The wind in our sails is at full gale force! Philadelphia is riding high! Additional assorted sailing metaphors to describe Dr. Elmi’s momentum and our enthusiasm for his win last week! The other cheftestants? Whatevs.
But let’s not get ourselves too excited. Although Shirley has all but disappeared from the top and Nina stopped making gnocchi, there’s still a gauntlet of six capable and/or lucky cheftestants to get through before Padma announces Nick as the winner.
With Restaurant Wars behind us, the standard format resumes. Hubert Keller, part time DJ and really nice French chef, is on the guest judge roster this week. His first task is to judge the DUNKIN’ DONUTS Quickfire, where the chefs must cook their favorite Indian dish… Oh Jesus, that’s terrible. Can I take that back? I meant to say, “Where the chefs must cook with coffee.” There, that’s better, right? Winner gets immunity and $10,000.
Nick’s up for the challenge because he loves cooking with coffee. Stephanie panics again. Brian, stoned as ever, stupidly decides to make risotto. Flashbacks ensue, and history repeats itself. Here’s a tip for future cheftestants: No matter how good you are at making risotto and no matter how strong your desire is to take a risk, DO NOT make risotto. More importantly, do not reference your balls. At least Brian hedged by doing it in the Quickfire, and his fuckup is of no real consequence. Hubert also wasn’t a fan of our hero Nick’s roasted sockeye salmon with hazelnut coffee caramel and hon-shimeji mushrooms, but again, it’s just a Quickfire. In case you care, Shirley wins, which means she can finally get herself an air conditioner.
At this point in the season, the cheftestants are psychologically exhausted–which is also known as the best time for an elimination challenge based on home and family. The charge is to make a dish inspired by the food eaten at home, which makes everybody cry. Holding court over the elimination is Anthony Mackie, aka rich kid Clarence from Karate-Kid-style rap movie 8 Mile. His family go-to restaurant is Dookie Chase, so Leah Chase is also in the house, and that’s where the cheftestants will be serving their home-inspired dishes.
The challenge’s free-form approach and the ability to cook something that’s in heavy rotation at home yields the best food of the season. It also yields tears from everyone except Stephanie, who grew up eating chicken nuggets. After an audible earlier in the season, Dr. Elmi gets to make gnocchi (gnudi). It’s of the ricotta variety, served with pancetta, peas, lemon, and parmesan, and it’s so good that it makes Anthony Mackie wish he was Nick’s daughter. It also nets him the win, which makes two in a row for our hometown hero.
Other notables were Stephanie’s mussels with pickled peppers and Carlos’ cochinita pibil, but there were no real disappointments, leaving the judges to split hairs for the bottom three, Brian, Justin, and Travis. Brian needed a charcoal grill for his Korean-style New York strip (which was non-existent in the Dookie Chase kitchen), so the judges let him off on a technicality. Justin’s Louisiana rice with chicken thigh gravy was too dry, but they liked the flavors enough (although Mackie was pretty bummed). That leaves poor Travis and his undercooked biscuits & gravy. He wasn’t necessarily coming into his own on the cooking front, but he seemed to be finding life’s meaning as a Top Chef contestant, so it was sad to see him pack his knives. He said it best, though. “You live and die by the biscuit.” Yes, Travis. Yes we do.
Next week, the world’s favorite drummer and another hometown hero, Questlove, and perhaps a touch of villainy from Dr. Elmi?
All Top Chef coverage [f8b8z]