Top Chef Episode 2 Recap: Good Looks Don’t Win Challenges


Much like a skilled chef packing 10 pounds of flavor into a 5 pound dish, a skilled TV editor can make an hour’s worth of television feel like binge watching that show about the blue meth and the high school chemistry teacher and the kid that says “Yeah, bitch!” and some Mexicans and some Nazis and, well, you get the idea.

This week’s Top Chef (a traditional Quickfire-to-Whole Foods-to Elimination format we’ve all grown to love) was as thick as the roux that some of the cheftetants made for the gumbo challenge–an introductory Quickfire which serves to remind us as gently as a shovel to the back of the head that these guys are in New Orleans and that things down in New Orleans are different.

Rather than ten, thirty, or even sixty minutes, the cheftestants are given the luxury of an entire evening to prepare a gumbo that represents who they are, then given more time to put the finishing touches on it with a final fifteen minutes in the Top Chef kitchen the next day. Judging these “Hey! Look! It’s Me In Gumbo Form!” dishes is Leah Chase, the 90-year old Queen of Creole (a much cooler title than “Gnocchi Queen”), whose poker face requires neither a hat nor those stupid hologram glasses that Greg Raymer’s fat ass wore when he won the World Series Of Poker.

(Yes, I watched the World Series of Poker. Because I’m a man, that’s why.)

As predicted, the dude who got cancer totally plays the cancer card (note: if I got cancer I would TOTALLY play the cancer card all day and every day. I’d also take a lot of drugs). He also screws up his gumbo, but since he beat cancer, there’s no reason he can’t scrap his original recipe and start over at 1:30 in the morning. Now if only he could beat that shitty haircut of his…


There’s a lot of fusion happening in this gaggle of gumbos (are we still allowed to use the word “fusion?”), and the melting pot approach seems to do the trick for the Quickfire favorites. Shirley Chung, a former student of José Andres, takes a page from Garces’ Chifa and combines Latin (Mexican) and Chinese cuisine in her braised pork belly gumbo with Mexican rice. Somehow, there’s also an Italian salad in there, and the Queen of Creole is impressed. Carrie Mashaney, the token middle-America cheftestant, combines Iowa and Trinidad (huh?) to make a gumbo with coconut, green mango, and corn crumble, and despite its toxic sludge hue, this dish takes the win and gives Carrie immunity.

At the bottom, Cichonski’s Polish-inspired gumbo with whipped potato, cabbage, and shaved beets. Leah said she would have preferred if the gumbo were a borscht, even though this wasn’t a borscht challenge. Also at the bottom is Patty’s Puerto Rican mofongo-style gumbo, maybe because this wasn’t a mofongo challenge, but more likely that Patty’s out of her league here. Cancer card is the third and final bottom, failing to beat the clock and embarrassing his hometown.

With the first Quickfire done, it’s time for Elimination Challenge number two, and what better way to capitalize on trends than to host a FOOD TRUCK CHALLENGE! The cheftestants are split up into four teams. They get to feed Habitat for Humanity volunteers tasked with rebuilding New Orleans after it did its best Lost City of Atlantis impression a few years back. The cheftestants get carte blanche on the menu, but the continued oppressive heat calls for ceviches and spicy foods. This first menu deliberation establishes the alpha-chefs and the teams that work well together. New York City caterer Bene Bartolotta gets stampeded by the rest of the red team and complains about falling into the role of sous chef. The yellow team, consisting of Travis Masar, Brian Huskey, Aaron Cuschieri, Carlos Gaytan, and Quickfire winner Carrie, employs a collaborative effort on all of their dishes. Because there’s no “I” in team but there is in dish, the green team each does their own thing. The blue team does the same, including Nick Elmi’s grilled shrimp with melon salad and crushed wasabi peas, and Jason’s salmon hand roll with quinoa, honey mustard miso and cucumber.

Both dishes looked good, but our Philly boys wind up on the bottom due to garnish choices (Nick) and execution flaws (Jason). The other two members of the blue team suffered similar mistakes. Bret Pelaggi’s ceviche shouldn’t have been served with piping hot plantain chips, and Patty should have left off the tomatoes on her tuna burger. The best part of this Judges’ Table was Bret thinking he was clever by saying “we wound up with food left over at the end because we planned so well.” You dumbshit. You had leftovers because people weren’t having seconds and thirds (in a town where seconds and thirds are obligatory). With a 50/50 chance for Philly to go home, the odds were not in our favor, and the pre-rolled hand rolls and decision to keep his shirt on are enough to send Jason packing. But fret not, Cichonski-ites. This tweet from the man himself hopefully portends he’ll be back after showing no mercy in the Last Chance Kitchen:


The winner, if you care, was Carrie. Tom crapped his pants over hers and Aaron’s empanada. Big whoop. With Jason gone, the villain slot is empty. Let’s see if Nick will rise to the occasion.


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