Top Chef Boston: The First Thanksgiving

TOP CHEF -- "The First Thanksgiving" Episode 1206 -- Pictured: (l-r) Stacy Cogswell, Mei Lin, Gregory Gourdet, Keriann Von Raesfeld, Katsuji Tanabe, Dougie Adams, Adam Harvey, Melissa King -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

The cheftestants play with cranberries and make a traditional traditional Thanksgiving feast on this week’s Top Chef Boston

It’s the night after Aaron’s elimination in the Top Chef Boston apartment1, and the chefs are toasting his leaving the competition.  In his short time there, he managed to butt heads with a lot of the chefs, so it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be missed too much.  The next morning, Michelle reads a love note from her girlfriend, in what’s clearly telegraphing either an upcoming performance that’s either super good or super bad.

Tiffani Faison, who’s from Top Chef season 12 pops in the apartment.  She has something unique to the area to show the chefs, and everyone’s driven out to a more rural part of the state to get murdered check out the cranberry bogs!

Tiffani and a member of the Ocean Spray Cooperative3 let the chefs in on what they’ll be doing – harvesting cranberries!  The first four chefs to fill up their box completely with cranberries get an advantage in the next challenge.  After the competition starts, it’s the most athletically minded chefs that seem to have the biggest advantage.  Katie’s background in running marathons leads her all the way to a win, with Adam close behind her.  Gregory and Doug round off the top four, and it’s back into the vans to the next challenge.

Quickfire Challenge

Now that the cheftestants are all tired out from running around a cranberry bog early in the morning, it’s time to run around the kitchen some more.  The chefs must create a dish that highlights the cranberry4 in 30 minutes.  The 4 winners from the cranberry bog race have a selection of higher-end ingredients than the rest of the chefs do, which definitely gives them an advantage.

After the usual rush/chop/stir/plate montage, here’s what the chefs have come up with:

  • Adam – bourbon cranberry barbecue-glazed strip steak with a cranberry mushroom fricasse.  He had to scrap his first idea, which involved a cranberry “dirty water”, and scrambled to have something at all to plate
  • Gregory – pan-roasted arctic char with sweet/sour cranberry sauce
  • Keriann – Carrot soup with cranberry and crab
  • Doug – bourbon and cranberry-glazed pork tenderloin with roasted brussels sprouts
  • Melissa – fried turkey, apple butter, fried sage, and cranberry.  It’s a tiny but powerful bite.
  • Katie – cranberry borscht with creme fraiche
  • Katsuji – steak tartare with chili de arbor mayo and a cranberry sauce
  • Stacy – Curried cauliflower soup with pepper-cranberry relish
  • Mei – Sweet/sour pork with cranberry and mustard seed

In the bottom this time around are Katsuji (who really needed a nicer steak for steak tartare or a finer dice), Adam, and Stacy (whose soup didn’t fully scream “cranberry” to Padma and Tiffani.  In the top, Doug went traditional but proved why those flavors are eternal, Katie wowed the judges with her borscht that replaced vinegar with cranberries, and Mei’s flavors were perfect.  In the end, Tiffani picks the dish that really pushed things the most – Katie wins!  She gets immunity in the upcoming challenge.

Main Challenge

This episode was filmed in June, but it’s airing in November, so it’s Thanksgiving time!  The first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, which is near enough to Boston that the chefs will be cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal on-site there.  They’re not kidding about that “traditional” thing – the chefs don’t know what kind of pantry or cooking tools they’ll have, but know they’ll be working with the same kinds of ingredients the settlers and natives had around that time. A family-style meal will be served in two groups to the judges and some descendants of the Indian and Mayflower sides of things.

That night at the apartment, the chefs discuss their various Thanksgiving traditions.  Stacy is feeling a bit worn down after what feels like a lot of consistent challenges where she’s ended up in the bottom of the competition.  The next day, everyone is up bright and early to head down to Plymouth Plantation.  When the chefs get to where they’ll be cooking, they find lots of great options – the settlers didn’t have turkey, but they did have goose, and other options like clams, rabbit, and lobster are also bountiful.  As for cooking utensils and surfaces, there are lots of big wooden spoons and cast iron pots, with indoor and outdoor fires and fire pits for the actual cooking of things.

As the chefs work out what they’re cooking, Gregory challenges himself to put some sort of bird on the Thanksgiving table and attempts to cook the goose.  Stacy’s attempting to smoke clams, and Katie is using her immunity as a chance to push her limits and make a stuffing with lobster and blueberry in it.  Melissa decides to focus on a vegetable side dish and takes a risk by not including a protein.

The diners arrive, and while the Native American side of the table is humble about the area and the experience of being a descendant of the people who were originally here when the Mayflower landed, the Mayflower descendants are about as stuck up as you’d expect of someone who knew that.  They totally seemed to be the type to drop that kind of information at the barest hint of a prompt.

The first four dishes are brought to the table.  Doug’s spit-roasted rabbit with garlic and ramps is warmly received by the table.  Catsup’s roasted butternut squash with poached lobster and chile is similarly praised.  Stacy’s ramp-smoked stuffed clams are well-received, although there’s an earthy quality to the stuffing that the judges don’t like the flavor of.  Melissa’s roast parsnips, green beans, and zucchini with vinaigrette gets good reviews, but it’s also noted that it’s just the veggies.

In between courses, the judges talk about their Thanksgiving traditions.  Gail is Canadian, and the celebrations there are different.  Tom is Italian-American and talks about how the traditional table often has turkey, all the trimmings, AND a lasagna.  I’m Minnesotan, and our Thanksgiving celebration DOES NOT INVOLVE GRAPE SALAD, NEW YORK TIMES.

The second course is just as bountiful as the first.  Adam presents everyone with a “succotash” made from beans, corn, summer squash, spinach, and goat milk.  Katie’s blueberry stuffing with blue cornmeal and lobster gets noted for seeming like a weird but irresistible combination – Gail manages to polish off half the bowl.  Em serves a duck fat roasted cabbage with a trout vinaigrette, which I’d definitely try if presented with it at my Thanksgiving celebration.  Gregory’s roasted goose isn’t perfectly done, but he gets an A for attempting a tough bird to cook.  Keriann turned her blueberry pie filling into a compote alongside some seared venison after her pie crust wasn’t working out, but the judges can still sort of tell it was meant to be pie filling.

The judges seem really impressed overall with everyone’s performance.  Doug, Mei, Katsuji, and Katie are singled out as being some of the top dishes of the night.  Melissa, Gregory, Keriann, and Stacy all seem to be on the bottom this time around, and one of them will be going home.

Judges’ Table

Back in the Top Chef kitchen, Padma has everyone come in for judging.  Doug, Katsuji, and Mei are asked to step forward as the night’s top dishes.  They loved the spit-roasting Doug used and the texture and flavors of Mei’s cabbage, but Katsuji’s flavorful but simple squash wins the night.  The decision here feels a little odd, and I thought either Doug or Katie was more likely to get it over Katsuji, but it’s nice to see him get a win.

Stacy, Melissa, and Gregory are at the bottom.  Gregory gets a bit of a pass for his past work and the fact that he tried to cook goose, so his goose isn’t cooked just yet.  Melissa’s dish was a bit too simple and blended into the background – with over 2 hours to make the dish, something a little more vibrant should have been possible.  Stacy’s stuffing is questioned again – the judges are concerned the earthy flavor actually was dirt from while she was plating on the ground.

This seemed like Melissa’s time to go, but it’s actually Stacy’s turn – the judges ask her to pack her knives and go.  She’s relived to have the pressure off and feels she made Boston proud.  I’d say so.

  1. which, after seeing the establishing shots enough times, appears to be in the Fenway neighborhood  
  2. and has a Boston barbecue place called Sweet Cheeks that I keep meaning to try  
  3. which makes delicious cranberry products and isn’t a cult, despite that name  
  4. without going too expected – no stuffings or bread puddings allowed  

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About Ben Smith 230 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 GoodAtInter.net. E-mail: ben@whatelseison.tv