Top Chef Boston Recap
Boston's Bravest and Finest
By Jason Lee
October 28, 2014

What were you thinking? There were two people on the other team way worse than me.

Welcome back, TCers. In keeping with their practice from last season, the producers of Top Chef open this week’s episode by throwing us back in the Stew Room, immediately following Michael’s elimination last week. Mei Lin is reveling in her victory. She asserts that her triumph and pedigree of working for Michael Voltaggio has shown the other chefs that she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Katsuji, on the other hand, is embarrassed. He made a fool of himself last week by trying to open clams in the most ridiculous way possible (BANG BANG BANG) and ended up on the bottom of the elimination challenge with his twenty-eight-ingredient “taco” - a description that draws laughter from the other chefs. He’s looking for some redemption.

Katie, who joined Katsuji on the bottom, laments Richard’s lack of receptivity to her olive oil powder. Aaron jumps in and criticizes her use of molecular gastronomy, saying that it’s the first “go to” for rookie chefs. He’s pretty demeaning, but Katie stands up for herself and her decision. I’m impressed - looks like we’re gonna have a crew of cheftestants that are confident in their own skills and comfortable in their own skin.

Cut to the following morning, and we’re treated to gratuitous shots of the cheftestants getting out of bed. “What’s the point?” I wonder aloud. “These people aren’t gorgeous, pseudo-models waking up without a shirt. This isn’t Million Dollar Listing.” In somewhat predictable fashion, the camera pans over to James making coffee shirtless (“not bad,” I admit). He says that he’s inspired by brilliance and points to a bizarre tattoo of Patrick Swayze on his arm. I’m not sure how this proves his point.

Soon enough, the chefs are back at the Top Chef Kitchen cooking, where they’re greeted by Todd English. Aaron says that he has realized that he’ll be cooking for the best chefs in the country every day. “So long as you’re not eliminated,” I say to the TV.

Taking in some local, historical flavor, Padma reminds the chefs of the story of how Paul Revere alerted Boston patriots as to the movements of British troops - lanterns were to be hung in Old North Church, “one if by land, two if by sea.” Taking this cue and gesturing to the lamps at the front of the room, the cheftestants will be making the “ultimate surf and turf.” If one lantern goes on, they have to pick an ingredient from the land table; if two lanterns go on, they have to pick an ingredient from the sea table. Pretty cool.

The final product, Todd warns, has to be cohesive. Padma informs the chefs that immunity will not be given to the winning chef, but that he or she will win $5,000.

The challenge begins and one lantern goes on. Half of the chefs run to claim a station while the other half of them run to claim an ingredient. Katsuji grabs sweetbreads, leaving Dougie jealous. He wanted those sweetbreads. James grabs wild boar bacon, and I’m left to note that he’s getting a lot of screen time this week, in contrast to last week. Might he be leaving us over the next hour?

As some point, Katasuji - who was in the process of making a chili sauce - gets bumped by some female chef… I think it was Katie? The sauce gets all over him and all over the floor. He swears up a storm in Spanish.

Meanwhile, a bunch of female cheftestants are standing around the sea table, waiting for the two lanterns to go off. They’ve already been forced to pick two land ingredients and they’re hankering for some seafood. They pace nervously. I’m reminded of that old Mervyn’s commercial from the early ‘90s where a bunch of women wait for the store to open. “Open, open, open, open.”

Finally, two lanterns light up and everyone except Adam grab their seafood. Adam is oblivious and is left with “dried crab snack.” He’s nonplussed. He thinks it could add a crunchy element to his dish. I think he might be wrong.

One lantern lights up again and it’s starting to be slim pickings on the land table. Joy reluctantly grabs some veal. Katsuji is, of course, thrilled with the opportunity to add more ingredients, but at least this time his eagerness is reasonable. He selects hot pepper jelly, which will replace the chili sauce that is currently adding a little spice to the Top Chef Kitchen floor.

The 14 chefs serve up their 14 dishes and frankly they all look pretty good. So far, it’s seeming like we have a very solid cast of cheftestants, which makes it a more enjoyable experience for viewers and judges alike, I’m sure. If nothing else, fewer bottles of Pepto-Bismol should be needed on set.

On the bottom, we have Joy and Stacy. Todd wasn’t crazy about Joy’s pairing of beef and veal, while Stacy’s dish was neither seasoned properly nor cooked properly. I’m sure they are both thanking their lucky stars that this was not a Sudden Death Quickfire.

On top, we have a bit of a surprise. There’s Katsuji (!!!), who made a very nice sauce and deftly incorporated uni into his dish, and non-shirtless James, who masterfully incorporated wild boar bacon into his mussels dish. As much as Katsuji would have loved to get a bit of redemption, it’s James who ends up on top. Noting his background growing up with a single mom in a trailer park, James says that his $5,000 is much appreciated.

On to the Elimination Challenge. The cheftestants will be cooking dishes today for “the heroic men and women of Boston’s finest” (I’m pretty sure this rules out the Harvard Law School community). And indeed, in walk the Commissioners of Boston’s fire and police department. They introduce themselves and their roles. I am thrilled by the awesome-yet-super-stereotypical Boston accents that they’re spouting. He’s the Commissioner of the fi-YAH de-PAWT-ment. Love it.

Just as Boston firemen and policemen must respond to whatever situation may arise, the chefs will do the same. They’ll be organized into five groups, each of which must work together to create a single, cohesive dish. There will be five boxes of ingredients available for the teams to pick from - the chefs must respond to whatever ingredients are in the box they select.

Aaron, already making a name for himself as “this season’s most unlikable chef,” notes that he doesn’t like team challenges and that he doesn’t play nice. Lovely. Meanwhile, Mei Lin is drawn onto a team with Katie and Katsuji, who she notes both ended up on the bottom of last week’s challenge. The expression on her face is sourer than a Meyer lemon.

The cheftestants head home to try and figure out a plan of attack. There’s not much they can do, though, because they have no idea what will be in their box of ingredients. This leads to a heated argument among the Green team, who will be serving the final course. Aaron, Keriann, and Stacy consider the possibility that they might be forced to work with a dessert box, and Keriann innocuously mentions that she went to pastry school. Aaron pounces, pressing her over and over again on what she might make and how she might handle the challenge and what she would do. Keriann is reluctant to prognosticate, pointing out that she doesn’t even know what ingredients a dessert box might contain. Aaron wants to know whether she would use gelatin. Keriann doesn’t like the idea of doing molecular gastronomy for firefighters and policemen.

“It’s gelatin,” Adam says condescendingly. “Are you not familiar with gelatin?” He then asks her to entertain “hypothetics” regarding doing pastry. He calls her mean, and she responds that he’s being mean and just wants to be an asshole. “I’m not there yet,” he warns, “but you’ll know when I am.” Stacy, as the third member of this “team,” mimes that she wants to blow her own brains out. Aaron closes the conversation by saying, sarcastically, “this is gonna work out. I’m really, really excited.” You and me, both, buddy.

The Red team- composed of Mei Lin, Katie, and Katsuji - picks their box out first. Katsuji says he wants to make guacamole and fish sauce. Mei Lin is not happy - she wants to do the sauce and says so. Katsuji protests. Mei Lin says she’s more comfortable doing the sauce. Katsuji digs in. Mei Lin relents, but confesses to us that she’s not sure she can trust him. She instructs him to get his sauce done “as soon as possible” so that she can taste it.

The Blue and Grey team go in and pick their boxes without much drama. Yellow heads in and gets a box that includes pork chops. Joy says she’s comfortable grilling them, but is worried about having enough time to cook them through. She suggests taking the chops off the bone, but her teammates shoot her down. The presentation will be better with the bone in, they assure her. Joy decides to be a team player and cooks the chops with the bone in, though she’s not happy about having to “censor her instincts.”

The sourpuss Green team goes in and Keriann is not happy with the box they get stuck with. To her mind, they don’t have enough time to cook the shortribs that are in there, and the only other protein (chicken) is totally boring. Aaron declares that he wants to use molecular gastronomy to make a marmalade. Keriann again scoffs at the idea that firefighters will like molecular gastronomy but knows that there’s no deterring Aaron.

Meanwhile on the Red team, Mei Lin tries Katsuji’s sauce and is blown away. She says it’s really fucking good and she was stressed for no reason. Wow. I’m surprised. Looks like even the “bad” chefs are pretty good.

Over on the other side of the kitchen, Adam and Keriann are fighting about onions and whether to reduce a sauce further. Stacy, stuck in the middle, keeps her mouth shut.

Finally, the dishes start to go out.

-The Red team serves a pea and coconut puree with sautéed halibut and pickled rhubarb. Padma loves Katsuji’s sauce and Tom finds the fish cooked properly. He compliments the fact that the dish doesn’t feel disjointed at all.

-The Blue team serves filet mignon with a parsnip puree and pan seared scallop. Tom finds the beef perfectly cooked and loved the scallop.

-The Grey team serves up a “blue collar” dish of grilled pork chop, grilled stone fruit, and morel mushrooms. Padma finds the pork seasoned well, Gail loves the apricots, and Tom loves the flavor combination.

Pretty amazing - not a single catastrophe so far. Seems like this is a really deep cast of chefs this season.

Back in the kitchen, Joy is really worried about her veal chops, which are pretty underdone. Melissa expresses concern but notes that they’re out of time. The team offers up maple and vanilla, wood-roasted veal chops with kale and pickled radishes. Joy says that it’s soul food that they cooked from the heart. Apparently, it’s a rare heart because the chops are very, very pink. Padma finds the dish overwhelmed by the use of vanilla, which was Ron’s brilliant idea, and questions the team’s use of the ingredient. Tom agrees and finds it odd, given that vanilla is usually paired with sweet ingredients. Gail says that her chop is “pink, pink, pink,” and Tom agrees that the veal is underdone. I feel bad for Joy - she saw this coming.

Back in the kitchen, team Sour Green Apple is in a mass panic. Adam and Keriann are finding some common ground stressing out about Stacy’s chicken - they don’t think she has enough time to finish cooking them. They separately offer to help her out and then complain while plating their dish that she’s going to run out of time but still refuses their assistance. Stacy is not worried. “It’s chicken,” she says exasperatedly.

Aaron, meanwhile, is having problems with his molecular gastronomy marmalade, which is not setting well. He wants to heat it up and add more agar. Keriann thinks there’s no time. They bicker further about the “clumpiness” and lack of salt in their sauce.

They put their fight on hold so that they can actually present their mess-of-a-meal to the judges. It’s officially a pan-roasted chicken breast (by Stacy) with a bourbon onion jam (Aaron) and corn salad (Keriann). Gail declares that the chicken is the best thing on the plate, and Tom agrees that it’s “very good.” Padma hates the rawness of the corn, saying that it leaves a scratchy feeling on her tongue. Tom hates the jam, complaining that “I don’t even know what this is.” He tells Stacy that she should be pissed because she cooked perfect chicken that was accompanied by two “terrible” garnishes. Padma asks whether they were able to work as a team. Keriann says that she thought they came together as a team at the end, but Aaron is having none of this nice talk. He says that they each see food differently and accuses Keriann of having been erratic and making bad decisions.

Keriann, in a considerable display of personal restraint, waits until getting back to the kitchen before unloading on Aaron. His marmalade was supposed to be cold, she points out, and he took it from cold to hot, turning it into “I don’t know what” and then put it on top of her corn salad. “And that’s what really happened,” she declares.

“She’s such a bitch, dude,” Aaron says to Stacy.

The cheftestants head to the Stew Room where the Bitter Green team’s bickering continues. “Was I ever dishonest about my food?” Aaron wants to know. Keriann tells him to shut up. Aaron retorts with the chef version of “you’re not the boss of me.” Keriann says that she’d fire him in a minute. Aaron boasts that he could cook her under the table, laughing at the fact that she made a corn salad in two hours. Keriann points out that all he did was make marmalade with agar agar. Aaron says sarcastically, “let’s talk about shucking corn and showing technique.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Keriann tells him. I agree. I wish he would.

Aaron apologizes to Stacy, saying that her chicken was “perfect,” but that the garnishes “were plain and simple shit.” Sigh. Cue Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go.”

The chefs are called before Judges Table - and again, I love the fact that all the chefs get to listen to all of the feedback - and the Red and Blue team are named as the judges’ favorites.

For the Red team, Tom notes that Katie and Katsuji must be happy, as they were on the bottom last week. Tom loved the pairing of the peas and avocado, while Gail thought the fish was cooked great and that Katie showed some real technique with the pickled rhubarb.

As for the Blue team, Tom loved the way they chose not to brown the leeks. He notes that “details make the dish,” and that the judges “notice it all.” And in the end, the details get the Blue team the win. Tom says that their precision set them apart and showed that every bit of their dish was important.

Mei Lin pouts.

The Yellow and Green teams are named as the judges’ least favorites. No surprise there. Tom says that the problems with the Yellow team’s dish were of “conception and cookery.” Gail hated the use of vanilla, which overwhelmed the dish. She also points out that the veal was underdone. Joy admits that she didn’t pay enough attention when cooking the chops. Tom notes that their failing was in not having someone say “no” - presumably, “no” to Ron’s use of vanilla, and “no” to cooking the veal chops on the bone.

As for the Green team, Tom declares them “doomed to fail from the get go,” saying that chefs can’t talk past each other and expect to work together. Gail dubs Aaron’s marmalade, “not a jam at all.” Tom asks Aaron how long he had to prep. Aaron responds that he had two hours. “Two hours? That’s what you did in two hours?” Tom asks, incredulous. Tom then turns his fury to Keriann’s corn salad, asking why she used raw corn. “It isn’t the kind of cooking I’d expect from someone on Top Chef.” Ouch.

The judges preface their elimination decision by noting that although the cheftestants were tasked with cooking for some of Boston’s finest, it wasn’t their “finest hour of cooking.”

“Aaron and Keriann,” says Padma. OMG. Are the judges really going to send two chefs home this episode? I’m stunned. “You should really, really thank Stacy,” Padma continues. “Her chicken saved you from having the worst dish today.” Wow. So they’re safe because their dish wasn’t on the bottom.

“Joy,” Padma says, turning to the Yellow team, “please pack your knives and go.” Tom reminds her that if she’s going to cook 30 veal chops, she really has to pay attention. I’m sad to see Joy go; she seemed like a delightful person.

In her closing address to the camera, Joy admits that her elimination is “incredibly frustrating.” She says that she has a “really fat mouth” and erred in “tucking it away in this competition.” She was too committed to being a team player and didn’t speak up. She came here to prove that she has a cooking style that’s unique and worth sharing, and she’s sad that she won’t get to do that.

She won’t… unless she can string together some victories on Last Chance Kitchen. Good luck to her.