Top Chef Season 21 episode 2: Brew city meets elevated flavors

Top Chef Season 21 episode 2
Top Chef Season 21 episode 2 / Bravo

Top Chef Wisconsin is ready to toast the high life. With a little help from the Champagne of Beers, Top Chef Season 21 episode 2 takes the beer and snack combination in a whole new direction.

When the new Top Chef season began, the changes were front and center. Whether or not the rule changes will impact the competition remains to be seen. Still, this new season seems to have an invigorated vibe and it is starting to show in the dishes the cheftestants are presenting to the judges.

For Top Chef Season 21 episode 2, beer was the thread that tied both the Quickfire Challenge and Elimination Challenge. While Wisconsin natives might like their beer back with their Bloody Mary or enjoy a few beers while watching the Packers, the “high life” influences more than just Miller Time.

In the Elimination Challenge, the cheftestants had to infuse hops into their dish. Anyone who has rubbed hops in their hands appreciates that the earthy and floral note can be quite pungent. Being able to release that hop quality without turning the flavor into an edible forest takes a keen understanding of the ingredient.

Top Chef Season 21 episode 2 Quickfire
Top Chef Season 21 episode 2 Quickfire / Bravo

Even though many of the cheftestants might enjoy drinking that beer, cooking with hops is not easy. As they found out in the Quickfire Challenge, the flavor can go sideways fast. Danny was one of the chefs whose sauce went down the dark depths of hoppy overload.

The other bottom dishes were more technical cooking errors. While everyone can have a bad day in the kitchen, Top Chef does not allow for bigger mistakes. From undercooked farro to Valentine’s under rendered duck, those execution errors did not go unnoticed.

On the other hand, several top dishes were able to highlight the hops. Kevin’s choice to infuse the oil with hops and work the dish backwards was smart. That type of thinking could serve him well throughout Top Chef Season 21.

Michelle had another great dish. Her use of strawberry to temper the hops’ bitterness was a smart use of ingredients. After her pasta dish in the first Elimination Challenge, it seems that Michelle might be on a roll.

Lastly, the first Quickfire win of Top Chef Wisconsin went to Laura. She decided to make a rice pudding. While she mentioned that she cooks a variation of this dish at her restaurant, it was another smart choice. For winning, she received $5,000 in Quick Cash from Wells Fargo. But, there is no immunity for the Quickfire win.

In the Elimination challenge, the chefs randomly drew knives to be separated into teams. Continuing the beer theme, the teams were required to make a seven course menu where each course referenced a particular bar snack. For anyone who loves Miller High Life, they might remember the chocolate collaboration that turned bar snacks into truffles. Unfortunately, no one broke out the chocolate.

Overall, the idea was to take the flavors of a typical bar snacks and turn them into an elevated, fine dining experience. The idea is not necessarily too far out of the realms of what these chefs do in their own restaurants. It might be a theme, but the food on the plate should be bring the excitement.

What is interesting about this challenge is that no one brought up if the dish should pair well with the Miller High Life beer. Even though that was the beverage served and some chefs used it in their dish, it appears that the food and beer should complement each other.

Given that the chefs are still figuring each other out, the team dynamics are still nice. No one seemed to feel that one person was not pulling their weight or another person was being too dominate. Everyone is in the fun, happy stage.

The most interesting aspect to this Top Chef Elimination challenge was the separation between highs and lows. While it was clear that one team was overall more successful, the bottom dishes had technical errors that could not be overlooked.

Winning the Top Chef Season 21 episode 2 elimination was the yellow team, consisting of Savannah, Alisha, Michelle, Dan, Manny, Kenny, and Rasika. Overall, this team had a smart progression of flavors and answered the brief the best. Not every dish was a home run, but it was overall a cohesive menu.

The top dishes from the yellow team were Manny, Kenny, and Rasika. After being in the bottom three in the first episode, Kenny made a huge comeback. As Tom Colicchio said during judging, Kenny had a frame of reference with his dish and it showed. He captured that potato chip and dip vibe. It might not be Charlie Berens church pot luck hot dish, but it is one that would get everyone cheering.

Manny had another top dish. Given that he had immunity for this challenge, it was refreshing to see that he did not slack. By channeling the mix nuts into the mole, it was a huge home run. It captured the mix nuts taste but also was a great dish on its own.

Lastly, Rasika had the most unusual dish that would not happen except for this Top Chef Season 21 episode 2 challenge. Mustard in a dessert is unheard of. The combination of that spicy note with the breadiness of the pretzels in a dessert was a total flavor bomb. Plus, it was well executed.

Rasika won the challenge. She will have immunity in the next episode and earned a cash prize.

Unfortunately, the Red Team, consisting of Kevin, Danny, Laura, Valentine, Charlie, Amanda, and Kaleena, were up for elimination. The mistakes with the three bottom dishes were quite obvious.

The three bottom dishes were from Kevin, Valentine, and Charlie. Kevin’s dish lacked creativity and was one note. It was olive on top of olive. This dish was not worthy of a Top Chef competition.

Valentine made a huge mistake with his soup. In addition to having an unpleasant viscosity, the flavor missed the main component of his ingredient, roasted corn nuts. As Gail Simmons pointed out, there is a big difference between roasted corn nuts and corn.

Charlie’s dish lacked flavor. In addition to one piece of fish being undercooked, the dish suffered because it was bland. As the chefs will learn, dishes need to be well-seasoned on Top Chef.

Unfortunately, the judges chose to eliminate Valentine. In addition to his corn soup’s errors, his Quickfire dish was in the bottom two. He is off to compete in Last Chance Kitchen.

What is next on Top Chef Season 21? Bring on the Wisconsin Cheese.

New episodes of Top Chef Wisconsin air on Wednesday nights on Bravo. Episodes can stream the next day on Peacock.