Top Chef California: Episode 9

By Jason Lee

February 1, 2016

He definitely wins for beard most likely to contain crumbs.

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Midway through Top Chef: California, we're at what feels like a turning point. Kwame tripped up for the first time this season and feels like he caught a break by Jason cooking a slightly worse dish. Philip declares that after his heart-to-heart with the judges, he's gonna win by being himself - as if he's been anything other than a pompous, hipster chef since his arrival. Finally, after watching five of the seven female chefs go home, the two remaining (Karen and Marjorie) seem to have hit their stride, with Marjorie winning last week's Elimination Challenge and Karen the one before that.

The chefs return to the Top Chef Kitchen in Los Angeles - seriously, what happened to the promised road trip? Or even the promised departure from SoCal? - to find Padma standing next to a big flat screen television. Today's Quickfire, Padma says, is all about food porn. Over the past couple of months, an anonymous Instragrammer named Jacques La Merde has attracted over 30,000 followers. The poster's gimmick? The new Instagram celebrity posts gorgeous pictures of tweezified dishes composed of junk food.

Jacques La Merde tells the cheftestants via a black screen and voice mixer that “farm to table is dead, bro. This is the new reality.” Ughhh, I hope not.

This challenge will test the ability of the chefs to put together visually stunning good. Apparently, there's no need for any of it to taste good, it's just got to look good - the chef whose junk food dish gets the most likes on Instagram wins immunity. I worry about a show of the caliber of Top Chef asking the cheftestants to focus on looks, not substance - that it'll turn out to be the food challenge equivalent of participation in a political primary debate.


The chefs dive into the pantry, which is filled to the brim with equal parts junk food (marshmallows, chips, Cheez Whiz) and vegetables. Then they get to work making the food look as picture perfect as possible. This is the ultimate high-low food challenge, with a dash of Hollywood make-up artist thrown in.

After a frantic 30 minutes, the chefs come face-to-face with the real Jacques La Merde. It's Christine Flynn - a Toronto-based chef who says that she started the Instagram page as a way of reminding herself not to take food so seriously. That's awesome.

One-by-one, the chefs bring up their concoctions. Chad has a half-empty plate filled with sliced blueberries, marshmallows, and twinkies. It looks cool, but very empty. Christine, though, loves his use of negative space.

I absolutely love Amar's dish, which has half the plate covered with a swoosh of fermented black bean purée (believe me, it looks better than it sounds), with Easy Cheese, spam and a Doritos crumble.

Carl has the most innovative dish of the bunch, with a “garden” of junk food growing out of an empty can of Spam. It's incredibly cool and most of the chefs think that Carl's got this in the bag.

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