Top Chef California Recap

By Jason Lee

January 25, 2016

He'll always have Last Chance Kitchen.

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We check back in with the cheftestants as they head back to Los Angeles, prompting my husband to comment irritably, “eight episodes in and they haven’t even made it to NorCal.”

So true. Instead of some glorious, foggy, windy, and cold San Francisco weather, the cheftestants arrive back at the Top Chef kitchen met by Padma and perennial Top chef bridesmaid Antonia Lofaso. As the guest judge for this episode’s Quickfire, she confides to Padma that she threw up before most Quickfires in which she participated.

Welcoming the chefs back to Los Angeles, Padma informs the chefs that she and the producers would like to see what the 10 remaining chefs are able to do with the exact same 10 ingredients. Each chef will have 20 seconds in which to pick a single ingredient. The 10 selected ingredients will be the only ingredients available to the chefs - this mind-bogglingly includes salt, pepper, and oil. When they say 10, the producers really mean ten.

The question then becomes, which chefs will take one for the team and get ingredients that all chefs will need? Unsurprisingly, Philip is not one of them. As the first person up, he grabs NY strip steak. Apparently not a beef enthusiast, Isaac chooses a whole chicken, leading Marjorie to roll her eyes. “We already have a protein,” she points out. Down the aisle we go: Chad grabs a jalapeño pepper, Jeremy grabs salt, Marjorie gets rice vinegar, Karen snags olive oil, Kwame gets garlic, Isaac picks out mushrooms, Carl (saying he wants a vegetable) grabs a box of tomatoes (which are fruits, for the record), and Jason picks up some celery. Karen frowns. She wanted some fresh herbs available for use.


The chefs get to work for a quick 20 minutes and offer up their dishes to Padma and Antonia, who are surprisingly spare on comments, apart from pointing out when a chef did or did not incorporate the ingredient he or she selected. Pleased with the variety of dishes created out of the same ten ingredients, Antonia selects Isaac’s seared beef Carpaccio with shaved jalapeño (visually unappealing and overall underwhelming) and Karen’s grilled steak salad with jalapeño vinaigrette (great flavors but lack of focus) as her least favorites.

Faring better are Jeremy and Amar - Jeremy’s shaved beef Carpaccio with crispy garlic vinaigrette was a great spin on a classic, and Amar’s wood-roasted chicken breast with a roasted tomato vinaigrette showed wonderful finesse and technique. Jeremy takes the crown and immunity to boot. At this point, it certainly seems like he’s destined for a finale showdown with Kwame.

If the cheftestants thought it was tough working with ten ingredients, Padma warns, it’ll be even tougher in the Elimination Challenge, which tasks the cheftestants with thinking about where they were 10 years ago. As Top Chef aired its first episodes 10 years ago (Has it really been 10 years? Where on earth has the time gone?), the cheftestants will be asked to create a dish that conveys where they were 10 years ago. Antonia wishes them the best in this challenge, noting that some of her best performances came in challenges that resonated personally with her.

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