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Top Chef Ep. 12: It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn

To thoroughly enjoy the glory that is Top Chef Seattle, we welcome comedian Max Silvestri, who will be here every week to take us through the season.


I'll be honest and say that it was tough diving into this recap after the horror of last week's episode. Josie is a bitter pill to swallow and without any Kristen to make the medicine go down, I wasn't sure how to face this television show. For the past few days I've been lying in bed in my pajamas and weeping as I stare out the window into the middle distance. The promise of a Last Chance Kitchen victory for Kristen is the only thing that has me back to eating solid foods. Also, Kristen followed me on Twitter and called me "the best :)" so I have to wonder: should my groomsmen wear tuxedos at our wedding? Obviously I am going to go classic black tie, but I am thinking slim black suiting for the oh I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is: Kristen, I'll be in Boston this weekend performing. How late is Stir open? DM me.

Un Petit Steve Zissou Sheldon has momentum in the form of back-to-back wins and a brand new Toyota Gorgonzola. The rest of the house is as stunned as I was with how the last elimination went down. Stefan says, "Well, the ex-wife is gone. She didn't stand up for herself." It's very disappointing to hear Stefan be this short-sighted. In the long run, viewers will remember the valiant way Kristen fell on her sword. But the chefs know about Last Chance Kitchen, and Stefan says, "Of course she'll be back." He's obviously quoting Armand's iconic line from The Terminator 2, "Of course I'll be back." Meanwhile, Josie's in her room crying to an uncomfortable-looking Lizzie, though Lizzie is always looking uncomfortable these days. Josie is upset the other chefs all believe she deserved to go home. "I didn't get here the pretty way." No one's saying you did, Josie. No one.


Remember that game in gym class where everyone whipped a giant rainbow parachute into the air and then sat under it and took turns running around? I think it was supposed to teach you about colors, balloons, and air bubbles. Anyway, Padma is wearing one of those as a dress, and she introduces this week's Quickfire judge, LA sushi-master Katsuya Uechi. Stefan knows Uechi from LA and is eager to not screw up in front of him. Also, Stefan has yet to win a challenge, and he's getting desperate. With Kristen gone, he needs some kind of endorphin-release or he'll explode. The chefs have 30 minutes to create a dish "to impress a sushi master." From here on out, Quickfire wins don't get you immunity, but the winner of this challenge takes home five grand. Chef Uechi urges the chefs to treat their ingredients simply: do not mix or touch too much. This is not a challenge for Sir Mix-A-Lot or MC Double Touch.


Brooke brags that she and her husband eat sushi three times a week. Careful, Princess Yupster, you are going to get Jeremy Piven's Disease. Lizzie, more and more stressed as this season wears on, decides to make a soup. Josie lets no one in particular know that she's doing some kind of New England clam chowder sushi. Stefan speaks for the audience when he looks around and says, "What?" He scrambles to put something together in the 30 minutes. "I've got writer's block!" Brooke attacks an octopus.


Sheldon blends some lemon embers in the VitaMix and it looks cool. Josh surprises us all and reveals he likes bacon. I love eating it but at this point in my life I'd be happy to never hear anyone say the word "bacon" ever again. Why can't it just be something we never talk about but all enjoy privately, like cocaine? Stefan rolls his eyes at Josh's egg sandwich sushi. In Japan, he says, they cut off your finger for making a mistake. Do they?


Chef Uechi tastes everyone's food, as is the custom when someone is judging a Quickfire. He does not enjoy Lizzie's lobster, microgreens, and pickled ginger soup. The tempura was chewy and the heat of the broth made the fish fishier. He also did not like Josh's tempura bacon, omelette, and salmon belly sushi with a yuzu aioli, because obviously. It sounds like the sort of thing you'd find at a food court sushi restaurant, a dish with a name like the Andy Sipowicz Roll, and you'd be like, "Really? You named one of your sushi rolls after a character from NYPD Blue? That show's been off the air for seven years, made-up restaurant." Brooke's mercury poisoning pays off, as Chef Uechi loves her "clean" octopus. I get a little creeped out as he keeps looking at Brooke and repeating how "clean" her octopus tasted. Stefan, though, breaks his losing streak with his yellowtail and raw lobster sushi. "It only took me 27 challenges." He gets some money, but five grand won't bring Kristen back.


Padma marches out Tom Colicchio and global brand David Chang. Tom, being a huge celebrity and the face of Top Chef, obviously gets a swank-ass house rented for him by the show when he's working in a city. For this week's Elimination Challenge, the chefs are going to come over to his house and cook a fried chicken dinner for him and his guests. If you assumed the guests would be some dumpy-faced civilians, you'd be wrong. In addition to Dave Chang and Tom and Padma, the chefs will be cooking for Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Son of a Gun and Animal fame. Don't screw up. The winner gets a year's supply of that wine they are always talking about, Toiletto or something. Stefan starts brainstorming. He's a wordsmith. "I like breasts a lot, but you can hold onto thighs better. It depends on the size of the chicken." Wait a second. I think he's talking about something else.


Southern-style chef Josh could not be more pumped for this challenge. It's amazing he does not spend the entire episode twirling his mustache, because why else would he have a mustache like that? He gets real cocky real fast. He gives shit to Josie ("Florida isn't the South") and then turns around and scoffs at how Brooke is breaking down her chicken ("I just threw up in my mouth a little.") God, of course Josh would say that. What a dork. We're about an episode away from him telling the judges his food was "an epic fail." I did like how he quick-brined his chicken with a syringe, though. It's like something out of American Horror Story.


Everyone is very confident in their fried chicken recipes, in a way that all Italians swear by their own family's meatballs. Josie says to Stefan, "How do you say 'kiss my ass' in German?" He tells her, and she repeats it. He says, "You just said, 'I'm going home next.'" Josie, don't you know that anything you say in German comes true? The chefs have one hour to prep for the judges. It's a small kitchen, and the fryers and stockpots are set up out on the patio. Some of the burners are too hot and one of the fryers breaks. It's pandemonium, per usual. But all the chicken looks great and I want to eat it. Meanwhile, the All-Star cast of diners proceeds to get hammered on the back lawn of Tom's beautiful bayside villa. Everyone's drunk and feeling good.


Tom says to Wolfgang, "You should open a chain of fried chicken restaurants and call them Wolfgang Clucks." Everyone howls, and Tom is very pleased with his joke. It was like that scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey imagines how funny he'll be when he gets to Aspen. Meanwhile, Wolfgang texts his business manager and Wolfgang Clucks will be open in 15 airports by the end of February. Padma says, "I love fried chicken," and Tom nostalgically recalls the way his mother made it when he was a boy. Padma, as she has practiced her whole life, nods and pretends to listen intently while the Important Man talks.


Sheldon burns some of his wings and then tosses them, so he ends up serving the diners a smaller platter of his chicken two ways, with umami drums and thighs and wings ala Momofuku. It's a testament to how good it is that the judges fight over the insufficient serving. Lizzie doesn't really know fried chicken — as a child she dreamed of getting a big bucket of it — but her take is made with coriander and black pepper with a peach slaw. The judges can't believe she only served the breast, but it's still great. Tom loves her slaw. Josie says, once again, "Time management is my Achilles' heel." She serves a Southern fried chicken with black garlic and a bunch of other stuff. It's cool she mentioned she used "all-purpose flour." That's an interesting detail. It's greasy and not at all Southern. Jon Shook says to Emeril, "In the South we'd run Josie back up to somewhere like New England." Does Shook know Emeril is from Fall River? The judges laugh at how she served it on a banana leaf. I'd feel bad for Josie if I wasn't so desperate for her elimination.

Stefan serves a chicken cordon bleu that gives Emeril the "Chicken Cordon Blues." We had those once a week in high school and we called them "Chicken Footballs" and they were gross and I'd never eat them again. Josh, cocky as ever, serves his smoked fried chicken with hot sauce and blue cheese. Mustache-wax be damned, it looks amazing. Tom's never had smoked fried chicken, and though it lacks crunch, he says it had the most flavor of any dish. Brooke had big plans to mix in chicken skin with the coating of her breasts, but she ran out of time to do the chicken skin. That's confusing, because she also says her breasts are done too early so she leaves them in the oven until it's time to serve. It comes out dry and bland. Her case is not helped when the Animal partners reveal they interviewed to be line cooks for her and she didn't hire them. She's not having a good day. Wolfgang says, "Top Chef? I wouldn't even call this the Apprentice." Good one, Wolfgang. "Dis is not Top Chef, dis is da Beegest Loser. Dis is not de X-Factor, it's de Blechh-Factor. I need to take an American Midol, because dis chicken gave me my period!"


After cigarettes, Greek yogurt, and Sheldon's ukelele playing, Padma calls Josh, Sheldon, and Lizzie in front of the judges. Lizzie is so surprised to be grouped among the winners. Even when she's doing well she seems apologetic. She says, "I'm not so familiar with fried chicken!" Wolfgang busts Sheldon on his meager portion. "I thought that Top Chef didn't have enough money to give you enough chicken." Josh's grandpa-chicken takes the prize, though. His did look great, and I'm glad he won, because if he hadn't, his head might have exploded right out the back of his stupid hat.


Brooke, Stefan, and Josie are all on the bottom, and Padma calls them all "bullshitters." Brooke has a very circular argument for why she screwed up her non-concept so badly. "It was the most difficult challenge for me because of the simplicity." Stefan thought his cordon bleu was a twist on fried chicken, but it wasn't; it was what the judges get in bad banquets. Wolfgang corrects Stefan's claim that there's no fried chicken in Europe. Josie gets it the worst, though. After blaming the grease on her lack of time to drain the chicken, Tom snaps at her, "Exactly. You're wasting time." Weakly and awkwardly, she cites how everyone else thought it was good, which is the Top Chef equivalent of citing how you have a black friend. Tom burns her and hard. "I guess me, Wolfgang, Emeril, Dave Chang, Shook and Dotolo don't know what we're talking about." Damn, Josie. Your bullshit has finally caught up with you. The tragedy, though, is that this didn't happen between two and eleven weeks earlier. Padma, without a fake-out, sends Josie packing for real this time. She smiles and thanks the judges. Stefan goes in for a hug and Josie gives him a high-five and then such an awkward goodbye happens. It perfectly sums up everyone's relationship with Josie. Good riddance.


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