Top Chef Seattle Episode 14: Kings of Alaska
Devilish details, Sean Brock, magical underwear, and some bears.
Each week we chronicle how Seattle represents in the show's tenth season.
Previously, on Top Chef: Surf! Turf! Manicures! The city of Seattle!
The cruise ship steams toward Juneau and the remaining chefs gather together in a state room. Brooke wishes she could call her husband to say hi. Josh wishes he could call his wife to ask whether she might be going into labor with their child, since she's officially past her due date. Touche, Josh.
An elegant instrumental welcomes the chefs to Juneau. Sheldon says he is wearing extra underwear, to "keep my package nice and warm." Sheldon, we have heard an awful lot about the state of your undergarments this season.
The chefs are immediately dispatched to Tracy’s Crab Shack, where Padma awaits with seriously-freaking-awesome Charleston chef Sean Brock, sleeve tattoos concealed under plenty of layers. He and Padma trade lines about Alaska’s crab fishing industry, and it’s quickfire time. The chefs have to make a crabcentric dish, and Sean Brock doesn’t want any boring dishes. Especially since he flew 13 hours to get here from South Carolina.
Sheldon has never cooked king crab; they’re expensive in Hawaii. “I’ll figure it out as I go,” he says. Josh exposits that “my food is similar to what Sean Brock does at Husk.” Except, you know, without all the national acclaim. He’s keeping things simple with butter-poached crab and succotash. He will use no bacon at all. Just kidding, of course Josh is putting bacon on this biz. Brooke mocks him: “Sucker-tash!” Ahem, more like sucker ’stache.
For a crab neophyte, Sheldon’s idea is either brilliant or wretchedly disgusting. He’s making a miso-style broth using a crab’s innards and smoking asparagus on pine needles, a technique he heard about from a little place called Noma. That second set of underpants is clearly giving him cooking superpowers.
Sean Brock and Padma make the rounds. His least favorites are Lizzie’s overcooked crab frittata and Josh’s succotash. “You served succotash to a succotash snob,” Sean chides him. He also thought the bacon was unnecessary. Josh appears mighty chagrined.
Sheldon’s crab-innards broth is a hit, and Sean tells Brooke he didn’t want to like her simple crab toast dish, but he just can’t quit her elaborate crab butter preparation. Sheldon takes the win. “It reminded me a lot of the way we cook in Charleston,” Sean tells the knit-capped chef from Hawaii, no doubt sending bacony daggers through Josh’s heart. At least his mustache is still shaped like a smile.
This episode’s elimination challenge focuses on two more Alaskan staples: salmon and sourdough; Padma explains that gold prospectors would carry sourdough starters in their packs. She rattles off more stats about the local fishing industry and explains that the chefs will be feeding the locals at a salmon bake.
Padma and Sean remind everybody that the attendees prepare sourdough and salmon at home all the time. It's "kind of like serving succotash to a southerner.” On the Toyota-sponsored drive home, Josh fumes, "I'm done with bacon." Promise?
Back at a cute little guest house, four bins of sourdough starter await. An unnamed couple started it in a cooking class in Juneau 31 years ago. Josh explains that you have to take care of a starter, “like a child.” He’s going to have a bit of a learning curve with his impending fatherhood.
The next morning, the chefs head to the docks to await a fishing vessel and its delivery of coho, king, chum, and sockeye salmon. The boat dispatches a bin full of freshly caught fish on ice, and the chefs marvel at how incredible they are. Everyone gets to work selecting and gutting fish. Josh proclaims this the best experience he’s had on Top Chef thus far. Granted, Seattle isn’t exactly Alaska, but it is a nice reminder of the incredible resources in our corner of the world. Lizzie talks about how her dad taught her to fish. He passed away recently and while this show can get a little icky mining chefs’ emotional moments, this is very sweet and moving.
The chefs get to work at Gold Creek Salmon Bake. Sheldon is making pea soup for the first time ever. Hey, random experimentation served him well in the quickfire. When Tom saunters in, he is flabbergasted. Just yesterday he said he was in the mood for salmon and pea soup. Yep, those underpants must be charmed. Tom is impressed that Lizzie is taking the time to make individual sourdough rolls. When Brooke says she will poach salmon to order, his brow furrows in skepticism.
The guests arrive at the salmon bake grounds, followed by Emeril, Hugh, Gail, Tom, Sean, and Padma. Josh proclaims the gathering “the best picnic I’ve ever seen.” There’s a picturesque creek and even some nearby bears, close enough to joke about, but not actually be scary. Over at the judges’ table, Hugh Acheson announces that he brought “some bears and some beers.” We get footage of some decently affable bears up in a tree and Tom tells the rest of the judges, “that’s my fan club…that’s my fan base.” Guys, he is talking about a different kind of bear. And he is correct.
Oh, and speaking of beers, everyone at this salmon bake is drinking Redhook.
The judges like Brooke’s poached sockeye in seafood broth, though Sheldon’s thick, green soup reminds Hugh of baby food. “A good baby…healthy baby. Well-flavored baby.” So, like the baby Josh is about to have? Juneauans scoff at Sheldon’s decision to use chum.
Interstitial time. Emeril tells his fellow judges how his chef took the restaurant’s sourdough starter with him when he evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, fed it, and returned it to active service in the restaurant three months later.
Back to the salmon bake, where the judges sample Josh’s garlicky soup with black olive croutons and Lizzie’s salmon slider with a housemade pickle. Emeril deems it kind of safe and boring for someone in the Top Chef finals. The judges wander around interrogating random guests as to their favorite dishes. As they take their leave, an unseen woman screams out her love for Emeril. At this point it’s totally unclear—by design—which chefs are on the bottom.
The chefs line up for judges table in the pattering rain. Padma asks Lizzie if she tasted her sliders, and she admits she only tasted the components. Padma actually wags her finger over this gaffe. Then she tells Sheldon that chum is what the locals use to feed their dogs…but they really liked his preparation.
However the locals apparently liked Brooke’s poached-to-order dish even more; she takes the win, yet again. The rest of the chefs must await their fate; they gather around a campfire to warm up and commiserate over product-placement coffee.
At this point the judging gets fairly technical. Josh’s salmon was perfectly cooked but couldn't stand up to his garlic soup. Sheldon had a bit too much bitter smoky flavor, and Lizzie's salmon is underseasoned but she did make all those rolls by hand. This has been a great episode in terms of showcasing Alaska, learning about local food culture, and actual culinary skills. Woulda been nice to see more of that in Seattle.
At this stage of the game, says Tom, it’s the details that will send you home. And tonight Padma regretfully sends Lizzie packing for her underseasoned, bread-heavy salmon sliders.
The chefs exchange genuine hugs and Lizzie chides herself for making a silly mistake. Her parting words: “Cooking isn’t just cooking to me. It’s life, it’s family, it’s joy. It’s all of those wonderful things.” It’s a gracious exit to cap off one of the best episodes of the season.
Next week: The chefs ride in a helicopter and mush with some sled dogs. Roy Choi shows up, and hopefully we learn the answer to burning questions like: Can Josh actually go cold-turkey on bacon? Will Tom ever ride on a bear float? What else can Sheldon's underpants do?
Line of the night: Yep, that would be Tom Colicchio giving a shoutout to all his bear-seeking fans.