We're coming off a really emotional Top Chef episode, and what do you do when you go through something really emotional? Post hot pics on Instagram, duh.
For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs are greeted by Padma Lakshmi and a flat screen television. She introduces an anonymous and Instagram-famous "Chef Jacques La Merde," who is hidden by shadows and voice modulation, to introduce the task at hand. The remaining contestants must create a dish that deserves the honor of being tagged #soigne using a table of every middle schoolers dream — junk food.
The chefs race to start deconstructing Twinkies and blending up corn chips to assemble absolutely stunning (though borderline inedible) dishes. This isn't a cooking challenge, it's a plating challenge. It makes sense, they're in Los Angeles, what better to focus on than the way something looks regardless of what it actually is.
Amar Santana is delighted to see EZ Cheez on the table. "Cheese coming out of a can, that's the original foam." While he fools around with O.G. molecular gastronomy, Karen Akunowicz decides to froth up strawberries to give her plate a pink swish, mostly so it looks like her. Jeremy Ford, who trained under Jean Georges, knows about assembling a beautiful plate of food, which is why he's taking some in season Doritos and crushing them up into a soft, beautiful dust.
Phillip Frankland Lee seems like he was made for this challenge. So far in the competition he's been all appearance and little to no substance. Watching him plate chocolate pudding is somewhat unsettling, but he believes in his dish. "You can't rush art," he says, "and this challenge is all about art." It's actually mostly about artificial sweeteners and chemicals, but yes, at its core, I guess it's about art.
After everyone is done rolling their canned ham and massaging their Ding-Dongs (and no, neither of those are euphemisms), Padma brings out their mysterious guest judge. The Instagrammer extraordinaire is iQ executive chef Christine Flynn. Everyone's all shocked the chef is a woman, as if women don't know pretty much everything about Instagram.
Each chef then gets a chance to bring their dish to the front and take the perfect picture of it to post on Instagram. The post that gets the most likes from the show's followers wins immunity.
Chad White's plate features an excellent use of negative space. Carl Dooley utilized the can his meats came from to build an elaborate cascade. Marjorie Meek-Bradley's bologna spaghetti is apparently very on trend. Karen's pink swoosh--oh hey cool hair!--was accompanied by an Oreo cookie dirt and doughnuts.
Phillip brought his dish to the front and then spent more time perfecting the angles on the picture than a girl coordinating the group photo at her own bachelorette party. Every time he seemed ready to snap the pic, he changed his mind and re-positioned it. Even Padma seemed annoyed, and she legitimately has thousands of photographs of herself taken for a living.
It would be great to immediately know who wins the challenge and the consequential immunity, but sadly everyone has to wait until the next day to find out which post on the Top Chef Instagram account got the most likes. So basically the chefs have to live life like the rest of us do every day. Just placing all of their value on the likes that roll in on some dumb photo.
While they are eagerly awaiting validation, however, there's an Elimination Challenge to worry about. To introduce this, Padma welcomes LA-based Redbird chef and owner Neal Fraser. He introduces to the contestants the concept of the beefsteak. It's not just a variety of tomato, it's also a traditional event that used to be held for political fundraising where men would pour into a hall or restaurant and make decision over literal handfuls of meat. Since this isn't (technically) how our political moves are made anymore, Chef Fraser is holding a beefsteak to raise funds for charity. For the challenge, teams of chefs must create a three item menu for the beefsteak including a meat, a seafood, and two sides that banquet tables can eat with their hands. No utensils.
The green team is Phillip, Amar, and Jeremy. The blue team is Marjorie,Chad, and Isaac Toups. And rounding out the red team is Karen, Carl, and Kwame Onwuachi.
On the blue team, Isaac is doing the meat dish, since he owns a restaurant that's named after him and meat. Seems like a logical choice. Marjorie decides that she'll do the sides and that one should be fresh made bread since it acts as a natural napkin. I'm going to say this, and it may be controversial, but can we replace all napkins and utensils with bread? I mean, it really seems like a great idea socially.
At Whole Foods, Chad can't find a large piece of fish that he's hoping for, so he settles for tuna which is not exactly a hand-held fish.
Kwame wants to make peel and eat shrimp for his team's seafood dish, since it's one of the more natural choices in a challenge where no one can use any utensils. In my mind I was immediately thinking, "Crabs!" but then I remembered that in order to eat my home state of Maryland's culinary calling card you need an arsenal of tools that resembles what I imagine colonial surgeons had.
All of the teams seem to be grappling with the issue of meat vs. beef. It's called a "beefsteak," so should they be making a beef dish? Or will any meat you can eat with your hands do here? Carl is the only one using actual beef, where Isaac is doing chicken and bacon sausage and Phillip is doing lamb.
The next day starts and Marjorie is nervous because she's making fresh milk bread, but if the proofing isn't perfect it'll be just chewy balls of dough. There's no margin for error, though she's crushed her competition with baking in previous challenges, so safe to put your money on her knocking it out of the park. She's also in the kitchen busting the guys' balls with jokes about size and it only makes me want her to win even more.
As the chefs prep the final elements of their dishes, the Hollywood guests seat themselves for the beefsteak. Everyone is dressed black tie, but then wearing a white apron for the inevitable mess. It's like hundreds of unnecessarily beautiful penguins sitting down for a meal. Alongside Padma is Tom Colicchio and a bow-tied Hugh Acheson.
First to serve is the green team. Phillip prepared a New Zealand rack of lamb with prune jam. Amar made grilled halibut with mustard vinaigrette, cucumber, and pickled red onion. For the sides, Jeremy served fried brussels sprouts with bacon and cilantro and roasted carrots with spiced yogurt. As a menu, the flavors make sense. The judges all appreciate a protein that is served on the bone, which is what a beefsteak used to be all about. With one piece remaining, Padma goes to eat it but doesn't, prompting Hugh to fling the piece of meat behind him onto the floor. I assume that's the kind of behavior that was welcome at the traditional beefsteak. At least, I think this was the order of events. I was two thirds of the way through a box of wine during this scene and just assumed it was the ol' game of "pin the bad behavior on the gorgeous model because she can get away with anything."
Next up is the blue team, which included Isaac's chicken and bacon sausage with grilled cabbage, Chad's ash seared tuna with citrus, pickled beets, and black sesame, and Marjorie's sides of milk bread and assorted pickled vegetables. Everyone is excited by the big plate of sausage to grab and eat with their hands, but unfortunately underwhelmed by the flavor and the fact that it's actually chicken. I totally understand chicken sausage when you're making food at home and have to "fit into your bridesmaid dress or Jen will be mad," but when you're serving a dish at an event named after red meat, why not just go for it? Even though Isaac's sausage is underwhelming, no one at the judges' table can get past the presence of microgreens on Chad's overly delicate and prissy tuna. They love Marjorie's sides though. What a win for nature's napkin, bread!
The last group to serve is the red team. This menu features Carl and Karen's steak with romesco, Kwame's peel and eat shrimp with aromatic butter, and Karen's sides of asparagus with chorizo and potatoes with olives. The whole meal has a Spanish influence, which feels like a good move for this challenge. Everyone loves the beef but are slightly annoyed by how little the serving is on the giant silver platter on which it's plated. While the meat tastes good but looks unexciting, the shrimp was greeted with oohs and aahs but then disappointed everyone by being flavorless and kind of mealy. In the previous challenge, Kwame knew when he made a mistake with his dish, but getting negative feedback at the table here took him by complete surprise.
All three teams really struggled with this challenge and none of them really embraced the true nature of the event for which they were cooking. It's about eating with your hands, about sinking your teeth into juicy, red meat, and more than one dish was plated using tweezers.
Back at Judges' Table, the first order of business is learning who among the chefs won immunity for their perfectly plated Instagram dish. With 5,795 likes, the winner is Karen. Apparently her hair is a huge hit when plated along with sugary desserts. Man, almost six thousand likes, you'd think it was a picture of an engagement ring.
The winners are the green team of Phillip, Amar, and Jeremy. All of the dishes were great, but the overall winner of the challenge is Phillip for his rack of lamb.
As for the bottom team of the evening, it's Isaac, Chad, and Marjorie. The judges had problems with Isaac's sausage both being chicken and also being pretty bland. It's a damning criticism as he considers himself a chef who uses bold flavors. They also could not get past the microgreens on Chad's tuna. It was the wrong dish for the challenge. Marjorie's sides, however, were both hits with the judges, prompting Tom to call her "the best baker to ever be on the show." No argument here (as someone who has never once tasted her food but is weirdly just rooting for her to win). After some deliberating, Chad is sent to pack his knives and go.
Will he survive in Last Chance Kitchen? Will Isaac get back his bold flavors? Will Phillip become an insufferable nightmare now that he has this win? We'll find out on next week's apparently very dramatic restaurant wars.