Top Chef Colorado Recap
By Jason Lee
January 22, 2018
After what was essentially a double elimination last week—no Lee Anne Wong, who happily gave birth to a healthy baby boy last year, and no Brother, thanks to his faux German dish—we finally get a bit of good news in the Top Chef House: Bruce’s son is very close to being born, as his birth-mother’s water just broke. Bruce breaks out the champagne (which seems to me, as a paranoid worse-case-scenario generator, to come perilously close to jinxing things) and everyone stays up late waiting for further news. Finally, Bruce’s wife calls. “Hi Daddy,” she says. A late night filled with celebration ensues.
Maybe too much celebration. At 6:01 am, Padma and Brooke Williamson (last season’s Top Chef winner) show up at the house, ring the doorbell, and are greeted by a sleepy, cotton-mouthed Bruce, who is thrilled to share the good news with the newcomers. And they’re thrilled to take part.
Except that they’re here for a Quickfire. Yep, following in the footsteps of seasons past (most notably, the dour Thanksgiving feast that was cooked in the Top Chef House on season two), the chefs will be making breakfast for Padma and Brooke using one of her (and everyone’s) favorite ingredients: Nutella. The winner gets immunity and $5,000.
The chefs immediately jockey for cooking space, portable cooktops, and ingredients. Pity the cleaning person who has to tidy up after this mess, because it’s insanity confined to two tiny rooms. Oh, except for Moustache Joe, who flees to the outside grill to char some lemon slices.
After 30 frantic minutes, we have a lot of waffles. I hope Padma and Brooke prepared themselves for the carbo-loading. Of the nine chefs, three find themselves on the losing end of things. Joe tried to make a Nutella oatmeal with shaved coconut, but the flavors were muddled and he oversalted it. Tanya made an orange zest waffle with caramelized banana and Nutella syrup, but it was just too sweet and lacked texture. Finally, Adrienne didn’t manage to put her Nutella syrup on the plate in time to pair with her waffled French toast and thus failed for obvious reasons.
As for the winners, Carrie put together a bizarre-sounding combination of eggs benedict, Nutella, and a strawberry habanero jam that somehow all worked. Claudette incorporated the Nutella flavor subtly (and smartly) in a vanilla crepe with blood orange. And Fatima made an incredibly moist and fluffy almond waffle with a Nutella yogurt spread. Rewarding the most creative chef of the bunch, Carrie takes home immunity and the $5k.
Brooke exits stage left and three absolutely gorgeous Olympians enter stage right. I’m seriously. I know they’re here because of their athletic prowess and everything but . . . *swoon*. There’s utterly beautiful Olympic gold medalist in ice dancing, Meryl Davis. There’s the dashing freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy who’s totally drool-worthy. And finally, there’s American skeleton racer John Daly, who looks like he could be cast as the prince in Disney’s next princess adventure.
Riffing off of the Olympians’ respective sports, the nine chefs will self-select into three teams who’ll compete in the Top Chef arena in three categories. The first chef will have to show off their speed, making 30 dishes in 45 minutes. The second will have to demonstrate precision, cooking their protein to a specific temperature and showing off three specific knife cuts (chiffonade, batonnet, and brunoise). Finally, the last chef will get to freestyle to their hearts content, with an emphasis on creativity.
Bruce, Joe, and Moustache Joe automatically team up as “the bears” (a shtick that becomes more annoying each time they bring it up). Fatima, Adrienne, and Carrie team up as the “foxes.” Which leaves Chris, Tanya, and Claudette as a de facto Losers Club.
For my money, they seem like the strongest team, with Claudette on a serious roll after making it out of Last Chance Kitchen and Tanya having just won last week’s challenge.
After a trip to Whole Foods and an impromptu surprise party for new-father Bruce, the chefs are brought to Top Chef Arena with a sizable crowd of energetic fans whose loyalties are divided up between the red team (Fatima, Adrienne, and Carrie), white team (Tanya, Claudette, and Chris), and blue team (Moustache Joe, Joe, and Bruce).
But before things kick off, there’s a little bit of business needed of the Precision chefs. They each have to declare which protein they’re working with and what temperature they intend to cook it to. Joe says he’ll be preparing roast chicken that will be cooked to 165 degrees. Tanya is next and she’s totally flummoxed—as a relatively rustic-oriented chef who cooks to touch, and not to temperature, she says that she’s making lamb and picks a number out of thin air: 145 degrees. Tom looks taken aback. Finally, Adrienne will be making a filet and cooking it to 125 degrees. Tom then confiscates their thermometers and says that for every three degrees off their stated temperature, the chefs will lose one point.
But more on that later. Right now, the chefs have to get to work making their 30 dishes in 45 minutes, and there’s major drama on the white team. Claudette appears to keep giving Tanya tasks to complete—cut this up, go get me that, I need a pressure cooker, etc. etc. Tanya has little time, if any, to devote to her own dish, which again, is supposed to require PRECISION. It’s hard to focus on doing a brunoise on shallots, the smallest of onions, when Claudette keeps needing assistance. Finally, all communication between them breaks down and Claudette ends up finishing her dish on her own . . . but without the acid component she’d intended.
Because, of course, she couldn’t have finished her dish without even MORE help from her teammate.
Bruce on the blue team serves a creamy polenta with mushroom ragu and pickled ramps that everyone adores. He earns 50 points from the three Top Chef judges (Tom, Padma, and Gail) and the three Olympians. Fatima on the red team has a pretty empty plate with a smear of avocado mint puree with a seared scallop. She earns 47 points. Finally, Claudette on the white team has yellow corn grits with a crispy pork belly that’s simply too rich for the table. She earns 41.5 points.
The competition switches to precision. Tom comes to check the temperature of each chef’s protein. Adrienne’s filet is at 115, so being ten degrees off, the highest score she can receive from any judge is a 7. Joe’s chicken is about 7 degrees off of 165, which means his highest score is an 8. Finally, unsurprisingly, Tanya’s lamb is twenty degrees off of the 145 she promised (though Tom notes that it’s perfectly cooked) and thus has a ceiling of a 4 from the judges.
Service is ready and Adrienne offers a roasted filet with chiffonade kale salad, apple brunoise, and butternut squash batonnet. Tanya has a North African-spiced leg of lamb with chiffonade collard greens, shallot brunoise, and glazed carrot batonnet. Joe has a roasted chicken with apple brunoise, sorrel chiffonade, and butternut squash batonnet. All three dishes are very well received by everyone, and so the scores are basically determined by the “penalties” doled out earlier. Joe gets a 42.5, Adrienne gets 40.5, and Tanya is way down with 18.5.
Can Chris bring them home? It seems doubtful, as the bickering and sniping between Tanya and Claudette continue, even as they help Chris finish his dish. When the time is up, he offers a Korean-inspired dish of beef short ribs with ginger tofu cream and bok choy kimchi. The diners really like it, save for the tofu cream. Moustache Joe has a bizarre, culinary gastronomy, tweezified dish that looks like it could have come from Season 2’s Marcel Vigneron made up of short ribs with carrots and ramps. Finally, Carrie went off on the deep end with shortribs with fettucine, butter poached morels and oyster mushrooms. No one likes her dish, which only garners 35 points. Moustache Joe edges out Chris by the narrowest of margins, 51.5 to 51.
So the blue team sweeps and Moustache Joe takes home individual honors for the episode, but that’s not where any of the interest lies. Rather, the focus is all about Tanya and Claudette. As members on the losing team, with Chris clearly safe because of his Korean-inspired dish, all the drama is over whether Claudette should go home for a dish that was far too rich and for sabotaging Tanya’s dish, or whether Tanya should go home for a very tasty dish but which lacked precision.
There’s an incredible amount of sniping at Judges’ Table, and a blatant attempt by Claudette to throw Tanya under the bus for not helping out enough. This leads Joe to nudge Adrienne and whisper, “this is the same thing that happened with you,” a reference to when Claudette threw Adrienne under the bus during the cheese challenge, which led to Claudette going home. But Adrienne already recognizes the similarities between the situations and stands as a witness to this sequel with a stony expression.
Meanwhile, Tanya does herself few favors by focusing on the fact that she wasn’t able to handle the “speed” challenge as she would have preferred, and not talking about how all the assistance Claudette required resulted in her inability to bring any level of precision to her dish.
The backbiting continues after the chefs return to the stew room, where Tanya had previously chastised the “bears” for their raucous celebration, and goes on to snipe at Claudette and practically bit Carrie’s head off when she attempts to broker peace.
In the end, despite the fact that the judges clearly liked Tanya’s dish more, she is sent home for not complying with the spirit of her challenge - there simply was not enough precision. This follows in the spirit of Brother’s elimination last week, where his dish was simply not German enough.
As she leaves, Tanya professes relief at ending her stay in the competition. She cites the “challenging personalities” in the house and is ready to get back to work in her restaurant. I’m pretty sure she won’t miss being on the show.
And neither will her fellow cheftestants.