‘Top Chef Seattle,’ Ep. 16: Craft work


And then there were three: Brooke, left, Sheldon and Kristen battle it out for the “Top Chef” crown. (DAVID MOIR/BRAVO)
February 21, 2013

It’s the penultimate episode of “Top Chef Seattle”! Sheldon Simeon. Brooke Williamson. The final two — before a third finalist joins from Last Chance Kitchen. We learn it’s been six months since they were in Alaska. The camera crew visits Sheldon on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii, where we see him cooking in his restaurant and grilling on the beach with his family. They also visit Brooke in Los Angeles where we see her spending time with her husband and son, and running their restaurants.

Cut to . . . Brooke and Sheldon arriving at Tom Colicchio’s L.A. restaurant, Craft, where we learn Kristen Kish won Last Chance Kitchen and will be the third finalist. But only sort of. This week’s episode is an Elimination Challenge, after which one of them will be going home, leaving two for next week’s real finale. The challenge? Be the chef at Craft and create a three-course menu (appetizer, entree, dessert) for dinner service. Tom will be in the kitchen expediting, which means he will call out the orders as they come in, tell the chefs when to fire each course and check the plates before they go out. He’ll also make sure the kitchen is running smoothly throughout. Oh, and the restaurant opens in just three hours. Padma, Hugh, Emeril, Martin Yan, John Besh and Tom are tonight’s judges.

As they cook, Hugh checks on Brooke, Tom checks on Kristen and Emeril checks on Sheldon. None of them seem to be flailing or chaotic or nervous. Oh, whoops. I spoke too soon. Brooke is waaaaaay behind schedule. Kristen swears at her whipped cream. Sheldon can’t find a sheet pan.

Service begins and the camera cuts to Tom looking frustrated. It’s weird: While I’ve never worked in a professional kitchen, I have staged in a few and certainly have spent time doing observations during service . . . and this competition kitchen seems awfully quiet to me. Tom calls out orders, and none of the chefs are repeating them back. They just put their heads down and work. Which — and any chefs reading this should comment below — is that normal? Have I only spent time in super-loud, overly communicative kitchens? It feels weird to see such a lack of call and response. Maybe it’s just the way the show was edited; I dunno.

In between his own bites of the cheftestants’ dishes, Tom tells Brooke that she’s not working fast enough and that she can’t fire everything just to order. He tells Kristen that she’s not working fast enough either. Sheldon seems to be the only one not chastised for his speed or lack thereof.

Here’s what the cheftestants made.

Sheldon:

* sashimi spot prawns, court bouillon, radish and Asian herbs

* roasted quail, pine nut puree, garam masala and tangerine

* white chocolate mousse with apple and fennel

Kristen:

* chestnut veloute, duck rillette and Brussels sprouts

* seared ahi tuna with veal-mustard jus and Meyer lemon puree

* curry chocolate with cashews

Brooke:

* crispy veal sweetbread salad with kumquat, beets and mustard

* braised short ribs, parmesan sauce, nettle puree and squash dumplings

* brown butter cake, whipped goat cheese and blackberry sauce

Tom leaves the kitchen at the end of service and joins the other judges to talk about the food. Then it’s time for Judges’ Table with Hugh, Emeril, Tom and Padma. Emeril and Hugh liked Sheldon’s spot prawns. Tom didn’t like the pine nuts in Sheldon’s quail. Emeril said the quail wasn’t a signature Sheldon dish; Hugh said it lacked flavor. None of the judges liked his fennel dessert.

On to Kristen: Tom liked her veloute, but Hugh thought it was too safe. Emeril thought the tuna was perfectly cooked but that the other components were too bitter. None of them loved her dessert; Hugh called it overdone. Brooke’s turn: Tom complimented her sweetbreads, although Hugh wanted them cleaned more. Brooke admitted her timing during prep was off. Emeril loved her short ribs, and Padma loved the sauce and thought it was the best of any of the main courses served. Hugh loved her dessert, and Emeril told her it was “pretty damn good” and said that Besh and Yan loved it as well. But here comes Buzzkill Tom, telling her it wasn’t restaurant-quality.

Who’s going home? Sheldon. That leaves Brooke and Kristen as the two finalists. Which . . . can I brag for just a minute? I was interviewed by Hanna Raskin with Seattle Weekly back in January, and she asked about my predictions for the finale. I said I thought there would be an all-female finale. And I was right! Now, I did have Lizzie in there instead of Sheldon, but ultimately, I picked Brooke to win it and Kristen to come in second. So, I’m well on my way to being super-right, yeah?

Up Next Week: The real finale. Brooke vs. Kristen. Live in front of a studio audience! Former “Top Chef” winners in the audience. Former “Top Chef Seattle” cheftestants as sous-chefs. At the end of the promo, they show the audience response to the reveal of who is this season’s Top Chef, and show a table full of former “Top Chef” winners whooping and hollering — except for L.A. boy Michael Voltaggio. Who stays seated and is only slightly clapping. Is that because his fellow Angeleno Brooke doesn’t win? But Padma seems giddy-smiley and excited when she announces it, and we all know she loathes Kristen, so maybe Brooke wins? Oh, Magical Elves, how you tease us . . .

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