I meant to start recapping this season from the get-go because I am a huge Top Chef fan and I live in Seattle, but the first episode took place in Vegas and then they brought in the TWIST and I got depressed. The Twist was that after determining which cheftestants would make it to Seattle, and the show brought back three cheftestants from some of the earlier seasons (CJ, Season 3; Josie, Season 2; and Stefan, Season 5.)
I hate this. I was so irrationally angry when it happened that I actually paused the episode and ranted to my poor roommate. Here’s why: It’s not fair to anyone. It’s not fair to the returning cheftestants, who have a history with the judges and will be judged based on previous performance. It’s not fair to the judges to ask them to try and forget those preconceived notions. And it’s not fair to the new cheftestants who are finally getting their chance. Want to bring back people from previous seasons? Do another round of All-Stars or a Top Chef: SECOND CHANCE. Anhow. I got over it. So I’m here. FOR THE FOOD, Bravo, not the drama. Let’s begin.
We open with the cheftestans discussing their previous challenge. Tyler observes that being on top on day means nothing, since you can still get eliminated the next day. Glad we’ve cleared that up.
It’s Stefan’s 40th birthday, and apparently during his season, every chef who had a birthday during filming got eliminated on that day. He calls it the Birthday Curse and he’s worried.
The chefs arrive at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. You know, the fishing throwing place that you always see clips of on Food Network. It’s actually a lot more than a few fish stands, including lots of produce stands, flower stands, crafts, restaurants, and a whole bunch of local stores (including an awesome comic book store that is not shown). Today’s guest judge is local chef Daisley Gordon, who owns two restaurants in Pike Place, Marché and Café Champagne.
Quickfire Challenge! The cheftestants pair off and will compete in teams of two. Chef Gordon has provided them with a pantry and they have to set up kitchenettes using equipment from Sur La Table, which is up the hill in the Market. Josh and his mustache gets stuck with Tesar, whom he’s had some drama with already. This will end well. Each team has to make breakfast on a stick for the Market workers. The winning team gets immunity.
By the time Danyele and Liz get to the pantry, the eggs and dairy are gone, so they decide to do a European breakfast. Bart wants to do a twist on spinach and eggs. There’s total chaos at Sur La Table, where CJ steals a griddle from someone. Ruthless. Brooke has known Stefan for years so she knows how to get along with him. Actually getting along with your fellow chefs is a depressingly huge plus on this show. Seriously, guys, it’s easier if you work together. Bart drops his sandwich press and thinks it might be broken, but it’s okay.
- Josh & Tesar – Mini breakfast taco with quail eggs and chorizo and an avocado relish. It looks really good. Chef Gordon likes the seasoning.
- Eliza & Josie – Ricotta, raspberry, and sausage pancake with a jalapeno syrup. They had me til jalapeno syrup. It doesn’t stay on the stick and Padma points out it looks like a layer cake. Gordon seems underwhelmed.
- Micah & Kristen – Bacon and cinnamon waffle with berry jam.
- CJ & Tyler – Salmon cream cheese crepe that miraculously stays on the stick. CJ says he really wants the win. Padma is like “DUH.”
- Bart & Sheldon – Green forest sandwich with eggs, cheese, bacon, pancetta, and spinach. It looks really good. I want one in my face. Gordon calls it clever.
- Danyele & Lizzie – Summer berries with crispy pancetta. This is easily the least ambitious dish of the day. I get that they missed out on eggs and such but it’s kind of a sad offering. Gordon likes it anyhow.
- Brooke & Stefan – Pressed Croque Monsieur with fig on challah bread.
Disappointing teams: Danyele & Lizzie, for their scarce berries (no surprise), and Josie & Eliza for their ricotta pancake. Favorites: Sheldon & Bart’s green forest sandwich and Josh & Tesar, for their taco. Winners: Sheldon & Bart. CJ is visibly pissed off. Sorry, dude, your salmon wasn’t as good as the sandwich or mini tacos.
Elimination Challenge! They’re staying in the same teams (makes sense, especially because it’d be unfair to stick two people with people who have immunity). Each team draws a knife that assigns them one local ingredient from a shop or stand at Pike Place. Stefan and Brooke get rose water jelly, and Stefan says it’s more like perfume than food. Micah and Kristen get cheese curds, which will come from Beecher’s, and you guys those are some awesome cheese curds.* Everyone groans, jealous, and with reason. That’s probably the best ingredient on the list as far as versatility. Other teams have spicy dill pickles, coconut curry chocolate, salmon candy (smoked salmon, not candy made from salmon, and that’s also Team Immunity), cardamon bitters, and truffle popcorn.
They’ll be serving their dishes to the artisans who make those ingredients as well as the judges, so they need to impress. The winning team gets to split $10K. The losing team gets to go home. They have two hours to get their main ingredient, shop for the rest of their stuff, and cook. Not only is it not really enough time, but Pike Place market is really big and spread out. Why can’t they give them three hours? If they don’t want the chefs to produce bad food, they need to give them enough time. YOU WILL SEE WHAT I MEAN.
CJ & Tyler have spicy dill pickles. CJ immediately jumps on the idea of a doing a hamburger to put the pickles on and refuses to change his mind. Tyler thinks it’s too simple but he’s a Top Chef veteran (You know, ONE WHO LOST. I am just saying.) so Tyler is trusting him. That is a terrible idea, Tyler. Meanwhile Tesar wants to do pork and grits… to feature their popcorn. Yeah, I don’t know either. These teams do understand the challenge, right?
Danyele & Lizzie have the coconut curry chocolate and Dany is all about the dessert. Josie keeps telling Eliza they need to get along. You know the best way to do that? Stop saying and respect each other. Don’t make me come down there and force y’all into a group hug. Brooke looks unimpressed by the rose water jelly. Sheldon says in Hawaii, they have some weird products (lychee!) but nothing like salmon candy, which is basically salmon bacon. I love how he’s all smiles. With immunity, I would be too. One of the fish market guys pats Sheldon and says “Good luck!” I LOVE YOU FISH MARKET GUY.
Josh and his mustache and Tesar are too busy tip-toeing around each other to give each other feedback, which looks like it will lead to dry pork and thick grits. I appreciate their desire not to cause drama but guys, you still have to like… be chefs. That’s the challenge.
Danyele is worried about her chocolate tart. Meanwhile CJ knows a burger is a risk but he can also picture Tom saying “All you need to showcase pickles is a good burger” and see how his previous experience is actually tripping him up? This is why I’m against this whole bringing back old cheftestants thing.
- Josh & Tesar – Truffle Popcorn – Pan-seared pork tenderloin with grits and truffle popcorn. “Those grits suck,” says Hugh. Truffle popcorn lady is unimpressed. Kiss of death, right there. The meat was overcooked.
- Micah & Kristen – Cheese curds – Cheese curds three ways. Raw, fried, and bechamel. Too much going on, no way for the cheese curds to shine. Padma didn’t know the fried nugget on her plate was cheese and Padma LOVES cheese, y’all.
- Stefan & Brooke – Rose petal jelly – Rose petal glazed duck with braised cabbage. The duck is too sweet. “Way too much sugar,” says Tom. And the duck is tough.
- Team Immunity – Salmon Candy – Candied salmon with a sweat and sour salad. Tom didn’t get enough of the candied salmon.
- Jose & Eliza – Cardamom bitters – Curry cardamom broth with clams and seared salmon and bok choy. The broth has a great flavor but it’s too salty. Padma gets sand in hers. Gail gets a rock. Yeah, they’re in a bad place.
- Lizzie & Danyele – Coconut Curry Chocolate Bars – Coconut curry chocolate tart with an orange tea syrup. The flavor of the chocolate is there but the chocolate seller would have preferred not to see other chocolate in the dish.
- CJ & Tyler – Spicy Dill Pickles - pork burger with fried pickles on a crumpet with pickle slices on the side. The pickle seller thinks if the burgers had been bite-sized sliders, the pickles would have stood out more. The crumpet is soggy. Tom is enraged. “You couldn’t think of a better thing to do with a pickle. How freakin’ original!” he says, clearly fuming. I wish Tom was Bruce Banner sometimes. I can picture him slowly turning green as this meal proceeds.
Tom is furious. He doesn’t have a favorite. He thinks they’re all so bad. Tom doesn’t want to award a winner a cash prize. He’s that mad. Tom addresses the chefs with his Disappointed Teacher face. “Lack of imagination, lack of technique,” he tells them. And they’re sending an entire team home. He also tells them they’re doing Last Chance Kitchen again. “BIRTHDAY CURSE,” Stefan says.
“Definitely a gray cloud came over the room,” Sheldon says. “As chefs, nobody wants to put out crappy food.”
Judges’ Table: Gail says the food didn’t taste good and it wasn’t well made. Stefan hated the rose petal jelly because it was too sweet. In the end, CJ & Tyler get sent home for their pork burgers and pickles. Now I want fried pickles.
Fun Seattle Fact: the Salmon Candy was provided by the fish sellers who are famous for throwing the fish. “When the fish hits the ground, what happens tothat fish?” Hugh asks. “We have a stunt fish,” the fish market guy says. This was mind-blowing to me. They have a stunt fish they toss around. What? I’ve lived in Seattle for nearly a decade and I had no idea. Every time I go there now I’m going to point and go “STUNT FISH!”
*They are not paying me to say that but if they’d like to tip me in a cheese, I would not say no. I love their cheeses, especially their Just Jack.