Don't bet with me. I'm wrong about everything.
Hot on the heels of me proclaiming that Shirley was the obvious choice to win, Top Chef eliminated her tonight, along with Louis, the eight-time Last Chance Kitchen winner that apparently just cannot catch a break in the regular competition. Nina and Nicholas advance to the finale based on the strength of the dishes they made in the "canoe food" challenge—a challenge cooked outdoors during a thunderstorm, so that's something.
Though I was in Shirley's camp for "Maui Wowie" (one of the worst Top Chef episode titles, I think we can all agree), Louis' elimination hurt a lot more. He didn't make much of an impression in the main show, but he got comfortable and successful in Last Chance Kitchen, and I was interested to see what he might bring to the table in the finale. Unfortunately, I felt like this challenge didn't really test his abilities too well. "Canoe food" refers to the range of food available to the first Polynesian settlers of Hawaii—a few varieties of fish, pork, chicken, and a bunch of indigenous fruits and vegetables. It's not much of a range—and as you might have guessed yourself if you've attended anything luau-themed, there isn't a lot of seasoning available in traditional Polynesian food.
I wish the episode had gone into more detail about spices—because my guess is that seasoning is what made Nick win and what sent Shirley and Louis home. At this stage in the game, all of the chefs have proven to have exemplary technique and creative ideas for what to do with their cuisine—now it seems like the judges are testing more for how refined their palates are, and how much care they show into the finishing touches of a dish.
We see, for example, that Nina tastes every single thing she cooked before plating it—maybe the other contestants just didn't have enough time to do that—and though I personally find Nick's machismo grating, he clearly thought a lot about how to differentiate the taste of his dish. Louis and Nina ended up in the same flavor quadrant when they both chose the same fish (opah)—in prep, you even see them both hacking open coconuts and scooping them out, which is a little ominous. Weirdly, it seemed like everything the judges said about Louis' flavors was positive—and meanwhile, a few of the judges thought Nina's dish was too spicy. But ultimately, it seems that hers was more innovative. (A question I have, though: Why was Louis' choice to cook the opah "ballsy," and Nina's wasn't? Did they do something different, or was it just a comment on how Louis was making his way back into the competition?)
Meanwhile: It's hard to imagine that Shirley would ever skimp on seasoning, but a quick throwaway line in the elimination challenge indicates that she had to throw out some of her sweet potato turmeric because of the rainwater. As a result, the dish didn't balance well enough. I bet in almost any other round, Shirley would have coasted by without a care—and certainly, if it wasn't a double elimination, she would have made it to the finale. But I don't think anyone anticipated that Nick would step up his game enough to win the challenge. His dish, as usual, had a lot of elements—opakapaka, a native fish, with crispy chicken skin and fresh sliced jalapeño. (Another question: Did he put fish in the pressure cooker? If not, what was in the pressure cooker? That was a confusing sequence.)
Anyway—once it started raining, it felt like the results of the elimination challenge were going to be hard to predict. There's no way to be sure whether or not rainwater messed up Louis' and Shirley's dishes. The quickfire was gimmicky, but spam also let the chefs showcase their strengths. The elimination challenge ran a little more on luck.
- I guess it's not fair of me to say so, but I want Nina to win.
- Louis was crying at the end, and that was really difficult to watch. It feels like Shirley at least got a chance to shine—Louis, even in his successes, was relegated to LCK.
- Let's all go to Maui! (It was -10 degrees on Monday, I cannot take this anymore.)