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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Inspired by the cronut, the chefs need to get creative in this week’s Top Chef

(Photo: Top Chef/Bravo)
(Photo: Top Chef/Bravo)

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.

  • “Shrimp Boats and Hat Ladies” was no longer than any other episode this season, but I’m ‘bout ready unbuckle my belt buckle after that feast. A lot happened here: We lost two strong chefs, went shrimping, Quickfired, Sudden Death Quickfired, invented new dishes, and watched Padma put the locals on notice with her hat game. Casey and Sylva both deserved to go home for their performances, but losing the last of the rookies saps just a little bit of steam out of the season. The final four is literally two chefs from the Seattle finals, one from the New Orleans finals, and John, who is a longtime veteran with friends like Anthony Bourdain. We needed Sylva in the finale. We needed someone for whom this was their season. Sure, we could still get a rookie in the finale via “Last Chance Kitchen,” but it won’t be Sylva as (spoiler alert) he didn’t make it. That leaves Jamie. I have no doubt the finals will be amazing—Brooke, Sheldon, Shirley, and John is an incredible pairing of chefs. But it still feels a touch anticlimactic, right? If only because this whole season was supposed to be about the rookies vs. vets dynamic.
  • How do you feel about Sylva and Casey going home?
  • Quickfire: Tom takes the chefs shrimping, then Padma tasks them with making a dish from their catches. A simple, promising challenge, that. The chefs leaned heavy on spice, and while that worked for John it didn’t so much for Sylva, who sits at the bottom with Casey, who over-seasoned her coconut broth, and Shirley, whose garlic shrimp looked sorta turdy. Sheldon wins with tomato water-poached shrimp roe, which sounds heavenly. Tomato water tends to go over well on Top Chef, yeah?
  • Sudden Death Quickfire: Sylva, Casey, and Shirley have to make a dish from the boat’s “bycatch,” which is the unwanted fish the shrimpers picked up along the way. Casey and Shirley opt for squid, while Sylva makes redfish, coating it with tarragon butter, which had my mouth watering at its mere mention. Shirley’s calamari turns out perfect; Casey’s squid, on the other hand, chews a little tough. Casey leaves, but not before serving some serious face.
Illustration for article titled Inspired by the cronut, the chefs need to get creative in this week’s Top Chef
  • Oops, sorry. Last one’s not Casey.
  • Still, I hear you, girl. As I’ve said before here, I kinda hate Sudden Death Quickfires. I’m not alone. When Padma announced there would be one, Brooke shot out the snottiest, “Really?” I was with her, though. They’re fine at weeding out the chaff early on, I suppose, but a chef like Casey shouldn’t be sent home on a challenge in which they’re given literally no time to conceive or prep. It feels cheap.
  • Elimination Challenge: I love creativity challenges, when the chefs have to get weird and rely on more than perfect execution. Inspired by the infamous cronut, they’re tasked with mashing breakfast and lunch dishes into a single, ingenious fusion dish. They’re even being judged by the cronut’s creator, Dominique Ansel, who’s a lot older and Frencher than the Brooklyn hipster who I figured created that thing. Who’s had one? Are they heavenly? If they’ve arrived in Chicago yet, I haven’t seen one. Anyways, the chefs mostly biff it with ideas that are complex without being all that creative. The ones that do best have a concept as simple and “cravable” as a cronut: Shirley, for example, serves a dumpling that evokes a burger with its beef and cheese filling. Sheldon, the other top chef, prepares fried chicken in the style of a waffle, then tops it with a waffle crumble and an umami butter (butter with seaweed and oyster sauce!). John’s well-prepared “octopus hash,”on the other hand, sounded too left-field to resonate, while Brooke’s macha and chia greek yogurt parfait with peanut butter crumbles failed in both concept and execution. Despite the judges emphasizing the challenge’s creative bent, Sylva’s failed arctic char fritatta has simply too many errors to justify him staying.
  • Man, can you imagine what Blais would’ve done with that challenge? Or Michael Voltaggio? Or, hell, even Chris Jones from Texas? Creativity was absolutely lacking here.
  • Also, The Breakfast Club won this challenge 32 years ago:
  • “I feel like I’m good at whimsical food,” Brooke says, reminding me of the palate-boggling (and challenge-winning) “lamb-stuffed squid” she made for Chris Pratt and Anna Faris on her season. So, yeah, it’s surprising she did so poorly here, though it would’ve been interesting how the judges would’ve reacted to her dish had the creative plating she had in mind come together. Instead, her plate looked like a bird’s-eye view of the Wonka factory. And not in a good way.
  • “Well, that certainly sounds decadent,” Padma says dryly after Tom describes the foie gras waffle (“foie graffle”) he used to serve. If I were him, I would feel thoroughly shamed by that response.
  • Tom has a way of saying “okay” when he’s disappointed in you or thinks your dish will suck and it’s so obvious that if he ever said it to me I’d bury my head in a cake and seriously never come out. He did it to Shirley during the Quickfire and Brooke during the lead-up to the Elimination Challenge. That would stress me out so bad.
  • How would you southerners describe Carolina shrimp? John described it as “firm” and “sweet,” though I’ve never had it. Curious how it compares to Maine or Gulf shrimp.
  • Serious Question: What’s the story behind “hat culture” in the South? Is there a story? Is it limited to the South? No one in my family wears hats. I am lacking in hat knowledge.
  • Shirley continues to delight. Watching her scream “dim sum hamburgerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” was the highlight of my night. She also made this face:
  • Brooke was so terrified of helicopters in her season that she clung to Josh “Yukon Cornelius” Valentine for safety. Here, she reveals she’s also scared of boats and vomiting.
  • How well does Bravo know its audience? It advertises an “exclusive” clip from 50 Shades Darker.
  • All this “bycatch” talk of course made me think of “trash fish,” which made me wistful about the fact that this season is almost over.
  • Every time I see “bycatch” written out I think it says “beeyotch.”
  • Last Chance Kitchen: Jamie squares off against Casey and Sylva, who all need to create a “snack” using Hidden Valley Ranch products. Pretty much all they can use is branded products, causing Sylva to lament the fact that they’re essentially creating a snack out of preexisting snacks. Two chefs will be moving on and, as I spoiled above, the odd man out is Sylva, who sandwiches some cilantro lime pork belly in between two huge ass graham crackers. Casey, seeming a bit ashamed of herself, wins by coating chicken strips in cheese puffs. Jamie remains the lone hope of the rookies.
  • Despite wearing his weird, salmon-colored shirt with the cut-off sleeves, Sam “Poochie” Talbot was pretty quiet this week. Maybe somebody stole his skateboard?
  • Anyways, here’s an old photo of him looking stoned:
  • Next week on Top Chef: The chefs have to teach a person how to make a dish from the other side of a partition, all while pretending they don’t already realize it’s one of their family members on the other side.