An atypically chill episode of Top Chef give the chefs some family time and a heck of a prize.
Top Chef picks up right where we left off last week, with Doug sadly saying goodbye after getting a little too ambitious with his whole-roasted foie gras. The rest of the chefs know they have a fine line every challenge between taking risks and executing something they know is possible in the time they have. Melissa in particular is feeling like the show’s taken her on an emotional roller coaster – she misses her support system of friends back home, as well as her girlfriend.
Something’s up when the chefs get to the kitchen. Padma introduces the week’s guest judge, Ashley Christensen, then gives the final four chefs the details: there will be no quickfire this week, but the elimination challenge has some twists. The chefs will be heading to Island Creek Oyster Farm to gather oysters and other proteins for this week’s challenge. Two dishes will be needed this week, an appetizer and an entree. Since two dishes is twice the work, the chefs will have some help…
…from their family members! In walks George’s dad, Mei’s brother, Gregory’s sister, and Melissa’s mom, here to help as sous chefs for the week. Mei is concerned – she got all the culinary skills between her and her brother. The chefs and family members will be staying overnight by the shore in Gloucester 1. Padma also informs the chefs that their appetizer must be prepared in its entirety by their sous chef – the chefs can tell them what to do and how to execute it, but cannot touch anything related to the dish. Mei seems especially thrilled by this latest development.
We’re not done with the twists yet. In an attempt to see what the chefs do when they have full creativity without concern of elimination, no one will go home this week. That’s huge, but the prize for winning this week is equally big – an automatic place in the final in Mexico.
With enough monkey wrenches finally thrown their way, everyone heads out to get some oysters and seafood at Island Creek. I wish we could have had more challenges that actually tap into the local food resources here in Boston more – Taza Chocolate is making fantastic Mexican-style chocolate completely bean-to-bar, and if nothing else, the Necco factory’s still here2. The chefs begin to discuss with their loved ones what they’re going to cook. George is slightly intimidated by being the boss instead of “Mr. Tony”. Melissa’s tapping into a memory she has of an egg custard dish her mom made her when she had trouble sleeping and turning that into an appetizer.
At Whole Foods, George and Mei struggle to keep their assistants focused and, in Mei’s case, fast enough. 30 minutes is not a heck of a lot of time to pick up groceries, and having to do it while keeping track of someone else can’t help. Out in Gloucester, everyone settles in at their gigantic, gorgeous beach house. I am briefly freaked out my the sight of George without his hair slicked straight back. It’s a good night to settle in before a busy day ahead.
The next day, everyone is gathered around the island in the beach house kitchen. George reiterates in an aside that he’s still not sure what to think of being the one to boss his father around3. Mei’s brother seems scared he’s going to mess up – and after seeing how things kick off between him and Mei once they get to the kitchen, he has good reason to be scared. Mei is all over him at every step, and he doesn’t seem to understand he has a time limit to complete his dish by.
As everyone else starts filling in the kitchen, different leadership styles emerge. Mei is yelling, Gregory is tapping into his executive chef experience and keeping his sister on a step-by-step set of instructions. Eventually, through all the cooking, yelling, and teamwork, it’s time to start serving the judges.
Mei and her brother Harly are up first. Harly’s dish is oyster with soy-yuzu vinaigrette and radish, while Mei has made surf clam and lobster with tomato-coconut broth. The judges enjoy both, appreciating the balance present in both dishes. All the stress and yelling seems to have paid off for Mei.
Gregory is up next, although he’s concerned he’s focused too much on helping his sister and not enough on his own dish, particularly the halibut for his entree. Jessica’s tomato-watermelon soup with pickled cucumber and shrimp gets high praise from the judges. Gregory’s hunch about his own work is correct – his halibut with oysters, mussels, and dashi is a little too complicated and not quite coalescing. The judges loved his sister’s dish, but found his less memorable.
George was please with how well his father took direction, although it feels like he may have played it too easy with the dish he gave his father. George and Tony present the judges with a grilled oyster with razor clams and cucumber for their appetizer, with butter-poached lobster with sunchokes as an entree. The judges appreciate the flavors and respect for ingredients the team had, but some of the foofier touches on George’s plate could have been left behind.
Melissa is so proud of her mom, who finished her dish with enough time left over to want to help Melissa with her dish as well. The two of them present Alice’s egg custard with shiitake mushrooms, clams, and lobster to the judges as an appetizer, with butter-poached lobster with onion soubise and pea puree for their entree. It’s clear that the judges LOVE Melissa’s lobster and attention to the details that surround it, but they also really love how she worked with her mom to create an appetizer based on something familiar to both of them.
Mei and Melissa receive the judges high praise during review of all the dishes. With no elimination at stake, everyone brought their A-game and it showed. However, Melissa wins4 for nailing her own dish AND helping lead her mom to greatness. With a guaranteed in to the final, we’re done – next week the competition picks back up AND Last Chance kitchen wraps up.