We’re down to the top 10 this week, and after a few weeks of “TC Roadshow” our chefs are headed back to Los Angeles to cook in the Top Chef kitchen once again. Everyone’s upset about Wesley’s elimination and Karen is over the moon about her win, but it’s a new day, which means new – harder – challenges are up ahead.
Today’s guest judge is Top Chef alumna Antonia (from season 4 and All Stars). Each of the chefs has 20″ to choose one ingredient from the TC pantry; then they all have to cook a dish using only the 10 ingredients picked out. Luckily for them, they get to take turns rummaging around the pantry, instead of stepping over each other looking for what they want to cook. I love these challenges because it really shows how versatile the chefs can be with just ten simple ingredients.
The ten items chosen are: NY strip, chicken, jalapeno, kosher salt (thank God for Jeremy!), vinegar, olive oil, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and, finally, celery (instead of maybe some herbs – why, Jason?). And why the hell did no one pick eggs??
20 minutes to go and the chefs all get to work. Isaac went out of his way to add a second protein to the table and ends up using the NY strip, which is a bit strange. Jason defends his choice of celery, Jeremy goes for yet another raw preparation, Carl is hogging the tomatoes, but all the chefs seem to be in a good place during cooking.
Time for tasting the dishes:
None of the chefs seemed to fail spectacularly this time, but Isaac’s seared beef carpaccio with shaved mushrooms, jalapeno and tomato was unimpressive and Karen’s grilled steak salad with grilled and raw celery and jalapeno vinaigrette lacked focus, so they land on the bottom.
Kwame’s fire roasted chicken with tomato sauce and celery, Jason’s raw mushroom salad with shaved celery and chicken fat vinaigrette, Marjorie’s heirloom tomato salad with seared steak and celery jalapeno vinaigrette, Chad’s grilled NY steak with marinated mushrooms, tomato seeds and pickled jalapeno, Phillip’s tomato with center cut tartare, roasted jalapeno, garlic and celery and Carl’s pan roasted NY strip with confit tomato, grilled and raw jalapeno all cruised by safely in the middle.
Antonia loved Amar’s chicken breast with roasted tomato celery vinaigrette and mushrooms a la Grecque, which showed finesse and technique, but in the end it was Jeremy’s shaved beef with mushroom crispy garlic vinaigrette that took the win – and immunity for the next challenge. Go Jeremy!
This week’s theme is the number ten: ten ingredients for the Quickfire, 10 years ago for the Elimination Challenge: Top Chef Season 1 was premiering, everyone was on MySpace, Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes (wow that was random, Padma) and Jeremy was in a band and had a lot of hair.
The chefs have to cook a dish that showcases who they each were ten years ago – too bad Angelina is not in the mix anymore, because it would have been interesting to see what her angsty-teenager dish would look like.
The only one who looks excited for this is Antonia, who loved these personal challenges during her stint on TC. Kwame was also in his teens back then, just starting highschool and being at odds with his dad. Karen was living in a tiny apartment with her girlfriend and cooking pasta all the time, Marjorie had just started working for Mike Isabella. Isaac was experiencing the Katrina aftermath in NoLa and Jason had his first management job and was very stressed out. All the chefs reminisce and turn introspective, then have a burger cook-out on the roof and take turns doing their best Tom Colicchio impressions.
On to the actual challenge: everyone’s relating their dish ideas to their memories of who they were ten years ago, which is very interesting. Tom makes his usual rounds in the kitchen during prep, accompanied by TC alum and winner Michael Voltaggio (yay!). When they stop by Phillip’s station and ask him how Top Chef is treating him so far, he makes yet another obnoxious comment about how it’s all about pleasing the judges instead of just cooking their own food. Even if Tom’s face didn’t say it all, Marjorie does: the kid is delusional. Amar and Tom get all emotional when discussing his ailing mentor.
When it’s time to actually taste the dishes, all the guest judges are excited about the 10 year anniversary.
Chad and Marjorie are first to present their dishes, and they’re both off to a great start. Marjorie did a fantastic job adjusting the flavors of her curry to her lack of lemongrass and Chad made a great version of a ceviche.
Next up, Isaac’s gumbo is universally liked by the judges, but Jason’s perfectly poached trout doesn’t fare as well, because the entire dish is underseasoned.
Moving on to Karen’s pasta dish, which was balanced in terms of bitterness/sweetness but didn’t really nail the relationship between the sauce and the noodle, and Amar’s lobster dish, which was perfectly cooked.
Following that, we have Carl’s fricassee, which made Gail smile, and another ceviche from Phillip’s, which unfortunately lacked brightness.
Finally, perhaps the two most disappointing dishes of the night: Jeremy’s lucky to have immunity, as the salmon was completely unnecessary in his lobster ravioli dish, and Kwame’s bad memories from ten years ago translated onto the plate, both in terms of plating and flavor, which was confusing, mushy and not attractive.
The judges take waste time announcing their favorite dishes, which belonged to Marjorie, Carl and Chad. Marjorie’s modesty in still describing herself as a green chef (as opposed to the ‘green cook’ she was ten years ago) is quite endearing, and earns her a great compliment from Tom. Chad and Carl’s dishes were both excellent as well, but in the end the winner is Marjorie, and that makes me happy.
On to the worst dishes of the night, and it’s between Kwame, Phillip and Jason. Kwame has been crushing it lately so it’s too bad to see him on the bottom this time, but I guess everyone can have a bad day in the kitchen, and Kwame just let the challenge get to him. Phillip’s dish lacked balance, and his downfall was trying to cater to what he thought the judges wanted to taste. Jason’s sin was lack of seasoning, and the components just didn’t come together on his dish. Top calls him out for not looking comfortable or enjoying cooking at all, and Tom seems very understanding when Jason explains that he’s just trying to find his way. Unfortunately, that doesn’t save his spot in the competition.
I’m not exactly devastated about Jason’s departure, but I hope he can snap back into it and kick some ass on Last Chance Kitchen.
As a sidenote, I kinda miss the old Judges’ Table format, where the chefs wait in the stew room instead of standing there all together. I especially miss the debate between the judges in terms of who should go home each week, but I guess there’s only so much you can cram in a single episode, and whatever personal stories the chefs share during the challenges are supposed to make better TV than Tom, Padma, Gail and the guest judges discussing minute details they can fault in each dish.
Until next week!