The cheftestants walk into the Top Chef kitchen and are greeted by host and judge Padma Lakshmi, guest judge James Beard Classics winner Irma Galvan, and a glorious display of cheese. Sarah says she loves cheese and it’s her favorite food.
“Well, no, ice cream is my favorite food, but ice cream is really just cold cheese,” she says.
The Quickfire Challenge is to make queso and something to dip it in — but not a tortilla chip — in 30 minutes.
Sarah explains to her fellow cheftestants she’s going to make pub cheese. “It’s modeled after what you get at a Michigan gas station when you’re eating a s—– hotdog.” In other words, it’s cheese that comes out of a pump. For her dipping element, she’s making hushpuppies.
She presents her dish to Irma and Padma and doesn’t get a lot of feedback other than a thank you.
The bottom three of the challenge are Sam (mornay with scallion pancakes, which aren’t crispy), Robert (queso Oaxaca fonduda with asparagus), and Jackson (crispy queso, which Padma is very disapproving of).
The top three are Evelyn (adobo con queso with a side of taro chips), Nick (“surf and turf” queso with pork belly and blue crab with beet and sweet potato chips), and Damarr (cheddar queso with quick pickles and serrano chilies). Damarr ultimately gets the win and immunity.
The chefs draw knives with Wildcats or Cougars written on them. Time for another team Elimination Challenge! Sarah is on the Wildcats team, coached by Top Chef Portland finalist Dawn Burrell. This time the chefs have to go head-to-head in a carb-heavy competition. And since this is Top Chef, there has to be a gimmick, and this time the idea is Friday Night Lights. They’ll be cooking at a football stadium where the first team to score a “touchdown” wins. If neither team scores a touchdown, then the MVP and eliminated chef can come from either team.
Sarah’s strategy is to use a single carb presented in different ways, in this case the chickpea. She wants to make a Panzanella made from chickpea flatbread with several other chickpea components. She grabs canned chickpeas for her dish, but at the register at Whole Foods, she says she’s going to get stock in case she wants to cook chickpeas instead. Monique in disbelief asks her, “You’re going to cook chickpeas?” Monique thinks it would take too long to soak and cook the chickpeas, so Sarah decides to stick with the canned option. “This feels like an Idiot’s Guide to crippling self-doubt,” Sarah says. “But I do not have time to cook chickpeas.”
After the chefs cook and prep, it’s game time. Damarr, who has immunity, says he’ll take one for the team and go first when it looks like teammate Luke is not ready. The rounds are close with the Wildcats and Cougars evenly matched and swapping wins. It all comes down to Sarah and Jackson in Round 7. Sarah only needs two more votes from the judges panel to take the win.
Unfortunately, the judges unanimously go for Jackson’s polenta cake with whipped yogurt and blueberry sauce, and Sarah’s “Celebration of Chickpeas” lands her in the bottom three with Stephanie (feijoada) and Luke (butternut squash confit in walnut oil (but he says it’s pumpkin) with walnut black garlic paste with chicken and pickled squash).
The MVP is Damarr for his dirty rice inspired by his mother, and with two wins in a row, he’s feeling pretty confident.
Padma asks Sarah about her thought process behind the dish.
“I thought I could present like a different angle or an unthought of angle,” she says. Padma is not impressed. “Hummus isn’t an unthought of angle?” Sarah says it’s not traditionally thought of as a carb. “You could have still done chickpeas but even like a chickpea stew would have felt a little more hearty.” Head judge Tom Colicchio says it didn’t come together as a dish. “It just felt like a dip. If you’re going to do that cook the chickpeas. Canned chickpeas are fine, but just fine is not going to do it here.”
The judges also aren’t fans of Luke’s butternut squash dish, which was bland and oily, and Stephanie’s feijoada, which had overcooked and broken rice.
Ultimately Stephanie is sent home and Sarah lives to cook another day.
Catch this season of Top Chef at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on Bravo. For more information, visit bravotv.com.