Welcome to the end of Week Eleven! Is everyone still relatively sane out there? I know I get close to wigging out sometimes, but so far I have kept it together. No shame if you haven't, of course. Some people are having a hard time with all of this isolation. I'm not a people person, and I actually like staying home, so it's less difficult for me than for others.
While it's still Pandemic Central in the US, with who knows how many weeks to go, we're almost done with this season of Top Chef! Two weeks of finale and that's it. I feel like it flew by pretty quickly, especially compared to the last couple of seasons I watched. (They were interminably long, at least 47 weeks each.) This season has also been helped greatly by the handsome presence of Bryan Voltaggio. I'd better be getting two more weeks of him!
So what happened this week? First, we got the results of Last Chance Kitchen. Kevin was the reigning champ, and he kept his title by beating last week's ejection, Karen. But that wasn't enough! Once Karen was out, the final five cheftestants swaggered into the kitchen. They weren't late to the party, they were the next part of the challenge. Tom announces that despite his exhaustion, Kevin would need to fight three more matches, and if he won 2 of the 3, he'd get back into the main competition. His new opponents were of his choosing: Bryan, Malarkey, and Gregory. The latter two went down, so Kevin was back in the game. We knew that was going to happen, right? But suppose he didn't beat 2 of 3? Would Last Chance Kitchen have been an exercise in futility? Well, apart from Karen coming back a few weeks ago. But she was eliminated again, so yes, maybe futility is the right word.
The next day, after Kevin gets some well-deserved rest, the now-six cheftestants head to the Top Chef Kitchen and find tipsy Padma, drunk on Champagne, lounging in airline-style seats with Jonathan Waxman. Waxman is a pioneer of California Cuisine, but Padma says his biggest achievement is being her friend. Hello, Champagne Padma! (Thank you, Stephanie, for that nickname.) This alter ego reminds me of the old Cannabis Padma--a little off. Definitely slower. Perhaps more fun. Or not. I'm not sure Padma is ever fun. (Keep in mind, Padma's Lawyers, that I am being satirical here, also, offering an opinion.) Anyhoo...the Quickfire Challenge involves making a memorable meal that might be served on an airplane. It must include salad or veg in addition to a main course. Items need to be only as tall as the service trays, as they must be able to fit in an airplane cooker.
Bryan laments that he hasn't yet won a quickfire. Maybe if he followed the rules once in a while? But he's oblivious - he's just cooking VOLT food all the time. It's as if he doesn't own other restaurants that don't serve tweezer food. He's decided to make braised chicken thighs with green lentils and a side salad with green goddess dressing. Will that be enough to win him a prize? (I can't eat lentils, not even for Bryan. If I were a judge, the answer would be...of course he wins! I am biased.)
Meanwhile, Champagne Padma offers Jonathan some nuts to nibble (not hers). She also inquires as to his favorite (probably his own).
Champagne Padma then reveals the location of this season's finale: Tuscany. Only five of the six remaining cheftestants will go. Everyone wants to go. I want to go. (Maybe not right now, but someday.) First, the Elimination Challenge, which is to create a dish inspired by the food and philosophy of Michael's Santa Monica, an iconic restaurant celebrating its 40th anniversary. Jonathan Waxman worked there, along with a pantheon of cooking greats: Roy Yamaguchi; Sang Yoon; Mark Peel. Even Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson. The cheftestants will visit the restaurant for dinner and to meet owner Michael McCarty, a pioneer of California Cuisine.
After the chefs shower and change, all six of them pile into one Sponsorship Mobile and head to the restaurant. Bryan is driving, as usual. He must enjoy sitting in traffic. Once at the restaurant, they are served some classic Michael's dishes by current chef Brian Bornemann. They include an angel hair pasta with chardonnay cream sauce and diver scallops, grilled quail, and heirloom beet risotto with monkfish wrapped in crispy prosciutto (courtesy of Brooke Williamson, who was a sous at Michael's by the tender age of 19). Then comes sweetbreads with veal loin, chanterelle mushrooms and white truffle, followed by grilled lamb saddle with potato galette and red currant cassis sauce. Finally, they get duck two ways, a grilled breast and confit thigh with wild rice and blood orange sauce. The knife block appears, and Melissa gets her advantage. She chooses the dish she wants to reinterpret first. The remaining chefs choose knives.
After dinner there's shopping. Back at the Top Chef Mansion, bros Kevin and Bryan chatter about being able to go to Italy together. And Malarkey facetimes his kids Sailor and Schmailor. It's their 9th birthday, and dad's a schmuck because he has to be away, feeding his enormous ego in yet another cooking competition, missing time with his family. Womp womp.
Jonathan Waxman joins Tom on the Sniff N Sneer. He's such a pleasant-seeming person; I always enjoy seeing him.
Out in the restaurant, the judges arrive and take their place at a long center table, with other invited foodies filling the remainder of the room. Champagne Padma is nowhere in sight. Instead we get regular Boring Padma. Will someone please bring her a bottle and a glass?
Gregory's dish comes out with Stephanie's. His monkfish and beet risotto was meant be accompanied by a crispy prosciutto chip, but he remembered them just as time was up--too late. Jonathan claims to love his interpretation, but was expecting that porky bit. Though everyone seemed to enjoy Stephanie's version of scallops and pasta, served with fancy little caramelle, Roy Yamaguchi opined that it was one dimensional. Bryan's treatment of lamb, served with fondant potato, was simple and refined, but lacked "wow." Kevin's duck dish was a hit, especially the croquette.
Some of Malarkey's specially-plated dishes didn't make it to the judges; apparently other diners got to enjoy them. But the judges were probably full by then and were willing to share. As usual, there were too many things on his plate. His "duo" was essentially two separate and disparate dishes, ones that didn't taste good together. Finally, Melissa's quail was deemed to have highlighted the bird itself, always a plus.
Back at the kitchen, Melissa wins and is the first to reserve a seat to Tuscany. Jonathan tells Stephanie that the race was close between her dish and Melissa's, so she's going to Italy as well. And so are Bryan and Kevin, who jump up and down and embrace each other. But will it be Gregory or Malarkey getting that final plane ticket? While the judges missed Greg's crisp prosciutto and felt the fish got lost, Malarkey's dishes didn't evoke the original Michael McCarty dish. Malarkey starts a speech about being exhausted and having had a great ride. Padma wants to know if he's quitting.
He doesn't have to quit. Malarkey is out. Finally. (Not that I don't like him, I just find him annoying.)
Next week: Part one of the finale, in Italy!
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