Screenshot: 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. 

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  • Y’all! Joe Flamm is back! No shade to Brother Luck, who I thoroughly enjoyed and would love to meet for the stories about his stripper parents alone, but, as my reviews have made clear, I’ve been rooting hard for my Chicago brother. He and Brother went neck-and-neck in the final round of Last Chance Kitchen (watch it here), but, while Brother pretty much emptied his sleeve of tricks, Joe kept it simple with an elegant lamb shoulder dish and some clever spins on fava beans. As he told me when I dined at his restaurant last weekend, Last Chance Kitchen gave him the opportunity to really cook his own style of food. So stoked for him, and even more jazzed that he didn’t suffer the one-and-done curse of other chefs coming back into the competition.
  • Oh, yes, that was absolutely a subtle way of saying I met Chicago Joe last weekend. It’s Restaurant Week in Chicago, which means a humble freelancer like myself could afford to dine at the high-end Italian destination that is Spiaggia (okay, Cafe Spiaggia, it’s more affordable counterpart, but still!). In this case, you can believe the TV: He’s every bit as cool IRL as he is on the show, and just as good of a cook. Spiaggia is a hard recommend. Still drooling over that porchetta.
  • Please see a photo of us below, and please know that I am aware I look like I’m both half-asleep and in mid-sneeze.

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  • Question: We’ve discussed which Top Chef restaurants y’all have been to, but which former contestants have you had a chance to meet? Were they cool? Awkward? Blais? Tell me everything.
  • Okay, onto business:

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  • Quickfire: We’re in the frontier town of Telluride, where the cowpokes apparently enjoy their sarsaparilla. As such, the chefs need to work it in their dishes with a variety of other pre-selected ingredients. This is where we learn that Chicago Joe is back in the competition, and, as a present for clawing his way back in, he’s given the added bonus of taking one ingredient away from each chef. This isn’t a huge deal for any of the remaining chefs except Carrie, who, after Joe steals her pork, is left with only onions, lemons, and honey. It being Carrie, though, she’s able to deglaze the onions in sarsaparilla, put ‘em on some bruschetta, call it “top of the French onion soup,” and blow the judge’s minds.
  • “She can’t win twice with fucking tartines,” Chicago Joe whispers. Oh, but she can.
  • Nobody seems to embody the concept of “simple cooking” as much as Carrie. She’s clearly capable of cooking fancy schmancy but she’s been able to take things that are, not just simple, but, like, elementary and make them prize-winning dishes. In the end, it’s all about flavor and execution. Somebody task her with designing one of those Top Chef Cafe Steamers.
  • Do they still make those? I ate them constantly when I was single.
  • This was a fun challenge and all and the folksiness of it fit the Telluride milieu, but how are you gonna have Wylie Dufresne judge and not have them break out the maltodextrin? Am I just blanking or was there no real challenge this season that tasked them with cooking with chemicals? Or has that style of cooking simply gone out of style?
  • Here’s a photo of Joestachio sleeping on a bear paw. Did those things go everywhere with them?

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Screenshot: Bravo
  • Elimination Challenge: The chefs have to cook a “high-end, high-concept” dish at Alpino Vino, the highest elevation restaurant in North America at 11,966 feet. When Top Chef sets down in these regional areas—Denver, Texas, Boston, Charleston—it’s most compelling when they can find a way to incorporate the city in ways that both highlight the region and provide a unique challenge for the chefs. That’s infinitely more interesting than, like, doing a Revolutionary War-themed challenge or whatever. (Man, Boston was a pretty lame season.) The challenge here of having the chefs grapple with the ways in which elevation impacts the basic aspects of cooking is a brilliant way of making this season unique in the Top Chef oeuvre. To make things extra challenging, each chef is tasked with having to bake something, as baking is the aspect of cooking most affected by elevation. As such, the chefs are given the unprecedented opportunity of actually getting to practice their dishes at home, which proves to be fascinating once THIS GUY waltzes in:
“You call that a profiteroles (Screenshot: Bravo

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  • This is Paul Liebrandt, a revered chef who used to cook in the alps and owns a company called Crumpet Management. As if he weren’t British enough.
  • I’m obsessed with this guy. He goes from looking like the nerd bully in a frat comedy to being a corrupt FBI agent in mere hours.
“Where are the diamonds?” (Screenshot: Bravo)

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Screenshot: Bravo
  • Thanks to the practice, everyone here comes out looking really good. Joe’s goat cheese buttermilk drop biscuit is a hit. So is Chris’ maple and bacon corn bread. Adrienne’s mountain bread is a little dry, but they appreciate the way she Frankensteined two bread recipes to create one that’s better suited to the elevation. The only one who biffs the baking aspect is Joestachio, who somehow still ends up winning by virtue of his perfectly executed duck. I have no doubt that it was delicious, but shouldn’t the baking part of the challenge factor more into the final decision? Eh, I just wanted Chicago Joe to win.
  • Chris and Carrie end up on the bottom. The judges emphasize that both were delicious, but Carrie’s never quite congealed conceptually while Chris’ wasn’t “fine dining” enough. Considering he’s a dude whose brand is soul food, there’s worse reasons for him to get sent home. So, yeah, Chris goes home. I loved his confidence at judge’s table, though. “I stand by it 100%,” he says with maybe the most non-cocky display of confidence I’ve ever seen on this show.
  • Padma was wearing the dress from the opening!

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  • Somebody smack Joestachio for calling his dough “Sas-dough.”
  • Next week on Top Chef: Michael Voltaggio makes us all feel unattractive and everyone giggles about cooking cow nuts.