‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 12: Chicken hearted


Sheldon gets all umami with his fried chicken. (David Moir/Bravo)
January 24, 2013

Let me get this out of the way: I’m done being mad at “Top Chef Seattle” for eliminating Kristen. Why? Because I’ve decided that she’s gross with her smoking. Stefan can go next, as far as I’m concerned. A chef who smokes is like a prima ballerina who hires a Humvee to run over her feet 10 times a day, just for kicks. It’s stupid. Also? Cancer. Knock it off, chefs.

This week’s episode opens in the chefpartment where Sheldon feels good about his win, and Josie cries to try and elicit sympathy from Lizzie, who we all know is smarter than that. For their Quickfire, the cheftestants are greeted in the “Top Chef” kitchen by Padma’s older sister’s 1979 homecoming dress and master sushi chef, Katsuya Uechi. They have 30 minutes to create a dish to impress him using the basic elements of sushi: rice and fish. The winner gets $5,000, but no immunity.

Stefan does two preparations: Yellowtail with grilled shiitake, and raw lobster with seaweed and unagi;

Josie: Halibut with yuzu and bacon aioli;

Lizzie: Lobster, micro greens, pickled ginger with yuzu-sake broth;

Brooke: Octopus with yuzu and grated wasabi;

Josh: Tempura bacon, omelette, salmon belly and yuzu-kosho aioli;

Sheldon: Hamachi sashimi with fresh ponzu, mitsuba and lemon charcoal.

Katsuya didn’t really like Lizzie’s or Josh’s attempts, but was pleased with both Brooke’s and Stefan’s dishes. Stefan gets the Quickfire win.

For the Elimination Challenge, we welcome David Chang and Tom Colicchio to the kitchen where they announce a fried chicken challenge, which will take place that night. Josh says fried chicken is his jam. Tom’s invited a group of chefs who love fried chicken to help judge. Padma grinningly tells them the winner wins a year’s supply of Terlato wine, while the camera cuts to Stefan who grimaces in response.

The cheftestants start breaking down chickens and prepping their stations. Josh injects brine into his chicken pieces with a syringe. Josie prepares a spice blend, ostensibly to cover the fact that she can’t cook chicken clean and has to cover it with other crap. Brooke opts for a breast-only approach. The others go about their work. They later drive over to a house Tom claims on the show that he rented for his time in Seattle — and then tweeted during the show that he really didn’t. They share kitchen space inside and fryers outside. The cheftestants all seem to struggle with oil temps, prep space and time challenges.

The judges arrive: Chang, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Michelle Bernstein, Vinny Dotolo, Jon Shook and, of course, Tom and Padma. Here’s what they ate:

Sheldon: Umami drumsticks and thighs; wings with usukuchi, grapeseed oil and rice vinegar [sounds pretty darn good to me];

Lizzie: Chicken with coriander, black pepper and brown sugar rub with pickled peach-cabbage slaw;

Josie: Chicken with black garlic, cayenne, thyme and hot sauce with daikon salad;

Stefan: Chicken cordon blue with garlic aioli and lemon [welcome to “Top Nursing Home,” everybody!];

Josh: Smoked fried chicken with hot sauce, blue cheese and celery salad;

Brooke: Dukkah-crusted chicken breast with wilted escarole and tomato salad. [I love Brooke, but this sounds terrible.]

Seriously. Can none of them do real fried chicken? Like Dave Cruz ’s, Leah Chase ’s or Willie Mae ’s fried chicken — the three best fried chicken plates ever in the whole world?

The judges seem to like Sheldon’s and Lizzie’s chicken, but not Josie’s. They think Brooke’s is dry and gross. Wolfgang sticks his face in Josh’s chicken to savor the smoke. None of them loved Stefan’s cordon blue. The more the judges drink, the more breast and bone jokes they crack, and the more Wolfgang swears.

The cheftestants head back to the chefpartment — Judges’ Table will take place the next day. (Clearly, there was a lot of wine to sleep off, judges.) Sheldon jams out on the ukulele. Stefan says he’ll take whatever comes the next day. Josie thinks her chicken was amazing. South African native Lizzie is unsure of her dish because she claims she’s not familiar with fried chicken.

The next morning, the chefs go into the Stew Room. Padma calls Josh, Sheldon and Lizzie before Judges’ Table, where they’re told they served the best chicken the night before. Wolfgang praises Lizzie’s frying technique, while Tom loved the flavor of her peach-cabbage slaw. Chang compliments Josh on his smoked fried chicken, saying it was a “clever take on a traditional recipe.” Emeril tells him it was “darn good.” Tom tells Sheldon, “the only problem we had with your chicken is that there wasn’t enough.”

So, who won? Josh. He looks super-thrilled to be the proud owner of 365 bottles of Terlato wine.

They return to the Stew Room and send Josie, Stefan and Brooke out to Judges’ Table. Tom does his “I’m so disappointed in you” schtick and says he doesn’t understand why they made the decisions they made.

Tom tells Brooke her mistake was in breaking down the chicken and that her boneless chicken breast wasn’t up to par. Wolfgang tells her she overthought her chicken preparation, which ended up not impressing them at all. David tells Josie about the pool of grease left on the banana leaf she served the chicken on. “It was this gut bomb, and not in a good way.”

Josie says she ran out of time, and Tom tells her it seems timing has never been her strong suit. He ends up getting her to confess that she wasted time on other things when she could’ve been more focused on the basic step of draining her fried chicken on a paper towel. Josie doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut and says she thought her chicken was delicious. (“Everyone who tasted it loved it.”) Tom shuts her down by listing all the chefs that (h)ate her chicken and says, “I guess we have no idea what we’re talking about.”

On to Stefan next. He tells them that rather than fried chicken he did chicken cordon barf . . . I mean blerg . . . I mean blue because he “grew up in Europe, where we didn’t have fried chicken.” Tom asks Wolfgang where he grew up. “Austria, where in Vienna, especially, one of the most famous dishes is fried chicken.” Emeril and Tom tell him it wasn’t even good chicken cordon blue, let alone the fact that it wasn’t fried chicken.

Who’s going home? Josie. Finally. She goes up against Kristen (who beat CJ) in Last Chance Kitchen, where — I will just tell you now so you don’t have to watch another minute of Josie and her stupid headband ever again — Kristen wins.

Up Next Week: Curtis Stone, a floating Sizzler . . . I mean cruise ship to Alaska, big flavors, no fire, Padma’s silky straight hair and some pretty twisted post-eating facial expressions.

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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