Top Chef Kentucky
Restaurant Wars Part 2
By Jason Lee
January 7, 2019
Top Chef: Restaurant Infinity War. At the end of this episode, two chefs will be Thanos-ed from the show. Based on Part I of the episode from last week, there would appear to be three clear candidates for elimination. From North East, we have Brian, who’s responsible for one dish (a chicken ballotine) that took so much time to prepare, that he wasn’t able to spend a ton of time training his front of house staff. From Thistle, Pablo again seems a bit discombobulated as he tries to put both of his team’s entrée dishes together. Finally, from Third Coast, Nini apparently has no idea how to run front-of-house, having barely spent any time training her servers and not really paying attention to the preparation of her dessert.
Service does not start off well for any of the teams. Michelle, serving as Executive Chef at Thistle, is not asserting herself strongly enough. Luckily for her, Brandon (who’s the surprising epitome of courtesy in this episode) is there as a supporting, encouraging sous chef. Over at Third Coast, though they had planned to have 90 oysters shucked and ready to go so that they wouldn’t be shucking them to order for their first course . . . time management escapes them and they end up in exactly the position they didn’t want to be in.
Meanwhile, at North East, there’s mass confusion about table numbers among the servers. Into this, the judges arrive—Tom, Padma, Nina Compton, Karen Akunowicz, and Nilou from Food & Wine. As they get seated and wait for their food, Padma notes to Brian that there don’t appear to be a lot of people eating, and not a lot of food coming out of the kitchen. As the chefs fire the judges’ food, Brian curtly informs the kitchen that they need to remedy this.
As the first course, we have Brian’s chicken ballotine with sunchoke, which is a huge hit with the judges for being perfectly cooked and moist all the way through. Accompanying it is a striped bass crudo from Eddie with corn dashi. It’s lacking a bit of heat and acid.
Next is a NY strip with braised cabbage from Eddie, along with a pork and scallop dish from Eric that has couscous and carrot puree. Eddie’s dish garners strong marks from the judges, while Eric’s pork is too salty.
Meanwhile, all of the teams are dealing with what appears to be really inexperienced, confused servers. Though those problems are accented on the teams where the front-of-house person is simply not strong enough to corral the wayward servers (*cough*Nini*cough*), it’s definitely affecting all the restaurants.
Dessert is served at North East, with a play on peaches and cream, as well as a play on a cheese course with Harbison cheese and basil focaccia. Both dishes are from Adrienne and they’re well received for their sharp presentation, good use of good ingredients, and nice textural contrasts.
The judges head over to Thistle and are expertly greeted by Sara, who then pulls a 180 in the service department by proceeding to bore the judges to near-sleep by reciting every component of every dish on the menu. Padma nudges her back towards the kitchen, and Sara takes the hint, leaving and then coming back with the first course. She herself made a green tomato gazpacho with sourdough croutons, which is good but the use of candied ginger is an off-putting ingredient. Michelle, however, has a smash hit with her sweet pea agnolotti with roasted shitakes, which has a ton of flavor and is seasoned really well.
It’s Pablo’s turn next with the entrees, and he has seared scallops with sunchokes plus a kombu-braised shortrib with artichoke. The sunchokes with the scallops are overpowering, and the judges simply have “no good words” for the shortribs. Whereas Brian might have saved himself with smooth service and a great chicken ballotine, it appears that Pablo might be destined to go home.
Brandon did both of his team’s desserts. He has a soy milk custard with strawberries that’s really nice but could use a touch more sweetness. He also serves a goat cream roulade cake with corn—an ingredient that no one seems to get.
While service (and server) issues have plagued all three teams, Third Coast (with Nini at the front-of-house helm) is on a different level. Between 30% and 50% of the plates are coming back to the kitchen as having been sent to the wrong table, or having been fired at the wrong time, depending on the person giving the description. At multiple points, Justin looks like he’s going to lose his temper and punch someone. Nini is close to incompetent serving as the liason between the house and the kitchen. Kelsey is struggling to fix Nini’s dessert, as her cocoa nib sorbet isn’t setting (Nini has to plead with Kelsey to keep the component on the dish, which Kelsey does). And David . . . well, he isn’t seen very much in this episode—not a bad thing considering what a horrendous disaster of a showing this is in Restaurant Wars.
The judges arrive but the kitchen is nowhere close to ready with the oyster dish for the first course (indeed, they’re nowhere near ready for the slew of customers still waiting for their reservation at the restaurant) so Kelsey makes the decision to stagger the service of the dishes. Out first is a crawfish bisque from Justin, which has more vegetable flavor than crawfish. It’s also way too thick. A few minutes later, the char-grilled oysters with compound butter arrive, which is too acidic.
The entrée dishes are better. The team’s red snapper with corn and crab salad is well received, as is David’s creole-spiced duck with cabbage, though it doesn’t have a ton of creole spice to it. At this point, the judges begin expressing concern for the menu’s overall lack of cohesiveness. Yeah, the menu’s lack of cohesiveness, and the team’s lack of cohesiveness, and the service’s lack of coheisiveness, and . . . you get the picture.
Dessert rounds out the meal. Kelsey has a buttermilk panna cotta that’s luscious, creamy, and delicious. Nini’s cocoa nib corbet with chocolate crumble and ganache, though, comes off a “collection of things”—certainly not something that would satisfy a chocolate lover.
All in all, Third Coast had one of the worst performances I’ve seen recently on Top Chef, but maybe the judges didn’t notice the chaos in the kitchen, the table-upon-table not getting the correct food, and the line out the door of Third Coast. At Judges Table, they simply note that all of the restaurants had similar problems with inconsistent dishes and bad service, and that there wasn’t a runaway winner.
The one that got a little bit ahead of the pack, though, was North East. Brian adeptly handled the front of house and had one of the best dishes of the night, Eddie had a nice NY strip dish, Eric’s prepared some nice scallops, and Adrienne’s two dishes were delightful . . . but Brian takes home the crown for doing the most to bring his team over the finish line. And if that weren’t enough, each member of the team is getting $10k for their flawed victory.
Cue jealous scowls from the other teams.
From the remaining teams, two chefs are going home, and there are plenty to choose from. Sara’s use of candied ginger in her gazpacho was simply a bad decision, as was Brandon’s use of corn in his roulade. But their errors don’t compare to Pablo’s tough shortribs and overly sweet apple puree in his scallop dish. He’s the clear choice to go home from Thistle.
As for Third Coast, the judges receive some passive aggressive summaries of what went wrong with service—lack of training (by someone) of the server staff, lack of communication (by someone) with the kitchen, etc. etc. But there were also food issues—Justin’s bisque lacked seafood flavor, the team’s sauce for the oysters was “overkill” on every ingredient, and though the entrées were strong and Kelsey’s panna cotta was a huge hit, Nini’s chocolate dish felt too deconstructed and lacked cohesion. Though it was perhaps better than Justin’s bisque, she’s the clear frontrunner for elimination from her team, due to her ineptitude in the front-of-house.
And so it is. Pablo’s dishes lacked balance and Nini’s problems in the front-of-house led to a lot of issues in the back-of-house. And for those reasons, they’re both going home. Nini appears to understand how her own errors are to blame for this, though she believes that at least some of the guilt lies with Justin for his failing as executive chef. As for Pablo, he credits an over-ambitiousness for the errors in his dishes.
We’re down from twelve chefs to ten chefs . . . though those numbers may change sometime in the next episode. Stay tuned.