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Top Chef recap: Showing Your Chops

After the contestants’ butchering skills are tested, they create dishes for a local steak-and-seafood restaurant

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Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

Hello, Top Chef watchers. I’m on vacation, writing from my hometown in El Paso, Tex. Last night’s episode, dubbed ”High Steaks,” prompted flashbacks of my 2,100-mile road trip from New York. First, my mom and I dug into New York strips at Bynum’s Steak House (voted one of Indianapolis’ top 10). They were delish: nice crisp grill marks on the outside, a warm red on the inside. But large portions of meat wig me out. So when I saw the guy in the next booth with what amounted to the ”Old ’96er” John Candy scarfed down in The Great Outdoors, I just about lost my French onion soup. Figure in the amount of road kill we encountered on the 33-hour drive — some of the rankest stuff I’ve ever seen — and well, I felt I had reached my flesh quota by the time the cheftestants began to butcher American-raised, long-bone, dry-aged rib racks for the quickfire challenge.

Once the quintet had seven tomahawks spruced up, they had 30 minutes at the Top Chef kitchen to make the perfect steak. For guest judge Rick Tramonto, who ended up being a tough guy to read, that meant medium rare. Spike, Lisa and Antonia executed their cuts of meat the best, and Spike won.

Five chefs, Spike, Richard, Stephanie, Antonia, and Lisa (to the dismay of many a fan), were still with us at the beginning of the episode. It’s the first time in Top Chef history that three women have made it this far. Spike and Lisa were obviously the weakest links: Spike’s been at the judge’s table seven times, Lisa five times. Spike said he’d like to see Antonia go home, without much explanation, even though he thinks Stephanie seems like the better chef. Unless you’re a super overachiever who finds challenging yourself more important than winning competitions, wouldn’t you want the better chef to go home?

They all have their eyes set on Puerto Rico, so the pressure is on. Richard said, ”I don’t want to walk out of here tomorrow and say, ‘Oh, that was a good game. I was the fifth person.’ No difference between going home now or being the first one to go home. I want to get to the final four.”

This elimination challenge would be the test of tests. We needed to see some chops. As a group, they were to take over Tramonto’s new steakhouse, but individually, they were responsible for producing their own appetizer and entree in three hours. Spike’s prize for winning the quickfire was a five-minute head start to pick his ingredients for the elimination challenge. First thing that came to mind was that he was going to skeezily take advantage of the situation and grab ingredients that the other chefs wanted. It turned out his choice affected the outcome differently.

In the kitchen cooler, Spike made a beeline for tomahawk steaks and scallops. Frozen scallops. Which everybody balked at. Later, when Tom Colicchio stopped by to check in, Spike started second-guessing himself. ”It’s kind of ironic that I get an advantage,” he said, ”and it ends up just biting me in the ass.” But doesn’t Tom have that effect on everyone? ”Interesting” seems to be code for ”scary.” Richard said his own policy in talking about his food is to manage expectations: ”underpromise, overdeliver.” To turn up the heat in the kitchen, Colicchio announced that he was going to expedite dinner service.

NEXT: Alumni weakened