Top Chef Portland: Sweet Dreams are Made of Cheese

TOP CHEF -- "The Cheesier The Better" Episode 1812 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kwame Onwuachi, Melissa King, Shota Nakajima, Richard Blais, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, Dale Talde, Brooke Williamson -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "The Cheesier The Better" Episode 1812 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kwame Onwuachi, Melissa King, Shota Nakajima, Richard Blais, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, Dale Talde, Brooke Williamson -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

Cheese Louise! With just four chefs remaining on Top Chef Portland heading into this week’s episode, I expected more than the show delivered. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it either. For me, it seemed like a place filler en route to the finals, as well as an opportunity for the producers to shoehorn challenges featuring the Oregon Trail and Tillamook Cheddar into the proceedings. The result underwhelmed, which is a bit disappointing so close to the finish line.

At the risk of contradicting my own words in this space last week, the absence of conflict on Top Chef Portland that has made this season so copacetic among the cheftestants left me craving for some between the final four. It just didn’t work for me. With such high stakes, the chefs may be too cheesy going. Just when I thought this season was cheddar off without an antagonist like Brian Malarkey, I found myself reconsidering that sentiment while watching the latest installment of Top Chef Portland.

While Jamie Tran had her final hurrah winning this week’s Oregon Trail-themed Quickfire Challenge, her adventurous approach to the Elimination Challenge missed the mark and resulted in her packing her knives and going. With renowned chef Massimo Bottura’s five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano as its inspiration, the final four were tasked with using Tillamook cheddar five ways, and Jamie’s fishy effort fell short.


…I am not one of those people who sees a Top Chef elimination and says, “Chef X should’ve been sent home instead.” I’m not at Judges’ Table to taste the food, so it’d be naïve of me to differ from the judges’ decision. But what I have struggled with this season is seeing Dawn Burrell leave something off a plate on more than one occasion and not pay the price for it as other chefs have through the previous 17 seasons. Similar omissions have cost previous cheftestants dearly, but Chef Dawn has eluded paying a high price.

…While I’m piling on Dawn for failing to get an item on her plate, I also didn’t appreciate her veiled attempt to shift the blame for her mistake to Jamie. Even though Jamie was still preparing her own dish, she took the time to help a rushed Dawn, who again struggled with the clock. Sure it’s always cheddar to give than to receive, but I wish Jamie had politely declined to help out.

…Having said that, I don’t think helping Dawn had any effect at all on Jamie’s dish, as it was pretty clear that the judges were puzzled by both the end product and Jamie’s thought process in conceiving it in the first place. Of course, she was going to be eliminated regardless, but should she have been?

…The preview for next week’s episode revealed missing tortillas, which would lead one to believe that Gabe is the culprit. If that proves to be the case and it wasn’t simply a promotional swerve, can we expect Gabe to get the same lenient treatment from the judges that Dawn has repeatedly enjoyed?

…In winning this week’s Elimination Challenge, Shota established himself as the slight favorite among the final three. The question is whether he can withstand Dawn’s recent momentum and Gabe’s mastery of sauces to be named Top Chef. Or will he achieve the Top Chef/Fan Favorite exacta like Melissa King did last season?

After watching this week’s lackluster episode of Top Chef Portland, I can only hope that cheddar days lie ahead. And yes, conflict would likely be a welcome ingredient. For me, at least, it would put my mind at cheese and ensure the intensity & suspense that have always graced Top Chef’s final episodes so ideally would reappear on Season 18.

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Do you have a prediction for the Top Chef Portland finale? More importantly, do you think that the lack of conflict is the missing seasoning to this season?