an old crappy guitar while everyone snickered and covered their mouths, but then Geddy Lee was like “That’s… amazing. I didn’t… know it could be that easy.”
Carrie has single-handedly elevated the concept of “fancy toast.”
Then in the elimination challenge, Carrie nearly made a critical mistake. She revealed to Tom and Paul Liebrandt that she was considering making beef wellington. At which point Paul Liebrandt was all “…*whisper, whisper*… *something British*… *whisper*.”
We were given to understand that this series of British whispers meant he was excited. But then Carrie claimed she had a dream that told her not to cook beef wellington for the low-talking British guy. Which just goes to show: dreams are meaningless brain farts and you should never under any circumstances base a life decision on them.
Actually, I understand Carrie’s decision not to cook the beef wellington, that was a perfectly cromulent decision. The mistake was to say she was thinking about it. Soon as you do that, the judges are thinking “beef wellington!” and a day later they have their hearts set on beef wellington because they’ve been thinking about it for a whole day. Never give people a hankering and then pull a switcheroo! That’s like food blue balls. Ship captains have been mutinied against for less.
Carrie ended up making wagyu ribeye with foie gras (I’m shocked no one quibbled with the “wagyu” designation) that was a mild disappointment to everyone. “Doesn’t have a distinct point of view.” “Not integrated well.” “Executed the baking element extremely well.”
But somehow, Carrie didn’t get sent home. The judges apparently deemed her POV-less ribeye more worthy of the competition than Cool Chris’s slightly overcooked fried quail, a travesty (to be fair, foie gras doesn’t really need a point of view).
Anyway, I don’t necessarily see Carrie winning, but she’s such a wild card that I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened. If she does win, I just hope they bring her pet llama to the set to congratulate her. TINA! COME GET SOME HAM!
1. (even) Joe Sasto — AKA Mustache Joe, aka Joey Crystals, aka Rollie Fingerlings, aka Freddy Mercurioli, aka Joey Sauce, aka Stoney Whiplash, aka Star Trek Forager, aka Quartz
The chefs were making out like it wasn’t going to be some white tablecloth fine dining chef who won this year and even I fell for it for a while. But now that it’s down to the nitty-gritty bitchy nitpicky, all the fancy plating seems to be giving Mustache Joe a distinct edge. He feels like the solid favorite. (Not having tasted the food, I’d still pick Chris’s food, sorry, Joe).
This week he made a halibut crudo that I thought for sure was going to win the quickfire, and almost lost his mind when he got beat by another Fancy Toast™. Should he have won? I don’t know, but losing to another toast was good TV.
After that, Padma promised that the chefs would go “higher than we’ve ever been before” and you could hear the faint sound of Mustache Joe rubbing his roach-stained palms together. Then, when she didn’t say anything about pot, you could all but see the ends of Joe’s mustache uncurling. “Wait… you mean we’re not going to cook with weed?”
I bet he reconfigured his pocket crystals after that. Dammit, Joe! Are you playing with your pocket crystals again?
Luckily for Mustache Joe, the “high end” elimination challenge played to his strengths, and not just because he was super high. He went with duck, calling the smell of duck fat “intoxicating,” the way one does when smelling one’s own farts. Remember when he said of Radlers “where I’m from, you order that, you get hit in the nuts.”
And yet he didn’t expect to get wedgied for calling an aroma “intoxicating.” Curious.
Anyway, he made some duck and it looked good and apparently it was, good enough not only for the win, but for the judges to overlook the fact that he once again incorporated kombucha into a dish (in the form of a kombucha cherry-stuffed profiterole).
Dammit, Joe. Foraging, weed, crystals, kombucha, loudly proclaiming not to understand sports… you’re not defying any San Francisco stereotypes here. That aside, I’d put all my money on Joe at this point. Keep in mind, I’m terrible with money.