If there’s one thing that Top Chef: Seattle can teach us about Thanksgiving dinner, it’s this: Just use a whole lot of butter. Seasonally themed Top Chef episodes can often go awry, but tonight’s was nice and straightforward. After an individual challenge that flexed the chefs’ palettes, the elimination had the contestants elevating classics to the standards of Lakshmi and company. It made for entertaining and surprisingly instructive television. I mean, did you know that Kazakhstan had a dumpling equivalent before tonight?
Each of our intrepid cheftestants has to choose a country and its regional savory pastry to represent. Some of these are familiar—the pierogi, the momo—and some were completely new dishes to the chefs representing them. It’s only been one real episode, so it’s unclear who is a serious contender and who is a fluke. Tonight didn’t clarify much on that front. Brooke ended up in the bottom three for failing to scrape together a wrapping for her dumpling, which Dana Cowin amusingly called a “loosie.” Kuniko, who’s been looking like a strong competitor, misjudges her time completely and ends up with an empty plate. And Clara turns out a muddled, unappetizing looking dish. Josie, meanwhile, ends up at the top of the heap after an inauspicious start.
The elimination challenge deviates from standard Top Chef fare in one major way: It pits two judges against each other. Padma announces that the pool of chefs will be split in two, and both will prepare a meal for the staff of FareStart, an incredibly-worthy sounding cause that gives cooking instruction to the homeless. It’ll be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey, fixings, and desserts. The twist: Each team will get a little help from a judge. Tom helms the red team, instructing them on the subtleties of Italian-influenced American cuisine. Emeril heads over to Team Gray, which adds his Southern twang to their food. Their methods of instruction are to keep the bird moist and buttery, and not burn anything, which is as much as any home cook hopes for.
Despite the guidance, there are several real boneheaded errors all-around. Alas for Emeril, when the judges sit down to taste the triple-spiced Cajun turkey that Josie made, it’s undercooked on the inside and blackened on the outside. Sheldon’s ham hock and kale is lackluster, failing to meet the Southern standard of basically green delicious mush. Brooke’s insanely delicious-looking sweet potato biscuits redeem her, but another Quickfire-shamed member gets left in the dust. Poor Kumiko. She takes her time to make potato pave, but somehow leaves it raw. On the Red Team, Lizzie has the same strategy—her whole time is devoted to making perfect mashed potatoes—but she manages to concentrate on the dish enough to make it perfect.
Other Red Team highlights include Clara’s velvety carrot soup and the foie gras stuffing which, as the perennially jolly Thierry Rautereau points out, probably did not actually come from Tom’s family. But what really put the nail in the Gray Team’s coffin was Tyler’s bitter gumbo. As Thierry said, if you get that dish wrong in the South, they throw you out of the state. Clara wins for her soup, a major blow against the Stefan faction. But for her immunity, Josie would be gone. Instead, it’s Kumiko who must pack her knives. Alas for us all. But at least we know how to make it better: Three pounds of butter.