Top Chef Recap – Season 13, Episode 11 (and Last Chance Kitchen)

Hammer Time
Aired 18 February 2016

Hammer Time? This sounds promising. But if MC Hammer himself doesn’t appear I’m going to sue them for false advertising.

As we open the cheftestants reminisce about the recently departed Man Bun. “I understood him,” says Kwame. “I didn’t,” Karen replies. I’m so with Karen on that one.

Question: why is the ah-yeh-yeh-yeh from Round and Round by Tevin Campbell used in the opening credits? Not that I’m complaining. I’m team T.E.V.I.N. all the way.  But it has always felt very random to me.

Quickfire Challenge

We relocate to San Francisco, well Oakland to be specific. Marjorie is from north of San Francisco and her parents started a soup kitchen the year she was born. She thinks that inspired her to become chef. We’ve seen her looking out for others during this season – generally being sympathetic and protective – so this revelation isn’t a surprise. I am definitely waving a Marjorie flag this season – well, a Marjorie flag and a Karen flag. Sorry boys, I’m a gay man but this time it’s all about the ladies.

The title turns out to be literal because there standing before us is MC Hammer! In other news: I won’t have to sue Top Chef for promising something they didn’t deliver.

The challenge is to come up with a rap name and then create a dish that expresses that. Cue awful rap names and even worse attempts at rapping. I’ve graded each of their name choices:

Karen – Pink Dragon.
Grade: B. Dragon Pink might have actually worked better – Pink Dragon sounds like the name of a K-pop girl band, or a drug you take at raves.

Carl – Dr Funky Fresh.
Grade: D. This is the rap name for a trying-to-be-hip character on a 1990s children’s TV program. Carl’s alternative idea was Soigné Ploosh but he thinks that’s a stripper name. Coincidentally that’s actually what Posh and Becks called their daughter. Carl decides to rap the description of his dish. It’s less MC Hammer and more MC Drunk Uncle Trying To Rap At A Wedding.

Amar – Santana Lover.
Grade: B-. Your rap name shouldn’t be mistaken as you professing love for a famous guitarist. But I do give him points for showing us some dance moves even if they’re only slightly less embarrassing than Carl’s “rap”.

Marjorie- Miss Punch-A-Lot.
Grade: A+. Our Marjorie does love to punch others in the arm so this name is on point. But look, she could have chosen any name and I’d rank it high – I’m so in your crew, Marj.

Isaac – Toups Legit.
Grade: B. Isaac, you should legit quit that name which is a very obvious attempt at brown-nosing the guest judge.

Jeremy – Spicy J-Rock 305.
C. That sounds the name of a morning DJ on a Vermont radio station.

Kwame – Bay-Lish.
B. I expected better from a guy who tells us he did rap shows in New York and “dropped a couple of mixtapes”. But he means demo tape, right? A mixtape is a bunch of songs burned to a tape/disk to impress someone you have the hots for. Speaking of “hots” Padma puts Kwame on the spot to rap and although painfully shy he produces some freestyle rhyming which, although brief, is definitely legit. It earns him a kiss from Padma. Kwame will never wash that cheek again.

During the judging, just as they finish with Jeremy, it looks a lot like MC Hammer slaps Padma’s ass. Maybe he just clapped but he was behind her so it looks and sounds like he slapped her butt!

Please Hammer, don't hurt her!

Please Hammer, don’t hurt her!

Bottom: Amar, Marjorie, Kwame
Top: Carl, Isaac, Karen. Isaac is the winner and he does a little celebratory hammer dance. It’s about as clumsy as Amar’s but maybe they’re auditioning for So You Think You Can’t Dance. But again, props for busting loose!

Elimination Challenge

The guest judge is familiar face Chef Jonathan Waxman who looks like the type of person who’d be a hugger. The challenge is to choose a time past and create a dish inspired by that era. To better understand the culture they get two 2 hours at the San Francisco Library.

As they’re explaining the challenge there’s a random man lingering in the background. He pops out from behind a pole, checks out the action, then slinks off. So congratulations sir, you’re now famous – at least as far as this recap goes.

But sorry, this appearance doesn’t qualify you for a SAG card.

But sorry, this appearance doesn’t qualify you for a SAG card.

During their library time we learn that Karen minored in Women’s Studies at college. Because lesbian looking to hook up. We also learn that Jeremy had surf class as an elective. Where did he go to school – a beach party movie?

That night the cheftestants go for a break at the Tonga Room – a famous San Francisco restaurant. Mental Note: go to the Tonga Room next time I’m in SF. It looks nothing like the real Tonga, however. There aren’t nearly enough random dogs running around between graves in people’s backyards. There’s a set of drums in the restaurant and it turns out as well as surfing Jeremy is also adept at drumming so he jumps onto the drums shows off his skillz. My theory about his school being a beach party movie gains more credibility.

Beachparty

Jeremy’s alma mater?

But playtime is soon over and the next day they’re back into the competition.

Carl (Ancient Greece) – Marinated Mackerel and Calamari With Olives and Grapes.
While it eats slightly sweet, Carl’s dish – which looks divine – gets a thumbs up.

Marjorie (Indus Valley/Ancient India) – Lamb Kebab With Heart Jus, Curried Split Peas and Paratha.
Marjorie was a little overwhelmed at having to cook Indian for Padma and her nerves clearly got to her. Her paratha – an Indian flatbread – should have been soft but it’s fried hard and her kebabs don’t have the char the judges were looking for.

Isaac (Viking Age) – Cumin and Mustard-Seared Venison With Caramelized Onion Grautr and Pickled Beets.
At first I heard Isaac say “Human and Mustard-Seared” – that would have been taking the challenge a little too far. Isaac serves his food on charred slices of wood which seems quite random. Is that what Vikings ate off?

TC11Isaac

No wonder their culture died out.

Kwame (Beijing/Han Dynasty) – Coriander-Crusted Duck With Black Sesame Duck Jus, Eggplant and Lapsang Souchong Cream.

The phrase “duck jus” is exceptionally unappetizing. Kwame seriously undercooks his test duck during prep (Tom and Chef Waxman were going to taste it until they saw how pink it was) but his actual duck is cooked perfectly. Hopefully this means he’s broken his streak of underwhelming dishes – Kwame has looked lost for several episodes, maybe a good performance here will bolster his confidence.

Jeremy (San Francisco Gold Rush) – Sourdough Halibut With Shellfish Chowder.
It’s a very pretty plate of food but Jeremy’s chowder is too refined for the judges – it eats like a sauce – and the small square of crab he serves isn’t enough to satisfy Chef Waxman who saw whole crabs when touring the kitchen.

Karen (Empire of Japan) – Soba Noodels In Mushroom Dashi Broth With Wagyu and Pickled Mushrooms.
Karen’s research threw up that this was the point where Japan was getting influenced by China but the judges feel her dish is too Chinese-influenced. Gail notes that Karen cooks modern Chinese food for a living and wonders if that might have also played a part here.

Amar (Paris – Belle Epoque) – Beautiful plate. Roasted Squab, Seared Foie Gras, Sweetbreads, Tourné Vegetables and Truffle Sauce.
Amar has chosen/been given a very pretty plate to serve on and the food her serves it is equally beautiful. It eats well too, according to the judges, who are impressed he was able to get such a rich tasting sauce in just three hours.

TV11Amar

I’d eat this then steal the plate.

Judge’s Table

Top
Kwame, Amar, Carl
From the earlier comments it is clearly between Kwame and Amar. The judges loved the sparseness of Kwame’s duck dish and think Amar employed his French training to good degree.

TC11Kwame

It’s brave editing a dish down like Kwame did – and sometimes bravery pays off.

The winner is Amar giving him his first win! It’s great to see the wins getting shared around the cast and if Amar’s food was half as good as it looked then I’m not surprised he won.

Bottom
Karen, Marjorie, Jeremy
It’s hard to tell from the comments who might go home but with both my favourites in the group I’m bracing myself for being disappointed. Right until they announce it I’m expecting Marjorie’s name to be called but in fact it’s Karen who has to pack up her knives. In hindsight she gave them Chinese rather than Japanese cuisine and missing the point of the challenge is often a fatal error in this show. Karen is so classy as she says her heartfelt goodbyes and I’m misty seeing her depart – she’s been so much fun to watch this season.

Best Line of the Week: Tom – “It’s a competition but this is one of those days we wish it weren’t.” I get the feeling the judges genuinely like everybody left. I certainly do.

Worst Line of the Week: Carl – “I got to rap for MC Hammer.” Sorry Carl, what you did cannot in any way be considered “rap”.

Last Chance Kitchen

Jason vs Karen

After Karen’s failure to produce authentic Japanese each chef has to cook teppanyaki – 10 minutes to prepare mis en place, 10 minutes to cook at the griddle (and provide a show like teppanyaki chefs do). Fun fact: the griddle is called a “teppan” which, until right now, I did not know.

Karen cooks Asian food for a living so this is her wheelhouse. But her original dish – an omelette looking thing – falls apart so she turns it into lobster fried rice.

Jason puts on a slightly better show, as one would expect from a guy who has the drag name Sissy Chablis. “She’s a little bit fancy, a little bit trashy” says Jason of his alter ego although that describes like 100% of drag queens. Jason gets the crowd jumping, even Chad who does a little dance. Shake it Chad, you hot hipster bear, you!

Sigh.

Sigh.

From Tom’s comments as he eats it’s very obvious Jason is the winner and he is. Karen knows it, she even nods Jason’s way before Tom calls it. Karen takes losing here hard, harder than her original ouster. I hate seeing her cry – if I could give you a hug Pink Dragon I would!

Jason now has 4 wins. He’s still got an uphill battle to get into the show but there’s some steely determination in his eyes – he might just end up going all the way.

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