Fresh off her elimination on Top Chef for making overcooked barbecued quail as part of a product placement challenge featuring Jurassic World Dominion, Jo Chan walks into Last Chance Kitchen where she comes face to face with Sarah Welch. Sarah is on a roll, having racked up three wins and she’s ready, not only to kick Jo’s ass but she also has something to prove.
“Everybody that I’m going up against has lasted much longer on Top Chef than I have, but they’re coming into my little world,” Sarah says.
This week, Tom Colicchio says the challenge is simple: He’s looking for something stuffed. “The trick is making sure that the stuffing and the thing being stuffed are both cooked equally well,” he says.
Jo and Sarah race toward the pantry. Jo is going back and forth between doing a pasta dish, which sounds ludicrous to do in 30 minutes, or a vegetable dish. She looks for ricotta, which will be the deciding factor in whether she does pasta and it’s nowhere to be found so she grabs delicata squash, which she’ll stuff with caponata.
Sarah is doing a Korean-style dumpling with glutinous rice flour, a signature dish at Marrow (and I’ve had it several times and can attest that it’s top notch). At the restaurant, which is part butcher shop, the cooks take any leftover trim, such as pork, beef, and chicken scraps, and mix it with vegetable scraps for the filling.
“I’ve been successful thus far making dishes that speak to my sense of place and there is no dish that speaks to Marrow and the food we make more than this dumpling dish,” Sarah says.
Jo is playing it safe while Sarah is making her dough from scratch. It takes me 30 minutes just to find the flour to make the dough, much less make a dumpling dough from scratch.
“I’m taking a major risk in being super simple in my execution with no place to hide,” says Jo. She then sums up Top Chef in a nutshell. “Here’s the thing about the competition. You decide in a matter of seconds what you’re going to do and then you spend the entire clock wondering whether or not that was the right decision to make.”
That’s when Tom saunters in for his judging-before-the actual-judging stroll where he makes the chefs question their life choices.
“I think fundamentally Tom is a bloodhound for food flaws,” Sarah says. “He is looking for mistakes. He is going to pick the best-executed dish regardless of whether it is consistent with work that you’ve done up until that point or something completely out of the box.”
With 5 minutes left, Jo takes out the squash from the oven and says it’s “al dente,” which is a euphemism for it’s undercooked. But she says she doesn’t have any more time, so she throws it on the grill for a bit to try to get it to cook faster before plating. She finishes early and she looks over at Sarah’s station, which looks like a hot mess (the editors are really leaning in on this whole “Sarah is messy” look).
Jo presents her caponata stuffed squash while Sarah offers up her glutinous rice dumplings with a black garlic “umami bomb.”
Tom tells Sarah she’s crazy for making a dough and frying it in 30 minutes. The plate isn’t pretty, but he likes the textures, and the stuffing is well seasoned. He tells Jo he would’ve taken the same approach in doing a stuffed vegetable dish. The caponata is bright and there’s a lot of caramelized flavor. It seems like Jo might dethrone Sarah this week, but Sarah holds onto her Last Chance Kitchen crown.
“I’m like the phone call you want to get out of, but you keep saying bye and they keep talking,” Sarah says.
“It’s really awesome to win this one for so many sick reasons like pride, but it really is nice to win on a dish that is kind of the cornerstone to the restaurant that I run.”
Catch this season of Top Chef at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on Bravo, and stream Last Chance Kitchen on YouTube following each episode. For more information, visit bravotv.com.