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Top Chef gets nostalgic in an episode that secures an impressive top six

(Screenshot: Top Chef/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.

  • Guys. We did it. Emily sleeps with the fishes. The dead weight’s gone. Literally everyone who is left is deserving of the title of Top Chef, thereby situating us in the best possible stretch of the show, the kind of stretch that some seasons never even achieve—think of Seattle, when Josh “Yukon Cornelius” Valentine made it to the top four by coasting along the middle, thus discrediting an otherwise stellar lineup. Flawed as this season’s conception has proven to be, we’re now left with five legit Top Chef all-stars and a rookie in Sylva that would’ve scaled to the top of any previous season. It was clear from the moment Emily announced she’d be doing an icebox cake (which, while surely delicious, wasn’t going to measure up to her competitors) that she’d be going home, especially when it was Shirley and Casey with her on the bottom, the former chided for her butchering while the latter was dinged for missing just a single flake of sea salt. I’m optimistic for the home stretch.
  • Quickfire Challenge: The Blindfold Taste Test is always a lame-duck challenge, what with its lack of visual stimuli, but Brooke’s overachieving nature provided some genuine laughs. Despite decimating the competition by getting 16 of the ingredients right, she comically flagellated herself for not guessing balsamic vinegar correctly and judged the duck she was tasked with tasting for its lack of seasoning. Emily got five right, because Emily. Kudos also to Padma’s on-point facial expressions, which gave us gems like this:
Proud Padma (Screenshot: Top Chef/Bravo)
  • Elimination Challenge: The chefs are tasked with making dishes inspired by the happiest memories of your childhood. I love challenges like these; no gimmicks, no sponsored ingredients, just a combination of creativity and personal history. Again, this is the sort of challenge I wish they’d do earlier in the season to help extract personality, but I digress. Nearly everyone has a warm memory to share, but, surprise surprise, it’s the chefs with the best stories that end up on top. Though Sylva (deservedly) wins for his Haitian beef lollipops (which he saved from the brink of disaster), it’s the way Sheldon elevates a simple bowl of rice and hot tea that truly defies expectation. Emily, on the other hand, just barely deviates from her grandfather’s icebox cake recipe (and even screws that up). She didn’t stand a chance.
  • What would y’all cook if you were doing the challenge? What dishes do you associate with childhood? I grew up in a family of non-chefs, so I’d probably do some kind of riff on Hamburger Helper. That, and I remember my dad always accompanying meals with lightly salted tomato slices. I know it’s nothing fancy, but it warms my heart.
  • Every week, Sylva presents more and more reasons why he needs to win. Last episode, we heard about his first restaurant tragically getting burned down, and here we find out that all he wants is to prove to his father that being a chef is a worthy endeavor. This was also Paul Qui’s journey as well, if I recall correctly. It’s a powerful narrative; for as much acclaim as they’re given in modern culture, decent wages are still a rarity for most chefs.
  • Guest judge Michael Voltaggio has more tattoos and just a little more personality than Las Vegas Mike Voltaggio, but he’s still a better judge than Richard Blais, who was apparently at Sundance this week.
  • Emily clearly has a crush on Mikey V. She must like bad boyz.
Bad boy Mike (Screenshot: Top Chef/Bravo)
  • Serious Question: Is Mike Voltaggio the baddest boy to ever win Top Chef? Or was that Hosea Rosenberg?
  • “Be sure to charge your BMW X5 Plug-In Hybrid,” Padma says in a bit of product placement that rolls so mellifluously off the tongue. Am I crazy or was this episode heavy on the product placement? There were Mikey V.’s “spontaneous” shots of Patron, as well as some lingering shots of that sweet, sweet Terlato wine. Also, I’ll never stop laughing at poor Tom Colicchio’s Last Chance Kitchen shilling of Hidden Valley Ranch, a product I imagine he splashes on every last Craft entree before sending it out to diners.
  • “Quickfires aren’t my strong suit,” says Emily, prompting the entire Top Chef audience to ask WHAT IS. Later, she notes she’s “been somewhere in the middle thus far” throughout the competition. My reaction:
  • “Of course Padma is digging at my Pirate Party Scallops. She loves to do that,” says Casey, causing me to imagine a world where Padma repeatedly utters the phrase “Pirate Party Scallops.” Enter Fabio: “This is Top Chef, not Top Pirate Party Scallop.”
  • Did anyone else catch that shot of Sheldon at the grocery store buying a floppy hat? “I’m gonna buy the hat!” he yells. I’m sad we didn’t see him in the hat.
  • Shirley’s childhood apparently consisted of her “jumping off tall buildings” and “buildings fires outside her house.”
  • “The foam made sense!” Graham says of the garlic foam atop John’s gorgeous-looking king crab. Somewhere, Marcel seethes…
  • Last Chance Kitchen: Emily faces off against Jamie, the twist being that they’re only given 45 seconds to gather ingredients and they can only use what they can carry in one armful. Jamie screws up by forgetting oil, salt, and pepper. Emily is a good sport and tries to offer him some but Taskmaster Tom puts a stop to that. In the end, Jamie gets creative, using watermelon rind and a bitter arugula puree to add some seasoning to his watermelon salad. It beats Emily’s tomato salad, banishing her to the sidelines to crack wise with Sam “Poochie” Talbot.
  • Speaking of, Sam made me clutch my goddamned pearls by making a goddamned NAMBLA joke. Last Chance Kitchen is like Top Chef: After Dark.
  • Katsuji’s prom limo must be waiting outside.
  • Next week on Top Chef: Casey tells John he doesn’t need “10 limes.” Drama?

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