Top Chef Boston: Boston’s Bravest and Finest


This week’s challenge is a tribute to the hard-working teamwork of some of Boston’s finest.  Padma welcomes the commissioners of the Boston Police and Fire Departments.  Just as these agencies team together to help keep Boston safe, the chefs will be working in teams to create one dish to serve to a group of firefighters and police officers, using the kitchens at Il Casale1, a local restaurant that’s housed in a converted firehouse.  As an added challenge, the chefs won’t be able to shop for this challenge – they’ll chose from one of 5 boxes of ingredients, based on what team they end up on.  Whoever ends up on course 5 seems a little screwed here, but this is all about making the best of the situation.  After knives are drawn, here’s how the teams shake out:

Course 1: Mei, Katsuji, Katie
Course 2: Adam, Gregory, Rebecca
Course 3: James, Dougie2
Course 4: Joy, Ron, Melissa
Course 5: Keri-Ann, Aaron, Stacy

Mei is concerned that because Katsuji and Katie were in the bottom last time, she’ll need to pull all the weight for her team.  That night at the apartment, the chefs seem really thrown by the fact that they don’t know their ingredients.  Course 5 is convinced they are going to need to make a dessert, which causes more butting of heads between Aaron and Keri-Ann.  Aaron wants to have a plan, and Keri-Ann refuses to make one because they don’t know their ingredients, but knows she doesn’t want Aaron to go all Molecular Gastronomy on their course, because firefighters3.  Poor Stacy is caught in the middle of this crossfire and just keeps her head down.

The next day at Il Casale, the teams enter the kitchen one by one, choose their boxes, and start cooking.  Course 1 chooses their box, then immediately gets sidetracked arguing over who will take what piece of their dish.  Katsuji really wants the sauce, which Mei fights him over.  She really struggles with trusting her teammates this week.  Course 2 chooses a box they’ll be able to do a surf and turf plate with and quickly divides up the various portions of the plate without much argument.  James and Dougie have a game plan all set for their box, and plan on doing a pork chop with morels and walnuts for Course 3.  With two boxes remaining, Course 4 choses a box with veal and short ribs.  There’s some argument over the veal preparation – Joy’s concerned that the chops are too thick to ensure an even medium-rare over all the plates, but the rest of the team is more concerned with presenting the full chop.  In the spirit of supporting the team atmosphere, Joy presses ahead while the rest of the team discusses putting vanilla in parts of the dish, which, even not knowing the final product, seems like an odd combination4.  Team 5 is happy to see that they’re not stuck with dessert, but feels they can’t work with the short ribs in their box (which take too long to get tender) and press ahead with the chicken.  Kari-Ann keeps going on about how she knows how firefighters like to eat, which years of reality television consumption immediately lets me know that she’s about to be proven very very wrong.  Stacy looks like she’s had it up to here with her shitshow of a team.

It’s dining time!  The commissioners of the Boston PD and FD join Padma, Gail, Tom, and Todd.  Mei, Katsuji, and Katie present their sautéed halibut with a pea-coconut puree and a salad of pickled rhubarb and fennel.  The judges really respond well to the complex combination of flavors and the teamwork shown in the way the dish works as a whole.  Katsuji’s puree is praised highly, which has to feel good after last week’s debacle.  I’d like to see Katie make something other than a salad – this is Top Chef, not Top Side.

The editors manage to work in a reference from Adam about 9/11 before his team presents their dish.  Course 2 is a surf and turf with filet mignon and seared scallops accompanied by a parsnip puree and a leek vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette ties everything together, and the judges remark on the restaurant readiness of the dish.  I think this managed to successfully straddle the chefs’ background and the more blue-collar nature of the audience tasting their food.

James and Doug worked well together in their team of two, and course 3 shines as a result.  Their grilled pork chop with a grilled stone fruit salad looks fantastic, and Gail in particular loved its combination of flavors.

Course 4 is having trouble, as predicted, with their veal chops – Joy is noticing some of them are going out rarer than they’d like.  Accompanying their wood-roasted chop (which also has maple/vanilla flavorings) is a kale slaw, celery root puree (which also has vanilla), and pickled radishes.  The judges call the team out for the odd usage of vanilla, particularly with the celery root and their underdone veal.

Back in the kitchen, Stacy just wants to cook her chicken and is getting understandably frustrated with Keri-Ann and Aaron.  Everything comes together in the end (although there’s some arguing over how to plate their dish), and they present diners with a pan-roasted chicken breast with a bourbon-chorizo onion jam and a corn salad.  The judges praise the chicken, but tear both the salad and the jam to shreds for texture and rawness.  Aaron and Keri-Ann try to throw each other under the bus while receiving the criticism, and this animosity follows them back into the kitchen.

Judges Table

The judges felt that the top and bottom teams were very clear this challenge – the first two courses set the bar for everyone else, and the last two courses each had major issues.  After deliberation, the second course is declared the winner – Adam, Gregory, and Rebecca are rightly praised for taking something straightforward and executing every detail to perfection.

Courses 4 and 5 are brought forward to explain themselves.  While course 4 had problems with the initial conception and finishing of their veal dish, the final course had major issues with communication and ego within their team, which led to a plate where only the main protein was really worth talking about.  Aaron is criticized for using agar agar to make a jam when he had more than enough time to make one naturally in the prep time they had available.  Joy is asked about the cooking of the veal chops, and she admits she knew the veal wasn’t given the macro-attention it needed to be consistent.  Their team had the opposite problem of course 5 – there was too much agreement, no one said no, and the final product had too much blind trust5.

Ultimately, Stacy’s perfect chicken breast is what saves the remaining members of the fifth course, while Joy goes home6.  Frankly, I thought this was kind of bullshit.  Either Aaron or Keri-Ann messed up more on their elements of the final course’s plate and deserved to go home before Joy, who I thought brought an interesting seasonality to her cooking.  Unfortunately, her overcommitment to the team and not using her self-proclaimed “fat mouth” bought her a ticket home.

Next week: another sudden death Quickfire!  Fenway Pahk!  Baseball!

  1. Which is not in Boston proper, but Belmont, one of the richer suburbs.  I’m hoping that once we get down to a more manageable group of chefs we see more restaurants that you could actually reach without a car  
  2. I am waiting for someone in the kitchen to need to ask Doug for instructions and go “Teach me how to, Dougie”  
  3. On the other hand, I argue that they shouldn’t cook down to their audience  
  4. I may not be the fanciest of diners, but I know you don’t put veal and vanilla together.  Just because they share 3 letters in common does not mean they share a flavor profile  
  5. seriously, no one tasted the vanilla-maple combo and thought it tasted like a candle?  
  6. without providing us the opportunity to do ANY Joy Crumps.  I am disappointed  

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About Ben Smith 252 Articles
Ben has been writing about TV, music, and pop culture in some form or another since 2009, including stints at Mental Floss and Temporary Obsession. When not solving puzzles of some sort or consuming pop culture at a frightening pace, he can be found collecting shiny pieces of the internet at E-mail: