Each week we chronicle how Seattle represents in the show's tenth season.
Previously, on Top Chef: Jalapeno poppers! Oyster outings! Padma Smacks Me!
Sunrise. A shot of the Seattle Great Wheel transitions us to the Top Chef kitchen. The arriving chefs don’t immediately recognize the silver-haired gent standing before them, but make no mistake: This man is a total badass, and a god among serious chefs. It’s Olympia’s own master bladesmith, Bob Kramer. We get footage of Kramer’s shop, while he explains that he does his own woodwork, brasswork, metalwork, and heat treatment.
Padma purrs that his custom carbon steel knives “sell for $500…an inch.” Kramer brandishes one of his elite creations to slice cleanly through a length of rope. Still not impressed? He does it again with two pieces of rope.
Shocker—the quickfire is all about knife skills. Chefs must sharpen some crazy-dull knives until they can cut through a piece of paper (bearing the Top Chef logo, naturally). Next, the top two teams race to tourne 50 potatoes; Micah notes that Sheldon’s “look like little poop logs.”
The final round consists of frenching two racks. This phrase calls for Padma's breathy sexpot voice, though it's actually a method of breaking down two tiny rabbits. Sheldon has never dismantled a bunny before, but Josh assures him, “it’s just the same as a cat.” Micah wins the quickfire, immunity, and one of Kramer’s insane knives.
Shots from Kerry Park, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and Westlake move us along to the orgy of intrapromotion that is the elimination challenge. Since this is Top Chef’s tenth anniversary, each chef receives a Kindle Fire containing a “memorable moment” from one of the past nine seasons. The challenge: cook a dish related to that moment.
Good thing Josh is apparently knowledgeable about cooking cats, since I assume this is just nine catfight scenes. Oh, and this is a Healthy Choice challenge, so the dish has to be good for you. The winner gets his or her dish immortalized as a Healthy Choice frozen entrée, and $15,000….or 30 inches of Bob Kramer’s knives.
The chefs ogle their Kindle Fires, though Padma hangs on to the one that contains the Seattle season’s memorable moment, promising it will come into play later. Of course Fabio’s “this is Top Chef, not Top Scallop” rant is included. And the infamous missing pea puree from the DC season. The chefs recount scenes from seasons past to one another. This is meta in a rather icky way.
The chefs will prep and cook at the Palace Ballroom, but for now it’s off to Central Market in Shoreline to stock up. Gah! The next scene features the chefs back in the Olive 8 Penthouse of Product Placement nuking a bunch of Healthy Choice Café Steamers meals. Actual footage from past seasons plays while the group discusses the challenge. How did this devolve into the Top Chef version of a clip show?
Hey, look—Sheldon took off his knit cap! He gives Thierry Rautureau a run for his money in the ever-present headgear department. Dude, show off that full head of hair while you’ve got it.
B roll galore: The skyline at night! The Space Needle by morning! The 520 bridge! Monorail! The Palace Ballroom! The chefs get set up in the kitchen. John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas has Howie Kleinberg’s risotto dish from season three. We flash back to guest judge Anthony Bourdain giving Howie the business about his sucky risotto. John-the-most-name-dropping-chef-in-Dallas humblebrags about the irony of Bourdain being a judge, since he knew him back in New York in the ‘80s. In fact, he hired Bourdain, provided the inspiration for the Jimmy Sears character in Kitchen Confidential, and even introduced him to Eric Ripert.
Josh, the self-proclaimed pork ace, choked his last two pig dishes. So of course he got Michael Voltaggio’s braised bacon dish from the Vegas season. Is redemption afoot? Kristen hunkers down to reimagine Carla Hall’s love-filled chicken pot pie, while the screen cruelly displays a photo from Brooke’s, um, heavier years as she extolls the virtues of healthy eating. Meanwhile, Lizzie is having that not-so-fresh feeling about the scallops she bought.
What a coincidence! A commercial for Healthy Choice Café Steamers!
Guests, described only as “Top Chef superfans” enter the Palace Ballroom. One of these superfans is Spinasse and Artusi chef Jason Stratton. Hooray! It’s about damn time that man was on this show. He appears to be joined by Artusi sous chef Sasha Rosenfeld. The judges for this challenge: Wolfgang Puck, Chris Cosentino, Jonathan Waxman, and Wylie Dufresne. And Tom and Padma, of course.
Back in the kitchen, John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas opines that “risotto’s not a difficult thing to cook, it just doesn’t have a good track record on Top Chef.” A montage of risotto-based smackdowns unfolds while he dubs this “the curse of the risotto.” I would have gone with “Occam’s Risotto,” but whatevs.
Judging time. First up are Josie, Stefan, and John-the-curse-of-the-risotto-chef-in-Dallas. Josie’s roast chicken is fine. Stefan’s grilled cheese sandwich is in no way healthy. The risotto manages to be both overcooked and undercooked. Because it’s cursed! Even the guests out in the dining room talk about how dumb it is to make risotto on Top Chef.
Next up: Sheldon’s beef carpaccio, Lizzie’s smelly scallops from season five, and Josh’s bacon-inspired plate. Apparently the curse of Josh’s pork isn’t as powerful as the curse of the risotto; the judges declare his tenderloin perfectly cooked. Padma recalls Michael Voltaggio getting a standing ovation at Nellis Air Force Base for this dish. Tom remembers the assembled airmen gave Padma a standing ovation also, “But for a different reason…I think Padma was in a jumpsuit.” Hee—Tom knows what a jumpsuit is. And that Padma wears them an awful lot.
Past footage rolls to prove that Padma was actually wearing a really tight leopard-print dress. Totally different, guys. The judges stop reminiscing long enough to sample Sheldon’s carpaccio and choke down Lizzie’s scallops. Says Wolfgang Puck, “the quality of the scallops is really dubious…how would you say it in English?” The whole table responds, “Dubious!” in chorus. Apparently sketchy seafood transcends all language barriers. Everyone sniffs their plates and looks, well, dubious. I bet the folks at Central Market are really psyched to have their scallops disparaged on national television. Over at his table, Jason Stratton declares the preparation timid. Boy, can that man dress.
The judges move on to the infamous pea puree from season seven, served by Brooke with smoked salmon, as well as Kristen’s take on Carla Hall’s chicken pot pie and Micah’s duck breast with polenta, inspired by Heather and Beverly’s season nine hatefest. Everyone enjoys Micah’s duck, though Waxman declares himself “flummoxed” by the brilliance of Kristen’s deconstructed pot pie with a poached garlic and tofu gravy. Meanwhile, some guests re-enact the pea puree theft like it was a Civil War battle.
Interstitial time. The judges are supposed to discuss their favorite dishes from past seasons, but instead recall egregious screw-ups, like the dude Tom sent home before the season even started because he couldn’t butcher, and some doughnuts that were so hard that Wolfgang Puck threw one across the room. Guys, we could be at the Modernist Cuisine lab now; see my rant below.
A shot of Metro buses carry us to judgment. Padma sweeps into the stew room and beckons Josh, John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas, Kristen, Brooke, and Lizzie. Everyone is confused. Why did Padma summon five contestants? Are they the best or the worst? It turns out to be a little of both. Josh, Brooke, and Kristen had the day’s favorite dishes. Pork curse: lifted. Kristen’s pot pie takes the win, while Lizzie and John-the-most-hated-chef-in Dallas shuffle around looking awkward and sad.
These two served the worst dishes. When asked about his mushy-yet-raw risotto, John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas says he doesn’t want to make any excuses…then promptly starts making excuses. The most ridiculous one: All the pots in the kitchen had uneven bottoms, hence he was unable to cook his risotto evenly. Jeez, Top Chef. First you imply that Central Market sells sketchy scallops, now you are disparaging T-Doug’s cookware?
When asked about her gross, gray scallops, Lizzie buries her face in her hands in shame. But all is not lost. Padma dangles the mysterious tenth horcrux, er, Kindle containing this season’s memorable moment. John and Lizzie will face off against each other; the winner gets to stay. They will be cooking…CJ’s gnarly burger with pickles from the Pike Place Market episode.
The two chefs head back to the kitchen. John-the-most-petty-chef-in-Dallas steals Lizzie’s dill. He also tries to bogart the pickles. Lizzie is steamed, and declares her burger “better be more delicious than John’s so I can beat his bum!”
The judges sample John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas’s lamb burger. Cosentino asks why he put a fried egg on a dish that’s supposed to be healthy. Wolfgang is impressed that Lizzie’s flavorful chicken burger is made with white meat. Her win is unanimous.
John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas retreats, then launches a bizarre rant about how noble he was for not jacking all the pickles: “If I really wanted to win, I would have just stood on the other side of the kitchen and cooked five hamburgers without anything on them, put them on a plate, and held the pickles in my hand when I went to the judges table. I would have had them under my arm. I have all the pickles.”
Next, on Top Chef: Restaurant wars at Bite of Seattle! Danny Meyer! More of the Brothers Canlis! And, perchance, the answer to burning questions like: Will Padma wear a jumpsuit? What would happen if Sheldon and Thierry Rautureau switched hats? And, who really has all the pickles?
Coolest Seattle moment: Having Bob Kramer on the show was both logical and brilliant.
Lamest Seattle moment: WHAT IS UP with this great segment with Nathan Myhrvold at the Modernist Cuisine lab not making the show? This would've been a way better interstitial than the judges’ round of self-serving, clip-inducing reminisces. Here’s the video, and a full rundown from the Modernist Cuisine blog.
Line of the night: “I share the pickles. That’s who I am.” John-the-most-knife-packingest-chef-in-Dallas is a real standup guy. See you and your giant glasses in Last Chance Kitchen, you tool.