Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars recap: Concepts without cohesion?

Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars
Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars / Bravo

While Milwaukee’s Discovery Center has a picturesque location, the Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars captured the pressure and complexity that this unique challenge brings. The cheftestants might have longed to make this milestone, but the outcome may not have been quite as positive.

Generally, Restaurants Wars represents the halfway point of the Top Chef competition. Throughout this Wisconsin based season, the food television show has sipped on the Champagne of Beers in the caves, ran the bases with the Brewers’ sausages, and enjoyed a hearty amount of Wisconsin Cheese and dairy. While the bounty of Wisconsin food has been featured, this particular challenge had the chefs focusing on their personal background.

Although there have been varying versions of Restaurants Wars, this challenge went back to the original format. Each team would have to create a three course menu, with at least two options per course. The teams would need to pick an executive chef as well as a front of house.

Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars dinner service
Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars dinner service / Bravo

Over four hours, the teams would serve 75 dinners plus two judges tables. While there would be two dinner services, both turns needed to be equally as superb.

In a unique move for Top Chef Season 21, the cheftestants were able to pick their own teams. Since there was an uneven number, Michelle, who won the previous Elimination Challenge during the Sausages Races episode, was able to pick which team that she wanted to join.

As it has been said season after season, creating a restaurant in a matter of hours, not months or even years, is chaos. Even if these chefs are up for the challenge, and might even run their own restaurants in their daily lives, Top Chef is a totally different scenario.

The most telling aspect to this particular challenge was not each restaurant’s themes. It was the little details that set one team up for a more successful service.

Top Chef fans know that front of house and service often causes a team’s downfall. Waiting for a course, sending the wrong plates to diners, or otherwise having hiccups getting food to diners makes for a stressful kitchen. In order to keep the kitchen running smoothly, the communication between front of house and the chefs is key.

Danny, on Team Channel, created a very specific ticket system to ensure a smoother process. It might have been overlooked by many, but it showed that he knows how to expedite and run a restaurant. Future Top Chef Restaurant Wars cheftestants might want to remember this concept.

What were the two teams on Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars?

Since the cheftestants were able to pick their teams, Top Chef Season 21 Restaurants Wars was definitely less contentious. Many people might have wondered what would have happened if Dan or Danny were partnered with Laura in this challenge. Both of them have had a few issues with Laura and her choices during challenges.

With five chefs, Channel was compromised of Amber, Dan, Danny, Michelle, and Savannah. Looking at this group, it was stacked with cheftestants who have won several challenges. In addition, most of them worked together in previous challenges. On first blush, it seemed that they had a slight advantage.

The other team, Dos by Duel included Kaleena, Laura, Manny, and Soo. While Manny and Laura have had some highlights, Soo is still getting adjusted to the competition after joining from Last Chance Kitchen. After her own return from Last Chance Kitchen, Kaleena is finding her rhythm, too.

The most surprising, and spectacular, element to this season’s Restaurants Wars was that there were no real execution errors. The judges can parse preferences over flavor profiles, ingredient combinations, or a common thread uniting all the dishes. But, every dish was cooked properly. Some might say that Kaleena’s chip was greasy or the rice chips sat too long, but there were no undercooked proteins, missing elements on the plates, or other significant errors.

The biggest challenge that both Channel and Dos by Duel had giving each restaurant a definable theme. Putting Mexican and Korean flavors or ingredients on a plate is not what diners want from something labeled as “fusion.” In some ways, it put that “fusion” concept back in a negative light.

Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars Judges Table
Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars Judges Table / Bravo

Channel might have tried to use the word as a way to showcase how waterways make connections, but the common thread seemed to flow by without ever being grasped. As one of the judges mentioned, there was not necessarily enough room between all the chefs' egos to make a collaborative restaurant concept.

Still, Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars was one of the more successful versions of this iconic challenge. It was curious that both restaurants offered a welcoming beverage. Although nothing was really discussed about the successfulness of this idea or how it played into the meal progression, it was curious that both teams offered it.

Channel had some lovely dishes. Although Amanda’s vegetarian version of gumbo was questioned and Savannah’s mushrooms were mushy, Danny’s carrots were creative, and Michelle’s catfish and oyster mayonnaise was sublime.

Additionally, Channel offered a traditional three-course dinner, ending with dessert. Given that both of the desserts were a hit with the judges, it might have been one additional element that gave them the edge.

The Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars winner was Channel. Even though their restaurant concept had some muddy waters, the dishes and the progression were successful.

Team Channel wins Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars
Team Channel wins Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars / Bravo

The Channel’s winning dish was Dan’s walleye appetizer. From the slight smoky quality to the contrasting textures, the dish was a lovely way to reimagine a taste of Wisconsin in a sophisticated way. Additionally, it was a little redemption after messing up his brat dish.

Unfortunately, Dos by Duel was the bottom team. The biggest criticism was that combining Korean and Mexican ingredients on a plate does not necessarily make a thoughtful, creative, or cohesive dish. Even if there can be a common thread or a unique flavor connection, there needs to be more thoughtfulness on the plate.

While there were some highlights, like Manny’s mole, there were misses, like Manny’s butter sauce on his shrimp. Even though the cheftestants seemed to be on the same page with seasoning, the judges felt that some elements missed the mark. To be fair, the dishes were good, but not necessarily great.

Although the Judges Table focused on the seasoning, no one really commented on how the tickets, tables, and service had so many errors. Servers brought diners the wrong plates and tables waited a huge amount of time for their food. Those errors are front of the house issues. Even though Kaleena was on expo, there is only so much she can control when servers bring wrong tickets. Given that Laura was in charge of front of house, it was curious that no one criticized her management oversight.

Team Dos by Duel in Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars
Team Dos by Duel in Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars / Bravo

The final words of Judges Table were telling. The restaurant concept seemed to be short-changed. Even though there were issues between all four chefs, one person had to take the fall.

Kaleena was eliminated in Top Chef Season 21 Restaurant Wars. The judges felt that as the expediter, she should have had a stronger hand at the pass and ensured that all the dishes’ elements were on point. Some Top Chef fans may not agree with that decision.

Now that Top Chef Season 21 is at the halfway point, the competition is getting heated. Little mistakes can prevent the ultimate goal, becoming Top Chef Season 21 winner. It is any chef’s opportunity to earn.

New episodes of Top Chef Season 21 air on Bravo, Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Episodes can be streamed the next day on Peacock.