Each week we’ll watch chef Jason Stratton display his mad skills and sartorial flair in the show’s 13th season.
The show is marking its 10th anniversary just as the season is winnowed down to 10 chefs. And if you think Bravo wasn't going to make hay out of that, you must not watch much Bravo.
For the quickfire, each chef has 20 seconds to pick an ingredient from the pantry. The chefs must all use those same 10 ingredients to cook a dish. Nothing else. Jason picks last—after a flurry of beef, chicken, peppers, salt, and the like—and his fellow chefs practically boo when he returns with celery.
But he's got a plan, see.
"You can cook with it, you can use it raw, you can use the leaves as an herbaceous element," our man explains. And indeed, the vast majority of chefs end up using celery somewhere in their dish. Dude, that was some serious strategy. Well played.
The elimination challenge, cook a dish that represents who you were 10 years ago, was probably meant as a happy fuzzy exercise. But things get dark, fast. A decade ago Kwame's relationship with his dad was falling apart and Isaac was dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Phillip was dating a Peruvian girl and his man bun was just a stray hair in his eye.
Jason was in his first management role at Cafe Juanita. It was a weird transitional time, he tells the camera, and he was way too intense. Especially when it came to trout.
"Cafe Juanita had this signature trout dish, one of the most difficult dishes to cook in the whole restaurant," he says. "I was turning into this crazy raging bitch who just yelled at everybody expecting perfection. I realized, you don’t need to be an asshole to everybody." That trout now represents this point of renewal where Jason began to find his own voice. So he's going to make that trout dish, and it would be the height of dramatic irony if it wasn't cooked perfectly.
The next morning, the chefs get to work, but Jason's not done reflecting: "I’ve always been a little bit of an odd guy," he tells the camera. "I'm not afraid to wear bright red shoes and clashing patterns; it's never been my interest to fit in." And yet with some louder (some might say bro-ier) types around, he finds himself being quiet, which is an unusual role for our man.
He hit on it right there. I started recapping this season because I figured there would be Jason adventures aplenty. It's been weird to see a chef with so much personality often in the background. This musing gives way to fear: Top Chef's editing has taught me that if you're suddenly getting a window into a chef's hopes, dreams, and inner struggle, he or she might not be long for this kitchen.
Indeed, Jason realizes his trout is a little underseasoned, and tries to shore things up with some finishing salt. A table full of prominent LA chefs are judging, including a few Top Chef alums, and none of them are impressed.
"I was stoked you perfectly poached a piece of fish," Mike Voltaggio tells him. "But it sort of stopped right there." Tom asks if the Jason of 10 years ago would have chewed him out for this piece fish. The answer is sadly affirmative.
Oh god, this does not look good. Phillip, please hurry up and do something stupid to deflect from this trout debacle.
As I feared, Jason is on the bottom, along with Phillip and his man bun (and a ceviche that wasn't sufficiently acidic) and Kwame, who was so upset thinking about his relationship with his dad that he practically lost half his fingernail into his plates of Jamaican jerk broccoli. (Of course someone makes the inevitable pun: "So you didn't nail it?")
But it's Jason the chefs really want to psychoanalyze. Gail tells him, "I never would have in a million years thought this was your dish." Disappointing Gail is like bludgeoning a cuddly forest creature with a rolling pin. Tom notes that he's seemed really tight. "It almost seems like there's no joy in it for you right now. What's going on?"
Jason acknowledges that his lack of seasoning was "huge and unforgivable," but says he hasn't been himself since leaving his restaurants. "Things were changing and I wasn't finding that joy any more." His candor inspires Tom to give a Rudy-caliber speech about how cooking seems like it's all fire and knives, but really it's emotion.
This exchange has me tremendously relieved. The judges would have to be serious cold-hearted dirtbags to send Jason home after his emotional soul baring, and Tom's inspiring speech.
The winner: Marjorie takes her second win for cooking a green curry in remembrance of how green she was 10 years ago. Heh.
The loser: Oh, no. Padma barely takes a breath after Tom's big speech before telling Jason to pack his knives and go. He leaves us with some philosophical words and indelible memories of his bright yellow pants
And so concludes these recaps. I guess I could switch my allegiance to bearded Chad since he's from Spokane, but I just don't have the heart. (Plus now I might be Team Margie.) As a wise man named Jason Stratton said in his Top Chef exit interview, "change can be exciting." And don't worry, sir...there's fabulous new gig at Mamnoon awaiting you on the other side.
- "You need to find a better relationship between your noodle and your sauce." Nancy Silverton speaks wisdom.
- Jeremy is to raw fish as Jamie from season 5 was to scallops.
- That quick shot of Phillip getting out of bed, long, loose hair framing his face like Keira Knightley in a period film, will haunt me in my sleep.
- Remember when Grayson was on this show?