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Top Chef embraces multiculturalism as the chefs seek inspiration in their heritage

Photo: 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.

  • R.I.P. Bear Den. To lose even one member is to inexorably alter the fabric of any faction, and not even the addition of “baby bear” Fatima can bring the BD back to its full glory. Tyler, though hairless, was an integral member of the clan, and we shall watch The Revenant in his honor. Meanwhile, we will now refer to Bruce, Chicago Joe, and Fatima as The Country Bears, if only because that’s the name of a movie I feel the need to remind you once existed.
  • (moment of silence)
  • Quickfire: *rolls eyes* The worst. As a tie-in with spinoff Top Chef Junior, which isn’t even on the same network, the chefs are tasked with taking a popular children’s menu item and transforming it into something both upscale and healthy. Now, it’s not the challenge that’s bad, but the gimmick. Because kids are small, apparently, the chefs must cook with teensy pots and cutting boards. This is annoying, not just because this is some Cutthroat Kitchen shit, but because challenges like this run counter to what makes Top Chef special in the pantheon of cooking shows. Gimmicks are fine if the challenge is about creativity; like, it’s fun to watch these people make magic from a bag of Cheetos and some sardines. But when the gimmick is “make it difficult for chefs to cook,” then you’re basically setting the stage for mediocre dishes. The challenge isn’t about creativity or innovation, but persevering through inconvenience. Who wants to watch that? Like, Cutthroat Kitchen exists for a reason; if people want to see ingredients masked behind tinfoil or buried in ice they can go there. Top Chef is about watching people at the top of their field do what they do best.
  • The other wrinkle of the challenge is that the chefs are cooking for the children of three local chefs. One is out for blood, taking shots at the simplicity of Brother Luck’s burger before taking the piss out of half the dishes he tastes. Brother says he won’t argue with a child, but man that would be some good TV. This kid is asking for it!
See, he’s asking for it. (Screenshot: Bravo)
  • Forgive my aggression. I’m just so jealous that this kid is growing up eating caviar when I thought the Macaroni Grill was fine dining until I went to college.
  • Due to the restrictions, none of the dishes look particularly appealing, though I’m sure they tasted great. Adrienne wins, despite telling the pint-sized judges she made her pizza crust from cauliflower before they tasted it. Sure, that would deter some kids, but these rascals probably get cauliflower croquettes in their lunch boxes everyday. Really, the biggest surprise here was that Chicago Joe had the balls to put gochujang in a dish meant for pre-teens. Steam shoots from my ears the moment that stuff hits my grizzled-ass palate.
  • Chicago Joe still rules, and not just because he’s my Twitter friend now.
  • Have any of you watched Top Chef Junior? Is it better than Masterchef Junior? Does anyone else feel like these junior cooking shows are the hottest new prospect for desperate stage moms? After seeing some Masterchef Junior kids in a commercial and falling down a rabbit hole or two, I realized several of these budding chefs discovered their love of cooking after failing to become a bankable child actor. How convenient!
  • Excuse my cynicism. Unlike acting, cooking is a helpful, marketable skill, so this is all a good thing.
  • Elimination Challenge: The episode makes up for its misfired Quickfire with an elimination challenge that tasks the chefs with cooking a dish that honors their heritage. Typically, this kind of challenge is held off until later in the season, but I like it earlier on; its character details like these that help make for a more compelling herd in the earlier episodes. Brother Luck, for example, tells an absolutely heart-wrenching story about the only recipe his father taught him before he passed. That Brother’s initial response was one of disgust—the dirty rice recipe his dad passed along incorporated gizzards and liver—makes it that much more resonant. It was a surprise that he ended up in the middle, what with the emphasis on the story and the positive reaction it received from the judges.
  • Instead, Chris, Tonya, and Joestachio take the top honors. Joestachio wove his late mother’s French roots in with his Italian father’s influence by making a simple, elegant chicken tortelloni with farro cabbage. Tonya, meanwhile, made a Louisiana-style gumbo speckled with fried okra. But everyone knew Chris had it the moment he uttered the words “lemonade fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits.” He says the recipe goes “eight or nine” generations back in his family, which gave his dish and its story some added weight. That dude is a contender.
  • Was anyone else shocked to see Tyler go? As with Laura last week, that peek into Bruce’s backstory felt like a prelude to his departure, and he deserved it, too, after the piss-poor cookery of his lamb and Gail’s displeasure with the dish’s lack of “coziness.” Tyler’s sin was a lack of cohesion, which seems like less of an offense, especially considering everyone said the individual components tasted good on their own. Time for Bruce to step it up.
  • This episode’s focus on heritage, refugees, and the cultural collisions of cooking certainly felt like a response to the Trump administration’s xenophobic agenda, not to mention the public resurgence of white nationalism that’s blossomed under his rule. During dinner, each judge’s name and bonafides were accompanied by their home country, and, aside from Tom, all of them came from outside the United States.
  • This hardly comes as a surprise, but a peek at Tom’s Twitter account shows just how much he despises our current prez.
  • Do any of you have a place like Comal Heritage Food Incubator in your area? Neat idea.
  • Since the beginning of time, chefs have discussed how Tom doesn’t like okra and that they’re going to be the one to make him change his mind. And literally every single time someone makes it he ends up liking it. So, yeah, let’s drop the “Tom doesn’t like okra” mythology. He likes it when you make it good.
  • Curtis Stone is like if a paper plate were a person. He has not and will not age. He is also the only food celebrity that I’ve never seen cook. I’m sure he’s had a gazillion shows, but I’m not convinced he’s ever fried a egg and I refuse to Google this.
  • Funny story, a colleague of Stone’s on Celebrity Apprentice got fired for discussing his stinky bathroom habits. Even funnier is that that fellow contestant was fired by Donald Trump for their “locker room” talk.
  • Poor Tu looked like he was staring into the abyss during the judging ceremony. Buck up, man! It’s okay to be in the middle!
Screenshot: Bravo
  • Maybe they were just setting up him leaving, but there was a bizarre shot of Tyler looking unimpressed as the rest of the cheftestants were gushing over Chris’ biscuits.
  • Tyler should’ve gone with a bear metaphor, not a dragon one. Come on, Tyler.
  • Oh, I almost forgot one of our judges, the season 12 runner-up Gregory Gourdet. I was glad Mei won in Boston, but Gregory was a beast. Glad to see he’s at the helm of what looks like a swanky Denver hangout.
Dapper. (Screenshot: Bravo)
  • Last Chance Kitchen: Two episodes this week. “It’s a two-part massive twist that will change Top Chef forever,” says Tom, and while, yes, the twist actually does change things, cocktail words like “massive” and “forever” could’ve easily been excised here. The twist goes like this: Whoever emerges as victorious after these two episodes will immediately reenter the competition. I’m assuming (and hoping) the competition continues after that and we get one or two more instances of a chef reentering down the line. If that’s the case, then it makes the journey of those who fail but don’t get eliminated that much tougher.
  • I like this twist, as it makes the prospect of emerging from Last Chance Kitchen a little more realistic. Tom’s always like, “I’ll see you in Last Chance Kitchen,” to the people eliminated third, but you know no matter how many rounds they win they’ll lose to whoever just got eliminated before the finale.
  • Anyways, we don’t find out who wins. It all ends on a cliffhanger, though it’s between Kwame, Lee Anne, and Claudette. Tyler gave it a valiant effort in the first go, but is overcome despite his annoyed assertions that he took a bigger risk than any of the other chefs.
  • They’re a fun pair of episodes. In the first, the chefs cook with heads, whether it be of the pork or fish variety. In the second, they make magic with guts—livers, tripe, chicken hearts. Marcel calls halibut cheeks “hali-booty cheeks,” which, yep.
  • As much as I love Kwame and Lee Anne, I’m kinda rooting for Claudette. Her approach to Mexican food is intense and super creative; also, she can’t stop trashing Kwame, which is kinda funny when he’s all like, “Claudette is amazing!”
  • Who you got? Kwame, Lee Anne, or Claudette? Also, double elimination next week to re-up the LCK contestants?
  • I’ll leave you with Jen Carroll looking like the coolest bored teenager.
Screenshot: Bravo
  • Next week on Top Chef: Camping! In the snow! Blais? Maybe? Do I miss him? Oh, god.

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About the author

Randall Colburn

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.