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Top Chef recap: A Matter of Taste

From the latest product placement to fine wines, the chefs must show they know how to pair up tastes

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Top Chef Kevin
Trae Patton/Bravo

Top Chef

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

Last night, the Top Chef contestants seemed like a family more than ever. Sure, they share in typical family activities like cooking dinner together, but last night, we saw the not-so-precious familial moments — the fighting, the side-taking and the one-upping your siblings. Ahh…it’s those moments that make people a real family.

The episode began with a time-old family tradition — vying for your parent’s attention. In this case, real-life siblings Bryan and Michael V. were in competition for the attention of restaurateur Charlie Palmer, who introduced the day’s quickfire. See, Palmer had worked with both Bryan and Michael V. in the past. He hired Bryan as an intern right out of culinary school (and proceeded to work with him for 10 years) and hired Michael V. as his executive chef for more than a year. Together, the two Voltaggios yearned to be the apple of Palmer’s eye last night.

Bryan, for one, had such a sparkle in his eye when talking about how much he looks up to Palmer but admitted that he was scared to fail in front of his hero. Michael V., on the other hand, just wanted to work out the chip on his shoulder — the fact that Palmer seemed to have never liked him. And for that, he had a drive to beat his brother with a more adventurous dish to prove that you don’t have to be safe (i.e. Bryan’s food) to be a winner.

The challenge at hand involved natural pairings: Each chef had to create a dish including Alexia Crunchy Snacks, chips that come in six flavors made of real vegetables. (Hello, ad placement! Not that Top Chef is new to that or anything.) The first three dishes Palmer and Padma tasted — Eli’s, Kevin’s and Bryan’s — were Palmer’s favorites. Eli ended up taking the quickfire win for his potato clam salad, which Charlie called ”smoky” (a good thing), and onion chip pairing. It was a big deal for the little runt, who felt vindicated after last week’s drop to the bottom.

And not surprisingly, consistent top performers Kevin and Bryan earned Palmer’s respect for their warm bean confit tomato salad with onion chips and seared rib eye with onions chips, respectively. Unfortunately for Michael V., who claimed he wanted to leave a legacy in cooking like Babe Ruth did in baseball, his tuna tartar didn’t get the attention he had hoped for.

As for the less-than-perfect pairings, Robin, Ash and Jen lacked the right stuff. Sadly for Jen, who seemed to be having an off couple of quickfires, her sautéed pork chop wound up overdone. As Palmer said: Good idea, poor execution. Do I even need to discuss Robin and Ash? These two have been in the bottom so many times that I’ve stopped counting or caring. But for those who want to know: Robin’s sweet corn panna cotta and jalapeno chip pairing failed to resonate with Palmer, and Ash’s chilled cucumber avocado soup paired with barbecue chips was too funky of an ingredient combination. Is it me or do Ash’s dishes always sound goopy? That’s not even a word, but I feel like it best describes his food.

When it came time for the elimination challenge, the task involved his two favorite dining items: pig and pinot. Catchy, no? Each chef drew knives that revealed which part of the pig they’d be cooking. Lucky Jen got the ”wild” knife, meaning she could pick any part she wanted, and she wisely chose the belly. For those unfamiliar with the oinker, the belly has a lot of fat, which keeps the meat juicy, unlike the tenderloin, which Jen used in the quickfire and has a tendency to dry out.

Their mission was to make 150 tasting portions of a pork and pinot noir pairing for Palmer’s charity event. In order to know what wine to use, the chefs were treated to a wine tasting with Palmer’s sommelier in his legendary Las Vegas restaurant — the one with the enormous wine case that’s so tall, the waiters need harnesses to get up there.

NEXT: Brother, oh brother