Top Chef: The Aftermath. We begin in the house where Brooke says that she would have said something if she thought there was any chance Kristen would be sent home … which I ain’t buying. She was in the room for the judging and never said anything, not even after they sent Kristen home (which would have been a good time to say something, too). Maybe Brooke figured seeing the strongest competitor sent home wasn’t a bad thing. Maybe she didn’t want to talk back to the judges. But she couldn’t have stood there and thought Kristen was completely safe.
Then Josie is tearfully defending herself to Lizzie, who has “STFU” tattooed on her forehead for the entire conversation. Or whatever they say instead of “STFU” in South Africa.
* Quickfire: Create a sushi dish to impress Katsuya Uechi, master sushi chef. He says, mystically, “Don’t touch too much, don’t mix up too much ingredients … make people happy.” It sounds like an empty plate that with positive qi would be a better dish than some raw fish and rice. Immunity is off the table, but the winner gets $5K.
* Josh says he doesn’t crave sushi like bacon, and he’s making some weird sushi breakfast sandwich thing that Stefan calls “so fucking dumb.” I love sushi, but bacon really checks all the boxes.
* Stefan is the only chef we see smelling the fish on the table, which is smart, especially after Lizzie nearly got sent home for serving scallops that were off.
* Josie has done parties where they served sushi on naked women, saying “it’s kind of fun.” If by fun you mean horribly degrading, then yes, I agree.
* Lizzie says sushi is “an art, it’s not my art,” except it sounds a million times better when she says it.
* Sheldon says he doesn’t “do sushi that much,” going sashimi, lemon charcoal – grilled, blended, turned into powder.
* The dishes … Stefan: Yellowtail with grilled shiitake and mustard, and raw lobster with seaweed and unagi. Josie: halibut with yuzu and bacon aioli. Not enough punch for Katsuya. Lizzie: Lobster soup, micro greens, pickle ginger, yuzu sake broth, fresh ginger. Could have had rice underneath. Brooke: Octopus, yuzu, fresh wasabi, sliced shiso, EVOO. Josh: Tempura bacon, omelette, salmon belly, yuzu-koshu aioli, sandwiched between two bricks of rice. Sheldon: hamachi sashimi, fresh ponzu, mitsuba, lemon charcoal – grilled the lemons then ground the charred peel into a powder. Katsuya approves: “Burning lemon? That’s interesting.”
* Lizzie and Josh are on the bottom, neither of which is a surprise. Brooke and Stefan are on top, with Stefan the winner, his first win of any kind this season. Wikipedia says Stefan served as a judge on the Finnish version of Top Chef. Am I the only one who’d watch international versions of the show if they were subtitled in English? They’ve done two seasons of an “Arab World” edition, which would probably be fascinating, and I’d love to see the Portuguese version (bacalao ice cream!) too.
* Elimination challenge: Make fried chicken for an all-star collection of chefs, including Tom, Emeril, Wolfgang, Michelle Bernstein, David Chang, and the guys from LA’s Animal and Son of a Gun, who love fried chicken. Dinner is that night, so there’s not much time to prep or marinate the chicken.
* Stefan, discussing what I thought was chicken: “I like breasts a lot … you can hold on to the thighs much better.” Subtle.
* Josh says “danger zone” for no apparent reason, so I’ll assume that’s an Archer reference.
* Josie is talking all kinds of smack, saying she’s “got this one in the bag” because she’s from the south. Josh points out, correctly, that south Florida isn’t actually the South. Burn.
* Brooke’s plan is to remove the skins, fry them, and use them (ground, I assume) in the breading. Then she doesn’t have time to fry the skins, which I don’t get, since they should cook in a flash in the hot oil.
* Lizzie talks about wanting her mom to buy “one of those tubs” of fried chicken when she was a kid. If she had, she might never have come to the U.S. in the first place for fear she’d starve to death.
* So … I actually like fried chicken a lot, but rarely make it at home because it’s a big mess to do it right, usually in shortening in a big cast-iron skillet, frying at a relatively low temperature for about 45 minutes in total, with oil spattering everywhere. But I’ll order it when I’m out at any place that seems to do it right: Crispy exterior, so much so that it cracks or shatters as you bite into it, but that won’t slide off the meat itself. And dark meat, please.
* Service. Josie, who was sent home last time around by Michelle Bernstein, does a “southern style” chicken with black garlic, cayenne, and rice flour, along with a daikon salad. The judges then mock her for fake-south nonsense by serving on a banana leaf, with the chicken too oily and greasy and the breading underseasoned. Michelle says “I had to put it down … I just, I can’t.” We might all finally get our wish here, people.
* Sheldon does it two ways, umami-style legs (brined with bacon, shiitakes, and bonito, then dipped in a buttermilk-konbu mixture before it’s breaded) and Momofuku-style wings, although he has to toss the first batch of wings because they cooked too quickly on the outside. Everyone loves what he served and his out of the box thinking, but they complain that he didn’t serve enough. Pretty ballsy to serve “Momofuku-style wings” to the chef from Momofuku.
* Lizzie does a fried chicken breast with coriander, black pepper, and brown sugar rub, with a side of cabbage and pickled peach slaw. Judges like the flavor, but call it “shake and bake” (which it does, unfortunately, resemble), and Tom says it’s just not fried chicken.
* Stefan does chicken cordon bleu with garlic aioli. It sucks. I hate chicken cordon bleu anyway.
* Josh smokes his chicken first, then fries it and serves it with hot sauce and blue cheese. Tom loves the concept, so even though it’s not that crispy – was it breaded at all? – it gets the highest marks.
* Brooke does a dukkah-crusted chicken breasts on a bed of wilted escarole and tomato salad. She cooked the chicken too early, then refries it to serve, which is a terrible idea that produces terrible results. Wolfgang says it’s not Top Chef, and he “wouldn’t even call it the apprentice.” The Animal guys also reveal that Brooke interviewed them years earlier for a job at one of her restaurants but turned them down. Isn’t that a bit unfair to tell her now? Great for the cameras, but why not just kick her in the stomach while you’re at it?
* The chefs from LA only served breasts. Wolfgang says “it’s LA, plastic surgery everywhere.” Someone needs to point out that chicken breasts are, in a rather significant reversal, the least interesting part of the bird.
* Top three: Josh, Sheldon, Lizzie. Lizzie fried hers really well, producing a crispy crust that wasn’t greasy; it wasn’t truly fried chicken, but when says she’s not so familiar with it Padma jumps in with a “That’s fair.” That’s significant when we get to the bottom three. David Chang says Josh’s was a clever take on a traditional recipe. Sheldon’s two types, one savory one sweet, also get high marks, with the only criticism that there wasn’t enough of it. Josh wins over Sheldon in what I think was a mild upset, and I’m not sure what we didn’t hear that would back that up.
* My wife, on Josh: “Can I cut his mustache off in his sleep?” Not sure why she’d be sleeping with him, but maybe I can give Padma a call now.
* Bottom: Brooke, yeah, whatever, no way she’s going home. Then we get The Josie Show: She blames the fryer, she blames the clock, but never blames herself. Tom closes his eyes, puts two fingers on his forehead, and makes the “You have got to be shitting me” face. (We need a GIF of this.) Then he starts mocking her for running out of time and nails her for “wasting time.” She argues with him and says everyone (that is, her competitors) who tasted it said it was “delicious,” after which Tom says that clearly the judges were the idiots here. He looks at Josie like she’s the bad penny of Top Chef. Hey, you could have sent her home last week, pal. This one is your own fault.
* Stefan then says fried chicken isn’t “European,” so Wolfgang, who is European, says fried chicken is a classic Austrian dish. Tom calls cordon bleu a “bad banquets” dish and Emeril says it wasn’t even good chicken cordon bleu. He has the best line later, when Padma asks when anyone had seen the dish on a menu, saying “I had it two flights ago.”
* So the three chefs leave the room and Padma says, “such a bullshitter, such a bullshitter!” except that I wasn’t sure if she meant Stefan or Josie. Turns out she meant Stefan, who she says was lying about not knowing about fried chicken. My wife’s response: “If they’re gonna start sending people home for lyin’, there ain’t gonna be nobody left.”
* Josie is eliminated. Josh speaks for all of us when he says, “Thank God the Josie Show has been cancelled.” The fact that she even reached the top 6 is insulting; she won one Quickfire, never won an elimination challenge, and finished in the bottom seven times in eleven episodes, avoiding elimination in week 3 because she had immunity. I watch Top Chef for one reason more than any other – to see the food. I like watching the process, and I like getting ideas from their innovations. Every week Josie was on instead of someone more imaginative made the show worse. Don’t let the kitchen door hit you on the way out.
* Last Chance Kitchen: Kristen wins the grudge match, which was very satisfying to watch. Leave it to Josie to screw up and start making more excuses.
* Rankings: Again, Kristen remains the favorite. Of the five still in the big house, from top to bottom: Brooke, Sheldon, Lizzie, Stefan, Josh. I’d be happy with a final three of Kristen, Brooke, and Sheldon, although Kristen has to run the table to make that possible.