Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 recap: Wisconsin Cheese and Door County cherries

Top Chef Season 21 episode 3
Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 / Bravo

As Top Chef Wisconsin continues to highlight iconic food and flavors from the state, Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 went sweet and savory in the two challenges. While some of the dishes were “grate,” others needed to step away from the potato and cheese combination.

While Top Chef Season 21 is in the early stages of the competition, some storylines are starting to take shape. Certain chefs, like Rasika and Michelle, have impressed the judges with their creativity and execution. Other chefs seem to be riding the middle. Although no one has a target on their back, a few favorites are starting to emerge.

Heading to the north country, the Quickfire challenge was inspired by Door County cherries. Anyone who has visited the idyllic locale appreciates that those juicy cherries while sitting by the lake on a lazy summer day are the perfect treat.

For the Quickfire, the chefs had to pair the cherries with an ingredient found behind a hidden door. While some ingredients were unexpected, others were more common. Chocolate and cherries are not necessarily knocking on the unexpected “door.”

Although immunity is not on the line in the Quickfire, every chef wants to earn that Quickfire Cash. It is curious that the chefs are not seeing the challenge brief more clearly. If the idea is to highlight the cherries but also present a well-conceived, well-executed dish, the chefs need to pull from their experiences to see how flavors, not necessarily ingredients, can adapt to these challenges.

Looking at the misses, the dishes had clear errors. For example, Kenny did not want to cook with marshmallows, an ingredient that he dislikes. That mental block seemed to creep into his lackluster dish and caused him to be in the bottom.

Charlie swung for the fences, but his idea of beets, chocolate, and cherries was not a combination that made sense. It is understandable that he might have wanted to do something other than dessert with cherries and chocolates, but earthy beets was not the right ingredient bridge.

The top Quickfire dishes seemed to play off classic combinations but also found a way to highlight both the cherries and the required ingredients. For example, Savannah’s chicken liver mousse might have been more sauce than mousse, but the two ingredients came together well. The well-composed dish received high praise.

In a bold move, Rasika focuses on simplicity of cipollini onions and cherries. While the two ingredients were presented in various ways, it was that focused choice which earned her the win. This Quickfire win makes two in a row for Rasika.

For Wisconsin Cheese lovers, Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 was their moment. Although Dan was mistaken about Wisconsin not having a cheese festival, (the Art of Cheese was held in Madison in 2023), there are many reasons to celebrate all things Wisconsin Cheese.

To kick off the challenge, two celebrated Wisconsin cheesemakers were featured on the episode. One of two female master cheesemakers in Wisconsin, Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese presented the challenge alongside Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese. For anyone who has not tried these particular brands, they should run, not walk, to the store and buy some.

Each of the chefs drew knives to determine their particular Wisconsin Cheese. Given that the state has a wide array of artisan cheesemakers and styles, it was definitely more than cheddar and curds.

Looking at the Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 Elimination Challenge, it was curious that almost everyone was making a croquette. It was not a croquette challenge. In some ways, this lack of creativity was disappointing. There are so many ways to highlight Wisconsin Cheese. Even given the number of plates required (100+ guests), there could have been some other ideas in the chefs’ little black books.

The three top dishes were ones that stayed away from the fryer. They were from Kaleena, Dan, and Michelle.

Kaleena was the only chef that made a riff on a mac and cheese. Although the judges never commented on the store bought, dried pasta, they appreciated the thoughtfulness behind her dish. It celebrated the merlot wash on the Bellavitano Cheese Sartori. The cheese and the style were highlighted in all the ingredients. Overall, it was a well composed plate.

Dan, as the only Wisconsin chef, might have felt the pressure to do well in this challenge. His gnocchi dish was smart. Even though it did not get a significant amount of airtime, it sounded as if he answered the brief in a creative and well-executed manner.

Using the Sancho Cruz Manchego cheese, he offered a potato dumpling/gnocchi with an olive tapenade. Based on the judges’ feedback, Dan knew how to pair the cheese to his dish. Grasping the contrasting textures and flavors while still feeling light and summery took a deft hand. Overall, it was a popular choice amongst the judges and the guests.

Michelle might have had the most unique dish of the whole group. Using the Upland's Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese, her coconut curry with collard greens had cheese layered into every bite. The nuttiness of the cheese came through in the potato fritter and in the collard greens.

As both fan favorite and judges’ favorite, Michelle won the Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 Elimination Challenge. She earns immunity in the next episode.

Top Chef Season 21 episode 3
Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 / Bravo

Unfortunately, the three bottom dishes were obvious. Even in the battle of croquettes not all potato and cheese combinations were masterpieces. The three bottom chefs were Kenny, Kevin, and Manny.

Manny failed for an obvious reason, not just the dish being a little too salty. He did not transform the cheese curds in any way. Everyone knows that cheese curds are a feature of poutine, but this challenge needs to showcase a dish in a creative way. Even if Canadians can debate bougie poutines, Top Chef requires more than just opening a bag and pouring.

Kenny’s dish was a miss because it did not highlight the cheese flavor. Putting aside the error of not saving ingredients for a judges’ plate, the dish was disjointed. It was watery. Blue cheese and crab Rangoon might not be a food trend that will take over the conversation.

Lastly, Kevin missed the mark with his croquette’s breading. In addition to being under seasoned, the overpowering breading overtook the delicate brie flavor. With other robust elements burying the cheese even more, it was a dish in desperate need of editing.

The chef packing his knives was Kenny. There were too many mis-steps in that crab Rangoon dish to overlook. Paired with the errors in the cherry dish, it was his time. Kenny heads to Last Chance Kitchen.

Did Top Chef Season 21 episode 3 make everyone hungry for Wisconsin Cheese? Hopefully, this small taste gets people to transform those favorite cheeses beyond the cheese plate. From a Marike Gouda grits served with a farm raised pork to a savory waffle at brunch, there are plenty of creative ways to enjoy some artisan cheese.

Be sure to watch the next episode of Top Chef Wisconsin on Bravo every Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT or stream it the next day on Peacock.