As someone who makes no secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of Top Chef, I think it’s only fair to shoot straight when something bothers me. What normally might be saved for my Random Thoughts below is being bumped up here because I found that the source of my weekly observation about foreshadowing was far more glaring in this week’s episode of Top Chef Portland.
If you haven’t watched yet, you’ll wanna stop here, as spoilers await in short order. Then again, this recap is really no different than this week’s installment of Top Chef Portland itself, as it wasn’t more than two minutes into the episode before I knew with metaphysical certitude that Kiki Louya would ultimately be sent home. The only thing missing throughout the episode were flashes of Kiki actually packing her knives one by one, as the outcome was never in doubt.
On the subject of foreshadowing, it could also be suggested that the show’s producers left us positive clues too, as they also shined a spotlight on Gabe Erales throughout as well. And since we’re yelling out spoilers from the Oregon mountaintop already, yes, he would go on to win this week.
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Soup’s On Top Chef
The cheftestants were welcomed to the Top Chef Kitchen by Padma and all-star judge Dale Talde, who shared details of this week’s Quickfire. In a sign that Padma was on her pun game, she introduced a pantry full of Campbell’s Soup and told the chefs that the winner would not only get immunity but would also earn a “souped-up cash prize of $10,000” for creating the best elevated dish that evokes a food memory using the iconic brand’s products.
After saying “I need to have more confidence. In myself as a cook and as a chef” just two minutes into the episode, preceding the Quickfire Challenge, Kiki added “I secretly hate Quickfires. Maybe not so secretly anymore” upon hearing what this week’s version would entail.
On the heels of Tom admonishing Chris at last week’s Judges’ Table, he clearly embraced the directive in the form of a Grilled Cheese Panzanella with Tomato Soup Vinaigrette & Pickled Shallots dish that compelled Dale to describe it as “imaginative and modern”. Gabe and Sara joined Chris in the top three before Talde named the latter the winner.
Faring less successfully in the Quickfire were Nelson, Shota, and yes, Kiki, with Dale opining that her Swiss chard gratin dish “never really cooked out. It felt like a warm dressed salad.” Am I alone in seeing a revelatory trend here?
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: The Fruits of the Chefs’ Labor
In further proof that Padma’s puns were on-point this week, as they almost always are, she told the chefs that this week’s Elimination Challenge would “throw you for a loop, and I’m not talking about cereal” before sending them an hour outside of Portland to the Hood River Fruit Loop, where they’d create a savory dish featuring locally-grown, hand-picked fruit at the foot of the scenic Mt. Hood.
As if creating a savory dish featuring fruit wasn’t enough of a challenge, all-star alumni Melissa King and Carrie Baird awaited the chefs at the orchards, prompting Jamie to react to seeing them by saying “please don’t give me another twist.”. Wishful thinking Chef Tran, as the dreaded twist materialized in the form of an edict that no vegetables would be allowed during the challenge.
If Parker Brothers had given as many hints in Clue as Top Chef Portland dropped in this episode, Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum would’ve been doomed before the first roll of the dice. But clues abounded, including Kiki reflecting “after that last elimination, I’m a little scarred” en route to the Hood River Fruit Loop. On the flip side, Gabe confidently stated that “I feel more confident than I typically do.”
After fending off Mother Nature in the form of wind and nature itself in the form of a phalanx of bees, the chefs put their personal touch on fruit-focused dishes with varying degrees of success. Gabriel and Chris joined Gabe in the top three, with this spoiler-laden recap already having revealed Gabe’s eventual win for a Smoked & Glazed Plums and Orchard Fruit Jus with Pork and Chicken dish that prompted Gail Simmons to gush that “it was another complex Gabe sauce that I need to eat again” and Melissa to add that “Gabe’s masterful when it comes to sauce-making.”
Even though their dishes couldn’t eclipse Gabe’s, Gabriel’s oysters compelled Padma to say “I think it’s very brave to give us three oysters” before Tom put the exclamation point on the praise by adding that “you pulled it off because of the attention to detail.” Chris’s scallop dish earned equal billing, with Tom calling it “spectacular.”
One could easily say that Padma, Gail, and Tom, along with all-stars Melissa and Carrie, got a raw deal at Judges’ Table this week, as the bottom three apparently forget that this is a cooking competition. Avishar’s Ohiotto–he combined his home state of Ohio with Risotto to come up with his self-named dish–was served raw, while Nelson presented the panel raw fruit and Kiki committed the ultimate culinary sin of serving raw chicken to all 10 diners.
Once Padma confirmed what we knew since the show’s early moments, that Kiki needed to pack her knives and head to Last Chance Kitchen, Tom mused “undercooked chicken, you can’t get past it.” Kiki’s own post-mortem bemoaned that “I have never in my life served raw chicken to anyone and I just ended up serving it to 10 Top Chef judges.”
…A tip of the toque to Top Chef California runner-up Amar Santana for eschewing proper dining etiquette in favor of pure pleasure when he picked up what was left of Gabe’s dish in the Elimination Challenge and licked the plate clean. Yes, he went there and I’m all for it!
…Yes, Jamie’s mystery mutterings returned. Discuss among yourselves.
…Opinions may vary, but I’m enjoying Top Chef Portland’s use of show all-stars in each episode. While doing so was borne of necessity due to the pandemic and the need to establish a production bubble, it’s been a welcome feature to this viewer.
…One fun element of Top Chef is the existence of Last Chance Kitchen as a means of retribution for eliminated chefs. Even though Padma said that Kiki’s chicken “had the judges crying fowl” before wondering if she could “break her streak of bad cluck” in an LCK voiceover at the end of this episode, hope springs eternal for her and other eliminated chefs. Kristen Kish, Brooke Williamson, and Joe Flamm have all bounced back from being relegated to Last Chance Kitchen to be named Top Chef, providing Kiki with proof positive that winning birds of a feather can in fact flock together.
Next week’s episode of Top Chef Portland introduces us to the Top Chef Drive-In, which should be fun. Let’s hope that it also brings us far less foreshadowing and the resulting suspense come elimination-time at Judges’ Table.
Which of the many types of Campbell’s Soup is always in your pantry? What’s your favorite fruit?