Top Chef California: Episode 12
By Jason Lee
February 23, 2016
The Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown... Top Chef has finally broken free of SoCal and has made it to the bay area! Woohoo! San Francisco at last!
Except not. We’re in Oakland. The cheaper, edgier, less accomplished, and less noticed little brother of San Francisco. Like someone promised Beyoncé but who gets Solange, I am hit by a wave of disappointment.
I get over it pretty quickly. The seven remaining chefs arrive at Jack London Square, one of the coolest parts of Oakland. There, they see Padma and MC Hammer. Yep, the celebrity appearance that’s been teased by the show for months is finally here. It’s Hammer time.
Hammer gives a short spiel about how he came up with his moniker, and Padma informs the chefs that they’ll be tasked with coming up with their own rap name and dish that embodies that name. The chefs are such goofballs, they all pick the most ridiculous-sounding name and quickly get to work. Jeremy and Kwame eye each other uneasily, realizing the similarity of their dishes. Marjorie ends up with extra time on her hands, which she takes as an ominous sign. Carl amuses himself and everyone around him by recalling his middle school days when he and his friends came up with hip hop rhymes.
Oh, you silly, silly white boy.
First up with food is Karen, aka Pink Dragon (an obvious ode to her hair). She serves a hot and sour soup with pork meatballs, shitakes, and morel mushrooms. Hammer can taste the heat.
Carl is next, introducing himself as Dr. Funky Fresh and immediately breaks into a rap. It’s absolutely adorkable. In his funky and fresh vein, he offers a beef tartare lettuce wrap. Padma agrees that it’s very fresh.
Amar, adorned with the God-awful name Santana Lovah, has a soy-glazed Chilean sea bass with dashi broth that he believes the ladies will love. The judges find it a bit “eh.”
Marjorie is Miss Punch-A-Lot, as she can get punchy when stressed. Her fried chicken sandwich with honey and sriracha looks great, but the sheer amount of bread on the sandwich tamps down on the spice.
Isaac is now Toups Legit 2 Quit aaaaaaaaaaand I am now officially done with this awful names. He has scallops with BBQ sauce and grits. It’s his take on shrimp and grits. Hammer feels like he’s back at Mardi Gras.
Jeremy is no longer a mild-mannered chef. He is Spicy J-Rock 305 (barf). Hammer enjoys the spice in his broth with Dungeness crab, grilled summer squash, and halibut cheek.
Finally, Kwame is Balish. No, not the Game of Thrones guy. He’s from the bay area and he serves delicious food. It’s a word pun that only a really bad punner could love. After offering a seafood broth with grilled lobster, Padma (in full knowledge of his one-year career as a rapper) invites him to spin a few rhymes for Hammer. He does... in total mediocre fashion. Everyone is embarrassed for him. It’s quite awkward.