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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The chefs contend with spice and stress in Top Chef ’s penultimate episode

Photo: Bravo
Photo: Bravo
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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Sheldon!
  • Sheldon’s insanely talented and almost preternaturally chill, but if he has one culinary weakness it’s that, for a chef, he’s almost too relaxed. If there’s a running theme amongst most Top Chef frontrunners, it’s that they maintain a certain fastidiousness. For some, like Brooke, that manifests in through anxiety; for Shirley, however, it’s a natural extension of her innate mania. I mean, I get it with Sheldon. Dude lives in Maui. He smokes weed and pounds beers on the backs of trucks in his off-time. Honestly, it’s sorta tough to imagine him running a kitchen sometimes. How would he fare, I wonder, in the hoity-toity fine dining kitchens of New York or L.A.? Anyways, it’s Sheldon’s chill nature that undoes him here, when he fails to properly plan for the reality of cooking over an open flame. Shirley and Brooke course-correct after realizing their proteins were sticking to the open-fire grill; Sheldon, however, doesn’t leave him the time to do so, and it’s his poor presentation and unevenly cooked snapper that sends him home.
  • Quickfire: Simple enough: Incorporate the ultra-hot habanero pepper into a dish made using local ingredients, but do your best to tame the heat. Spice challenges are fun, but this one seems a bit pedestrian this late in the competition. Honestly, it functions best as an introduction to the local markets, where Sheldon learns quickly that his inability to speak Spanish makes shopping that much more difficult. He ends up buying a tamale, thinking it’s cheese, and then awkwardly stuffs it inside his pan-roasted chayote squash. Padma is not amused, and it lands him in the bottom. Brooke (“Queen Quickfire”) wins by pairing a pork loin—a preferred protein in the area—with a mild, flavorful habanero salsa. Shirley’s masa dumpling with a poached egg sounds delicious, but the judges clearly weren’t happy with her using just a single habanero. I can’t blame her, though; hot peppers do the same thing to me that they’re apparently doing to Sheldon.
  • Elimination Challenge: I bristled at this at first. A gimmick challenge during the finals? But it grew on me. Basically, the chefs are tasked with cooking a dish from traditional Mayan ingredients using nothing but an open flame, ancient Mayan cooking tools, and, because Mayans used “obsidian,” their knives. They also get paper towels, which of course made me think of this:
  • Anyway, I liked the challenge because it was a gimmick that highlighted the local culinary history as it forced the chefs to genuinely learn and engage with absolutely foreign cooking techniques. They also had to get creative; the challenge was taken so literal by the show that the chefs didn’t even have access to garlic, onions, or traditional acid sources, like limes. Shirley and Sheldon rolled with this punch; Brooke, however, was nearly undone by it, her stress about the situation seemingly hindering her ability to construct a dish. Instead, she more or less cobbled together a series of ingredients, all of which were cooked impressively, into a dish that lacked cohesion and personality. In the end, Sheldon’s cooking problems trumped her muddled vision, though there was clearly some heavy debate going on. It’s no secret that Padma has a soft spot for Sheldon, and it was a shock to see tears in her eyes when she sent him home. I swear I’ve never seen her do that before.
  • Shirley wins with a grouper dish that she elevated with a flavorful tomato sauce. Considering there was barely anything to critique, Tom goes the route of asking why she didn’t incorporate her heritage more, despite the fact that they were given an extremely limited arrangement of local, regionally specific ingredients that wouldn’t necessarily lend themselves to Shirley’s background. She still had a kickass answer, however, citing her homemade shrimp salt as a nod to her Asian heritage.
  • Did anyone watch Gail on Watch What Happens Live. I would’ve, but Andy Cohen makes me want to climb into a pressure cooker.
  • Who is this man?
  • Oh, right, he’s one of our “head judges.” I cackled when he praised Shirley’s dish: “It was you!” he cried, and I’m like, “Dude, how would you even know?” (PS: I’m just bitter because I actually dig Graham as a judge and, despite him supposedly being a “head judge” this season, we got more Blais than we did him.)
  • If Blais shows up next week:
  • I couldn’t stop hearing those birds after Brooke pointed out how loud they were during the Quickfire. Brooke:
  • I’m a huge Kristen Kish fan, but she is deathly stiff in front of the camera. Did anyone else catch that cocktail demonstration she did during the commercials? Is she getting a show or something? Because that? That would be a hard sell.
  • I loved that Sheldon randomly buying that weird hat in the grocery store was included in his parting montage. Whoever’s editing this show clearly finds that moment as funny as I do.
  • Why Sheldon Rules #376: He took the middle when he, Brooke, and Shirley were crammed in the back of what looked like a very small car.
  • Why Shirley Rules #864: She literally bites into a habanero when she needs to wake herself up. How many cups of coffee does that equal?
  • Since Last Chance Kitchen ended, there is but one image that occupies my dreams (or are they nightmares?). You guessed it: Poochie with a lime.
Illustration for article titled The chefs contend with spice and stress in iTop Chef/i ’s penultimate episode
  • Remember the rookies? lol
  • On that note, if they’re hoping to salvage that concept the rookies should have some kind of role on the finale, yeah?
  • Though I’ll miss Sheldon, I’m excited to see Brooke cook in a finale that isn’t the worst thing of all time.
  • Who you got? Brooke or Shirley? Y’all know where I stand.
  • Next time on Top Chef: Brooke’s insecurity is showing. She seems incredibly intimidated by Shirley (and she should be). What do you think the big surprise is re: the sous chefs they’re given? My bet’s on them getting their sous chefs from back home.

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