Top Chef recap: Back Where It All Started
Let’s all join the remaining chefs in reeling from Kwame’s elimination. I guess it shouldn’t have been too surprising — he started to falter several episodes before his demise, but Kwame the “prodigy” had one of the most impressive early runs I’ve seen on Top Chef. He’s not coming back, either, since Jason continued his reign on Last Chance Kitchen last week, but there’s no doubt Kwame is a better chef than he is a rapper.
The remaining five cheftestants visited Traci Des Jardins’ The Commissary in San Francisco for the SUDDEN DEATH Quickfire Challenge. To have a Sudden Death so late in the game is really ramping up the stakes. And to add to the pressure, the challenge was to make the perfect slice of artisanal toast, which is a big trend in San Francisco (of course it is). The supposed simplicity of the challenge sent the chefs into a tailspin. It led to Carl taking a risk, which is characteristic, and to Marjorie playing it safe, which has also become a pattern. I can definitely understand why the challenge freaked them out. I’ve messed up a simple avocado toast recipe a dozen times, and I have an expensive toaster!
Jeremy won the challenge with his ciabatta topped with chicken liver mousse, pickled cherries, white raspberries, jalapeno, and arugula. Traci said it was beautifully composed and all the textures came together. Marjorie and Isaac were safe, leaving Amar on the bottom for his heavy-handed foie gras on raisin sourdough, as well as Carl for his grilled sourdough with blistered cherry tomatoes and shrimp. Carl insisted cheese with seafood, while not typical, was done in parts of Italy, but Padma and Traci just weren’t buying it.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
For the Sudden Death round, Amar and Carl could cook whatever they wanted. Amar’s pan-roasted sea bream with watermelon radish, plum yuzu brown butter, and pickled mushrooms looked amazing, and I respect him for making something he had never made before, but he probably should have chosen something more familiar. Carl made a crudo, leading Padma to say, “Another crudo, huh?” I guess lately crudo has a reputation on Top Chef for being a “safe” dish that judges tend to like — crudo is the new bacon, maybe? Padma gave the win to Carl anyway while Tom gave it to Amar — I kind of suspect he did that just to keep things interesting — and Traci, as the tiebreaker, decided on Carl, sending Amar packing his knives. For whatever reason, even though he had great moments, I never really remembered Amar’s dishes. Let’s see if he pulls out a last-minute win at LCK.
As Amar walked out, Chef Hubert Keller walked in to announce the Elimination Challenge. We’re coming full circle here since Keller hosted the very first Quickfire Challenge ever at his San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys. Now, the chefs would create a tribute to Keller for a group of VIPs in the closed restaurant’s reopened kitchen.
NEXT: Your finalists are…
Once again, the high stakes of the challenge seemed to throw the chefs for a loop. So, once again, Carl decided to take a huge risk by trying to make a foie gras torchon in three hours — it normally takes three days. Isaac took on concocting seven duck ballotines in that same three hours, which is a crazy process. Keller definitely shot Tom pointed glances when he heard what they were trying to accomplish. On the other hand, Marjorie worried that she wasn’t doing enough — she insisted there was a lot of technique to her dish, but she seemed to be trying to convince herself that the lack of ambition was okay.
Isaac served his dish up first, giving himself a deserved pat on the back for doing something so far from his Cajun roots. The duck ballotine, porcini, beluga lentils, broiled figs, and aged balsamic cherry gastrique — phew, that’s awfully fussy for Isaac — turned out to be great flavorwise, but it was too dry. Gail thought it lacked finesse or nuance and seemed rushed. Marjorie’s roasted lamb saddle with artichoke purée also fell flat. The vegetables were perfect, but the lamb needed to rest longer. Once again, Marjorie knew exactly what mistake she was making but failed to course-correct; she seems to be defeating herself on some level.
Jeremy was the only chef truly energized by this challenge, calling it “closest to his heart.” His filet de loup de mer, truffle potato purée, and pommes soufflées certainly looked the fanciest and most delicate. Keller, from the first moment, couldn’t stop commenting on how great it looked on the plate. Gail loved the details, and everyone noted that it felt like a true Fleur dish.
Carl at least stood by his decision to make the torchon despite everyone’s raised eyebrows, and unfortunately for him, it was a risk that absolutely didn’t pay off. Hubert called it “raw liver,” and Tom said, pure and simple, a torchon in this timeframe was not doable. Gail defended it weakly, saying it wasn’t a “complete failure” since everything but the torchon was quite good.
Unsurprisingly, Jeremy was the clear winner. Marjorie joined him in the finals, even though she broke down at Judges’ Table and said that fear was holding her back in the competition. Isaac and Carl were in the bottom, with Carl packing up and leaving. He admitted that his ego got in the way of the diner’s experience, saying that ultimately it was a “stupid dish to do.”
So that’s it! Marjorie, Jeremy, and Isaac are going to the finals in Las Vegas. What do you think of the final three?