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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Frustrations boil over as Top Chef sprints toward the halfway mark

Screenshot: Bravo
Screenshot: Bravo
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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs. 

  • Well, it’s Thursday night. You know what means.
  • That was a rough one, huh? Not a bad episode, mind you, but there was a palpable sense of despair spiraling through the proceedings. It was clear from early on—first through editing and then through what seemed like a conscious or unconscious attempt at self-sabotage—that Tanya was going home this episode. And watching her veer from recklessness to frustration to anger—“Don’t project that on me, Gail” made me gasp!—was heartbreaking, though I believe her when she says she’s relieved in some way to be eliminated. Tanya just really seems to have her own style, both culinarily but also in how she cooks, that I think was maybe threatened by this episode’s focus on precision and technique. She operates by intuition, and maybe doesn’t feel a connection to those, like Adrienne, who thrive on technique. Or maybe not. I’m just spitballing. Anyways, sad to see her go.
  • This episode’s queasy shows of emotion reminded me of Brooke’s struggles last season, when her own sense of insecurity began to manifest in ways that brought out what were clearly some inner demons. Competition can be hell.
  • Speaking of Brooke, she showed up to judge in some kind of jumpsuit. (See the below clip from Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket for some jumpsuit-related humor.)
  • Sorry for the detour. I promise you it is now
  • Quickfire: Nutella must’ve shelled out some big bucks because not only were the chefs tasked with cooking a breakfast dish with it, but it was also pretty clear that that the producers were asking each of them to say something nice about Nutella in their interviews. That led to a lot of “I put it on toast” declarations. Yeah, we all do. The real challenge here, however, was that the chefs had to cook in their own kitchen on no sleep and with limited resources. Carrie was literally climbing on the goddamned counter.
Screenshot: Bravo
Screenshot: Bravo
  • All that counter climbing paid off, though, because she took home the win with a spicy, savory Nutella and jelly eggs benedict. Sounds wild. She gets immunity, five grand, and probably some powdered sugar all over her sweatpants.
  • “Are you guys ready for some games?” Padma asks, and though she said it with all the peppiness of which she’s capable, I couldn’t help but think...
  • As a tie-in with the Winter Olympics, Padma brings out a trio of buff, illustrious Olympians to awkwardly try and connect sports with food.
  • Elimination Challenge: It’s actually sorta complicated. But I dug it! So, three teams of three chefs. Three rounds, split into speed, precision, and “freestyle.” One team member from each trio chooses one of the rounds. Speeders need to cook something quick. Precisioners needs to cook a dish that both nails a protein’s temperature without a thermometer and highlights precision knife cuts. And freestylers need to make magic with a mystery protein that’s revealed onsite. Also, it all unfolds in front of a live audience in an Olympic-like fashion with points and medals being awarded. Most points wins. Got that? I give my description a 7. Judges?
Screenshot: Bravo
Screenshot: Bravo
  • Dammit.
  • Chicago Joe and Bruce bring on Joestachio as their baby cub; they are the Bear Clan. Fatima, Carrie, and Adrienne dub themselves the Foxes. And Tanya, Claudette, and Chris are, well, Team Trainwreck.
  • I actually really enjoyed the challenge overall. It was fast-paced and incorporated so many angles of competitive cooking, from creativity to technique to teamwork and the ability to think on your feet. The Bear Clan takes it home, taking top honors in every category. Joestachio gets extra kudos for his short rib casoncelli with ramps and some carrot stems/dehydrated carrots/I have no idea what he’s talking about.
  • The Foxes also put up some great dishes and Le Bernardin’s Adrienne doesn’t disappoint Monsieur Ripert by getting top marks for her knife skills. Despite Chris’ lauded braised short rib with ginger-scented tofu cream, Team Trainwreck crumbles beneath both Tanya’s substandard knife work and her and Claudette’s bad blood. After a heated Judge’s Table, Tanya goes home. But we discussed that above.
  • Despite the drama this episode, it really seems like these chefs really like each other. The party they threw for Bruce was so sweet, as was the crew who stayed up with him until the news came in that he and his wife’s birth mother brought their little one into the world. Congrats to that wild-haired grizzly.
  • Chicago Joe brought the quotes tonight. A few below:
  • Of his Nutella banana coconut stock: “That’s not a thing. Probably for a reason.”
  • On the Batonnet cut: “Why would anybody do that?”
  • It’s not a quote, but Padma sternly scolding him for wearing his medal backwards was a delight.
  • Speaking of Chicago Joe, he shared with me some trivia regarding last week’s episode. He apparently wanted to make his radler with Jeppson’s Malört, a Chicago staple renowned for being absolutely putrid.
  • Consider yourselves robbed.
  • Were any of you in the audience for this? If so, please share your experience in the comments!
  • If there is constant in Top Chef it’s one’s inability to get the lid on a pressure cooker.
  • Who else misses the chefs posing and dancing during the credits? ‘Cause I sure do.
  • Last Chance Kitchen: Tanya and Brother Luck go at it in a speed challenge. Tom initially suggests 15 minutes, but allows Brother to slash it down to 10. He puts up a seared trout with a cauliflower puree and chorizo vinaigrette, while Tanya serves a blackened salmon with romesco sauce. Considering the time limit, both are sloppy but impressive. Brother edges her out, with Tom noting that there was a touch too much raw onion flavor in her sauce.
  • Also, Brother is very, very cocky. We may be getting a late-stage heel turn here, and I am all for it.
  • Fun side note: For my birthday last Friday my wife and I went to Parachute, Chef Beverly Kim’s Chicago restaurant. Bev, if you recall, was a highlight of Top Chef Texas, and I’m happy to report the restaurant is packed and the food is sublime. Still thinking about that crab broth. Any of you been?
  • Bigger question: What Top Chef alums’ restaurants have you been to? I’ve been to Harold Dieterle’s Perilla (fancy), Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat and Duck Duck Goat (both incredible), one of Richard Blais’ Flip Burger locations (decadent), a short-lived Dale Levitski joint called Frog & Snail (killer mussels), and maybe a few others I’m forgetting. Did yours stack up?
  • On a more somber note, Fatima is struggling with bone and tissue cancer and it’s really sad. Padma was by her side prior to her going into surgery, which is really sweet. All the best to her. Head on over to her Instagram and toss her some well wishes, yeah?
  • Next time on Top Chef: Restaurant Wars! “And this year,” says some man, “things are really gonna escalate.” I’ll believe it when I see it, man!

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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