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Top Chef Recap: Wok This Way

We’re back with another Top Chef recap. We’re really getting down to the wire, which I’m reminded of when Marjorie says she doesn’t want the finale to be a sausage fest. Neither do I. You go girl. This week we have Martin Yan as the Quickfire Challenge. The challenge is to create a dish spawned from chop suey, an Americanized Chinese dish. Each judge is given 30 minutes, a wok table, and the knowledge that there is no immunity to be won today, only an advantage in the elimination challenge. Karen, watching somewhere from he sidelines, is seething. This Quickfire was literally made for her.

Jeremy is using the word “umami” when he talks about his dish so we know it will be trendy. Amar has never worked with a wok, but I”m confident he’ll pull through. Marjorie is really mutilating her lobsters while they’re still alive and between that and watching Carl cook them in a pan with their shells on, knowing he must have done the same, I’ve rethought my entire stance on shellfish and I will no longer be eating it. Kwame‘s advantage, according to Kwame is that most of the guest judges are before his time, and therefore he’s less nervous cooking for them.

Jeremy’s dungeness crab stir fry is a success, and after seeing the outcome of Marjorie’s lobster dish, I’ve re-rethought my stance on shellfish. I’m back to “it’s delicious.” Carl absolutely cannot contain himself and dishes to Martin Yan for a full 90 seconds about how much he loves him. Martin responds by telling him his scallops are overcooked. Though he was smart to use oil blanching, Kwame’s dish was not well done. Isaac‘s General Tso’s style chicken was too starchy. Landing in the bottom were Carl, Kwame and Isaac, making the top dishes Jeremy’s Marjorie’s and Amar’s. Marjorie won the Quickfire challenge and the advantage.

This week’s elimination challenge was to come up with a fast casual concept that could work in any city in America. The guest judge for the elimination challenge is Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger, which sells an impressive 1million burgers per week in its 25 stores. The concept has to be broad enough for mass appeal, but also personality-driven. The chefs will have to create an entire pitch, concept, and menu, and serve one dish to 150 diners and potential investors.

Sound like a lot? Don’t worry, Padma has them covered. She’s bringing reinforcements in the form of the six most recently eliminated contestants. Marjorie’s advantage is that she gets to pick her partner first, and she gets to pair all of the other contestants. Each of the contestants says they’re fine working with anyone…except Phillip. Marjorie immediately picks Angelina as her partner. Of course she does. I can’t understand how Marjorie hasn’t gotten off the “Angelina is actually a really good cook train,” but she really lost an opportunity to screw someone else over with that one. She puts Jeremy and Jason together for the reason of Jeremy is a bro and Jason doesn’t like bros, Carl and Chad which is just a pretty good match, Amar and Karen, which, again, isn’t strategic to screw anyone over, Isaac and Wesley, and Kwame and Phillip because they clashed during Restaurant Wars. This is the last time I’ll mention Phillip, not because I hate him, but because he was generally not offensive this episode. At all. He pretty much just did what Kwame asked him to do.

Jeremy decides to name his restaurant Taco Dude, probably one of his worse life choices. Kwame is making chicken and waffles and decides he’s buying frozen waffles to do it. There are six contestants left. Does he want to go home? More on that later. Marjorie is going to make a pasta dish with seared tuna which sounds great, but I’m not down with it as a fast-casual restaurant concept. Carl is going to go with a Mediterranean theme, Isaac is making gumbo and Marjorie is all “of course.” Why wouldn’t he make gumbo? He’s really really good ad gumbo. Carl is doing Pio Pio, a rotisserie chicken restaurant. Pio Pio is already a delicious rotisserie chicken restaurant in New York, but no matter.

Marjorie is the MacGyver of Top Chef. She is constantly running into problems that would easily end most other contestants, and pulling herself out of them with inventive solutions that work out. After making a ton of fresh pasta, she realizes she has no way to actually cook it. Her solution? Water in a deep fryer. Awesome.

The setup of their fast casual concepts is like a gigantic food hall. Carl is up first with Savory Med, which uses the already successful “burrito model” of fast-casual. You choose a protein and accoutrements, and choose how it’s served to you. Tom mentions that the model could be confusing to people but Carl points out that it’s pretty idiot proof because every combination works. Isaac’s Gumbo For Y’all is very focused, and everyone thinks it’s tasty. The concept also includes takeout for families. Richard Blais points out that it’s like bringing home a “bucket of fried chicken,” and this, for some reason, is a compliment. Kwame’s Waffle Me is up next, and Padma smugly asks, “what did you use to make your waffles?” Come on, Padma. You already knew the answer. Richard Blais eats it and says it’s one of the more enjoyable chicken and waffle dishes he’s ever had, but he’s disappointed in the portion size. Padma says she doesn’t like it, which she’s clearly just saying because it’s frozen.

Pasta Mama by Marjorie is excellent. Tom loves that she used the deep fryer, and the tuna is well. It’s a difficult fast-casual concept to execute with all fresh pasta and fresh sauces, but Richard Blais can really picture Marjorie as the “Pasta Mama.” Taco Dudes sucks in every way possible. Jeremy describes it as a “gastropub with a rooftop garden and hot chicks,” which to me sounds pretty great, but Richard and Tom assure us that this cannot possibly exist. They hate it. Adam Fleischman really doesn’t like his taco. Padma thinks it tastes good but that it’s hard to eat, which is probably a function of both the lettuce wrap and the fact that she clearly has a significant buzz on. When they get to Pio Pio by Amar, Padma is all “GIVE ME CHICKEN.” The judges don’t like that it’s not an entire chicken but I think it looks pretty great.

The Judges’ Table

Top: Marjorie & Carl

Bottom: Kwame & Jeremy

Eliminated: Kwame

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