It’s a problem that’s plagued even the best of reality TV competitions: the too-revealing edit. By giving a player or team considerably more screen time than their fellow competitors, the edit immediately forewarns savvy viewers that said challenger(s) is either winning or losing–there’s no in between. So when cameras turned their focus during this week’s Top Chef: World All-Stars to Dale and May, the mismatched pair tasked with transforming and transcending that British barroom staple, the Scotch egg, the likelihood was clear that their Thai-spiced snack wasn’t going to tickle the judges’ fancy.
Episode three’s brief was to refashion some of the U.K.’s most popular pub foods–fish and chips, bangers and mash, and the like–which the competitors got to sample and study over pints during a bar crawl with Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons in place of a regular Quickfire Challenge. While some chefs gamely tossed back their ales, others, like Charbel Hayek and Tom Goetter, were busily and suspiciously taking notes. “I feel like the one thing on Top Chef is that you don’t get to have a good time,” Goetter said. “The moment you feel comfortable, they throw you in a kitchen and start screaming, ‘COOK!’” (Someone’s been watching The Menu.)
Their apprehensions were justified: After filling their bellies with pints and potatoes (much to the delight of our cheery Polish gal, Sylwia Stachyra), the judges had the competitors pair up based on the numbers printed on coasters beneath their beers. Each duo would select one of the “humble, beautiful dishes” that they tasted and “create elevated versions of them,” Gail instructed, which would be served the next day to a full dining room and guest judge Brett Graham (chef-owner of the Michelin-starred The Ledbury) at London’s Trafalgar Tavern. And to amp up the couples’ drama, this would, of course, be a double elimination.
Some twosomes were excited by the idea of teaming up (“His flavors are bomb,” Amar said of last week’s victor, Ali), some were worried (“Our styles are pretty different,” stated May, of her partner Dale), and others were downright confused. “What is this? Toad in the wall? Toil in the woil?” questioned the fantastically French Victoire about the classic English dish “toad in the hole” that she and Sylwia were set to reimagine. “I didn’t like toad in the hole...but we don’t have a lot of time.”
The fissures in Dale and May’s team foundation were quickly made apparent, with the chefs disagreeing on everything from presentation to even the plate itself. (Dale voted fish and chips, but “May felt stronger about the Scotch egg.”) “I would like to make something different but Dale just wants to do something safe...it’s double elimination so I have to support the team,” said May, while Dale worried that their Thai-style Scotch egg with cilantro aioli and fish-sauce dressing simply wasn’t as refined as its competition.
Things initially didn’t go smoothly, either, for Buddha and Luciana. “I just don’t think [the judges are] going to like that,” Buddha said of the potato mousseline Luciana had whipped up to replicate a fish pie’s traditional mash topping. “Fixing the potatoes is not a problem. Trying to convince a Top Chef winner that their potatoes are not good enough is the harder part,” he snarked in a confessional. Though Luciana stood by her spuds (“the potatoes I made are delicious”), Buddha ended up remaking them.
That effort paid off–Luciana and Buddha’s cod with zucchini “scales,” pomme puree, salmon roe, and champagne sauce was “done so elegantly,” Gail stated. And despite never having encountered bangers and mash before, Begoña and Gabri’s rendition made with pork belly, potato foam, and a crunchy onion “cookie” was simultaneously beautifully modern and “so familiar and comforting,” praised Brett Graham.
With those two teams at the top–and Buddha and Luciana’s cod ultimately dubbed the dish of the week–it was obvious which Top Chef pair would be packing their knives this week. However, the bottom-two teams suffered from the same cooking fault: The crust on Ali and Amar’s seaweed-battered cod and the minced-meat breading of Dale and May’s Scotch egg simply weren’t crispy enough. “Last week I won and now I am in the bottom...it was embarrassing standing in front of the judges for such a simple mistake,” confessed Ali.
It was apparent that lack of communication, not a lack of crunch, was really what hindered Team May and Dale, with both chefs throwing the other under the bus during judging. “Going home at this point is devastating…over something as stupid as a Scotch egg,” said Dale upon the team’s elimination. “I’m sad because I didn’t show them all of my talent,” May said in tears. “I’m still proud of myself, standing among the great chefs of the Top Chef world.”
- With such an international bunch, it’s natural that some things might get lost in translation from time to time, with Polish Sylwia oddly opting for Spanish at one point to explain a dish component to French Victoire. “I don’t speak perfectly English but I speak food!” exclaimed the latter.
- Speaking of Sylwia, our potato-loving Pole was truly in her happy place this week. “I am potato girl. Let me talk about the potatoes.” We need an entire potato podcast starring Sylvia immediately, please and thank you.
- Gail Simmons was the queen of British food facts this week. Did you know that a shepherd’s pie should only ever be made with lamb because lambs–duh–have shepherds? (If it’s made with beef, it’s considered a cottage pie.) And bangers and mash, i.e. sausages over mashed potatoes, are called as such because the links used to contain a lot of water to make them cheaper, and would often explode when cooked. The more you know!