Coming off a strong episode of Top Chef Portland a week ago, this week’s installment surpassed it and in doing so showcased why the show remains the creme de la creme of food television competition shows. When Top Chef combines interesting challenges with compelling stories like it did this week, its excellence is unmatched.
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: “I’m back b—–s!”
Episode 7 began with a focus on second chances, as Jamie emerged victorious from Last Chance Kitchen to reenter the competition to such an enthusiastic reaction from the remaining eight cheftestants that Padma observed “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of chefs more excited to see another competitor.” That authentic camaraderie would ring true again later in the episode, showcasing the sincere bond that this group has built thus far.
Having given a tip of my hat to Maria last week for the acerbic wit she wielded in bidding Gabriel goodbye, it’s only natural to follow that up with her anticipatory comment as the chefs awaited someone’s return. “Not to be rude, but I hope it’s not Gabriel,” quipped the affable Tucson chef.
Jamie displayed renewed confidence upon reentering the Top Chef Kitchen, stating “when I got terminated, I didn’t think I was gonna come back, but I went Arnold Schwarzenegger on everybody. I’m back!” The new Jamie would be on full display throughout the episode, a welcome change from the human sound effect machine that she had been earlier in the season.
As for the challenge, it piggybacked on Jamie’s second chance by asking the chefs to use ingredients from a second chance pantry and use them to take a second chance on a past failed dish, whether pre-dating Top Chef or even earlier in the competition. From moldy cheese to fish heads to overripe fruit and vegetables, the QC was all about utilizing items that had seen better days. Additionally, the chefs had access to bread from Dave’s Killer Bread, a Portland-based company that gives second chances to people who’ve been incarcerated.
In true Padma fashion, she told the chefs after tasting that “there were a couple of dishes that gave us second thoughts.” Pun aside, she and guest judge Melissa King tabbed Maria’s shrimp cake, Byron’s mutton tartare, and Avishar’s turkey dish as their least favorites.
Conversely, Padma went on to say that “the chef with the winning dish really did an amazing job taking these imperfect products and turning them into a perfect dish”. While Dawn’s tuna with a peanut sauce and Gabe’s mole’ were singled out for being favorites, it was Shota’s soy-braised fish head that earned him the win and the season’s final immunity.
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: “Are you ready to change the world?”
As Padma segued into introducing this week’s Elimination Challenge, she welcomed Chef Jose Andres to the Top Chef Kitchen remotely, whose World Central Kitchen and its core mission would be the driving force behind it.
At the time of Top Chef Portland’s filming last year, Chef Andres‘ World Central Kitchen had already served over 40 million meals globally. “We don’t wait. We show up. We start feeding” shared the passionate chef, adding that “one plate of food at a time, I do believe we can change the world.”
With Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen as their model, the chefs would each make 65 portions of a dish to be delivered to frontline workers at three Portland-area hospitals. Their dishes needed to be composed of a protein, a vegetable, and a starch or grain, with Padma telling them that they were turning Top Chef Kitchen into “our very own World Central Kitchen.”
Though there wasn’t an onion anywhere in my vicinity while I watched, the effects of same were definitely present as I watched the heartwrenching challenge. From hearing Chris talk about losing an uncle to COVID-19 to Maria’s visceral reaction to the challenge as the wife of a firefighter to the impassioned appreciation of the frontline workers themselves, let’s just say that things got a little emotional.
Concurrent to the chefs presenting their dishes to Padma, Gail, Tom, and guest judge Kwame Onwuachi outside the Top Chef Kitchen, Top Chef all-stars delivered them to the frontline workers. Gregory Gourdet and Richard Blais took meals to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, with Dale Talde and Carrie Baird taking them to Oshu Hospital, and Amar Santana and Melissa King making the third delivery to Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center.
JUDGES’ TABLE: Redemption
With the chefs having prepared 585 meals for frontline workers at three Portland hospitals, it was clearly bittersweet having to single out the most unsuccessful dishes and then sending someone home, but as Tom said, “you worked your ass off today without a doubt, put a lot of heart & soul in what you did, so take this in the spirit of competition. It’s the way it goes.”
And with that, Maria, Chris, and Avishar faced elimination. After having served raw tortillas, Maria admitted that “I just made a rookie mistake”, while Chris’s flavorless chicken spurred Padma to tell him that “I would love to see you get a little down & dirty with your food.” Avishar’s dish also fell short in the flavor department, leaving the judges to ponder who should go home.
During the judges’ deliberations, Padma told the other judges that “I’m gonna be sad to send someone home today, they all worked so hard”, to which Tom quickly replied, “it’s not that difficult to send someone home for rookie mistakes, they all made them.” In the end, the judges agreed that the chef who missed the culinary mark most egregiously was Avishar, who was asked to pack his knives and head to the second wave of Last Chance Kitchen opportunities.
Named as the judges’ three favorite dishes were Dawn’s tamarind-braised top sirloin with coconut rice grits & maple red onion-braised cabbage wedge, Jamie’s kimchi tofu soup, bulgogi-braised pork, eggplant & steamed rice, and Sara’s lentil falafel, carrot & pumpkin seed hummus, tomato salad & flatbread.
Tom told Sara that “the best indication of a good non-meat dish is when you don’t miss the meat at all” and the judges raved about Dawn’s dish as well, but the episode’s redemption story for Jamie was capped off with an Elimination Challenge win.
“Jamie, way to make a splash on your first week back” praised Padma, with Gail telling the winner that her dish “was full of life and it definitely had a lot of you in it.” In response, Chef Jamie proudly stated that “it’s like me on a plate.”
…Having been quite vocal about my distaste for Jamie’s gibberish before she departed for Last Chance Kitchen, it’s only fair that I give her kudos for her performance in that competition and again in this episode. Gone were the verbal meanderings, replaced by a reflective, likable chef who was regaining confidence in front of our eyes, culminating with this week’s EC victory.
…I’ve been a big fan of Sara’s since episode 1 and nothing has unfolded in the interim to change that, but even if I wasn’t, her affinity for cooking with yogurt has become the Top Chef gift that keeps on giving. Whether it was Gabe requesting permission from “Captain Yogurt” to use the ingredient in his Quickfire dish or guest judge Kwame smiling when saying “you couldn’t stay away from the yogurt” during the Elimination Challenge, Sara’s go-to item has become a fun, running component of Top Chef Portland. Needless to say, the chef herself has embraced the connection, declaring during the EC “guess what I have to use? M—–f—–g yogurt!”
…Next week’s episode of Top Chef Portland features Restaurant Wars, an annual team competition that stirs up strong emotions both pro & con from Top Chef fans.
…If you’re unfamiliar with Chef Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen, I implore you to hop online and learn more about them. Chef Andres’ is a saint and the work he does through World Central Kitchen really does provide the type of resources and services that save lives and support those who save lives themselves. If Jose Andres’s passion & efforts and WCK’s mission resonate with you, there are a number of avenues through which you can get involved in your own way. Visit World Central Kitchen’s website at www.wck.org.
It’s time for Restaurant Wars next week! Are you a fan or foe of the annual challenge?