Welcome back to another week of Top Chef (How Many Ways Can We Jam In That This Season Is In) Boston. We pick up once again where we left off, in the stew room after an elimination. This one was particularly difficult because two chefs were sent home last week. Katsuji Tanabe opens a beer and pours one out for Rebecca LaMalfa and James Rigato. It's really upsetting to watch. Not because I was overly sad to see either of them go, I just can't handle watching alcohol go to waste.
Padma Lakshmi and chef Jamie Bissonnette welcome the chefs to the kitchen. For the Quickfire Challenge, Padma will call out names of chefs, and they must pick another chef to go against in a head-to-head competition. But don't worry, this challenge isn't just about one-on-one cooking, it's also about the Reynolds family of products. Product placement had been so limited this season that I started to question everything I'd ever known about Top Chef, Bravo, and life itself, really. Well, those worries can go out the window because featured prominently in this Quickfire will be Reynolds aluminum foil, plastic bags, and whatever else they tossed at the show for the cheap promotion. In addition, the company is giving the winner $10,000.
Katsuji chooses sentient red Solo cup, Aaron Grissom. This duo makes sense because they are both obnoxious loudmouths who favor complicated dishes. While in the kitchen working on their respective smoked salmon creations, there's a lot of fighting and trash talk. It's fighting in that "I'm taking you down motherfucker just kidding this is all a game but also seriously I deeply hate you and might key your car" kind of way. So fun!
Doug Adams chooses Adam Harvey as his competitor. For me, this is a "battle of the guys I like." Keriann Von Raesfeld chooses Stacy Cogswell as her competition in making trout en papillote, and Melissa King picks Katie Weinner to go against in a battle of barbecue.
The last ones to be paired up are reigning champion Gregory Gourdet and powerhouse Mei Lin. Gregory chooses steamed dumplings as their dish. Mei has grown up making dumplings, she learned from her family at a young age and they seem to be almost second nature to her. Mei losing a dumpling challenge would be like Michael Phelps losing a swimming challenge or me losing a Xanax challenge. Some things are just an ingrained part of you.
Padma and Jamie visit each pair to see which dishes won out. They prefer Katie's chicken with pine nut baked beans and apple slaw to Melissa's smoked and seared scallop. Doug's steamed mussels in orange and saffron edge out Adam's Vadouvan-spiced mussels with fresno chili. Katsuji's sake-infused chipotle broth with smoked salmon wins over Aaron's smoked salmon with tarragon. And finally, Gregory's steamed shrimp dumpling with ginger and herbs narrowly beats out Mei's pork dumplings with black vinegar dipping sauce.
The winner of the Reynold's Quickfire is Gregory, who gets ten grand and yet another notch in his belt of success.
For the Elimination Challenge, Padma pulls out a poster outlining the five most critical battles of the Revolutionary War. Why, you ask? BECAUSE WE ARE IN BOSTON. For the challenge, the chefs are split into two teams: those who won their Quickfire head-to-head, and those who lost. In this "war," the chefs will go head-to-head with another chef in "battles." For each battle won, that team earns a point. The first team to three points wins and is safe from elimination, and one member of the losing team will be sent home. It's probably the most complicated thing on Top Chef since Padma's last jumpsuit.
There's some strategy for who each team picks to go in the battles, but I kind of missed it because 1. it was a little confusing and 2. I got lost in thought trying to figure out how to explain to my downstairs neighbor that the sounds she heard from my apartment this morning weren't sex but were actually from me trying to put on tights alone.
Because this challenge needed another twist, each team only gets $1,000 to spend at Whole Foods for the five of them to each prepare dishes for 100 guests. Seriously, Top Chef? Whole Foods with only $1,000? That will get you like a box of Kashi cereal and two apples. I once tried to buy a week's worth of groceries at Whole Foods and had to apply for a loan. I hope the guests at this party like napkins.
The chefs arrive at the home of the Watertown Arsenal for the challenge and it feels like everyone is losing it. There's a lot of commotion, most of it I think around Katsuji's inexplicable cowboy hat, and in the fracas Aaron's pot of dashi broth is knocked over. He doesn't point fingers, which makes me think he knew it was his mistake, but now has no way to keep his scallop noodles moist without it. Thankfully, Mei has some extra dashi she can give him, though probably not enough to save the dish.
Judge Hugh Acheson reminds us that there are many states in our country where you can still open-carry a musket. I don't see how you could carry a concealed musket since they are the length of your arm and require loose gunpowder, but either way I'm glad they aren't allowed in Massachusetts because I could easily see one or two chefs wanting to use one during this challenge.
The first battle is between Adam and Doug, a rematch from the Quickfire. Adam prepares salt and pepper grits with cheddar cheese, poached egg, bacon, and onion jam, which the judges all love. They also like Doug's beef tartare with ginger aioli, radish and chili oil, though Tom Colicchio notes the beef itself is a little underseasoned. This battle goes to Adam and the "losers" (not my term, this is what Padma continually referred to the team as during the early stages of the challenge and it just kind of stuck, so it's a lot like high school).
Next up is Melissa and Katsuji, who briefly has and recovers from a panic attack while plating that we never revisit. I guess he's fine? Anyway, he presents a tostada with charred cauliflower, olive, date, and goat cheese. The judges enjoy some aspects, but find the overall dish a little rich and a little heavy. Melissa's soup, on the other hand, is kind of the opposite. Her chilled white gazpacho with cucumber, grapes, almonds, and mint is way too watery. The win goes to Katsuji.
Third to go is another Quickfire rematch, and an all-around battle royale between two heavyweights of the season, Gregory and Mei. Gregory prepared shitake mushrooms in coconut milk broth with tumeric and green curry. The judges absolutely love it, with Tom raving about the perfect balance of seasoning. Mei's kimchi vegetables with New York strip loin and scallion salad also impresses the judges, but once again Gregory walks away with the win. I guess that saying is true, when it rains it pours.
The overall score is now "winners" two points, "losers" one point. If Keriann wins her battle, the challenge is over. She presents her herbed meatball with red onion jam, ginger mustard, and pork reduction. Padma is kind of a fan, though mostly of the jam. Tom hates it. He can't stop talking about how much he hates it. He hates that dish more than Gwyneth Paltrow hates gluten. Stacy's marinated beets with pecan-sage yogurt and horseradish brittle are a lesser of two evils, so she wins.
With the scores tied, it all comes down to Aaron versus Katie. They battled once before in a sudden death Quickfire, but a lot has happened since then. Katie has been really successful in a few challenges, and Aaron has slightly shifted his hat further toward the center rather than to the side. He serves an Asian inspired pork meatball with scallop noodles. Hugh asks, "Are you happy with the noodle?" in the way that you ask someone, "Are you sure you want another drink?" where the answer of course is no, but they'll try and talk their way into a yes.
Katie made a imperial stout chocolate cake with smoked sour cream and pomegranate-molasses strawberries. The judges enjoy it. Though it isn't particularly exciting or envelope-pushing, she executed it well. Aaron thinks that Katie making a dessert is a cop-out, even though Tom rightly points out that most chefs struggle to make a successful dessert on the show. He claims, "I don't see people bringing chocolate cake to war," right before Hugh fires back that not many people bring scallop noodles either. Thank god our government isn't sending soldiers into battle armed with desserts and poorly executed Asian dishes. That would be a real disaster.
Katie wins the battle, and the red team/winners win the whole challenge.
At Judges' Table, they agree that of the losing team, Adam and Mei both served excellent dishes and are safe from elimination. This leaves Stacy, Aaron, and Melissa on the chopping block. Tom keeps going back to how much he hated Keriann's meatball, but that onion-heavy ship has sailed since her team won. The judges all note that Aaron bit off way more than he could chew with the dish, and then with the dashi incident, was destined to fail. It begs the question: why didn't anyone on his team speak up or help? The answer, of course, is that it's still an elimination challenge and they were focused on their own dishes.
Ultimately, Stacy's flavorless yogurt and Melissa's watery soup were still better than Aaron's mushy scallop noodle, and he is sent home. He explains that it was such an awesome experience to be with such awesome judges and work with such awesome other chefs (not sure if this is the right number of "awesomes," but I think it's close). Despite doing nothing but talk shit and start fights, he's very gracious in leaving and is thankful for the experience.
Probably for the best he isn't tuning in each week to see how the producers edited him on the show, he has a lot on his plate these days.