This week on Top Chef, the contestants all traveled to the Getty Museum so that they could become inspired by famous styles of art — Rococo, Baroque, Renaissance, Neoclassical — when they made their dishes. It proved to be a tough challenge for the contestants, as “crudo” is not generally considered a style of art yet?. That being said, experiencing beautiful art through the lens of a vanity project museum designed as a tax shelter by a ruthless oil magnate does feel very true to the spirit of Los Angeles. If only it had also included having to steal resources from other parts of the state.
The challenge was judged by a table of snooty hipsters and Ludo Lefebvre, punk rock Frenchman/human Pepe Le Pew. The producers also chose to include at least one judge wearing a baffling statement hat, which is, again, very true to the spirit of LA.
I like how he cut out his own ear holes on the sides, like a bunny rabbit wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. Half of living in LA is trying not to comment on someone's inexplicable, weather-inappropriate hat choice.
Before all that though, Randall Park and Ali Wong showed up to introduce a fried rice challenge — a guest spot that probably made a lot more sense when this season was originally supposed to air back in the Fall, and Park and Wong's food movie, Always Be My Maybe, was much fresher in our minds. But taking credit for things that were actually produced in the Bay Area like Ali Wong is, again, very LA.
Jamie whiffed on his giant spam cubes in the quickfire too bad, the crispy shallots were a good idea, which probably would've worked great at half the size at which he cut them. You really want to maximize the surface area of Spam, not the taste. After the elimination challenge, he ended up going home, yet again, on account of some dusty, dry-ass chicken breast. Just an absolute spackling paste of chicken mush, mealing around the judges' mouths like a tumbleweed.
Jamie briefly made us believe that he'd learned something from his initial run on Top Chef, using his sous vide to cook the chicken breast this time around instead of a sticky grill, but somehow he managed to screw up even sous vide chicken.
Not to Friday morning quarterback here, but I think I see the problem: choosing to cook fucking chicken breast. Contestants, be honest with yourself: do you really think you're going to win a cooking competition cooking chicken breast? The best goddamn chicken breast I've ever eaten would still lose in a walk to, hell, a BLT. Or any other part of the chicken. And that's before Jamie managed to serve his without the jus, which to a Frenchman is like serving a baguette without a striped turtleneck.
12. -1 Lee Anne Wong
AKA: Frazzle. Aka Loud Mom. Aka Queasy. Aka Lee Anne Tigertelli.
A fried rice competition sounded like a gimme for Lee Anne, a Chinese-Hawaiian mom. But the fact that she didn't end up in the top three AND ended up in the bottom of the elimination challenge again feels like more than enough to put her in the bottom of this week's rankings. Honestly, I'm not sure how she's even still here.
This week, she chose to make a duck egg with duck, as a riff on the Madonna and child. Which sounded like a good enough idea, if only she hadn't paired it with *deep breath* two separate beet purees, a black garlic sauce, poached apples, and a bread and celery root puree. Madonn', work smarter not harder! How many times have you said to yourself “Gee, this is good, but I think it'd be better with five more sauces?”
11. +1 Lisa Fernandes
AKA: Sy. Aka Grimes.
In this week's elimination challenge, Grimes cooked “chipotle-braised brisket with tons of dried fruit, habanero red onion, tomato salsita with lots of chilis, and crispy carrots on top for crunch,” which I guess does get points for baroque-ness. She really baroque the mold with that one! And thank God, no one should ever use that mold. Lisa or Lee Anne feel like stone cold locks to go home next.
10. +3 Stephanie Cmar
AKA: C-Monster. Aka Underdog.
As always, you can count on the C-Monster for great ideas — Nashville fried frog legs spiced with red hots was a stroke of genius. In the elimination, she made tortellini with mortadella, something I literally made myself just last week it was good, yo. Even the nude bellies in Rococo art reminding her of tortellini made more sense as an inspiration than just about anyone else's dish. “Mortadella tortelloni with umami nage” also sounds like a sweet scat line. It's got a very “RC Cola and-a, moon pie!” rhythm to it. “Mortadella tortelloni with-a, umami nage!” More dish names should be syncopated if you ask me.
But once again, the C-Monster couldn't execute. She got dinged for undercooked pasta and just like that, a clever concept went pissing down her leg. That's what you call an al-don'te. Between her chewy pasta and shithouse flatbread, maybe the key for Stephanie is to stop attempting high-risk starches. Remember the shrimp and corn, C-Monster. Repeat it to yourself as a mantra, like Tommy Boy and the chicken wings.
9. -1 Jen Carroll
AKA: Calamity Jenn
Calamity Jenn continues to be this season's most invisible contestant, which is disappointing as I find her to be one of the most compelling characters. Very on-brand that Calamity Jenn was hanging with the boys while the girls were having a heart to heart in the other room. Other than that, her screen time was mostly mispronunciation based.
Jenn's quickfire dish went uncommented upon and she failed to impress guest judge Ludo with her fish, who said E et eez just feesh een a sows! Trés boreeng! Wow, I can't believe someone said that about a Jenn Carroll dish. And a Jenn Carroll fish dish at that! Jenn Carroll is the fucking Kobe Bryant of fish dishes, how dare you. Don't you know she used to work for Eric Ripert??
I like to imagine that Ludo and Eric Ripert have some kind of extremely French blood feud, like one time Eric Ripert kicked Ludo's snail in the dirt and Ludo just took it out on Calamity Jenn.
8. -3 Karen Akunowicz
AKA: Good Witch. Aka Glenda. Aka Aunt Kitty. Aka Rosie The Triveter
I just don't know what the hell to do with Karen. She's up, she's down, she seems like a favorite and then she fails to execute on a chicken thigh a staple food, in my house. Karen was top three in the quickfire and then made a braised chicken thigh with braised chicory, which definitely sounded delicious but apparently wasn't. I'm forced to drop her down in the rankings, even if “being able to translate paintings into food” isn't necessarily high on my list of crucial chef skills. It should be illegal for someone with that good of a cat eye to fail at an art challenge.
Shenanigans started this episode with a vadouvan-spiced forbidden rice in the quickfire and finished it with a vadouvan halo'd halibut in the elimination. Hey, man, save some vadouvan for the rest of us, will ya?
I don't know if Shenanigans truly understands renaissance art — his fashion sense is certainly more baroque — but of all the dishes, his was the one that most looked like “art.” It was enough to earn him a surprise top-four finish. It's hard to know how much stock to put in that though, whether it's a harbinger of things to come or just an example of even an extremely spazzy clock being right twice a day. Tom said Shenanigans has a shot in this competition as long he continues to edit himself. And, well, I'm not quite ready to give the benefit of that to the guy who doesn't even edit the thoughts he says out loud.
6. even Nini Nguyen
AKA: Broad City. Aka Quipz. Aka Bolo.
Nini immediately connected with Ali Wong, on account of both being sassy Vietnamese-American women in sumptuously patterned tops and fashionable eyeglass frames do I hear buddy comedy?. Unfortunately, she chose to make fried rice with watermelon, which didn't work out so well. On account of, ya know, water generally not mixing very well with crispy things.
In the elimination challenged Nini managed to work being from New Orleans into her “rebirth” themed gumbo for Renaissance, topping it with a veil-like rice tuile. Which... I dunno, seemed like a pretty good idea to me? But not so according to the nose ring judge, who called it “not very beautiful.”
How DARE you. I will fight anyone who is mean to my beloved Nini. Nini always puts me in a good mood. I think she got a raw deal this week.
Thesis went weird and was rewarded in the quickfire, landing in the top three with his peanut butter and jelly inspired fried rice. That sounded weird as hell, but if anyone's going to surprise me with peanut butter it's probably the African chef. Wait no, if anyone's going to surprise me with peanut butter, it's going to be your mom.
It was a much-needed high finish for Eric after two sub-par episodes, and he kept it going with a top-four finish in the elimination challenge. He made a poached fish over buttermilk xantham gum yeah I dunno either, man that somehow qualified as “austere,” in the neoclassical style. Gail Simmons even said Eric's dish made her “feel something,” which made me feel something.
It was a solid result. But I also think Eric had a natural advantage this week on account of he's been to grad school, the ultimate training ground of bullshitting about art, and justifying your own bullshit through art. Game recognize game.
>4. -1 Kevin Gillespie:
AKA: Hops. Aka Oops All Kevins. Aka Bachelor Fried Rice.
Bachelor Fried Rice over here won the dang quickfire despite allegedly not cooking much Asian food, a second win in a row for Kevin. He was clearly on a hot streak, and then he lived all of our dreams by using his immunity from the quickfire to totally mail it in in the elimination challenge. His lamb loin looked half-assed as hell, and honestly? You gotta respect it.
Use your vacation time, people. Kevin is an inspiration.
3. -1 Gregory Bourdet
AKA: Kravitz. Aka Hepcat. Aka Lids.
Lids, being the coolest cat around, mostly succeeds by keeping it chill, cooking food that makes sense and not doing anything stupid. He doesn't cook dumb shit that's never going to win, like Jamie, or get so wrapped up in a challenge that he forgets the food, like Lee Anne, or attempt high-risk, easily fuck up-able starches like Stephanie. This week he made a miso-spiced beef short rib. Which sounds like... something you'd eat, right? Yep.
Gregory doesn't overcomplicate things, he just hangs around, laying down that silky bass groove. I would kill to have half this guy's chill.
2. +1 Melissa King
Speaking of obnoxiously well put together people who exude preternatural chill, there's Melissa, the female Gregory. Melissa seemed like a top seed from the beginning and still does, getting the win in this challenge. Melissa made a “Michelin star deesh, I would put eet een my restaurant,” according to Judge Ludo, a lobster wonton in charred allium sauce. That sounds delicious, and I don't even know what allium is. I believe the British call it al-you-mini-yum?. [ It's fancy chef wording for garlic. -ed]
In my mind, Melisa, Gregory, and Bryan are basically in a dead heat right now.
1. even Bryan Voltaggio
AKA: Flatbill Dad. Aka Bry Voltage. Aka Kyle Shanahan. Aka Linkin Clark Griswold.
Bryan Voltaggio, everyone's dad, was clearly inspired by all the art this week, saying things like “Gosh!” “Wow!” and “Jeez that's a heck of a painting.”
He went on to cook a halibut with smoked sweet potato puree so good that he landed in the top four despite it not being baroque at all. I'm actually pretty pissed that there was no cutaway of Bryan saying “well you know what they say, if it ain't baroque don't fix it, ha ha ha.” Bry-Voltage continues to remind me of Peyton Manning here — exuding a kind of natural authority and seeming almost too dorky to screw up. Bryan Voltaggio's natural, thoroughly unremarkable competence is what I want in a president.