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Top Chef gets emotional as the chefs reinterpret the dishes that helped shape them

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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. 

  • We’ve been waiting all season for this. Rocky mountain oysters. Cow balls. We knew they are coming, what with Denver and the Rockies and all. So, Top Chef, I must ask you: How you gonna wait until the most emotional episode of the season to drop a bunch of testicle jokes on us? Like, 75 percent of this episode is devoted to Joestachio striving to pay tribute to his late mother. The rest is either ball jokes or closeups of Prairie Time Padma.
  • All I’m saying is have a little foresight. You knew you were bringing in the families. You know that’s when everybody cries. Levity is good, but cow balls serve only to accent comedy, not soften drama. Clearly, I’ve thought about this a great deal.
  • Quickfire: So, yeah, the final four—Adrienne, Carrie, Chicago Joe, and Joestachio—must cook rocky mountain oysters two ways. Chicago Joe describes their taste as “somewhere between a gland and a brain with a little more iron in it,” a description that’s literally making me throw up in my mouth a little. Meanwhile, Adrienne’s over here talking about “cod semen sacks” and, like, I’m an adventurous eater but this is goddamned ridiculous.
  • Anyways, both Joes find themselves cooking similar dishes: Fried rocky mountain oysters with a “bean and ball puree.” Adrienne is making “ball drop soup” and Carrie’s being self-aware about her fancy toast and, y’all, it’s just a delight.
  • The Voltaggio Brothers are on hand to judge, and they’re at least marginally more charismatic than they were in those hilarious branded ads they used to run featuring former contestants that I always talk about and can’t find online for the life of me. Pretty much everyone was awful in those things except for, like, Ryan from season four because dude’s a consummate bullshitter.
  • Do you guys think Michael Voltaggio listens to Taking Back Sunday?
  • Joe’s bean and ball puree takes top honors, and though dude’s on a winning streak lately it does mark his first Quickfire win. As a prize, he gets an extra half hour of prep in the elimination challenge.
  • Elimination Challenge: The four are met with a delightful surprise when they stumble upon their family members cooking up a storm for them. Each family member—Joestachio’s dad, Chicago Joe’s grandma, and Adrienne and Carrie’s mothers—each make one of their specialty dishes, which the chefs then have to elevate incorporating high-level technique. As Tom touches on later, the challenge is really about what separates the home cook from the professional chef.
  • I dig it. Top Chef alway succeeds when family gets involved, if only because a love for cooking is more often than not inspired by one’s parents or grandparents. We all have dishes we loved from when we were younger, and, as with music or film, food has the power to ignite one’s passions in ways that can steer one’s career. To ask someone to reinterpret a dish from their childhood is to force them to investigate their inspiration. It also raises the stakes; as Joestachio says, this is the challenge nobody wants to go home on. To do so is to feel as if you’ve done your roots a disservice.
  • The stakes are especially high for Joestachio, as the dish he’s making—lasagna with a pig’s feet gravy—is one of his mother’s old recipes. She passed seven years previous, and the food itself is clearly triggering a lot of old, potent memories in both him and his father. It’s lovely and sad to watch. Food is powerful, guys.
  • Unsurprisingly, what with the level of talent involved and the high stakes, everyone knocks their dish out of the park. Adrienne, who’s being given Shirley’s “shadow chef” edit, comes out on top with a spin on her mother’s gumbo that streamlines the ingredients while also giving special care to each individual component. Adrienne’s clearly a technical whiz and has an insane pedigree. What she’s lacked, however, is a clear vision of her own. In the final throes of competition she seems to have found it: Southern cuisine in the guise of fine dining. Looks delish.
  • Seeing any of these chefs go home right now would’ve been a bummer, but I was particularly sad to see Carrie go. She’s a local, she’s got that underdog narrative, and she seems like she’d be so, so fun to smash some beers (or bong some wine) with. I was hoping it’d come down to her and Chicago Joe, but alas. The only mistake in her beef stroganoff raviolo was not incorporating the braising liquid into her herbed crème fraîche, a small flaw that’s nevertheless worse than the chewy parmesan crust on Chicago Joe’s agnolotti, which I thought was going to send him home.
  • And so there’s our final three: Two Joes and an Adrienne. Italian comfort versus refined southern. Sounds good to me.
  • Y’all: When did Michael Voltaggio become the lead singer of Maroon 5?
  • Okay, let’s talk nuts: What’s the weirdest, grossest, yet most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten? I had veal brains at the Publican in Chicago and LOVED them. It was like crab rangoon. Let’s all make each other vomit. Please share in the comments.
  • Totally laughed at Carrie and Chicago Joe joking about having to do a downhill mountain bike ride for the Quickfire. You could just tell they were dreading the possibility of having to do the bullshit physical challenges of season nine. Thankfully, it’s remained all about the food.
  • Chicago Joe’s got a tale about season four winner Stephanie Izard making him cook a veritable host of testicles when he worked for her. Yo, this dude’s got stories.
  • I also couldn’t stop laughing about the possibility of one of the chefs’ family members not being able to cook. Like, Joestachio’s dad is out here with a pig’s feet gravy and somebody’s like, “Here’s some spaghetti with Paul Newman sauce.”
  • Carrie’s mom is just like mine. As soon as she’s around strangers she starts bringing up embarrassing exes. I don’t think I’ve ever related more to a contestant on this show than when Carrie told her mom to “be nice” with the tenor of someone who knows they’re about to be humiliated.
  • I’m not suited for reality TV, but I sometimes look through old childhood photos and wonder which ones I’d give to producers. Adrienne’s, for example, owns.
  • Also, it me. Just, ya know, replace the kitchen gear with a PlayStation.
  • Hi, Eliza Gavin from Top Chef: Seattle! She didn’t last long in her season, but I remember her being talented and funny. Glad she seems to be thriving.
  • I just discovered the Voltaggio Brothers opened their first restaurant together in 2016. It’s called Monger and it’s in Miami and someone tell me how it is. I’m glad they made up after that one time they argued over saran wrap in season six.
  • It’s time to vote for your Top Chef fan favorites. The final four are Fatima, Carrie, Chicago Joe, and Chris. One of the benefits of watching this show live is that during a commercial break they promised to show “who’s leading the competition so far” and the screen just remained blank as that stupid music played on in the background. Oops!
  • Anyways, who are you rooting for?
  • Who else misses Gail being around all the time? Graham is no substitute. Why isn’t Carla Hall a judge? Or Fabio? God, I’d take Toby Young over Graham at this point. Like, he’s just there.
  • Annoyed at Joestachio and Adrienne for not wine-bonging. Adrienne, Joestachio—if you wine-bonged and they didn’t air it, please go to the comments and tell us that you wine-bonged because we all really hope that you wine-bonged. Thank you.
  • Even though she knew she was on the verge of going home, it still looked like Carrie giggled when Padma said “there are no bottoms today.” A woman after my own heart, truly.
  • Next week on Top Chef: Cowboy Padma.