Top Chef recap: One Mistake
Last week it was boats, this week it’s helicopters. Maybe Brooke should lay off all forms of transportation from now on. But here’s a serious question: Are any vehicles — and let’s include hovercrafts, submarines, teleportation devices — scarier than an automobile driven by Padma Lakshmi?
Brooke, that elegant, WASP-y bundle of nerves, called the helicopter chartered to fly the top three chefs to an Alaskan summit “the epitome of all my fears combined.” She actually cried and grabbed a hold of Josh as she waited for the Xanax to kick in, but eventually, she was able to appreciate the beauty of the snow-capped peaks. Sheldon, on the other hand, was mellow as always, asking for some “good reefer.” Why are we not surprised?
Once I saw those dog sleds, I was reminded of the epitome of all my fears combined, which would have been a repeat of last season’s ridiculous snow obstacle course, which involved Sarah and Beverly shooting actual rifles. (It’s been a year and I still can’t get over how the editors made it look like Sarah shot Beverly off her skis. Well played, Magical Elves). Could you imagine Sheldon, Josh, and especially Brooke having to learn how to drive a dog sled and having to break ingredients out of blocks of ice? I’m sorry, Brooke would never have been able to finish that challenge.
Instead, for the Quickfire, they only had to cook for sledders training for the Iditarod. Phew! The final three took to the camp tent and made do with a kitchen outfitted with only burners and no electrical equipment. Sheldon and Brooke went head-to-head by both making halibut dishes, while Josh prepared … wait for it … breakfast. For a second, I thought breakfast would be the sledders’ easy favorite when they described their diet: “Lots of carbs, calories.” But it turned out they had more sophisticated palates.
NEXT: Roy Choi shares a weird, inspiring (?) story … or was it a dream?
Josh made the type of food the sledders were most used to, but he might have done better to venture off the beaten, bacon-smelling path. His cornmeal cakes were well received, but Tom was unimpressed with his “straight-up scrambled” eggs. Sheldon made a pan-roasted halibut with tomato sauce finished off with sesame bok choy (how did he find that on top of a snowy mountain). His dish really impressed a local named Jeremiah, who kept saying, “It’s GREAT” through an enormous grin. Sheldon, now you know where to get your “good reefer.”
But the win went to Brooke, whose pan-roasted halibut with panzanella salad and crunchy croutons most impressed Tom. She’s the definite front-runner — but the last time I thought that about someone, she got sent straight to Last Chance Kitchen.
Afterwards, Padma picked up the chefs in a sedan to take them to a surprise location. It was hilarious how the chefs piled into the backseat like little kids. I was half-expecting Padma to hand them Capri Sun and string cheese. Sheldon understandably expressed concern that Padma probably was used to being chauffeured around. I hope he said a quick prayer.
They arrived at a lovely, cozy home where Emeril and Roy Choi, co-founder of Kogi and A-Frame, were preparing a meal for them. Roy made kalbi jjim, which is a delicious sweet Korean braised beef dish. (I know Roy is a great chef and everything, but I’m sure it’s not better than my mom’s kalbi jjim). In the kitchen, Roy explained his philosophy on washing rice to Emeril: “I try to transfer all of the ancestors and spirits and energy that surround my whole existence and put that into every kernel of rice.” Emeril pretended to understand.
Over kalbi jjim and cornbread, Roy shared with the chefs the moment he knew he wanted to become a chef. He was 25 years old, a total scumbag, and one night he was watching Emeril cooking braised short ribs on TV. “Emeril popped out of the TV and slapped me,” Roy said. “I got up, wiped the snot from my eyes, and I just looked in the mirror, just like washing my face, and I was like, that was it. I started researching culinary schools …” Okay, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be a cynical b-hole, but that story sounded made up, and the chefs looked totally awkward about it. And why does snot come out of your eyes? But really, I like Roy. He seems like a character.
NEXT: Things get very real for Josh …
So for the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to make the dish that inspired them to become chefs. They’d also be cooking for the governor of Alaska Sean Parnell (Sarah Palin, that could have been you!) and the first lady.
Before they got two-and-a-half hours to prep and cook their food, Josh received a call from his wife at home, telling him that her water broke. Oh, the drama! That’s really a crazy position to be in. Quick poll: Would you have stepped out of the competition if you were Josh, or would you continue on? His wife called again at night, crying like crazy, and Josh stayed up all night and saw his baby girl Georgia for the first time via Skype. Andy Cohen tweeted that this episode made him cry — did you get emotional too?
But the competition went on. Josh thought back to the moment when he tasted foie gras for the first time. He was reading Food & Wine magazine while on a stationary bike. He needed new recipes because he couldn’t eat his mom’s cooking when trying to make weight for wrestling, and foie gras at the time seemed so far from anything he’d ever eaten. He finally got to taste it as a torchon while working at Alma for Alex Roberts. While it was great to see Josh doing something so different from bacon and cornbread, he made a fundamental mistake by being so ambitious. His foie gras three ways: a torchon with braised pineapple; pan-seared on cornbread puree; and a profiterole with foie gras mousse. The judges loved the flavors in the pan-seared foie gras and the smooth, creamy profiterole, but the simple fact that Josh took on the torchon, which simply can’t be made in such a short time, was something Tom and the other judges couldn’t get past.
For his dish, Sheldon thought of Sam Choi, who he saw on a cooking show in Hawaii. To him, Sam Choi validated Hawaiian cuisine and what we wanted to do in life. Sheldon went Asian again — nothing wrong with that — with pan-roasted rockfish, spot prawns, baby vegetables, and dashi. Wolfgang said Sheldon cooked the fish and shrimp like the “best chef in the world,” but the sauce was way too salty. Like Josh’s torchon, the judges just couldn’t get past that one glaring error in the dish, which at this point is the sort of thing that gets you sent home.
Brooke made a mistake as well, but it wasn’t as big of a deal-breaker as either of the boys’. She had a hard time at the conceptualization stage and got off to a late start as a result. She finally thought back to her childhood, when her mother made traditional braised chicken for dinner. In addition to her chicken with crispy skin, she added grilled quail with carrot barley to represent the more sophisticated side of her work as an adult. Roy, who knew Brooke when she was a “prodigy” at Kogi, said the dish looked simple until you broke it apart and saw the different layers, textures, and temperatures. The judges agreed that the quail was overcooked, but the dish as a whole was excellent. Brooke won the challenge unanimously.
It came down to Sheldon and Josh, and yikes, it was pretty brutal to eliminate Josh at such a meaningful time for him personally, but it seemed he made the more fundamental mistake, and Sheldon had the better track record (not that that’s EVER a consideration on Top Chef). One thing that bothered me, though, was Tom mentioning Last Chance Kitchen before they made a decision about the elimination. I don’t think there was anything insidious behind the comment, but it sort of indicates that the existence of Last Chance Kitchen is influencing the judges’ decisions — that’s not at all shocking, of course, but it just makes me think of Kristen again.
Did Josh’s story make you cry? Is Roy Choi delightfully kooky? Who do you think will return next week?
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