To some extent, each season of Top Chef functions like a three-act drama. At the outset, contestants spar over non-food nonsense as the personalities carry the day and earn the screen time, no matter how their food turns out. The third act, of course, is the finale—where the final four congregate at a foreign locale for a battle royale. But the middle act is a different space in and of itself where cooking takes center stage. Once a third of the chefs are cut, non-contenders still remain, but the drama changes—everyone’s more interested in their own dishes than what everyone else is doing.
With Aaron’s departure, we’ve officially entered Act II, where the remaining chefs, for the most part, respect and admire one another. Though it’s obvious that a few chefs probably aren’t going to factor into the final decision, each chef has a recognizable culinary vision; the people who remain chefs, not cooks. Tolerance becomes begrudging respect, and each week Katsuji pours out a little more Pabst for the departed.
Coming into this week’s episode, the chefs seem to have sorted themselves into a few groups. After soundly beating Mei twice head-to-head last week, Gregory is the clear frontrunner, though Mei is definitely 1A in the rankings. After that, Adam and Doug have the look of potential finals contestants, but their respective flaws (Adam’s instability and Doug’s… uh… stability) could cut either down before the final four. Melissa is the full-on dark horse (I believe one of the other chefs even said it), but she’s not going to be able to sneak up on people much longer. Katsuji and Katie are wild cards in totally different ways, and Stacy and Keriann are, it seems, bringing up the rear.
Bostonian and Season 1 alumna Tiffani Faison is hosting a fun pre-quickfire challenge this week as the chefs go knee deep into the Ocean Spray cooperative’s cranberry bogs, wading for their produce for the quickfire back at the kitchen. The four chefs who fill cranberry baskets back on shore first win an advantage in the quickfire. Physical challenges are always somewhat dubious (the late-season Pee Wee Herman-themed bike ride to the Alamo during the Austin season being the most egregious example), but this one is for significantly lower stakes. Katie is the surprising winner, though she looks like she could’ve been a former athlete. Gregory and Adam’s long legs help them join her and Doug in the top four.
It sometimes seems like the chefs have access to almost anything they want in the Top Chef pantry, so playing with the proteins and produce chefs get—as has happened a few times already this season—is a welcome wrinkle. For the quickfire, the chefs have to use their cranberry harvest and other Ocean Spray products (sponsor shoutout!), and the top four gain access to a premium pantry, while Mei, Melissa, Katsuji, Keriann, and Stacy are forced to pick from lower-quality options.
NEXT: Cranberry borsht?