The culinary road trip continues this week on Top Chef, as our contestants find themselves in the middle of the desert in Palm Springs, or as Jason calls it: the gay mecca. Jason knows Palm Springs as the magical land where he and his friends come to sip on white wine spritzers. It sounds delightful. Alas, our chefs have no time to experience the healing power of a good spritzer; they’re dropped off in the middle of the desert, literally on top of the San Andreas fault line. This specific location has nothing to do with the upcoming challenge; it is merely so that Padma can let us know that “we’re about to shake things up.” Padma loves puns, you guys.
No, this Quickfire Challenge instead plays with a different elemental factor: the power of the sun. World-renowned chef José Andrés has joined Padma in the desert with some of his solar-powered kitchen equipment. The chefs will draw knives to see who will be cooking their Quickfire Challenge dish with a solar stove or a solar oven. Most of the chefs accept this twist to desert cooking with excitement, some not so much. Can you guess which contestant complains the entire 30 minutes of this Quickfire? You’re right, it’s Grayson. It’s always Grayson.
So how did this Quickfire shake out (wait — maybe I love puns now, too)? Well, Padma and Chef Andrés had some notes. Their three least-favorite dishes belonged to Giselle, Phillip, and Grayson (see kids, complaining gets you nowhere!). Giselle was forced to recover after exploding her oven by putting a liquid in there (a solar-powered oven no-no). She had 17 minutes to whip up a new batch of Mediterranean couscous salad with roasted asparagus and bacon, and it just wasn’t enough to impress the judges. Dear Phillip decided to plate his Italian sausage with raw oyster on actual desert rocks, prompting Padma to refer to it as “snot on a rock,” chiding Phil for his amateur mistake of serving oysters in such extreme heat. Grayson chose to fight with the equipment because of his obvious inability to work with it, and this led to a very dry plate of skirt steak with fresh tomato salsa and goat cheese.
Aside from these missteps, though, Chef Andrés is impressed with how well the chefs were able to harness the sun’s energy for cooking. He particularly enjoyed Hot Dad Jeremy’s simple but elegant seared halibut with pickled mushroom and habanero tomato vinaigrette, as well as Isaac’s risky hatch pepper and manchego cheese cornbread with smoked butter and vanilla milk. However, the winner of this Quickfire Challenge is Wesley.
Wes needed a win after last week’s sous-vide snafu, so this comes at a perfect, self-esteem boosting time. Wesley used his solar-powered stove three ways to create his shrimp with coconut broth, lemongrass, sautéed mushrooms, and pickled red onion. Not only did Wesley’s dish have great flavors and texture, it also showed that Wesley fully embraced the challenge. He is Messy Wesley no more! He also wins immunity in the elimination challenge, a $10,000 donation to World Central Kitchen made on his behalf, and a fancy new solar-powered stove.
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There’s no time to celebrate Wesley’s coup of a new stove, because Padma and José inform the chefs that the judges are teeing off at PGA West tomorrow and the chefs will be responsible for the refreshments. She also says something about “staying on par” because, well, puns, but I’m glossing over it because come on, Padma, you can do better than that.
Here’s how the challenge will go down: The chefs will be split into two teams based on if they had to cook with the stove or the oven in the Quickfire. Each team will be responsible for providing a four-course progressive menu from appetizer to dessert to be served on the golf course out of a refreshment cart (no kitchens!). José hopes all the chefs “hit a hole in one,” and let it be known that this is the moment I realize just how big my crush on José Andrés is: Dude can pun with the best of them, talks about controlling the power of the sun, and I guess he can cook or something.
José isn’t the only chef on hand to work on his short game and judge our contestants: He, Padma, Tom, and the Blais, are joined on the course by John Besh of the Besh Restaurant Group, Mary Sue Milliken, chef and co-owner of Border Grill, Douglas Keane, chef and owner of Cyrus, and Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef of Morgan’s in the Desert.
The cheftestants then jump into their golf carts and head off to their respective holes to maximize their one hour of cooking time before facing the judges.
NEXT: The judges go from putts to plates