Top Chef recap: Chum Bucket
The chefs prepare super-fresh salmon and super-old sourdough for Alaskans who really know their salmon and sourdough
Without Stefan, I thought there would be a sharp decrease in bawdy quips among the final four, but right off the top of the episode, Sheldon took up the anatomical humor torch like a champ. “I better put on a couple extra underwear just so I can keep the package nice and warm,” he said. Thanks for that, Sheldon, that was gorgeous! Being from that other, much warmer non-continental State, he was particularly unused to the cold. Yet he and the other chefs braved the elements to visit Tracy’s King Crab Shack, which Padma described as “Juneau’s No. 1 culinary destination,” which I can totally believe. Crab is awesome. Have you ever been to an all-you-can-eat buffet with your entire extended family and completely cleaned the place out of crab legs as your dad yelled at you when he saw you eating rice because you were filling up with cheap carbs instead of precious, precious crab legs? Of course you have.
Guest judge Sean Brock, chef and owner of Husk and McCrady’s in Charleston, also loves crab and warned the chefs — rather crankily, I might add — that their Quickfire Challenge dishes better be good because he traveled 13 hours to try them. This whole episode, Sean Brock came across as rather unpleasant — perhaps after meeting him, Josh started to idolize him a little bit less.
The challenge required the chefs to feature crab, although the dishes had to amount to more than just crab with lemon dipped in butter. However, Brooke kept her dish rather simple and strove to keep the simplicity of the drawn butter flavor, but she elevated the butter by making it out of Dungeness crab, which she then slathered on King crab meat atop toast with sweet corn and leek salad. Sean didn’t want to like Brooke’s dish because it was so “easy,” but he called it “flat-out delicious.”
Still, the crab toast didn’t quite reach the heights of Sheldon‘s Alaskan king crab leg with Dungeness crab miso, asparagus, and charred corn, for which Sheldon won $5,000. Less successful were Lizzie‘s crab frittata with too many capers and Josh‘s poached crab with succotash and, wait for it… bacon. When Sean told him the bacon was unnecessary, Josh looked like a child who’d been punched in the face by Superman.
NEXT: My life’s goal is to outlive my sourdough starter…
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to combine two of Alaska’s oldest culinary traditions: fish and bread (no moose), and in this case, salmon and sourdough. Lizzie immediately expressed concern about baking bread, especially sourdough, which involves cultivating “starter,” which is sort of like the yeasty primordial ooze from which sourdough emerges. For the challenge, they used starter that had been incubating for 31 years. That’s some tangy yeast.
With only four contestants remaining in the competition, we took some time to get to learn about the chefs’ personal lives. Cleaning salmon that came straight from the ocean reminded Lizzie of her recently deceased father. Josh’s wife Courtney was about to give birth at any moment. By the way, did anyone notice the subtle, metaphorical imagery of birth and fertility that recurred throughout the episode? Josh saying starter had to be nurtured like a child; Josh’s salmon being jam-packed with roe; Tom asking Josh about his wife while there was a bun in the oven in the background? What is this, an episode of Top Chef or a David Chase drama?
The chefs presented their fishy and bready snacks at a salmon bake, which is apparently an Alaskan tradition like clam bakes in New England and fish fries in the South. I’ve never been to any of those things, although I’ve been to a kimchi squat. (If you must know, it’s where a bunch of Korean grandmothers make enormous amounts of kimchi in plastic kiddie pools while, you know, squatting). The entire occasion looked like a rollicking good time.
Then came my favorite moment of the week. While everyone was noting that there might be some hungry bears in the vicinity, Tom joked that bears are “his fan base,” which is hilarious. Of course, he was referring to the subculture of “bears” in the gay community, which is formed of primarily hefty, hairy, mature men, and indeed Tom would hear a lot of “woof”s were he to enter a bear bar.
NEXT: At this point it’s all about the tiny mistakes…
On to the food. Despite Tom’s tough line of questioning, Brooke decided to poach her sockeye salmon, which she served with a seafood broth, mustard seed caviar, and grilled dill sourdough. Basically, the only complaint anyone had was Gail, whose fish was slightly overcooked, but it was still enough to secure Brooke the win.
Everyone else had more problems. Sheldon put his Asian spin on sourdough (I’m all for putting your signature style on everything, but this was pushing it) by adding green tea and chives. Padma said she liked green tea and chives, just not together. He served chum, which for some reason I always thought was the nasty fish slop you dump into the ocean to attract sharks (I think Spongebob is the source of my confusion). It’s actually a plentiful type of salmon that fishermen don’t even hunt because the market value for the meat is so low. The locals really interrogated Sheldon on his choice to use chum, but ultimately, they appreciated what he did with it, even though he did tear up the flesh into a feathery mess with his tongs.
Josh set himself apart by making a sourdough soup instead of plopping a piece of bread next to the fish like everybody else. Tom thought he did a great job slow-roasting the salmon, but he wasn’t sure if the extremely garlicky soup went well with the fish. Hugh said the bold flavors on the plate overpowered the fish, and generally the judges thought he needed to balance the flavors a bit more.
That left Lizzie, who was the only chef not to do a soup. She greeted everyone at her station by saying “Hello, everyone,” but it sounded exactly like “Hello, Obi-Wan” — or maybe I just have Star Wars on the brain. Her sourdough sockeye sliders looked so simple they bordered on sad. But despite her doubts about her bread baking ability, she had the best, crustiest sourdough. Unfortunately, no one understood the beet and citrus glaze on her salmon, and as Sean noted, it was just a salmon sandwich, if you think about it. At the judges table, Padma wagged her finger at Lizzie for having tasted all the elements individually but not together, which she said (like an annoying 9-year-old) was “not the same.” So Lizzie ended up going home, and she asked herself, “How could I make such a silly mistake?”
Did Lizzie deserve to get eliminated? Of the three remaining, who do you think is the frontrunner? Who will return and when?
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