The cheftestants prove their sausage skills and their book smarts in this week’s episode of Top Chef
There’s not much of an opener on this week’s episode of Top Chef. Back in the stew room, the chefs are missing Adam, feeling like their “family” is broken up. In the apartments the next day, Katsuji mentions missing his wife and daughter and wanting to make both of them proud once they see the show. Uh-oh – based on that alone, he’s either going home or the winner1.
In the Top Chef kitchen this week with Padma is Rob Gronkowski, who is a member of the New England Patriots2. Everyone is excited to see him, except George, who it turns out is not a Patriots fan. What seems to surprise everyone (in what feels like more of a scripted bit than any real shock) is when Padma notes that Gronk is a gourmand. Grounk mentions that while he likes lots of foods, he wants polish sausage today, so the team will be making sausage dishes. Parma promptly makes a joke about loving sausage and everyone seems awkward and embarrassed.
With less than an hour on the clock, everyone’s scrambling to get their sausage made. Mei and Gregory are doing Asian-style sausages, while Katsuji is rejecting his latin heritage in a spicy sausage. Melissa and George both struggle to case their sausages, with George ultimately settling to just make a patty instead. He’s still struggling with the time limits where others aren’t after enough challenges.
Padma and Gronk walk back in the kitchen and start to evaluate the dishes. Here’s what everyone made:
Gregory – pork and boar sausage with kaffir lime and cucumber
George – pork and veal sausage patty, sunny side up egg, potato hash
Melissa – wild boar and pork sausage with lentils, cucumber, red onion
Doug – beer-braised pork sausage with onions and mustard
Mei – pork sausage with ginger, garlic, fish sauce, yuzu aioli
Katsuji – brisket and pork sausage with habaneros
Rob’s commentary is minimal at best – he’s a great judge for his towering presence, but his actual foodie-ness is a bit up for debate. Among his favorites were the simpler entries: Doug’s simple sausage and George’s breakfast-inspired combo. Less successful in his eyes were the chefs that either made their sausages too small (Melissa) or too complicated (Gregory). In the end, George wins the quickfire and immunity for the week. Not bad for his second week back in the game.
With that out of the way, it’s time to bring in a real chef. This week, it’s Tony Maws! His restaurant Craigie on Main is a favorite of mine – I used to live down the street and while it’s pricier than I usually like to go, the one time I was there was fantastic. He’s a big fan of farm-to-table and nose-to-tail cooking. He brings along a bookshelf featuring the names of some more well known New England authors. The chefs will be choosing one author and their work to inspire their dish. The judges are looking for a real visual experience this week – they want to see a story on a plate.
Gregory gets first choice and selects Edgar Allen Poe. Katsuji follows and selects Stephen King. George selects Dr. Seuss (and is warned that the judges don’t want to see Green Eggs and Ham), while Mei picks an author she’s less familiar with, Henry David Thoreau. Melissa selects Nathaniel Hawthorne, leaving Doug with Emily Dickinson, a choice he doesn’t seem pleased with. Before heading to Whole Foods, the chefs begin to brainstorm. With Thoreau’s focus on nature, Mei decides to go vegetarian. Katsuji plans to go bold with a Carrie-inspired dish, while George goes for a very straightforward interpretation of 1 Fish 2 Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Doug struggles with Dickinson’s simplicity until he finds the line “Bring me sunset in a cup”. Melissa’s the only chef to pull from a work I haven’t read/heard of, choosing Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance as her inspiration to show a transition from spring to fall in one dish on her plate.
Once the chefs arrive at their host restaurant for the day, Steel & Rye3, it’s time for another montage of cutting, prepping, and running around. When Tom checks in with the cheftestants, Katsuji talks about wanting to shock with his plating to really make the plate scream Stephen King, and on the flip side, George looks like he’s playing it very safe with his interpretation of Dr. Seuss’ wild works. Mei is making a charred onion “soil”, which is intriguing, but also potentially the kind of thing that could send a chef home if it’s not executed perfectly. Melissa’s concerned about her plating, since she and Mei are both taking inspiration from books set in gardens.
Finally, after some more cooking in the kitchen, it’s time for the dishes to be presented to the judges. Here’s what everyone presents:
- Gregory – The Raven – seared beef tenderloin, grilled hen, parsnips, beets.
There’s a reason Gregory’s chosen every single one of the items on his plate, which is great, but when I look at his plate, I couldn’t necessarily tell you it was “The Raven”. The judges mention the same thing.
- George – 1 Fish 2 Fish – calamari, mussels, clams, pan seared branzino, purple potatos, red peppers
George has managed to take the whimsy of Dr. Seuss and turn it into the most literal, buttoned-up interpretation possible.
- Mei – Walden – roasted vegetables, charred soil, tom ha snow (nails technique and story)
This one was pretty impressive, you guys. The judges were concerned that both the “soil” and the “snow” were all technique and no flavor, but Mei really pulled this off and this looked like a garden of vegetables with first winter snow on them.
- Melissa – Blythedell Romance – seared halibut with spring vegetables, morels, charred corn, mushroom broth
This one was another winner for me – Melissa’s usual care with plating mixed well with the mushroom broth poured table side.
- Katsuji – Carrie – fobbed with white beans, chorizo, damon serrano, short rib, osso bucco, beet puree
It looked like Katsuji had murdered someone on that plate, which was a complete success for me. The purees he used seemed a bit thick, but again, it’s Stephen King – how could you not?
- Doug – grilled carrot bisque, orange, cumin viniagrette, radish
Doug’s use of minimal focus and color to capture Emily Dickinson’s poems worked really nicely here, and cemented why I think he’s a subtle frontrunner this season.
After service is complete, the judges call the chefs back in to discuss their dishes. Everyone’s presentation was really well thought out and flavors were good, making the choice for winner and loser very tough. In the top this week were Mei (for the thematic beauty of her dish and flawless execution of her idea), Doug (for similar interpretation/execution), and Melissa, who took a very complex concept and made it very clear on her plate. Mei’s dish is the standout of the night, so she wins the prize handily.
George is lucky he had immunity – he made an underwhelming dish that while very tasty, was visually the antithesis of Dr. Seuss. In the bottom this week are Gregory and Katsuji. Gregory’s dish didn’t visually evoke “The Raven”, which was part of the challenge; Katsuji’s plating for his “Carrie”-inspired dish was fantastic, but could have had a little more finesse. Katsuji is asked to pack his knives and go, which shocked me – Gregory’s lack of a visual match for his dish really seemed like the bigger error. The judges ask everyone to keep cooking the way they did tonight.
Katsuji is amazed at how far he was able to make it in the competition – he didn’t expect to make it past day 1, and he made it almost to the top 5. He’s happy to go back to his family and make them proud.
- I’ve watched enough elimination-based reality shows to know these things, you guys ↵
- I can not confirm this. Did I mention I’m not the best Boston representative? ↵
- in Milton, MA – for the Boston season, we’re not cooking in that many restaurants actually in Boston proper, and that kind of saddens me except for the fact that they may just be on the smaller side ↵
- this is a Bravo show, after all ↵
- although not the actual Julia Child, hopefully. She’s been dead for some time. ↵