Each week we’ll watch chef Jason Stratton display his mad skills and sartorial flair in the show’s 13th season.
Previously, on Top Chef: Questionable vegan food! Not enough Jason!
Road trip time: The chefs are headed north to Santa Barbara in a pack of (non-Toyota) vans, making awkward contrived chat about road trips along the way. Also: Who let Phillip and his man bun drive? The crew meets a sea urchin diver and Jason describes its spiny, delicate charms. He tells the camera, "What you actually eat are the gonads. Who doesn't like a little gonad?" Who, indeed.
The chefs, the urchins, and their respective gonads arrive at Sanford winery to meet Padma and a Top Chef regular, Food and Wine’s Dana Cowin. There’s a lot of flowy cardigan happening here.
“I recognize one of you!” Dana Cowin trills. Yep, she’s talking about Jason, and not just because he’s wearing one of the loudest shirts to ever accost my corneas. She’s referring, of course, to his 2010 selection as a Food and Wine Best New Chef. Jason tells the camera about how that moment was one of the proudest in his life.
Cut from caring and sharing to sudden death quickfire. Every chef must prepare an uni dish and pair it with a Sanford wine. Padma's pronunciation of “uni” is so sexual.
Jason makes a salpicon with crab salad to go with the chardonnay. Giselle wants to make sea urchin and eggs, but ends up making something sucky after she can’t find any eggs. In a riveting moment of Top Chef drama, we learn that Carl has all the eggs.
Grayson’s simple salad takes the win, though Carl racks up accolades for his eggs and uni. Giselle gives him the side eye, especially after she ends up on the bottom for her not-eggs and uni. She faces Angelina in a sort of sudden death cookoff…ironically involving a pair of giant ostrich eggs, with yolks the size of baseballs. Giselle’s relationship with eggs may be complicated, but she manages to win the cookoff and hang in the competition.
Padma prattles about all Santa Barbara’s great proteins (are retirees considered a protein?) and commands the chefs to pair up to cook the ultimate surf and turf. Scrambling ensues to score proteins off a table. I'm surprised Jason ends up with Frances. She's way younger and her Asian background doesn't exactly jive with our man's Italian sensibilities. They discuss how to prepare their offbeat combo of pork and black cod and Jason graciously agrees to take things in a more Frances-friendly Asian direction. Then he utters words that never have a good outcome on Top Chef: “I don’t cook Thai cuisine, but obviously any time you’re working in a team, you have to compromise to an extent.”
Tom arrives on the scene, and he’s not here to talk about the amazing Santa Barbara weather. “This challenge is about to get a little fishy,” he says. Groooooan. Tom, you’re better than that. What he means: Each team must split up, one taking the surf, the other the turf. Instead of making a joint dish, they will now compete against one another, using the ingredients they bought together.
“Thank god we didn’t choose Italian,” says Frances. Jason, now stuck with a bunch of Thai ingredients, probably begs to differ.
OMG. Stop paying attention to anything else in this episode: Wesley brought along stencils to use with plating his sauce. I repeat: Wesley showed up on Top Chef with sauce stencils.
Jason goes into his judging not feeling great about his dish, a sentiment backed up by the judges, which include Richard Blais and Suzanne Goin, plus Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo from Animal. They all wish Jason’s dish had more flavor. “Do you specialize in Thai?” Suzanne Goin asks skeptically. “I do Piedmontese cuisine,” Jason responds politely—yet sadly.
“I feel bad,” says Jon Shook. “You gut bullied into cooking something you’re not comfortable with, and it shows.” Blais rightfully deems it a classic Top Chef scenario.
There’s legitimate drama unfolding around Jason’s dish. His grilled pork loin with a Thai-style egg and green bean salad might be flawed, but Frances’s ginger black cod with 50 garnishes is a hot, hodgepodgy mess. The judges split 4-4 on who has the best dish. And they use the word “best” very loosely. “I find it very painful, because I believe in Jason,” says Dana Cowin. But not enough to prevent her from voting for Frances’s cod jumble.
Tom casts the deciding vote…for Jason. He’s safe. Whew! Glad that bright-ass floral shirt will live to see another day on national television.
The winner: Aww, it’s Kwame, despite the fact that he had never cooked with rock crab before. After Jason, this guy might be my fave.
The loser: Oof. Jason’s partner Frances is done in by her overcomplicated cod. I’ll miss her youthful bravado and two-tone hair.
Next, on Top Chef: The chefs head to Palm Springs! Padma and Jose Andres head to a golf course!
- Karen’s fish must have kicked some serious ass if she managed to end up on top even after she ran out of time and gave Padma a plate with no fish.
- Kwame gives Chad, his partner-turned-competitor, a very Stuart Smalley pep talk as they await judges table. Bros before proteins, y'all.
- Tough ribeye? Hard crab? A lot of chefs seemed to have janky proteins in this challenge. Maybe Top Chef needs to partner up with Marx Foods.
- I’m still thinking about the first ep where the editing portrayed Wesley as kind of an unclean cook. At what point is it irresponsible to edit footage in a way that could affect a chef’s business? I’m sure any contestant on Top Chef signs his/her life away, but still. That's dicey.
- I'm still not over those sauce stencils.