We start out back in the stew room and see the Kuniko debate again, where John points out, quite accurately, that Kuniko had five hours to cook a potato dish and never checked to see if it was cooking properly. Josh then lectures John about tact while he’s tying a damsel to a railroad track. John says he’s not being a prick, he’s being truthful, although those things aren’t mutually exclusive. I agree with his comments on Kuniko, and I don’t think he lacked tact, although he was way out of line to snipe at Josh’s home state of Oklahoma, an argument ad hominem that ceding some of his high ground.
The next morning, we see Kristen smoking on the balcony while flirting with Stefan, who is also smoking. I do not understand chefs who smoke. It wrecks your taste buds. Do you want to taste your food? That might be important. And that’s assuming your tongue doesn’t go all Achatz on you. By the way, flirting with Stefan? He looks like he should be fronting a Rammstein cover band.
* Quickfire: Naomi Pomeroy from Beast is the guest judge. Two beef primals are hanging in the kitchen. Chefs get one hour to butcher and cook a cut of beef, with no more than two chefs butchering any one piece at one time. There’s actually some coordination there rather than the literal backstabbing I expected.
* Sheldon talks about the importance of technique and his apparent lack of it. Josie and Carla can’t get their primal off the hook, which isn’t going to convince Stefan that girls belong in the kitchen any time soon.
* CJ is doing a tartare, which is so cliché – and doesn’t involve cooking, by the way. Tyler is also doing a raw preparation. Granted, I prefer meats cooked, other than fish, so I’m probably not the ideal judge for that.
* Lizzie is struggling with the pressure cooker, which she’ll need to get her cut cooked enough. This shocks me – how does any chef get this far without knowing how to use a pressure cooker? They’re pretty user-friendly, other than your inability to see the food while it cooks.
* Micah and John are also struggling with braising ox tail, which I assumed took hours and hours.
* Kristen, showing some strategy, says she picked first cut she saw to get cooking.
* Bottom three: Lizzie’s didn’t cook enough, as foreshadowed. Eliza’s steak was fine but the combination of asparagus and cherries didn’t work together. Tyler’s crudo was under seasoned, which is fatal. I swear I heard “underseasoned” fifty times in this episode; if you had a Top Chef drinking game based solely around mentions of seasoning, you’d be dead before Judges’ Table.
* Top: CJ’s tartare, John’s oxtail gnocchi (which had a rich sauce from the oxtail’s connective tissue), and Josh’s meatball with polenta. That is, the three chefs who were at each other’s throats in the stew room. Winner is John, his second quickfire win. He cooked something harder than the other two chefs did, and CJ didn’t cook his at all. John gets immunity. They can snark at him all they want, but he’s clearly got some ability.
* Elimination challenge: Cook dishes from the original menu at Seattle’s Canlis restaurant, which first opened in 1950. Only one dish is still on the current menu, the Canliss salad. Two chefs will be eliminated.
* Somehow, Stefan ends up assigning the dishes, for reasons I must have missed. Kristen is unhappy that she ended up with two sides, fried onions and sauteed mushrooms. Chrissy gets the dreaded salad. Carla is stuck doing squab, which either she has either never cooked, or she’s comparing it to her ex-husband. I really have no idea.
* John offers to expedite because he has immunity. CJ mocks John in the confessional for having experience opening restaurants. I don’t get the invective here. Either John is behaving way worse off camera than he is on, or CJ and Josh need to worry about their own shit.
* Josh, listening in on a conversation in the condo, is twirling the ends of his mustache.
* Kristen’s a real perfectionist, drying mushrooms in the oven at 450 before searing them so that they’re completely dry when they hit the pan and she’ll get the maximum possible caramelization.
* Carla can’t get into the grill for the squab and has to delegate the cooking of her protein to Sheldon and Bart. This is known in the business as “foreshadowing.”
* Other chefs are ignoring John as he tries to set up for expediting. Then we see a bunch of chefs without their noses, faces fully spited.
* Service – forgive me for the detail here, but I don’t see a better way to get through it. Starters: Lizzie did marinated herrings, which Naomi loved, saying they’re balanced, well marinated with plenty of acid. Josh does a French onion soup that isn’t “guest friendly,” with a too-hard crouton, nowhere near enough cheese, and far too much salt. John’s steamed clams bordelaise seem to be good-not-great. Chrissy’s special salad is visibly wilting on the plate from all the dressing. Brooke’s seafood salad a la Louis gets raves for the preparation of the seafood. Tyler’s crab leg cocktail was also great, mostly because he let the Dungeness crab shine, although he earns props for the chopped lettuce on bottom as well. My takeaway at this point was how dated some of these dishes are.
* Switch back to the kitchen where we see Carla talking over John so other chefs can’t hear orders, after which we see her dishes coming back because they’re too rare and have to be refired.
* Mains: Sheldon’s mahi-mahi with beurre blanc (something you might actually see on a modern menu) wasn’t quite trimmed right but was perfectly cooked with a properly emulsified sauce. Carla’s squab with red wine reduction isn’t boned properly, is now overcooked in reaction to the earlier undercooked ones, but does have a nice sauce. Micah’s vegetable medley is a mess of over and undercooked items. Stefan’s liver with French fried onions gets big raves both for the liver and Kristen’s onions on top. Bart’s New York strip steak was cut with the grain instead of against it, which kind of wastes the tenderness of the meat. CJ’s lamb kebab was underseasoned (drink) and the lamb was mealy, as if he used sous vide to cook it (he did). His pilaf underneath was soggy as well. Kristen’s mushrooms get huge raves and the color on them is spectacular – I love well-browned mushrooms with just a little salt, black pepper, and maybe a little fresh thyme, and her dish looked like it had that flavor. Josie’s enormous baked potatoes aren’t hot enough and get more comments on their size than their flavor.
* Desserts: Danyele and Eliza each made two, with Danyele doing vanilla ice cream and a royal Hawaiian supreme, and Eliza doing mint sherbet and a frozen Hawaiian pineapple parfait. Danyele seemed to get more positive comments, especially for the salty peanut brittle with the ice cream that balanced out all the sweetness in the four dishes.
* We get another discussion of losing dishes at the dinner table, which I think is a great change to the format. Chrissy’s salad gets trashed. Carla’s squab had the breast plate left in and was overcooked. CJ’s lamb had no flavor, was both tough and mushy, and wasn’t seasoned well. This sounds absolutely disgusting, like something you’d get at a school cafeteria. Josh’s soup had so much salt and no bubbly cheese on top. I’m inclined to say that his failings are the worst because French onion soup is still a popular dish, and because proper cooking of onions is a cooking 101 thing – the onion even gets its own chapter in Ruhlman’s Twenty.
* Judges table: The top four are Lizzie, Kristen, Tyler, Stefan. Stefan plants one on Kristen’s cheek, because he’s a pig. She’s the winner for making two side dishes, getting $10k and I think a pretty big boost to her confidence.
* The bottom four are, as expected: Carla, Chrissy, CJ, and Josh. How freaking tall is CJ? He’s like Lurch in a sea of Cousin Its.
* At the inquisition, Josh immediately throws John under the bus, calls him a monkey as expediter, and refuses to take any responsibility for Tom getting cold soup. CJ says he tasted the mealiness after sous vide-ing the lamb, but can’t explain why he used a technique that didn’t exist in the 1950s. Carla wilts under questioning over whether she tasted the dish during service, and I honestly don’t think the judges ever got a clear answer – but they seemed to believe she hadn’t.
* Chrissy and Carla are eliminated, but as badly as Carla fared, Josh’s flop with a very ordinary dish and CJ’s choice of sous vide seemed like bigger transgressions to me. That said, no one will be sorry to hear the relative silence in the kitchen with Carla gone.
* My new top three: Kristen, John, and Micah, with Brooke making a strong showing. Stefan might be on the fringes of that group. Right now, I don’t see who else belongs in this discussion.
* Last Chance Kitchen: The four chefs eliminated so far are each charged with making a dish using the 2-3 key ingredients in the dishes that got them eliminated; they can make the same dish if they so choose but don’t have to. Carla cooks the squab incorrectly again, in large part because she uses 40% of the allotted time just getting the meat off the bone. (I have never cooked squab or tried to de-bone a bird this small, so I can only imagine that it’s not straightforward.) Chrissy’s salad isn’t falling under the weight of the dressing, Jeff’s halibut isn’t overcooked, but Kuniko reimagines her whole dish, skipping the potato pave in favor of a lemongrass potato chowder that seems to really show off both her technical skills and command of flavors. It’s a huge challenge for her to run the table now through Last Chance Kitchen but, before her elimination, I thought she was comfortably among the top five chefs in the main competition, so I do like her chances more than I’d like any of the others to do it.