Top Chef Recap – Season 13, Episode 14 (preceded by the finale of Last Chance Kitchen)

Last Chance Kitchen
A Fishy Finale

Amar v Carl

As we open on the finale of LCK Amar looks confident. Carl looks like he’s going to throw up. Meanwhile I’m sad because I’m aware this is one of my last opportunities to see my beloved hipster bear Chad. Hi Chad!

Sigh.

Sigh.

The challenge is to scale and cook a whole fish – but to add extra stress Tom forces Amar and Carl to decide the cooking time in a reverse auction. They beat each down from twenty minutes to seventeen and finally end on twelve! It would take me twelve minutes to put on an apron…

During the cooking Tom notes that the atmosphere turned from light to super serious. Of course that has nothing to do with the fact that immediately prior Tom performed his obligatory “lurk and distract the chefs” routine.

Amar – Crispy Loup de Mer with Onion Soubise and Yuzu Caper Brown Butter
Carl – Grilled Red Snapper with Apricot and Ginger Marmalade

One thing I have to thank Top Chef for is teaching me culinary terms. Soubise is not a word I think I’ve heard before. Now I’ll have to find a way to use it in casual conversation which will be easy so long as the topic of the conversation is soubise.

Both dishes are good and both look delicious. After tasting each other’s dishes Carl jokes that Amar’s fish is a little bit salty but at least that means it wasn’t UNDERseasoned which we know is the Top Chef kiss of death. In the end Tom reveals what separated the two dishes came down to one thing: a few grains of salt. So was it too little, or too much salt that doomed Amar? Don’t worry, we won’t wait long to find out…

Magic Hour
Aired 11 March 2016

Jeremy, Marjorie and Isaac wander around their Las Vegas pad and are impressed that their initials are embroidered on a pillowcase on each bed. I would not be impressed. I’d actually be creeped out. It’s like they’ve all got stalkers. I fully expect them to all come across pictures of their families with everybody’s eyes cut out.

Qualification Challenge 1

We’re in the middle of a circular theatre, seating arcing up from the stage on every side. Waiting there is Tom, who really has been looking very handsome all season. Tonight he looks especially dapper in just an open-necked white shirt and dark grey suit. Padma too looks lovely, but she appears to have forgotten her dress.

Are Victoria’s Secret making gowns now?

Or is Victoria’s Secret making gowns now?

The winner of this, the first of two challenges this episode, will move on to next episode’s final. The other three will remain to fight for the other spot.

The winner of Last Chance Kitchen is revealed but as soon as we see the husky distant shadow we know it’s Amar. Eagle eyes would have also been able to work this out from last week’s teaser. So I guess his fish wasn’t too salty after all.

Keeping with the Vegas theme Padma deals out four aces – each represents an olde worlde social class that determines what ingredients each cheftestant has access to. We end up with the following:
Marjorie – Spades (Royalty)
Isaac – Hearts (Clergy)
Jeremy – Diamonds (Merchants)
Amar – Clubs (Peasants)

It turns out each cheftestant has access to their own ingredients and the ingredients of any cheftestant of a “lower class”, which means Marjorie has free range over all the ingredients while poor Amar is stuck with the peasant food.

They have only three hours to cook for 150 guests. Three hours? It would take me three hours to boil water. Fortunately there’s help – out walks Carl, Kwame, Karen and Man Bun. Marjorie is queen so she gets to pick first and she, of course, picks Karen. Amar picks Carl, Jeremy picks Kwame, leaving Amar with Man Bun – pretty much how you would guess the pairings would turn out.

Staying true to class Marjorie wanders through the selects the best from everybody else’s pantries. Amar, on the other hand, has the choice of beef tongue or chicken livers as his protein. The old class system is looking more and more like a particularly cruel food stamps program.

Amar – Chicken Livers and Onions with Root Vegetable Pureé, Crispy Leeks and Caramelized Honey Gastrique
Tom tells Amar that “the peasants are eating pretty well”. As Amar points out, having limited ingredients actually focussed him. Amar is looking relaxed and confident and clearly he’s cooking well.

Jeremy – Butter Poached Chicken, Zucchini Pureé, Chicken Crackling with Picked Sweet and Hot Grapes
Gail says that those grapes are a “eureka moment”. Of the four dishes this one looked the best to me. And it leaves me craving “hot grapes” whatever the hell they are.

Isaac – Seared Black Cod with Caramlized Fennel, Eggplant and Red Wine Vinegar
Isaac’s told he was wise to cut through the fatty fish with olives. What olives? Do you see olives mentioned in the dish description? While his flavors are good the bread he served alongside was too dry to be of any use in soaking up the delicious sauce.

Marjorie – Seared Salmon With Vadouvan Beurre Monté, Shaved Vegetable Salad and Meyer Lemon Pureé
Despite the dizzying array of ingredients Marj was able to focus and produced a solid dish. That gorgeously yellow pureé gets special mention from Gail who said it “added a beautiful sweetness”.

Judge’s Table 1

From the comments it appears to be between Jeremy and Amar – slightly ironic since they had the two fewest ingredients to choose from. But the winner, moving on to the finale (and winning $25,000!) is Jeremy. He was an early favourite but fell off his game. He picked a great time to return to form.

Qualification Challenge 2

There’s no time for Marjorie, Isaac and Amar to wallow in their loss as Padma introduces David Copperfield – the “magician of the century”. Yeah, last century… There’s something unsettling about Copperfield. Maybe he just tries to cast this mysterious air. Or maybe it’s his “hair”…

This is not a successful illusion.

This is not a successful illusion.

The challenge is to make a “magical” dish with final preparation in front of the judge’s table). It’s one of those fun challenges that pushes the cheftstants to get very creative. Nobody chooses to cook rabbit which I thought would have been cute.  And I would have made them reach into a top hat to grab it, except at the bottom would be knives.  But that’s just me.

Majorie – Roasted Duck À L’Orange With Braised Endive, Caralized Romesco and Fennel Pureé
Marj hands out a rather bland looking plate of food which had me totally fooled into thinking she’d completely lost it. But she takes the food back then proceeds to transform it into something that looks far more spectatular, including plating on a mirror. Marjorie never stops talking and engaging with the chefs as she finishes the dish. While the dish doesn’t pack the punch of orange it could, she gets top marks from Gail for managing to give the judges a real show.

TC14Marj

You’ll never have stray food on your face again with our new “mirror meals”.

Isaac – “Chicken Fried Steak” Dry-Aged Rib Eye With Crispy Hen Skin, Quadruple Fennel Pureé and Yuzu Hollandaise
Isaac, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically silent as he plates his dish but then gives them some sleight of hand involving an egg. It’s entertaining although the payoff falls a wee bit flat. His pureé is “grainy” but the flavours, however, pack punch.

TC14Isaac

But if this plate was a show I would fall asleep during it.

Amar – Squab, White Chocolate Truffle Ganache, Whipped Balsami, Mole Sauce and Potato “Onion” Ring
Like Isaac, Amar is dead quiet as he finishes plating. His illusion involves some smoke in a glass bell and the fact that things on his plate aren’t what they appear – what looks like whipped cream for a dessert is savory, the “onion ring” isn’t onion. Again, his patter is a little flat but the food does surprise in the way magic should and, most importantly, it tastes good.

TC14Amar

I kept expecting Amar to reveal that the squab was actually made of tuna or something.

Judge’s Table 2

Padma forces the cheftestants to give a “why I want to win” statement. I’m not a fan of these moments. There’s rarely something we’ve not heard before and often in these cases the cheftestants trot out sob stories to swing the jury. Amar is the one guilty of that this episode. Sorry that your inspirational dad died leaving you to take care of your family, Amar, but that’s not a reason you should win a cooking challenge on a reality show.

The judges critique Majorie’s lack of “wow factor” on her plate. On the other hand, she was the one who gave them the best show. Amar’s dish was the most surprising, which made up for his lack of showmanship. Isaac impressed because he revealed a different side of his ability while still retaining his Southern roots, although by this point it’s obvious he didn’t provide sufficient pizzazz.

It’s a hard decision but one dish stood out and it’s Amar who moves on. Well done Amar! You got eliminated but you clawed your way back. I’m devastated to see my fave Marj go home but it’s always nice to see people leave not for doing poorly, but for simply not doing as well as someone else.

So next week it’s Amar v Jeremy. “Bro!” they both shout as Amar returns to the luxury pad. Oh god, next week is going to be a sausage fest of machismo.

Best Line of the Week: Marjorie (as she pours out the liquid nitrogen in front of the judges) – “It definitely still scares me a little bit.” I don’t blame you, Marj. One slip and your hand becomes a popsicle.

Worst Line of the Week: David Copperfield’s wig.  It didn’t say a word but it spoke volumes.  Volumes of awful.

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