This week’s episode of Top Chef exposed a lot of the chefs’ strengths and weaknesses, many of which not having to do with cooking specifically, and also started to definitively separate the frontrunners from the rest of the pack. With some pretty inventive challenges to push the chefs’ cooking skills, creativity, and competitive streak , this was one of the more satisfying episodes in a little while because it made our chefs face-off against a fellow opponent directly using the same ingredient. And when you have original challenges combined with Stefan’s inability to keep his mouth shut, you have some damn entertaining television. Onto the recap!
The episode opens with the chefs revisiting what they did right and drastically wrong in the previous episode. Danyele doesn’t want to come off as lacking in confidence, and Josh decides he probably won’t cook pork for a while. Have to agree with him there. So do the rest of the chefs.
Quickfire Challenge: Guest Judge is Stephanie Izard (Season 4 winner). Chefs can cook anything they want, but every ingredient from the pantry is covered in Reynold’s Wrap foil. Once you open the ingredient, you have to use it in your dish, and the Reynolds Wrap is your only cooking vessel. They have 30 minutes.
First of all, this isn’t a “cook whatever you want” challenge when you have NO IDEA what ingredients you’re going to get and you’re obligated to use every single one that you’ve opened. This is actually one of the more difficult Quickfires I’ve seen this season, so let’s just say what this is. And what it is, is kind of effed-up. Either way, the chefs attack the challenge and decide to make the best of it. John, in all of his culinary expertise, has no idea what to do with a pineapple, which astonishes me. Kristen has decided she wants to do a sponge cake for some insane reason, even though she hasn’t even opened her ingredients yet. Bart is having a freaking blast, who’s making a beer-poached cod. I mean the man even used his head to shape the foil into a cooking vessel. College students everywhere – take notes!
Danyele made a cannellini bean stew, and both Padma and Stephanie seem to think that it’s a good dish. Micah makes himself a panzanella of lamb, but it suffers from the lamb being a bit too rare. Stefan’s hot smoked salmon with German potato salad (with glass of champagne which basically makes this cheating), seems to go over well without a ton of feedback. John the pineapple hater made a beef eggdrop soup, and actually got commended on the treatment of the reviled fruit. Can this guy just suck at something every once in a while? Brooke’s bacon roasted yams (YUM – need this recipe pronto) got dinged for not cooking the onions enough. It’s always a bad sign when Padma waves her hand in front of her face while scrunching her nose. Josh made some chicken with poblanos, potatos and tomatillos, and the judges liked the use of the poblanos. Kristen’s chocolate and almond sponge cake looks DOPE and gets high marks from Stephanie. Bart’s beer-poached cod was well-received, as was his man-made strainer which he displayed with boyish pride. He was REALLY into this challenge, people. Sheldon’s lemongrass-smoked scallops went without a ton of feedback, but it certainly looked yummy.
In the bottom were Brooke, Micah, and Josh. But in the top were Sheldon, Kristen, Josie, Bart, Stefan, and Danyele, but in the TIPPY TOP were Danyele, Kristen, and Sheldon. But Kristen wins for creating a cake in foil in half an hour. Let me repeat that. The woman made a CAKE in FOIL in HALF AN HOUR. I immediately feel like a loser. And I should really stop calling anything she decides to do insane.
Elimination Challenge: At Remlinger Farms Berry Festival, they’ll have to cook with berries.. in head-to-head battles!! The top six chefs from the Quickfire Challenge get to pick their opponents in the head-to-head (except for Kristen, who won’t cook against anyone). The festival will have 150 guests, and they have 3 hours to cook. The winner of the challenge will get $10,000.
This is actually really cool. I remember when Stephanie won her head-to-head battle in the first episode of Season 4 of Top Chef. She was incredibly nervous, and didn’t seem terribly confident, but the judgeswere really impressed with her skill. She gradually grew more and more confident throughout the season, and was very likable, so I was very happy to see her win the whole thing.
Having the chefs pick their opponents is a clever move, because it allows us to see who they think they can win against. Sheldon picks Micah, which I personally found suprising because Micah has proven himself to be a pretty good chef, so I would have avoided him if it were me. But Sheldon’s reasoning actually fits with this, because he said he selected Micah because he wanted to push himself. Sheldon has been on kind of a roll lately, so perhaps I shouldn’t write him off in that match-up. Danyele picks Josh so they can have a Texas-Oklahoma battle. That’s kind of a silly reason, but since Josh has been flailing as of late, it could be a very wise choice. Stefan picks John, because he’s an egomaniac and wants to prove that he can win against the other egomaniac. Yikes. I can’t wait to see this one go down because they’re both fabulous chefs, but John seems like he doesn’t make many mistakes. Maybe Stefan can make this interesting and give John a run for his money. Josie selects Lizzie, which is silly because Lizzie is actually pretty darn formidable. Okay, Josie. And Bart gets stuck with Brooke. I have no idea who will win in this pairing, but the edge goes to Brooke because she’s won more challenges.
In front of each team is a cloche, which once removed, will show them what berry they will have to cook with. John and Stefan get gooseberries; Brooke and Bart pull blackberries; Kristen gets tayberries (I have NO idea what those are); Sheldon and Micah pull strawberries; Josh and Danyele get blueberries; and Lizzie and Josie get raspberries.
Fun food fact! Apparently, tayberries are very tart, but they finish very sweet, according to Kristen. I have to admit I haven’t tasted gooseberries either, but what I have tried is cooking frozen fish. And that’s exactly what Stefan selects while shopping. Even a novice foodie like me can tell you the difference between frozen fish and fresh fish is quite distinct, so I’m starting to think that John has a right to be cocky.
As the chefs get to the cooking area, we first see that there’s barely any room at all to cook. There’s limited counter space and appliances, so much so that Bart and John almost get into it because John won’t let Bart briefly use a blender that John is obviously not using. The usually unflappable and positive Bart gave his stank face to this situation during confessional. Blendergate!!! One more chef to add to the roster of people who can’t stand John! John is making a white gazpacho which a gooseberry palette-cleanser. He seems to have trouble with his blender, at one point making it explode over himself and nearby chefs. Sheldon is going for “light and refreshing,” making an ahi dish with the strawberry used for contrast. Josh says that he thinks he can beat Danyele because “she’s been a little rattled lately.” This coming from the self-proclaimed pork expert who just fucked up pork TWICE. But whatever. He’s making a savory goat cheese moose to showcase the blueberry… A goat cheese moose sounds like it could be really overwhelming. I mean, I love me some goat cheese, but I don’t know how pleasant it would be in mousse form. Kristen tells us that even though she’s not competing against anyone, she still wants to win because she wants to use the money to go to Korea. It turns out that her mother abandoned her in America, the police in the States named her, and she was given up for adoption to a Michagan family when she was four months old. Is this the third adopted chef we have on the show this season? Is there a higher proportion of adopted kids in the cooking profession than in any other? It certainly seems like it. I think that makes Kristen, John, and Danyele, right? Anyways. Brooke is making a spicy chocolate pudding with blackberry tapioca. Holy shit, that sounds good. Wait, I have chocolate! … Okay, I’m back. Brooke is worried about finishing her dish, and is “close to panicking.” Yeesh. I’m thinking she can make a recovery, but you never know.
As Tom is checking on the chefs before service, he stops by Stefan’s set-up and asks him if he thinks he can beat Stefan and he shrugs saying that he can beat a 53 year old. As one of the older chefs there, I suppose Stefan had to call-out the one other guy his senior, because let’s be honest, that’s the only thing he has on John at this point. When Tom visits John, John totally throws Stefan under the bus by saying he used frozen fish. Now, like I said, I would never recommend using frozen ANYTHING on Top Chef, except for maybe ice. But this was a little bit sneaky because the fish should stand on its own and now Tom’s opinion going in is definitely tainted. I call foul! John makes some b.s. claim that he wasn’t throwing Stefan under the bus, but rather he was making a political statement because Stefan’s fish wasn’t sustainable. Totally.
Oh, and we find out that Micah named his two daughters Sage and Saffron. I don’t know if this is cruel or ridiculously awesome.
Danyele vs. Josh.
Danyele’s terrine with blueberry mostarda gets called out for the crostini being too crunchy, and the terrine is rubbery and flavorless. Ick. That sounds disgusting.
Josh’s goat cheese mousse with blueberry compote is commended for being balanced and delicate. Hm, who knew. Now I kinda wanna try it.
Josie vs. Lizzie
First of all, Josie is acting like her mushrooms just hit when the judges approach her station. She’s giddy, and all she can do is talk and talk, to the point where Gail has to instruct her to cook as she talks. I believe she even said “Is she high?” Um, yeah, it was a bizarre moment that had to be noted.
Josie made a “rock n’ raspberry roll” with sockeye salmon, Dungeness crab, and raspberry aioli, which is criticized for not celebrating the raspberry enough. Tom also is quick to call-out that she’s more interested in doing a show rather than getting her dishes out. Ouch.
Lizzie’s raspberry-steamed cabbage roll with heritage pork and bacon stuffing (sounds DIVINE) goes over incredibly well with the guests and the judges alike.
Sheldon vs. Micah
Sheldon’s ahi summer roke with ahi poke, strawberries, and sweet chili sauce went over pretty well, and was especially complimented on highlighting the strawberry.
Micah made a strawberry-marinated fried chicken with a strawberry and bacon biscuit with maple sour cream, and I’m really glad I ate before I started writing this. The judges like the chicken, but think the biscuit is dense.
John vs. Stefan
John’s white gazpacho with Spanish chorizo, gooseberries and sweet grapes gets a little bit of criticism for the chorizo overpowering the dish. Padma says that it seemed like two different dishes going on at the same time.
Stefan made a tuna with an Asian vinaigrette, and Gail says that she thinks he did a wonderful job, but that she didn’t get enough gooseberry. Tom agrees that he needed more gooseberry but that he actually did a very good job. And holy crap – let’s hear it for frozen fish!! Will the judges ever be able to chastise a chef ever again for using frozen fish? Not ONE comment on the texture or anything. There goes the neighborhood.
Brooke vs. Bart
Brooke made a spicy smoked chocolate pudding with blackberry tapioca goes over like gangbusters, as well it should because it sounds freaking amazing.
Bart had a blackberry soup with salmon and rhubarb yogurt. This sounds repulsive, but Tom says the soup is delicious. However, the salmon was bland.
Kristen did a matcha goat milk custard with macerated tayberries, and Tom is totally digging the custard. And Stephanie says that Kristen’s berries macerated in olive oil was one of her favorite things.
Back in the Pantry of Doom as the cheftestants await their fate, Stefan is calling John out for being scared when he told Tom he was using frozen fish. Stefan goes around the room to ask other chefs if they’ve ever used the ingredient before, and most affirm that they have, at which point Stefan jumps up and tells John to “suck my d*ck!” At which point I, along with all of the other chefs on my television screen, burst into riotous laughter. If John had pulled the same thing, it would have been repulsive. But Stefan’s overt ego has such a playfulness that it comes off almost charming. I’m sorry, but it does.
Padma comes to the back and asks to see John, Josie, Bart, Micah, and Danyele. Someone mutters, “That’s the bottom.” To which Stefan exclaims, “Of course it’s the bottom! Are you fucking high??!” Oh my god, I love him.
And right they were. The five that were just called in were in the bottom. Micah is called out for his biscuit being “off.” Josie was dinged for trying to do too much entertaining instead of cooking. Bart’s blackberry soup was celebrated for being amazing, but he was sold he didn’t need the salmon. Danyele is told that her terrine was like eating lunch meat. Ouch. John, who thought he represented the berry fine, was told that the chorizo overpowered everything. For some odd reason, John tries to make the excuse that the kitchen was crazy, to which Tom reminds him that the kitchen was crazy for everyone. Then John shrunk back into his shell. He can really be insufferable, this guy. All cocky confidence one minute, and making weak, stupid excuses the next. Oy.
The other chefs are sent in, and are told they won their head-to-head. They don’t do their usual rundown of what was great about each dish and instead go right into who was the winner. And once again, it’s Kristen! I’m telling you, it may just be Kristen to win the whole thing.
The judges deliberate on the weakest dishes, and call them back in. And the loser is… Danyele. This is sad. She seriously lost because she just isn’t a confident chef, and confidence is one of the most important components any dish. I just came up with that.
As Danyele exits with the utmost class, Stefan and Josie are bringing balance back to the Force by engaging in some childish mudslinging back in the Pantry of Doom. It seems that these two really don’t like each other. I’m not even sure what they were arguing about, but the promo for next week shows the drama continuing, so let’s hope we can understand that argument!
Frontrunner Update: Kristen FTW!! John is still in it, but his enormous ego could be his downfall.