This week on Top Chef World All-Stars, which is taking place in London, the theme was Pub Food. Damn, three weeks in and we’re already on pub food? It makes you wonder what British things Top Chef producers are saving up for sweeps week. Hmmm, what else to the English like to do… hunt foxes? Get tattoos? Do comedy in drag? Spend weeks aboard ship? (“The theme for this week’s challenge? Rum, sodomy, and the lash!”)
Anyway, on this week’s episode, our judges woke up the contestants extra early to announce that they’d be going on a pub crawl. That’s the name for the act of going to one pub, having a few pints, and then going to another pub, and having a few more. Haha, we have fun, don’t we?
They actually announced it like it was good news. Guess what, guys? No quickfire challenge today! And there was much rejoicing. Most of the contestants immediately smelled a rat, nursing their pints gently instead of quaffing them crudely, as is tradition. They were so suspicious that it barely registered as a surprise when, at the conclusion of the pub crawl, the contestants learned that they’d be paired together in teams of two and tasked with reinventing a pub classic, at which time they’d be judged and subject to a DOUBLE ELIMINATION.
I’m guessing that “no quickfire this week” announcement would’ve gone over like a lead lorry if the contestants had had all the facts at hand at the time. “So let me get this straight, there’s no possibility of immunity, AND you’re going to send two of us home based on our ability to reinterpret some medieval porridge bomb? Gosh, what great news, how can we ever thank you?”
For the occasion, Tom decided to debut this season’s first statement hat. I’m calling this look “Samuel L. Colicchio.”
My man lookin’ like he’s about to go star in Plaid Fiction. Capital One: What’s in your flannel? “‘Royale with cheese?’ What do they call a hamachi crudo in Amsterdam?” “I dunno, I didn’t go into a Nobu.”
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again. First it was off to the Lamb & Flag (which we learned used to be called “The Bucket Of Blood”) for fish and chips, fisherman’s pie, and a Sunday roast. Then they trundled down to The Jack Horner for shepherd’s pie, steak and ale pie, and toad in the hole. Finally, they stumbled off to Trafalgar Tavern for scotch eggs and bangers and mash. My God, these all sound like “your mom” jokes. Jack Horner? I hardly know ‘er!
After that, the contestants drew numbers, paired up according to number, and then had to decide whether they’d rather feed Padma their roast beef or have her handle their scotch eggs (I wrote 10 different versions of this sentence and this one was the most PG).
Feeding acclaimed chefs from all over the world British food feels like a great social media prank video, and it worked pretty well as a Top Chef challenge too. It led to all manner of horrified faces and hilarious malapropisms. I’m calling it a tie between Victoire’s “toad in the wall” and Begoña’s “bagels and smash” for the best one. Who knew a slight language barrier would be the best thing that ever happened to this show?
I like to kid the British, but the sad truth of it is, I really enjoy pub food. Yorkshire puddings are my passion and I could never turn down a gravy-filled pie or a nice plump sausage.
…Please don’t turn these into your mom jokes, my family is starving.
Dale & May. (Team Scotch Egg)
Reviews: “Not crispy enough.” “Definitely needed to be cooked longer.”
Tom & Sara. (Team Sheperd’s Pie)
Reviews: “I think that Tom and Sara’s dish is totally delicious.” “It feels like a restaurant dish.”
Nicole & Charbel. (Team Sunday Roast)
Reviews: “If I took away the Yorkshire pudding, would you still say that looks like a nice roast dinner?” “This is like a Monday roast.” “The Yorkshire pudding could save the dish.”
Buddha & Luciana. (Team Fisherman’s Pie)
Reviews: “That was unreal.” “Fish was cooked amazing.” “Usually when you get a deconstructed dish, it’s cooked well, but it doesn’t taste like the dish. This is cooked well and–” “–It tastes exactly like fish pie.”
Amar & Ali. (Team Fish & Chips)
Reviews: “These chips — unreal.” “The big problem with this dish is that the batter’s not crispy, it’s not crispy at all.” “Feels a bit cakey, sort of.”
Begoña & Gabri. (Team Bangers & Mash)
Reviews: “That one’s my favorite.” “It didn’t have any resemblance to the dish in any way, but the flavor is comforting and warming in the same way.” “I practically licked my plate clean.”
Victoire & Sylwia. (Team Toad In The Hole).
Reviews: “This is a great first dish.” “I find this a little sweet.”
Begoña & Gabri; Buddha & Luciana*.
May & Dale**. Amar & Ali.
Power Rankings (change from last week)
14. (-5) ((Eliminated)) Dale Mackaye
AKA: Johnnycakes. Lance Farmstrong.
Thai-Style Scotch Egg With Thai Sausage, Salad, Cilantro Aioli, and Thai Fish Sauce Dressing.
Not to be outdone by Samuel L. Colicchio, Johnnycakes proved that it wasn’t just Tom debuting a new look this week when he rocked up to the pub crawl in this jaunty little cycling-inspired number.
Hence his new nickname, Lance Farmstrong (Johnnycakes is from Saskatoon).
I was actually pretty bummed about Dale and May’s elimination this week, as they had become two of the more memorable contestants, and actually seemed like they both had a decent shot at winning. But as they say, styles make fights. These two just could not work together.
Choosing first, they soon fought over which dish to choose. Johnnycakes wanted fish and chips but allowed May to overrule him and choose Scotch eggs.
I’m Monday morning quarterbacking him here, but one of the crucial mistakes seemed to be Johnnycakes letting May choose the dish, but then overruling her on the concept of it. Obviously, she had an idea, if you’re going to let her choose the dish, why not go all in? No one likes an egg by committee, bro.
Then they fought over whether the egg should be presented whole or cut in half. May said whole, Johnnycakes said halved… I don’t think it particularly mattered at that point. The big issue in both of the loser dishes was a not-crispy-enough fry… or so the editors would have us believe.
That sort of felt like a lead up to Amar and Ali being sent home, but instead it turned out to be a little rope-a-dope and the judges sent home Johnnycakes and May. I have to think that had more to do with the fact that May and Johnnycakes’ only real contribution to the dish was Thai spices and a little salad underneath because otherwise it was mostly just a regular Scotch egg, and a not-crispy one at that. Both chefs seemed like they had a lot more in them, but it’s hard to deny the logic.
I just wish they would’ve shown Johnnycakes’ sad bike ride home, maybe a slow-motion shot of him spraying the water bottle on his face to wash away the loss… so cinematic!
13. (-10) ((Eliminated)) May Phattanand Thongthong
AKA: Onions. Sisqo.
A 10-spot free fall in a single episode! Damn, I really thought that with all the human interest editing packages about May in the last episode that she would be one of this season’s favorites. It seems like cruel and unusual punishment to force a Thai chef to make British food, but May made beautiful music out of Marmite last week so she seemed capable. This week it was almost as if the food Gods cackled, “Oh, British food wasn’t enough of a handicap for her? How ’bout we throw in a Canadian!”
Johnnycakes proved himself capable over the first two episodes, but I feel like Chef May had the better idea here. She successfully got her way in choosing the Scotch egg, but then it felt like she maybe tried to make things fair by deferring when it came time to decide how to do the Scotch egg. Hate to say it, but she should’ve just stuck to her guns and risked being the asshole.
Buddha offered the blueprint.
12. (+2) Luciana Berry
AKA: Smoke Alarm. Crinkle.
Cod With Seafood And Potatoes, Pomme Purée, Mussels & Champagne Sauce.
Yes, Luciana was on a top-finishing team this week, but I’m still going to sandbag her a little in the rankings. What was meant to be her big contribution to her and Buddha’s riff on Fisherman’s Pie, a potato puree, ended up being a little too thicc for Buddha’s tastes (potatoes turn into drywall paste if you overwork them in a food processor). Just like last week, there was a big PRE-COMMERCIAL BREAK TEASE of some kind of HUGE DRAMA breaking out when Luciana would inevitably throw a huge tantrum over her unrequited potatoes.
Instead she… just sort of shrugged and went along with the program. Seems like maybe her “Brazilian Fire” has been doused by more than a decade in the UK. She must be giving these producers dramatic blue balls. I’m changing “Brazilian Fire” to Smoke Alarm because that seems more accurate to the scale of her tantrums. I’d call her Minute Rice but I already nicknamed Victoire that.
Luciana thought her potatoes were just fine, but after the win, we were basically left to conclude that Buddha had made the right call. Can we get an unbiased potato referee in here PLEASE?? Who was right? Who was wrong?
Time will tell, folks.
11. (+1) Nicole Gomes
AKA: Clawhoser. The Contessa. Teach.
Pork Tenderloin With Leek Fondue, Celeriac Potatoes, Glazed Carrots, And Yorkshire Pudding.
If you had played a drinking game where you drank every time Nicole called a Yorkshire Pudding a “yorkie” you would’ve been butt-housed halfway through this episode. Oh my God, stop trying to make “yorkie” happen!
Speaking of incredibly minor drama, Nicole had a moment where someone took her empty muffin tin out of the oven (where it was heating up in preparation to receive the yorkie batter, god that sounds weirdly sexual) and so she made a big speech that she needed the tin in there and they were not to remove it. Do you all understand me? …Anyone?
It was as though Nicole expected them all to stop what they were doing and stand at attention and yell “yes, chef!” in unison. Which Chef Sara correctly identified as annoying in a snide remark. Anyway, Nicole probably saved her team with that yorkie. On the other hand, the rest of their dish was a pork tenderloin, which looked like it was cooked perfectly, but there’s a low limit for how good a pork tenderloin can possibly be. Not even stuffed or wrapped with pork belly or anything?? Swapping a fatty roast beef out for an ultra-lean pork tenderloin is not an improvement.
Tom calling it a “Monday Roast” sounds like the bitchiest diss in the world but I’m kind of on board with it. Pork tenderloin is a weeknight meal, not a drunken splurge. So do we credit Nicole for a great yorkie or sandbag her for the rest of the dish? I don’t really know, so I’m leaving her basically where she was.
10. (+3) Victoire Gouloubi
AKA: Al Dente. Minute Rice. Steven Seagal. Three’s Company.
African Spiced Sausage, Yorkshire Pudding, Truffle Powder, Creme Chantilly With Mustard & Honey.
“So, Victoire, how do you like your Toad In The Hole?”
That was my impression of Victoire’s initial reaction to “Toad in the Hole,” basically a British version of pigs in a blanket involving sausage and a Yorkshire pudding (it sounds pretty good to me, honestly).
This whole episode was basically a riff on the language barrier working in Victoire’s favor. She contributed most of the hilarious misunderstandings this episode, first by calling Toad in a Hole “Toad in the Wall” (which is funny even though it makes no less sense than the original) and then by not understanding the word “ready.” Sylwia kept asking her if her component was “ready” and Victoire thought it was some kind of ingredient. Begoña had to break the verbal stalemate by asking “listo?”
Spanish somehow did the trick, even though Victoire is a Congolese chef who works in Italy, which leads me to believe that she must speak a good five different languages. Still funny when she calls it Toad in the Wall though! Haha, that’s not the name, you silly goose!
Another great moment came when Sylwia kept trying to convince Victoire to choose Toad in the Hole (ultimately successfully, even though Victoire hated the original). To which Victoire quipped, “The last time someone say me don’t worry, I lose my house.”
She has some sort of Frenchified Rodney Dangerfield going on and I appreciate it. Later she described her Toad in a Hole sauce as “like orgasm” in a voice I can only describe as “disturbingly husky.”
9. (+1) Amar Santana
AKA: Big Sleazy. Laughtrack. Hibbert.
Seaweed Battered cod, Minted Peas, Mint & Tahini Veloute, Tartar Sauce With Calamansi & Malt Vinegar Fries.
It seems like Big Sleazy has taken it upon himself to provide the live studio audience laughter track to this season. Everything seemed to make him laugh this episode, including teammate Ali’s riff that they were team fish and chips, “he’s fish, I’m chips!”
A C- minus riff at best, but Amar was laughing like he was in a crowd shot on Def Comedy Jam. That maaay have had something to do with the fact that Amar seemed like the only guy on the pub crawl actually drinking like he was on a pub crawl. Whereas everyone else was all “Oh no, we’re on a competition show, I better sip this drink just in case!” Amar seemed to figure “if I’m in London on a pub crawl, I’m gonna do a goddamned pub crawl.”
A fun hog, a man after my own heart, etc.
That is 1000% what I would’ve done, but I’ve also been saying that Amar’s casual attitude might end up biting him in the ass at some point, and this week it almost did. Actually, it seemed like he worked pretty hard, testing and remaking that fish and chips batter umpteen times and still falling short of the judges’ rigid crispiness standards. ‘Twas not a good day for fried foods, my friends. Was the culprit whole eggs in the batter? Yeah, that sounds right to me.
At first I thought Amar and Ali would end up getting sent home, as non-crispy fish and chips does sound like a mortal food sin. Upon further reflection, I have to admit “Seaweed Battered Cod, Minted Peas, Mint & Tahini Veloute, Tartar Sauce With Calamansi & Malt Vinegar Fries” does sound a lot more inventive than Dale and May’s fusion ass scotch egg. They also apparently nailed the chips, which one would think would be a lot harder than fried fish, if one has ever tried to make french fries at home (spoiler alert: lots of steps, multiple fries — it’s hard!).
Malt vinegar salt was also a stroke of genius. I love that vinegar flavor on the fries, but it does seem weird to put straight liquid on your nice crispy fried stuff (sloppy steaks much?).
Flavored salt seems like a simple, elegant solution. (I like to mix that malt vinegar with some mayo and MSG for a nice lil’ dipping sauce).
8. (-2) Charbel Hayek
AKA: Davos. Soup Nazi. 25.
If Charbel goes another episode without reminding us that he’s 25, like he did three times in the opening episode, I’m going to have to change that nickname. Charbel also seems to have cooled off after a hot start. He was on team Sunday Roast with Nicole, and the way she said the word “yorkie” 1700 times we were left to assume that the Yorkshire Pudding component of the dish was her baby and the roast was Charbel’s.
If there’s one thing you expect a Middle Eastern chef to be able to do, it’s roast some meat. I don’t know if pork tenderloin was his attempt to throw them a curve, but that looked dull as hell and a little sad. Super lean pork is always disappointing.
7. (+3) Sylwia Stachyra
AKA: Auntie Claus. Potato Girl.
Whereas the chefs from spice-based regions naturally struggled with the gravy-and-beige palette of British cuisine, Chef Sylwia finally had a chance to prove that all her potato talk wasn’t just idle boasting. Or, in Sylwia’s own unforgettable words: “I love pub food. Even though everyone says is crap and shit; for me is amazing.”
How can you not love Sylwia? A human interest vignette also revealed that she studied law in the UK, and then took the money her parents gave her for a post-graduate degree and used it to open a restaurant instead. Sometimes I wish I would’ve done that. Then I’d probably be trying to do real work instead of coming up with toad-in-the-hole sex puns for literal dozens of clamoring recap readers.
Ah, the road not taken.
Aaaaanyway, Sylwia made a number of bold moves this episode, first strong-arming Victoire into playing Toad In The Hole. Er, cooking Toad In The Hole, sorry about that. Then she replaced the Yorkshire pudding component of the dish (which, remember, single-handedly saved Charbel and Nicole’s entire dish) with something called a “lemieszka,” which according to this google translated website is sort of a volcano made from boiled potatoes and flour (all gnocchi-like, to us Italians) into which one pours a sauce made from “fried onions, cream, and pork scratchings.”
Sylwia and Victoire substituted African spiced sausage for the scratchings, but again, a bold choice. And it paid off, because, as we’ve noted, Britons love nothing more than being introduced to new and beige foods.
6. (+1) Gabri Rodriguez
AKA: The Black Pearl. The Mongoose.
Pork Belly With Potato Foam Mash, Sausage Gravy & Crunchy Onion Cookie.
Chef Gabri paired with Chef Begoña this week (Mexico and Spain, together again). Begoña asked herself a rhetorical question in the confessional: “What is Chef Gabri like…” which Gabri completed before she could finish the thought — “He’s gay!”
Wait, what??? This man is a homosexual? My jaw hit the floor. You think you know someone and then this…
Anyway, later on Chef Gabri described the chefs as “running around like dogs in a boat,” which is one of those odd non-native-English-speaker similes that it takes a second to realize is actually perfect. Dogs on boats do be stumbling.
Gabri and Begoña ended up putting together another space-food-ass concoction that Begoña is becoming known for. Gabri seemed like a disorganized, dog-on-a-boat ass mess the whole time, perfectly stabilized by his art mom, Begoña, who taught him it’s okay to be weird.
At least, that’s my surface read on it. The more I think about it, Gabri kind of always seems like a disorganized mess, but then he usually ends up winning or coming close. The Black Pearl! He even has me fooled.
5. (+1) Sara Bradley
AKA: Party Mom. Reebok. Sassparilla.
Shepherd’s Pie With Lamb Dust, Pea Gel, Pea Purée, Fresh Peas, & Lamb Stock Infused Carrots.
Kentucky spark plug Chef Sara paired with Tom the smirking Teutonic F-Boy this week and it turned out to be an oddly perfect pairing. I would watch that travel show. When Sara wasn’t making correct snide remarks about Nicole treating everyone like a kindergarten teacher she was quipping about Tom using his jellying agents in his hair.
I imagine this dish, which included “lamb dust,” would be hopelessly up its own ass if not for Sara’s plainspoken hillbilly ballbusting. Mostly I’m just guessing here, because that dish looks incredibly obnoxious but the judges seemed to love it, so…
4. (even) Ali Ghzawi
AKA: RRR. Maui Wowie. The Strain. Giz.
Rhyming named chef Ali Ghzawi, who sounds like a marijuana strain, teamed with Amar this episode, and together they seemed to become the exception that proves the rule that a harmonious team vibe leads to better food. They chose fish and chips, which did seem a particularly tough one. How do you reinterpret something so simple without losing what makes it good in the first place?
They ended up sort of half deconstructing it, with four meat chunks on different plate quadrants, with a puree in the middle and some chips out on a side island. Eh? The bad fish batter — apparently Amar’s fault — almost got them sent home, but the delicious malt-salted chips — also apparently Amar’s fault — probably saved them.
This brings us to Ali. Good job cooking those peas… I guess?
3. (even) Tom Goetter
AKA: Meekus. Günter. Brüno. Ümlaüt. Fickejunge.
Programming note: for the past few weeks, I’ve been mistakenly calling Tom “Brint,” when the Alexander Skarsgarder character from Zoolander I was looking for was clearly named “Meekus.” We regret the error.
Exsqueeze me, Tom has definitely heard of styling gel, and also many other kinds of gels, and purees as well, as he proved in this week’s dish, a riff on shepherd’s pie which include pea gel, pea puree, AND fresh peas. That is so many different kinds of peas! Especially for a dish that looks like a few very small piles of stuff.
Tom seems like whatever the German equivalent is of a “rascal.” As Barry Keoghan is to the Irish, so Tom is to the Germans. Haha, ja!
2. (even) Buddha Lo
AKA: Moneyball. Double Down. Big Data. Buddha.
Buddha seems like the most singularly focused, shark-eyed, homework-doing contestant this show has ever had, but even all that poise and razor focus couldn’t stop the Australian in him from coming out on the pub crawl. I lived in Australia for a bit and got engaged there, and this, from the author Paul Theroux, is one of my all-time favorite description of Australians, which feels apt here:
Australians (it seemed to me) were people who appeared to be at ease when in fact they were simply controlling their emotions, and being on good behavior, because the slightest relaxation of this stiffened vigilance would have them howling. They were like people who had only recently been domesticated, like youths in their late teens sitting among adults, rather upright and formal and wooden, because as soon as they loosen their grip or have one beer too many they slip into leering familiarity and all hell breaks loose. What you took to be good manners was simply the forced, self-conscious behavior of someone holding on. Much of the time Australians had the exaggerated and unconvincing manners of drunks pretending to be sober.
Every college party I went to in Australia began with incredibly specific rules of dress and conduct and dissolved into pure chaos after about three beers, at which point people would start swinging from the rafters and pissing on each other like apes. I’m clearly in no position to judge them for it — it was one of my favorite qualities. I get misty-eyed just thinking about it. My American friends hardly ever piss on me.
Anyway, this week Buddha drank just enough pints to prove notably terrible at Spanish pronunciation, even in the land of gwocky molo. “Pa’dentro” eluded him entirely, which seems like it might be an issue in American kitchens, where Spanglish is generally the lingua franca. He had as hard a time wrapping his mouth around Gabri’s toast as I do trying to recreate Buddha’s Australian drawl of “Oy’m nawt ready goer hoooeeerrrme.”
As soon as the pub crawl was over, Buddha transformed back into a culinary killbot, carefully constructing a piece of cod with cucumber scales held together with MEAT GLUE. The picture of the sliced fish actually didn’t do justice to how ridiculous that looked.
Buddha also, as previously noted, did what May wasn’t willing to do, calling Luciana out on her gluey potatoes and taking over. “Redoing the potatoes isn’t hard, but convincing a Top Chef winner that their potatoes aren’t good enough, that’s gonna be the hard part.”
It turned out not to be that hard. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.
1. (even) Begoña Rodrigo
AKA: Tilde Swintón. Beach Mom. Thtevie Nickth.
Begoña seems like the platonic ideal of a spacy new-age lady, like she came out of the womb wearing turquoise jewelry and dreaming of running a stylish yet eclectic clothing boutique outside Joshua Tree. Tasked with recreating bangers and mash, which she adorably called “bagels and smash” in her Spanish lisp, she came up with this:
Yes, that is an onion cookie shaped like a doily on top. The description doesn’t come even close to doing this justice, which somehow looks even more out there than her pumpkin sea anenome bedecked in flowers from episode one.
This lady is not from this planet. I love her.