On this week’s episode, the four remaining chefs — Paul, Ed, Sarah and Lindsay — walk into the San Antonio Top Chef kitchen and are soon joined by Beverly, the winner of Top Chef’s online losers-bracket competition.
Before them are five silver cloches, under which blindfolds are hidden. They cheftestants are told they’ll be doing a pantry raid with 30 minutes to cook their dishes, but they must be blindfolded when choosing their ingredients. And, they have to use every ingredient they select.
The winner will be given either a Prius (ask former “Top Chef” finalist Mike Isabella what he did with his when he finally got his a year after he won it) or a guaranteed spot in the finals — and won’t have to compete in the Elimination Challenge. The chefs meander around the kitchen and eventually find the pantry and refrigerators. For some reason, Beverly doesn’t quite make her way there, but Padma steps in to guide her.
I call shenanigans. If I were at this stage, I think I’d be picking random things and dropping them in the other chefs’ baskets just to mess with them. Sarah and Lindsay start cooking with 23 minutes to go. Ed is the last to start cooking and realizes he grabbed sausage casings when he thought he was picking pancetta, but that’s the only real whoopsie moment of this challenge.
Here’s what they made:
Beverly: striped bass with avocado, lime and jalapeno.
Paul: sauteed prawn with Thai-style tomato salad.
Ed: “udon” with ribbons of zucchini, mushrooms and scallions.
Sarah: corn soup with onion, red chili, roasted mushrooms and peaches.
Lindsay: fish with bulgur, mascarpone and broccoli rabe.
Tom lauds Ed’s ingenuity in boiling the heck out of the casings to make a soup base. He also liked the sweet-salt-bitter balance in Paul’s dish but said the prawn was slightly undercooked. Tom tells Beverly he liked her diced avocado on the side, but that her fish was undercooked. He tells Lindsay her fish was perfectly cooked and that the bulgur was a nice touch and that he liked the char on her greens. Last, Tom tells Sarah hers was definitely a case of having to force an ingredient (the peaches) into a dish, but that it worked.
Tom tells the chefs it’s between Ed and Sarah. And the winner is . . . Sarah. She chooses the guaranteed spot in the finale. Ed and Paul grouse a bit about her choice, and Ed says he thinks Sarah isn’t confident enough to compete for the spot. I say that’s sour grapes. I’d take the guaranteed spot, too.
For the Elimination Challenge, Padma and Tom bring in the finalists’ mentors/bosses:
For Sarah: Tony Mantuano, owner of Spiaggia.
For Lindsay: Michelle Bernstein, owner of Michy’s.
For Beverly: Sarah Stegner, owner of Prairie Grass Cafe, and Beverly’s first boss when the cheftestant was 16.
For Paul: Tyson Cole, owner of Uchi, and really easy on the eyes.
For Ed: Frank Crispo, owner of Crispo, and Ed’s first boss.
Beverly had hoped they’d be bringing in her 2-year-old son. Whatever, Beverly. Paul cries and cries and cries. The mentors shed a few tears, too. I just don’t get it. They must be exhausted, right? Is that why the waterworks switched on?
The challenge is to make a dish that fulfills or exceeds their mentors’ expectations. They have 30 minutes to shop, 2 1/2 hours to prep and one hour to cook the next day. The winner gets a Prius, and Sarah is excused for the rest of the challenge and told she can go off and relax and enjoy some time with her mentor, Tony. They have lunch and drink tequila. The remaining chefs shop and prep and head back to the house for the night. Paul calls his girlfriend, and they all head out the next day to finish up and get ready for service that night.
Tom, Padma, Hugh Acheson and Gail Simmons join all the mentors at a candle-lit table. Padma, known for her one-shouldered wardrobe, is actually wearing a beautiful one-sleeved dress that might be the prettiest thing she’s ever sported in the history of the show. But, more important than Padma’s attire (but not by much this season for sure), here’s what they ate:
Beverly: Gulf shrimp and BBQ pork Singapore noodles.
Lindsay: seafood “stew” over toasted couscous and broth with emulsified creamy stock.
Paul: chilled sunchoke and dashi soup with summer vegetables.
Ed: braised pork belly with smoked-oyster crema and pickled vegetables.
The four remaining chefs are called before Judges’ Table. Tom tells Paul he had a lot of guts making a soup for this challenge, but that the restraint of the dish he served showed the talent of a chef with many more years’ experience than Paul actually has. Gail praised the flavor in every bite. Tom and Gail commend Beverly for the clear flavors in her dish and the execution in using a wok (or two). Padma tells Beverly and Paul that they served the judges’ two favorite dishes of the night, and they both move on to the finals with Sarah. Paul wins the Prius, and this has to cement some sort of record of the most winnings on “Top Chef.” What was he up to, $50,000 in cash? And now a car worth $30,000? Very nice. I hope he wins the whole competition.
It’s down to Lindsay and Ed. Gail tells Lindsay the aroma of her dish was intoxicating, and that there was a beautiful balance of seafood. She questions Lindsay’s use of cream in the broth. Tom and Hugh question her use of dried herbs, because they overpowered the dish. Gail praises Ed’s pickled vegetables, but tells him the oyster sauce was “slightly off.” Hugh calls him out for using canned, smoked oysters, and tells him the overall dish was “too busy” with too much going on.
So who’s going home? Ciao, Ed . . . and he does it with more grace than anyone before him. Lindsay moves on to the finals, which take place in Vancouver, British Columbia, and involve some skiing, shooting, ice picks, Tom in snow pants (!!!) and outdoor cooking.
Your final four: Sarah, Paul, Beverly, Lindsay.
Who’s your pick to win it?
I’m Team Paul.