Top Chef Portland Recap: The Third Time is NOT the Charm

TOP CHEF -- "Portland-ia" Episode 1809 -- Pictured: (l-r) Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Portland-ia" Episode 1809 -- Pictured: (l-r) Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

We’re told from childhood that if at first, you don’t succeed, we should try, try again. Then if our efforts fall short on the second go-round, we’re led to believe that the third time’s the charm. Au contraire! As one Top Chef Portland contestant learned this week, proverbs and idioms will get you nowhere in the Top Chef Kitchen.

The latest installment of the popular show was like a great beach book. It was an enjoyable watch that breezed by featuring two fun challenges, two popular stars from the hit show Portlandia, and an eminently likable group of cheftestants cooking for their Top Chef Portland lives.


Of the many things I’ve learned while watching Top Chef Portland, one of the most interesting is the fact that the host city apparently has more names than Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky. This week’s discovery is that Portland is a hipster city, a label that factored into the Quickfire Challenge.

Entering the Top Chef Kitchen to find vintage cooktops and kitchen equipment, as well as a pantry full of hipster ingredients like hemp oil, almond flour, Matcha, kombucha, and monk fruit syrup, among many others, the chefs were asked to create a dish tapping into that unique pantry using only the vintage equipment to do so. “We wanna have fun with the stereotype that Portland is a hipster city,” said Padma, and off the chefs went.

Joining the always punny Padma were guest judges Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, stars of the aforementioned Portlandia. The three had fun watching the chefs struggle with both the hipster ingredients and outdated kitchen equipment, the latter of which prompted Byron Gomez to comment that “all of this equipment is very antique. Am I stepping into a Julia Child exhibit?”

Dawn Burrell, on the other hand, seemed quite at home, sharing, “I actually am a hipster. Turns out I have 20 or 30 of those pieces up there,” referring to a wall-full of the available equipment from kitchens gone by. And while Gabe’s purple yam “sausage” and Maria’s tomato soup drew praise from the judges, Chef Dawn’s comfort in the retro kitchen working with hipster ingredients were reflected in her quickbread made with fonio and semolina, a dish that earned her the QC win and a modest advantage in the Elimination Challenge. NOTE: If you’re unfamiliar with fonio like I was, it is a grain that has a nutty aroma and is like a cross between couscous and quinoa.


Joining Padma, Gail, and Tom as judges for this week’s EC were all-stars Dale Talde and Richard Blais, who laid out the framework of the challenge for the chefs. In it, they were asked to create and develop a recipe that can be replicated in 90 minutes. “Write the recipe like someone who’s not a chef is going to follow those directions,” guided Padma before the chefs scattered to start the process.

Having conceived and written their recipes the night before, the chefs arrived at Departure restaurant in The Nines Hotel prepared to execute them before a twist showed up in the kitchen in the form of all-stars Gregory, Kristen, Melissa, and Kwame. The unexpected guests informed the chefs that they would be attempting to cook each recipe themselves, with both dishes being presented to the judges alongside each other.

Gregory took a crack at replicating Gabe’s black cod dish and Jamie’s seared foie gras with brioche French toast, while Kristen set out to make Maria’s Gallina Pinta, a traditional Sonoran pork and bean soup, as well as Dawn’s salmon with buttermilk sauce. Kwame cooked Shota’s braised pork belly dish along with Byron’s steamed striped bass. Melissa rounded things out by tackling Chris’s sorghum gnocchi.

Top Chef Portland Season 18 episode 9
TOP CHEF — “Portland-ia” Episode 1809 — Pictured: (l-r) Maria Mazon, Kristen Kish — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

Maria’s recipe was notable for the mass quantities of meat that were featured, prompting Kristen to initiate this good-humored exchange with her:

“Girl, what the hell was that?! You are f—–g kidding me! Did you cook the whole thing, the five pounds of meat?!” – Kristen

“Yea.” – Maria

“Why?” – Kristen

“Because I’m Mexican!” – Maria

The quips about Maria’s generous recipe continued when Gail said that “this serves 74 people. It needs to serve six,” leading to Richard Blais joking, “so what if you have leftovers for the week?” before Gail added “or the month!”


While Maria’s enormous recipe elicited fun feedback, the dish itself  earned her a spot in the judges’ top four, joining Shota, Gabe, and Dawn as the chefs who wrote the best recipes and then executed them.  In identifying the top four, Gail told all seven remaining cheftestants that “you are all incredibly talented chefs, that we know, but recipe writing is an entirely different skill-set, especially recipe writing for the home kitchen.” Adding emphasis to that, Tom said, “I hate writing recipes. If anyone sees anything written by me, my wife did it.”

In the end, it was Gabe’s black cod recipe and dish that earned him the EC win, his second of the season. Having already established himself as being quite adept at preparing sauces, Gabe beamed when Padma said, “I think you should do a book of just your sauces. I would buy that book in a heartbeat.” The praise didn’t end there, though, as Richard Blais opined that Gabe “cooked a dish worthy of a cookbook cover,” with Dale Talde adding, “It had special occasion written all over it.”

Far less successful at this challenge were Byron, Chris, and Jamie, resulting in their recipes and dishes compelling Padma to say, “for these three chefs, their dishes suffered right away, from conception all the way to the finish line.” Even though Byron’s interminable recipe and lackluster dish led to Tom asking, “how do you take these ingredients and make them flavorless? That’s a special talent,” he and Jamie were spared a trip to Last Chance Kitchen.

Top Chef Portland Season 18 episode 9
TOP CHEF — “Portland-ia” Episode 1809 — Pictured: Chris Viaud — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

Instead, it was Chris, who learned the hard way that on Top Chef, the third time isn’t the charm. “I can’t help noticing that this is the third time we’re talking to you about your dough, and it’s the same issue, more or less,” said Gail, confirming that the soft-spoken chef had gone to the dough well one time, too many. His failed third attempt resulted in Padma asking him to pack his knives and go, leaving Top Chef Portland with six remaining contestants.


…If you haven’t taken the time to watch Last Chance Kitchen yet this season, be sure to do so. Tom Colicchio shines in his role as the show’s lead, and the sudden death nature of the competition makes it must-see viewing. Lest you think LCK is merely an afterthought, I’ll remind you that Top Chef winners Kristen Kish, Brooke Williamson, and Joe Flamm all reemerged from cooking purgatory to capture the ultimate prize.

…The one touching moment from this week’s episode focused on Shota’s revelation to Gabe that he’s the father of an eight-year-old boy and that he only gets to see him twice a year because he lives in Japan with the boy’s mother.

…Continuing a recent trend, Maria Mazon was the source of some great lines again this week, highlighted by her saying, “It tastes like a–! Eww!” upon tasting one of the Quickfire Challenge pantry’s hipster ingredients. The QC’s vintage equipment didn’t go unnoticed by Maria either, as she vented about having to use an electric stove. “I don’t like it. I like fire! I have matches tattooed on my arm, for god’s sake.”

…Despite his ill-advised third attempt at doing a pasta dish, Chris was given a combined heartfelt and humorous send-off when Maria told him, “your daughter has a lot to look up to” before Jamie added, “not because you’re tall.” Chuckles ensued, and Chris headed to Last Chance Kitchen, where he’ll hopefully eschew any temptation to take a fourth stab at doing a pasta dish.

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Do you have an older piece of kitchen equipment that you still use and refuse to part with?