Last time on Top Chef, the cheftestants were tasked with making a dish for an Asian Night Market. Jae crushed the competition with her noodle dish, and we bid too doo loo to Sam and his faux vindaloo.
This week’s episode starts with the requisite heart-tugging scene, this time of Monique talking about coasting in the middle. When she became a mom, she says she started to feel like she was losing herself and wants to prove that she can do this.
The Quickfire Challenge is to make a biscuit dish from scratch. Jae, stepping up as the one-liner giver now that Sam is gone, says she hates baking but likes to get baked. The guest judge is chef Chris Williams, owner of modern Southern restaurant Lucille’s. Immunity is off the table, but the winner will get a significant advantage.
Sarah makes a biscuit with mushroom maple gravy and poached egg, and there is zero feedback from the judges. There’s not even a Padma withering look or comment. She’s firmly in the middle.
On the bottom are Ashleigh’s UFO-sized fried biscuit; Buddha’s buttermilk biscuit with fried chicken, hot honey, and cheddar; and Jae “I like to get baked, not bake” with her overworked biscuit overpowered by fried chicken.
On the top are Demarr’s drop biscuit with shirred egg and hot honey; Evelyn’s biscuit with poached egg, chorizo country gravy, and marinated tomatoes; and Jackson’s scallion biscuit glazed in hot maple with ostrich sausage, crispy cheddar, and fried egg. That crispy cheddar would be a block of cheddar that he breaded and fried because he’s looking for redemption for tanking the queso challenge, and Padma looks appalled. I’m wondering what her problem is because there is nothing ever wrong with fried cheese.
Jackson is deemed the winner. He says, “Still don’t have immunity. So did I really win?”
His advantage is that in the Elimination Challenge, which is another team challenge, he gets 30 extra minutes to cook, and he can pick his teammate. He goes with Buddha, which seems like a poor choice considering he has been on the bottom the past couple of challenges. “He uses a lot of modernist techniques, and his plating is very elegant,” Jackson says.
That is sound logic because speaking of modernist, the guest judge for this challenge is chef Wylie Dufresne, who built up his culinary cred on doing modernist takes on familiar dishes, like the iconic Eggs Benedict dish (with fried Hollandaise, he probably would’ve loved Jackson’s fried cheese) at the now-shuttered wd-50 in New York City. The chefs are presented with dishes Wylie made that look the same but are ultimately different. One dish is the Pea-knot Butter: peanut butter ganache, coffee cocoa soil, strawberry mango sauce, and basil. The other is Knot Foie: foie gras terrine, black sesame crumb, kimchee puree, and cilantro. The challenge is for the teams to create two dishes that look the same but taste different.
It’s challenges like these that make Top Chef not just entertaining but also compelling to watch, not when they have to do ridiculous challenges (I’m still mad about the vending machine amuse bouche quickfire). It’s challenges like these that you see people rise to the occasion — or not.
Sarah teams up with Robert, her teammate from the first challenge when they won. The other teams are Ashleigh and Luke, Evelyn and Jo, Monique and Demarr, and Nick and Jae.
On the way to Whole Foods, Buddha is totally stanning Wylie, so the editors are setting him up to crash and burn or to shine.
Jackson and Buddha are inspired by an everything bagel, so Jackson’s dish is “Everything But the Bagel,” with salmon tartare, capers, shallots, cream cheese bavarois, marinated tomato, and buttermilk scallion dressing with an everything tuile. Buddha’s dessert is strawberries and cream, with white chocolate panna cotta, strawberry jelly, and strawberry bon bons with cream and basil dressing. In addition to looking like mirror images (except for maybe Buddha’s strawberries are a brighter shade of red) the dishes look extremely detailed and flawlessly executed. I’m pretty bad at predicting who will win but after seeing those dishes, I make a bold prediction in my notes: “Those are your winners right there.”
Robert and Sarah are up next. Their concept was to start with a shape that could be replicated in two different dishes, so Sarah did a shrimp sausage (but why shrimp when you’re allergic?) with brown butter brioche crumb with compressed cucumber pickles and pepper sauce. Robert did a strawberry panna cotta with crème fraiche, Japanese brown sugar crumble, kiwi, and basil. They had trouble during their cook time when they discovered Robert’s panna cotta didn’t set so they had to pivot.
Their dishes look similar — Robert’s panna cotta looks a tad bit paler — and the flavors are OK but they both made basic cooking errors. As they walk away from the table, Sarah says “We have to hope someone f—– up.”
Unfortunately for them, most of the other teams bring it. Wylie comments Jae and Nick’s collaboration is delicious. The judges rave about the creativity and innovation behind Luke and Ashleigh’s respective sliced mushroom and scallop dishes. Monique and Damarr’s sandwiches (hers a coffee ice cream, his a chicken liver mousse) are a delight. Jo and Evelyn, who are frantically cooking and plating until the very end, are the other team to get remarks on their cookery. Jo’s dish is crispy pork belly, cauliflower puree, crispy garlic, and daikon relish with five spice glaze. Evelyn made a goat cheese cheesecake with cardamom chocolate sauce, sesame crumble, apples, and matcha. Evelyn’s dish is deemed a bit too much on the sweet side, but the pork belly is leathery, and that is a crime against pork belly.
The top two teams are Buddha and Jackson and Ashleigh and Luke, but it’s Buddha and Jackson with the W.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Robert and Sarah and Evelyn and Jo on the bottom. Ultimately Robert and Sarah are sent packing …. to Last Chance Kitchen.
When they get to Last Chance Kitchen, they see Leia, who was bounced from the first episode of Top Chef but has been holding it down by vanquishing the two chefs eliminated after her. The challenge is to make two dishes, one savory and one sweet, in 30 minutes. Tom will judge the savory dishes and chef Brooke Williamson, the winner of Top Chef Season 14, will judge the sweet dishes. Tom will pick his favorite of the savory dishes and that chef will move on while Brooke will pick her favorite sweet dish and that chef will advance. The third chef will get the boot for real.
Leia makes ricotta doughnuts with apple caramel and pan-roasted pork chop and apple sauce.
Robert makes a shrimp ceviche with chili paste, fried prawn cracker, cilantro, and red onion for his savory dish. The sweet dish is buttermilk pancakes with blueberry sauce and maple whipped cream.
Sarah makes jerk Chilean sea bass in coconut broth with fennel, pomegranate, and cilantro relish. She brought a secret weapon with her — her parents’ jerk sauce — that features prominently in her dish. Her sweet dish is coconut cream pudding, topped with pomegranate, star fruit, and lime zest.
Tom crowns Sarah the winner of the savory dishes, which is clutch because Brooke says while the flavor of her pudding was good, it was not a pudding. Leia wins the sweet side and the two of them are moving on.
Sarah says in her exit interview: “I’ve gained a lot from this experience even in the short amount of time that I’ve been here. I still have Last Chance Kitchen, and I’m gonna keep going until they make me go home.”
Catch this season of Top Chef at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on Bravo. For more information, visit bravotv.com.