Top Chef Portland: Everything’s Not Coming Up Roses

TOP CHEF -- "Meet You at the Drive-In" Episode 1805 -- Pictured: (l-r) Byron Gomez, Chris Viaud, Avishar Barua, Jamie Tran, Sara Hauman, Dawn Burrell, Shota Nakajima, Gabe Erales, Nelson German, Maria Mazon, Gabriel Pascuzzi -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Meet You at the Drive-In" Episode 1805 -- Pictured: (l-r) Byron Gomez, Chris Viaud, Avishar Barua, Jamie Tran, Sara Hauman, Dawn Burrell, Shota Nakajima, Gabe Erales, Nelson German, Maria Mazon, Gabriel Pascuzzi -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

In my honest opinion, episode 5 of Top Chef Portland was a contrived snoozefest. It hurts me to say that, but if the show falls short once or twice a season, its success rate is still over 85% and would definitely qualify as sustained excellence. So yes, I love Top Chef, but no, I didn’t love or even like this episode.

As a matter of fact, this installment of Top Chef Portland left me more disengaged than I’ve ever been with an episode, so much so that instead of sharing a detailed recap, I’m opting to cut to the proverbial chase and summarize this week’s happenings.


…Portland is called the City of Roses and Mother’s Day is right around the corner, so the Quickfire Challenge tied the two in a neat little package and tasked the chefs with creating a dish that pays tribute to a mother figure that must feature roses or rose-flavored ingredients. Frankly, Padma and all-star judge Amar Santana seemed just as blase’ about the focus on roses as the chefs themselves, rendering the challenge sort of boring from the outset.

…Continuing his recent good form, Chris won the Quickfire Challenge and earned immunity in the Elimination Challenge, as well as an advantage that in practice didn’t really strike me as necessary since he had already earned immunity. But I digress.

Top Chef Season 18 episode 5
TOP CHEF — “Meet You at the Drive-In” Episode 1805 — Pictured: (l-r) Maria Mazon, Tom Colicchio, Richard Blais — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

…Having made the show’s less-than-nuanced foreshadowing the focus of my recap last week, it’s only fair to point out that I thought we were headed down the same predictable path in episode 5 as the spotlight shined on Maria Mazon’s self-doubt from the beginning. Paired with the teary call home to her wife and son, and well, I thought we were looking at Kiki redux. Au contraire! As the episode unfolded, we were treated to the sight of Maria enjoying a modicum of success, sparing us for at least this week of another foreshadowed departure.

…After coming down hard on Gabriel for incessantly reminding everyone that he’d once worked for Tom Colicchio after Top Chef Portland’s premiere episode, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relative benign role he’s taken on in the interim…until this week. To quote former NFL coach Dennis Green, Gabriel is who we thought he was and the producers clearly revisited the idea of embracing him as a cranky instigator of tension and derision.

…What in theory might’ve seemed like a fun idea, the show’s Elimination Challenge was built around the creation of a Top Chef Drive-In. The chefs drew knives to determine two teams, then set out to cook dishes based on movie genres. One chef on each team conceived and cooked a dish based on comedy, drama, action, sci-fi, horror, and romance, with the better of competing ones earning a point for their team. As if that vague challenge wasn’t enough, the chefs also had to ensure that their finished product was compatible with eating in the car at a drive-in. As I said, it might’ve appeared to be a great concept on the drawing board, but I say nay nay.

…One week removed from Kiki being eliminated because she served raw chicken, Jamie decided to make chicken wings and paid the ultimate price when she was eliminated because they were underwhelming and oversauced. Having long tired of her obscure sound effects, seeing her go is a welcome sight to me, though I realize Last Chance Kitchen presents her with an opportunity to return to the competition and annoy us anew later this season.

…Byron Gomez shined in the Elimination Challenge, earning him the win and a $10,000 prize to go along with it. While I haven’t made many references to him thus far, he’s eminently likable and would appear to have some serious chops in the kitchen if the first five episodes are any indication. The winner said “it’s a good night to be Byron” and it was.

…I saved the best for last and it’s a double-edged sword. It’d be nice to have the episode’s highlight be something one of the cheftestants said, did, or cooked, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, my favorite moments this week were far & away the campy video introductions that Padma did in introducing each of the aforementioned movie genres. Intentionally over-the-top and obviously just as appreciated by diners at the Top Chef Drive-In, these quick snippets of joy were quasars in an episode that for me was bereft of any other bright lights.

I love Top Chef. I love Top Chef Portland. I can’t wait for next week’s episode, which features the chefs honoring the region’s indigenous people with a double elimination looming. Something tells me that it’ll be a far better show than this week’s was because, in the end, Top Chef is still that damn good.

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What did you think of this week’s episode? What’s your favorite thing to eat at the movies?