Last time on Top Chef, Detroit’s own Sarah Welch nearly went home for her chickpea-focused dish that head judge Tom Colicchio harshly dismissed as a dip.
The episode opens with Sarah FaceTiming with her fiancé and fellow chef, Cameron Rolka. She’s feeling down from being on the bottom last week. She says she was on the top in the first Elimination Challenge but it was a team effort.
“I think the only reason I was in the top was because I’m a really good teammate, you know, and I’m just worried that I’m good at people and not food,” she says, getting emotional. She left New York City after culinary school, and the decision to not stay and cook at Michelin star restaurants has her wondering if she stacks up.
Cameron gives her some encouraging words, to trust her gut and cook as if she were making something for herself at home.
The chefs walk into the kitchen, which has been transformed into an Asian night market with several local chefs, including guest judge Kiran Verma, cooking for them.
There’s no Quickfire Challenge this week, so you have to wonder if the Elimination Challenge will be something crazy like bake a cake on top of a moving train with matches and twigs as your only heat source since they get a pass on the stress that is the Quickfire Challenge. The chefs draw knives, which have different Asian cuisines written on them. Sarah draws Vietnamese. The other cuisines are Indian, Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese.
Host Padma Lakshmi says their Elimination Challenge is to take inspiration from what they taste to create a street food dish for an Asian night market the next day. All Star guest judge Hung Huynh, who won Top Chef Miami 15 years ago, asks the group if anyone is nervous about cooking Indian food for Padma and hands shoot up in the air. It’s one of several comments that people will make about cooking Indian food for Padma.
The three judges who drew the Indian knife are Buddha, Luke, and Sam, so good luck to them.
While tasting dishes from the local chefs, Buddha asks Kiran a lot of questions at the Indian table, including whether it’s OK to fry puff pastry. She says no (this will be important later).
During prep, Sam is looking confident. He’s making a “Sam Aloo,” his take on a vindaloo. He says he’s got the curry going and his rice is done. “I got potatoes on the stove boiling and I’m ready for tomorrow,” he says, so you know something bad is about to happen.
Sure enough, prep is over and his potatoes are still on the stove. He decides he’ll grill potatoes on site. Sure, what can go wrong when grilling raw potatoes for scores of people? And also, why not cook the potatoes in the curry?
At the night market, the chefs run to their stations to get ready for service. They have one hour before guests start arriving. Jackson is worried he won’t have enough time since he has a lot of vegetable prep to do for his Vietnamese spring rolls and oh yeah, he still can’t taste anything because of COVID.
Jae is also looking overwhelmed and feeling the pressure. It’s her first time making Chinese food and she looks like she bought every single ingredient at the store. Sugar, oil, fermented beans, sesame oil, starch water, and several other unidentified containers are on the table. She’s making Szechuan-style stir-fried noodles with Korean melon and crispy ramen. Her inspiration for the dish is when she would get udon at the train station while visiting family as a kid growing up in Korea.
The judges first taste Evelyn’s dish, a chilled chicken salad with fresh rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), fresh rambutan, and an avocado crema. The judges love it.
Tom and Co. also love the next few dishes (Luke gets the Padma seal of approval for his samosa and Nick gets compliments for his spin on chicken karaage) until they get to Ashleigh’s dish, Mala-style crispy beef skewer inspired by mapo tofu, which doesn’t seem related at all to crispy beef. Tom is doing some weird humming thing as he gnashes his teeth on a skewer. It’s not a good look for either him or Ashleigh.
Next is Sarah, who’s made banh mi toast, chicken liver mousse, charred chicken heart, and pickled vegetables. She’s also added maple syrup to her dipping sauce for the sweetener, and us Michiganders love to see it. Gail is a fan of the playful interpretation of Sarah’s dish but wishes the bread had been crispier. Other than there’s not much feedback, and it’s looking like
Sarah is safe this week.
At Buddha’s table, he serves the group chicken karahi samosa with tamarind chutney and yogurt sauce. Padma asks how he made his pastry, and he says it’s fried. After they leave, Padma says the puff pastry made the samosa a greaseball, and Kiran, who looks frustrated, says her words of wisdom went unheeded.
They get to Sam and as he explains the meaning behind the name Sam Aloo, Padma doesn’t try to hide the look of disdain. He also made a chutney with grapes, pomegranate, mint, and cilantro. The judges have a serious problem with the aloo part of the dish, to no surprise. It’s undercooked and raw potatoes have no place in a potato curry, Padma says.
At Judges Table, Evelyn, Jae, and Jackson are on top, but it’s Jae and her 9 million ingredient noodle dish that takes the win and $10,000. Padma says she loved the harmony in the dish and Tom comments that the Korean melon was out of left field but in a good way.
Ashleigh, Buddha, and Sam are on the bottom. Ashleigh’s sauce was fine, but the meat was chewy and the daikon was too big. Buddha’s samosa was undercooked, and the chutney was too sweet. Sam is grilled over his method of cooking and Hung tells him, “When you’re taking a risk on a dish you have to remember how to cook.” Ouch.
In the end, Sam and his chaotic and comedic energy are sent home.
Next week: There will be a double elimination. So, there’s the shoe dropping after not having a Quickfire this week.
Catch this season of Top Chef at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on Bravo. For more information, visit bravotv.com.