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‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 11: Outlaw Josie Wails

By Carol Blymire,

Welcome back to “Top Chef Seattle,” my lovelies. Last week, Kristen and Sheldon’s restaurant concepts were chosen to be featured in this week’s episode, the conclusion of Restaurant Wars. Let’s just hope Part Deux isn’t Part Dud.

The show kicks off in the chefpartment where the teams — Kristen, Brooke, Josie, Lizzie and Sheldon, Stefan, Josh — begin planning the concepts and menus. As soon as Kristen says of her Atelier Kwan concept, “my whole idea is, like, just taking the beautiful, classical French flavors and just <twisty-hand-clapping-motion> flipping them around,” I start to worry. That sounds a) stupid, b) dumb, and c) stupid and dumb.

Sheldon’s modern Filipino menu at Urbano will be “sour, sour, sour,” says Sheldon . . . who is backed by two cheftestants who have never cooked Filipino food. As long as he can teach and lead and cook his flavors well, he could win this challenge.

They get to their raw restaurant space and outdoor patio, where they find they have to build not just the front-of-house area, but also their kitchens. Kristen and Lizzie head out to buy the food, while Brooke gets saddled with Josie, “helping” her pick up the linens and other rented equipment. Josh and Sheldon go to the Asian market for their ingredients. Stefan heads to the flower market. Ugh. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing worse than flowers in restaurants. Their scent interferes with the ability to taste food, and great restaurants don’t need flowers. Not at all.

The equipment arrives, build-out begins, and Kristen and Sheldon start planning how they want their operations to run in front and back of house. Their teams start the prep work to prepare for the competition the next day. Lizzie is organized and has thought out her dishes, as well as how she can support Kristen. Brooke is taking a lead in helping plan the seating area. Kristen just isn’t a very commanding leader, as Josie just decides she’ll do what she wants, prep-wise, when she decides she wants to do it. This is not going to end well.

After a night of planning, they head back to the Restaurant Wars space to kick into high gear for the competition service. Everyone is working hard and moving fast. Except Josie. Which I know must shock you, right? Seriously, how does this woman skate by with her less-than-mediocre “talent” every flippin’ week?

Stefan and Brooke take on front-of-house duties in their respective restaurants. Some Seattle chefs from previous episodes along with other guests begin arriving, and the food starts to flow. The judges — Padma, Gail, Emeril, Tom and Danny Meyer — arrive and Brooke is there to greet them. Finally! Someone in Restaurant Wars who understands how to run front of house. Here’s what’s on the menu at Kristen’s restaurant, Atelier Kwan:

Charcuterie (Lizzie): rabbit, pickled turnips and yellow beets in chicken and rabbit broth.

Then ... a big break in service time because Josie is slower than a sloth in plating her bouillabaisse, and there are issues with the sauce not working because the prep work didn’t happen when it was supposed to.

Bouillabaisse (Josie): halibut, Dungeness crab, bay scallops in shellfish broth with saffron.

Beef Bourgignon (Kristen): Burgundy-braised shortrib, garlic puree, mushrooms and carrots.

Cheese course (Brooke): gougeres with St. Agur blue cheese, roasted radish, sticky pine nuts and stone fruit compote.

Macaroon/Macaron (Kristen): almond cake macaron with coconut custard and caramel buttercream.

The judges head to Urbano next and are met with a diner backlog. People who’ve already eaten won’t leave their tables, and there’s a crowd waiting at the host stand. Danny and Tom wonder why Stefan hasn’t put a cocktail or glass of something in the hands of people who are waiting. Here’s what Sheldon and his team are serving:

Kilawen (Stefan): raw yellowtail with cilantro, spicy chili and white soy sauces.

Balut (Josh): poached egg, duck confit and foie gras mousse.

Miki (Sheldon): prawns and tapioca roll with achiote (delivered to the judges with zero announcement or explanation).

Adobo (Sheldon): pork belly with mung bean puree and pea shoot salad.

Halo Halo (Josh): coconut sorbet, avocado mousse, banana and shredded coconut.

Treat with tea (Stefan): dark chocolate with macadamia nuts, ginger and peppermint oil.

At the end of their meal at Urbano, Tom shares something he learned from Danny — and it’s something every chef, line cook, dishwasher, server, host, GM, sommelier, and restaurateur needs to know and always remember: People go to a restaurant for the food; they come back because of the hospitality.

And, for that reason, Tom says he ain’t comin’ back to Urbano. Emeril says he ain’t eatin’ Josie’s bouillabaisse again.

Back at Judges’ Table, all seven cheftestants are lined up in a row.

Tom tells them the food, overall, was “delicious ... with a few flaws here and there,” and then they launch into their review of Kristen’s concept, Atelier Kwan. Gail said the beef bourgignon, while cooked nicely, lacked the familiar acidic wine sauce she expected by virtue of the dish’s name. Gail also didn’t love Kristen’s dessert. Emeril compliments Brooke on her leadership skills in the dining room. Tom and Gail loved Lizzie’s charcuterie “soup” and praise her for it. Not so much when it comes to Josie’s bouillabaisse, which the judges say was lacking in sauce and flavor and add that Josie should’ve fought for her dish when she thought Kristen wasn’t listening to her concerns.

Tom shifts into his thoughts on Sheldon’s concept, Urbano. Tom likes the idea of Filipino cuisine becoming more available in the restaurant world and alluded that chefs like Sheldon could do really well in that genre. Emeril tells Stefan he was “blown away with disappointment” at how Stefan handled the room and that dishes were plunked down before the judges with zero explanation. Stefan agrees that it’s poor service, “because I’m a chef, not a server.” Tom and Gail praise Sheldon’s dishes, with Tom telling him the adobo was “hands down, the best thing I had all night.” Tom tells Josh his balut “didn’t read Filipino, but it did read good.”

So, which restaurant won? Urbano. Sheldon wins a car and the whole team seems shocked they won. Padma tells Stefan he’s lucky they won, implying he’d have been on the chopping block. They head back to the Stew Room while Kristen’s team stays with the judges.

Tom tells Lizzie and Brooke they’re safe. He then asks more questions about the bouillabaisse sauce and why they couldn’t execute it properly, with gelatin. Kristen explains it was a timing issue and that she made the decision to use cream instead of gelatin because that dish was behind schedule. Josie bumbles around and fake-cries while trying to pass the blame, and Kristen steps up and take responsibility; the dish concept was her idea, and she was the one that saw the plates go out to the judges. Friends who’ve been on “Top Chef” say that Judges’ Table can last hours and hours, so who knows what was really said in what order and what the real story was in how this all played out in the final cut of the Kristen vs. Josie segment.

The women get sent back to the Stew Room so the judges can deliberate.

Tom raises the very good point that while chefs need to be leaders, one person can’t do everything — concept, menu planning, prep, execution — and that Kristen didn’t leave enough room for interpretation among her team members to execute their own dishes. Which. Come on. That wasn’t true for Brooke’s and Lizzie’s dishes, obviously. Just Josie’s. Funny how that happens . . . how that always seems to be the case with her, huh? Gail and Padma fight with one another over whether Kristen or Josie should be blamed for the bouillabaisse cock up. Gail clearly wants Josie to go home — says she’s skating by. Padma clearly wants Kristen to go home. What a surprise: Padma guns for the pretty, skinny girl on the show. Tom and Emeril say they’re torn.

So who’s outta there? Kristen. She’s gone.

Wow, Top Chef. Just ... wow.

And what was maybe even worse than the actual choice was the edit. The first thing out of Padma’s mouth is, “Josie...” followed by “you’re safe; Kristenpleasepackyourknivesandgo.”

Up Next Week: Fried chicken and sushi. And a big old slice of bull pie.

Further reading:

* ‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 10: On the ‘War’ path

* ‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 9: Memory Eraser

* ‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 8: Rinksmanship

* ‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 7: Berry basic

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