Top Chef Colorado Recap
By Jason Lee
January 30, 2018
With eight chefs left in the competition, they know it, and you know it. It’s time for Restaurant Wars. The show’s iconic four-on-four competition, with two teams opening two new restaurants, that’s invariably rife with drama that leads to unforeseeable outcomes.
I can’t wait.
The chefs gather in Mile High Station to draw knives to determine which chefs will be responsible for putting together the teams—Carrie will get to pick for the grey team, and Chris will assemble the red team.
Which leads us to this episode’s villain: Claudette. The chefs got an up-close-and-person view of Claudette throwing Adrienne under the bus in the second episode as she attempted to shift all responsibility on her teammate and profess a squelched desire to have done a different dish, all in an attempt to avoid elimination. A similar situation ensued last week with Tanya, as Claudette shifted blame for her underwhelming dish onto a lack of assistance by Tanya, even as she took no responsibility for her own sabotage of Tanya’s dish by monopolizing Tanya’s time.
With these experiences fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s no surprise that Carrie and Chris studiously avoid picking Claudette for their team. Carrie selects Bruce, Joe, and Adrienne for her team, while Chris goes with Moustache Joe, Fatima, and Claudette as the reluctant, last-kid-picked-for-the-dodgeball team.
Each team is tasked with putting together a whopping three course meal, in which each course has three options. They’ll have to select a restaurant name, a theme, and will outfit their restaurant with a little help from the Craftsy group.
On Carrie’s suggestion, her team selects the name Conifer—an ode to the Colorado tree—and they settle on a Italian/Mediterranean style for the menu. On the other side of the room, the band of misfits led by Chris decides to embrace their diversity by selecting the restaurant name Common Place—as in, a common place where different chefs come together. Or, put less charitably, a common place where each chef can do whatever they want in whatever style they want without actually having to put together a cohesive menu or theme as a so-called “team.”
Yeah, I think you can see how this is gonna turn out.
The teams also settle on roles, and in a surprising move, the two team captains each eschew leadership positions, preferring to slink in the shadows as line cooks. Carrie puts Joe as front of house, Bruce as executive chef, and she’ll work on the line with Adrienne. Similarly, Chris will work on the line with Moustache Joe, deciding perplexingly to have lovable (but perpetually sour) Fatima as front of house and installs Claudette as executive chef—a move that she immediately embraces, but which unmistakably puts a target on her back.
In short, if that team goes down, the cheftestants will be rid of the thrower-under-the-bus-er.
Indeed, Moustache Joe is plainly and explicitly playing that game. During their five-hour prep session, he dutifully brings samples of everything he’s making to Claudette for her to taste and incorporates her feedback. In short, if he goes down, he’s got someone he can blame.
This would be a pretty uncomfortable situation to watch were it not for Claudette taking charge. She starts giving direction to her team on the direction of dishes and the methods of cooking, she installs her own expediting system, she works with Fatima to try and figure out a plan for service, etc. At the same time though, she makes no effort to bring cohesion to her team’s menu, embracing the idea of allowing each chef to make whatever wacky, creative dish they want and disdaining Conifer’s menu as “boring.”
Thus, she’s basically an executive chef for a group of independent artists. But is that really an executive chef at all? And is this a recipe for success in Restaurant Wars?
Service day arrives and both teams are feeling good. Joe turns on the charm in training his wait staff, while Fatima is decidedly disappointed with their lack of experience. The opposite is true back in the kitchen. Bruce is critical to the point of being fussy in directing Carrie and Adrienne on how to plate their dishes and cook their food, while Claudette is lackadaisical, not even tasting the dishes put out by her team. They’ll each stand or fall on their own dishes, she reasons.
Again, this entirely misconstrues the role of executive chef on Top Chef. If one chef goes down, he or she will be sent home. If the entire team goes down, the executive chef goes home. Looks like Claudette might be making a pretty rookie mistake.
Both teams are quickly slammed and do their best to power through and keep things on track. Despite Claudette’s detailed plan to expedite service, Bruce’s team seems to be doing a better job at keeping up with demand, perhaps because their menu is less ambitious and has more of a focus on enabling execution.
This fact is not lost on the judges. They head over to Conifer first and comment on the somewhat straightforward menu offered—it’s food that will appeal to the masses, and thus would bode well for a restaurant needing to attract diners. But will it be enough for the judges?
The first course bodes well for their chances. Joe has a Hiramasa crudo, which is clean and bright. Carrie has the “obligatory” kale salad with beets three ways, which seemed pedestrian but does wonders with the beets. And Bruce offers braised pork with meatballs and polenta (for about the third time on the show this season), which, after all that practice, is ridiculously good. Meanwhile, Joe is doing a fantastic job as front of the house, interacting diners and charming all around him, while keeping service humming along.
On the other side of the space, the line of people waiting for tables hasn’t noticeably shrunk and those at tables aren’t super happy with their food, with one table sending food back for being lukewarm.
Meanwhile, Joe brings out the second course for the judges. He has his own roasted duck breast with corn puree, which is delicious and perfectly cooked. Bruce has a roasted red pepper orecchiette pasta with lamb sausage, which boasts outstanding flavors. And finally, there’s a Colorado sea bass from Adrienne, which unfortunately, is marred by the fact that the plates were so hot when she assembled her dish that her sauces dried out.
Dessert is next with an apple upside down cake with apricot from Bruce, that is incredibly homey. Carrie made a lemon curd with sugar cookies that has great tartness. And Adrienne hits a home run with her caramelized white chocolate buttermilk cake that’s simply fantastic.
With such a strong showing from Conifer, can Common Place keep up? The judges’ first impression is not promising, seeing a long line of waiting diners as they arrive and are escorted to their table.
The judges note that Common Place boasts a more ambitious menu and soon see it firsthand, though few dishes impress. Fatima has her own top round tartare with a three pepper aioli that “needs more of everything,” according to Tom and is marred by burnt garlic chips. Moustache Joe has two dishes—oysters with a spring pea foam that’s flavorless, and a chicken “purse” with charred spring onion for which the pasta is so tough that it’s hard to eat.
Not a good start and it continues to get worse. The next course has a bone marrow with blue prawns from Claudette, but the bone marrow has all melted away. Moustache Joe has ricotta dumplings with mushrooms that is simply too rich and has a burnt mushroom flavor. And Chris’s braised pork shoulder and pork cheek is nice enough, but too salty, per Tom.
Dessert is better but still not great. Chris has a beet donut with chocolate cream ganache that lacks beet flavor. Claudette has a sundae financier with berry sauce, but the ice cream is overspun. And her skyr with miso chickpeas and white chocolate has a very off-putting texture.
As is readily evident, the performances of the two teams are not anywhere close to each other—Conifer wins by TKO. Which makes it all the stranger that all the chefs seem to think that the judging will be close—that both teams did well and that the judges are going to have a hard time with their decision.
Boy is Common Place in for a surprise.
Conifer is quickly declared the winner and praised for their cohesion in concept. Bruce did a fantastic job expediting, as it didn’t feel like the restaurant’s first night, and Joe made sure to personally greet every table of diners. Meanwhile, the dishes were fantastic. Joe’s duck dish was well conceived by him and well executed by Adrienne. Carrie worked wonders with what could have been a cliché kale salad with beets. And Bruce’s meatballs and polenta were off the charts. But Joe takes home the win for his great food and his impeccable service.
Even better—not only does the team win the challenge, they also get a cool $40k from Craftsy. AMAZING.
Obvs, Common Place is not happy. And they’re about to get unhappier.
Fatima is knocked for her passive approach to service, and Joe is criticized for cooking three bad dishes. While that would normally send someone home, there’s also the problem of Claudette, who didn’t taste her chefs’ food and wasn’t looking at the food as it went out—for example, for noticing that there were burnt garlic chips on Fatima’s tartare, that there was no bone marrow on her bone marrow dish, that the ice cream was grainy, etc.
Claudette defends herself, saying that she just executed service and that each chef’s flaws should rest on their own shoulders, deflecting blame. Meanwhile, the Conifer chefs exchange pointed looks—here she goes again.
As the judges fault Claudette for not acting like an executive chef, Chris steps in saying he feels responsible since he put everyone in their respective positions. He says he doesn’t want to go home, but owns up to the fact that if Fatima failed at front of the house and Claudette failed as executive chef, he shares some blame for that.
Clearly, there’s enough blame to go around and reason to send any of the chefs home. Fatima was not good at front of house and her dish was mediocre. Joe didn’t put out any good food that night. Chris’s pork dish was salty and his chocolate sauce in his dessert was not good. And Claudette . . .
Oh Claudette. Not only was her bone marrow dish cloudy in flavor and lacking bone marrow, but she seems to want things both ways. Tom describes how proud she was to be serving as executive chef during his walk through, and contrasts that to how she was “just expediting” when the team’s food was put at issue.
As is typically the case on Top Chef, when the team goes down, the executive chef goes home, and today that’s Claudette. After Padma announces her name, Claudette storms off the set and walks away, not bidding any of her fellow chefs goodbye. They quickly coalesce together, sad that this is what it had come to but not all that disappointed that Claudette is no longer part of the kitchen.
In her final monologue, Claudette declares that the judges were wrong and hopes that they’re kicking themselves in the @#$ after reflection. She believes that her flavors and cooking style are unique and faults the show for wanting “a vanilla Top Chef.” What Claudette can’t see—and what she can’t ever see, as she seems congenitally incapable of taking criticism or accepting fault—is that in a team challenge (whether working with Adrienne, Tanya, or the Common Place crew), you have to work together to the betterment of the team. That’s never more important than in Restaurant Wars, and particularly true for the executive chef. She made her bed and now, she’ll lie in it. Out of the competition.
Unless she finds a way to return via Last Chance Kitchen one more time.