‘Top Chef’ Season 18 Recap, Episodes 5–7: Playing Ketchup
Oh hey, Top Chef fans. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve done a recap as we wrapped up the summer 2021 issue of Portland Monthly, but now that we’ve put that baby to bed, it’s time to talk quickfires, elimination challenges, and Padma’s magically reappearing bangs. (Spoiler alert: I definitely Googled “best clip-on bangs” after watching episode 7.)
So, what did we miss? In episode 5, moms all over the world got a shoutout in the quickfire challenge, when chefs were tasked with making a dish using Portland’s favorite flower: the rose. The very thought of this challenge makes me lose my appetite instantly—I hate rosewater in food—and thankfully, Avishar’s got my back on this one as a fellow rose hater. Ideas start to churn. Sara decides to make a salad, but seeing that there’s no buttermilk for her dressing, rushes to the fridge for more Tillamook dairy products, finds sour cream and yogurt … and of course, chooses her trademark yogurt. Shota opts for rose mochi, Dawn makes a peaches and cream fritter with rose, Nelson makes rose-flavored rice and beans, and both Gabriel and Gabe make rose-cured fish. But the winner is Chris, who made a Haitian cornmeal porridge infused with rose—redeeming his poor performance making Haitian food in the pan-African challenge.
For episode 5’s elimination challenge, we head to the drive-in movies, where chefs form two teams, each tasked with making a dish that corresponds to the genres of comedy, action, drama, horror, sci-fi, and romance that they’ll serve to their audience in parked cars. Gabriel makes cauliflower tots to represent action (if dipping counts as being active, I’m an Olympian) and Shota makes a bloody black corn dog to represent horror (his worst nightmare is that something bad happens to his dog, he says—getting real dark here). Maria pulls out all the stops by making Sonoran hot dogs from scratch, sausages, buns, and all. Avishar makes liquid nitrogen burnt s’mores ice cream sandwiches, fully immersing himself as he pretends to be an extraterrestrial for the entire challenge. In the romance category, Sara makes a strawberry milkshake with miso whip thirstily named “Your Place Or Mine?”, and Jamie makes a fried chicken wing for the comedy genre, citing rubber chickens as the funniest thing to ever grace the screen. Her chicken wings, the judges comment, were ultimately rubbery after she took her team’s advice to fry her wings less than usual—and she gets sent home.
In episode 6’s quickfire, contestants make a dish using Oregon mushrooms (Gabriel is super pumped) and have to prep everything on top of a tree stump, because Stumptown. Portland’s own Gabriel takes the win on this one with a dish of seared foie, white chanterelles (his dad’s favorite, he notes), oyster mushrooms, and figs. “I won 10 G’s!” he exclaims, throwing both hands into the air and grinning sheepishly with two thumbs up.
The elimination challenge: a partner challenge, making surf and turf using ingredients native to Oregon. They head to Cascade Locks to talk with leaders and members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and Warm Springs, who will also be tasting their dishes the next day. Aside from their proteins—including rabbit, elk, smelt, catfish, antelope, salmon, and steelhead trout —the chefs also have hand-harvested ingredients to work with, including elderberries and duck potatoes.
Sara and Shota pair up to form “Team Tiny,” combining rabbit and smelt, Dawn and Gabe prepare bison and catfish, and Gabriel and Nelson team up on trout and antelope. Dawn and Gabe’s bison and grilled catfish with pumpkin mole looks mouthwatering, but Sara and Shota ultimately take the win with their smelt-encrusted rabbit. As for Gabriel and Nelson? They can’t decide whether to over- or undercook their steelhead and end up plating a dry, overcooked piece of fish with crispy skin, plated uninspiringly with the antelope and an elderberry sauce. Gabriel, unfortunately for him, did not win immunity in the quickfire, and both he and Nelson pack their knives.
Last but not least, there’s episode 7. Padma greets the chefs with a “Good morning, good morning!” from behind her choppy bangs. The contestants get the dramatic news that one chef will be returning from the trials and tribulations of Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen. “Not to be rude, but I’m hoping it’s not Gabriel,” Maria says. Jamie re-enters the room. “I’m back, bitches!” she grins. Dawn and Sara literally jump up in the air and scream.
In keeping with the theme of second chances, chefs are asked to cook a dish that they messed up in the past using less-than-desirable, past-their-prime ingredients for this quickfire challenge: moldy cheese, overripe bananas, browned artichokes, mutton, heels of Dave’s Killer Bread. Avishar and Shota get a little bromantic in the kitchen. “You’re my favorite Shota in the whole wide world,” Avishar says. Shota claims victory (and immunity) with his dish: a fish head cooked with soy sauce and ginger. (Fun fact I learned from Shota: the collagen-heavy lips are one of the best parts of the fish head, since they absorb tons of flavor.)
For the elimination challenge, our chefs suit up in PPE to cook comforting meals for first responders. Unlike many other reality shows where contestants are constantly trying to sabotage one another, there’s some very sweet, Great British Bake Off-style camaraderie going on here, as the chefs help each other package dishes into plastic takeout containers and into insulated bags as the clock ticks. “It’s unreal, the brotherhood that we have formed,” Maria says. Some highlights: Jamie’s kimchi stew with braised pork, eggplant, and rice, Sara’s mung bean and lentil falafel with super-fluffy wood oven pita, and Dawn’s lemongrass-tamarind top sirloin. Some low points: Chris’s ultra-bland chicken breasts, Maria’s undercooked flour tortillas, and Avishar’s beef curry. Jamie takes the win, celebrating with finger guns and a hearty “pew pew pew!” and yet another “I’m back, bitches!” The judges praise Maria’s pork in chile verde but berate her raw flour tortillas; they beg Chris to put more personality, salt, and spice into his food. Sadly, Avishar gets sent home for his un-browned, unseasoned beef curry (at least he got the rice right this time). In true Avishar fashion, he makes an adorable exit by cartwheeling out of the room.
And we’re cartwheeling on out of here until Episode 8. Our predictions? More greatness from Sara, Shota, and Dawn, but we don’t think Chris is going to stick around much longer.