My favorite random thing to make fun of Portland for is how much everyone talks up Voodoo Donuts. Then I went there and there was a big line halfway down the block, just for donuts with Fruit Loops and shit on the top. Ever since then, “just put some Fruit Loops on it” has been my brain’s shorthand for describing Portland’s food and aesthetic culture.
Incredibly, this week’s Top Chef taught us that Fruit Loops isn’t just a state of mind, it’s also a place: The Fruit Loop, a region in Oregon where they grow delicious fruits. Inspired by this historic fruit region, the chefs’ challenge was to create a savory dish highlighting Oregon’s fruit. Not only did they have to do it themselves, past competitors and current judges Melissa King and Carrie Baird soon showed up to add a TWIST: there would be no veggies in the pantry.
That’s right: No onions, no garlic, no carrots (unclear whether tomatoes count) — ie, no mirepoix, no trinity, no sofrito! All fruit all the time! More fruit faster!
This actually led to some interesting dishes, and also some shitty ones. Which is to say, all in all, a pretty solid challenge. And the risotto curse is back!
Of course, this challenge followed closely on the heels of a quickfire challenge sponsored by CAMPBELL’S SOUP, in which the cheftestants had to “evoke a food memory, but elevate it” while also incorporating one of Campbell’s line of delicious soups. Top Chef’s editors would have us believe that these chefs were all THRILLED to be incorporating pre-made sodium bombs into their cheffed-up food memories.
“These soups can be a great kitchen hack,” said Jamie, while Byron smiled broadly.
Your smiles are a lie! Anyway, the winner got ten grand, the brand got a blow job, and the chefs put soup on some stuff. Everyone’s happy! Now then, to the rankings!
Quickfire Top: Gabe, Sara, Chris*. (*winner)
Quickfire Bottom: Nelson, Shota, Kiki.
Elimination Top: Gabriel, Chris, Gabe*.
Elimination Bottom: Nelson, Avishar, Kiki**. (**Eliminated).
12. (-1) ((Eliminated)) Kiki Louya
AKA: Aunt Sassy. Peppers.
Noooo, not Kiki! First, they sent home Roscoe, now Kiki. If Avishar goes home next episode my favorite personalities are all going to be gone before we even get down to the top 10 (at least we still have Shota, knock on wood). Still, after Kiki landed in the bottom for both challenges last episode and again in this episode, it was hard to argue this decision.
First, she gave the judges undercooked Swiss chard (which was a substitute for the kale she actually wanted) in the quickfire challenge, and then in the elimination challenge, she served up an apple-glazed fried chicken dish that sounded great and was… except for the chicken was raw inside. Sucks that you can do everything right and then one little boo boo ends up killing a famous supermodel in a freak salmonella accident. C’est la vie I suppose.
Between challenges, Kiki explained how this competition has been especially difficult for her on account of most of her dishes come out of rigorous planning and a lengthy R & D process — which made a lot of sense to me. Seems like it definitely takes skills to improvise some kooky dish in 30 minutes to satisfy some cockamamie challenge requirements, but also a lot of luck. Winners do their homework (said the guy who idiotically chose to do homework for a living).
Yet when Kiki explained to the camera “I took the chicken out of the fryer a little below temp so that it would keep rising for a few minutes and be perfect for the judges” there might as well have been a “THIS IS NOT GOING TO WORK” chyron flashing across the bottom of the screen.
Folks, it did not work. Honestly, raw chicken notwithstanding, Kiki’s dish still looked better — better planned, better composed, better in concept — than Avishar’s baby puke-looking ass risotto. But I can understand that raw chicken is a pretty big flaw to overcome. Not killing your guests is always job one.
11. (-5) Avishar Barua
AKA: Milhouse. Chillhouse. Thrillhouse. American Pie. The Carbonator. Portmanteau. Ohio Guy.
Has anyone ever tried to make portmanteaus happen harder than Avishar? STOP HIM BEFORE HE COMBINES WORDS AGAIN! After his medium-successful “chicken toast masala” in the quickfire challenge, a combination of chicken tikka masala and shrimp toast made with Campbell’s tomato soup, Avishar ran headlong into Top Chef‘s infamous risotto curse.
Of course, he had no one to blame but himself for this, for attempting to make “Ohiotto.” This was his Ohio take on risotto, which had nothing to do with Ohio other than that Avishar was making it and Avishar is from Ohio. And which combined apples, rice, and bacon. I dunno about that one, Milhouse. It’s always a bad sign when the editors include subtitles to explain your shitty puns. I mean, I wish I had pop-up annotations to explain my shitty jokes in life, but still.
I tend to think Avishar probably should’ve gone home this week on account of every single component of his dish was both poorly conceived and executed this week, whereas Kiki had a good dish with undercooked chicken in the middle. But since Avishar is one of the most likeable chefs left in this competition, I’m glad he’s still around.
Notable Critique: “This is both too al dente and mushy at the same time.”
10. (even) Nelson German
AKA: Papa Bear. Cardio.
Papa Bear was huffing and puffing this week, and seemed to choose which fruits to highlight in his elimination challenge dish based on how far he’d have to run to collect them. Gotta work on that cardio, hoss! Skipping cardio day is even worse than skipping leg day. He ended up with too-sweet fruit that he tried to fix by adding hella herbs. This did not work out well for him. Sometimes the mistakes just snowball like that. When Padma asked “is that rosemary I taste in these scallops?” you knew it wasn’t because she wanted the recipe. (Rosemary. In scallops. Nope).
Still, Nelson couldn’t blame cardio for hammering his cod (heh) in the quickfire, leaving him with two bottom-three finishes this episode. “I just need to cook my food,” the ghost of Nelson said to himself like Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Notable Critique: “I just get herbs on herbs on herbs.”
9. (-2) Jamie Tran
Aka: Splat. Police Academy.
Any time Jamie manages to get through an entire episode without accidentally poking herself with sharp things seems like a relative win. She also complained less than Nelson about having to run around collecting fruit, so it seems her cardio has improved from a few episodes ago. Anyway, Jamie slid through the soft middle in both challenges, but with all the bitchy disses about how her grilled pork and polenta was dated and boring it seemed like it was probably a low middle (it did sound good to me, so I dunno).
Jamie not making it to the judge’s table at the end robs us of so many flustered sound effects. I can’t decide whether this is a curse or a blessing.
Notable Critique: “This is a little bit dated, and a little bit boring.”
8. (+1) Byron Gomez
AKA: Manolo. Burger King. Great Job.
Byron felt like he was making strides in this episode and yet, once again, come deliberation time he vanished almost completely. He made something called “Every day is Thanksgiving” with mushroom soup in the quickfire, and followed it up with filled pasta in the elimination challenge. Both were reasonably well-received, but seemingly more for the fact that he’d made them than because they were particularly good.
Notable Critique: “He managed to make filled pasta in a forest, so kudos to him.”
7. (+2) Maria Mazon
AKA: Gas Can. Backdraft. B+.
This week, Maria revealed that her quickfire dish was something that she’d served to… MAH WAHFE on their first date.
That’s right, Maria is a Wife Guy now. That was a sweet montage, but alas, Maria’s wife was not among the judges and Maria once again failed to make the top or the bottom three in either challenge. Though they did say her albondigas (which, to be fair, looked al-bomb-digas) were “soulful and savory.”
Incidentally, much was made of Maria not having her usual chili peppers to work with in the elimination challenge because of the “fruits-only” rule. But hey, wait a second: aren’t chili peppers technically a fruit? They have seeds in them, like fruit, and they’re not part of the plant body, like vegetables. Ergo, chili peppers are fruit and Maria should’ve been allowed to use them.
You morons, you absolute fools…
6. (+6) Chris Viaud
AKA: Stretch. Butter. Kelso.
Everyone’s favorite himbo, Chris, claimed to be turning over a new leaf in this episode, not overthinking things and just going with his gut. Turned out he had some big brains in that gut and he won immunity in the quickfire for his grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup-inspired grilled cheese panzanella. See how clever you can be when you just admit what a dumbass you are?
That’s always been my policy. Waiter, I will have your most lowest-hanging fruit, please.
Chris’s seared scallop with peach butter led the judges to declare “I think he showed up on the plate.” Which I always find to be a strange way of describing things, but we get it. That made two top-three finishes for Stretch this week, after looking like he was about to go home in basically every previous episode. I don’t know if I’m quite a Chris believer yet, but his performance was enough to fly six spots up the rankings.
5. (-2) Dawn Burrell
AKA: Hothead. ‘Sheed. Legs. Breaking Dawn. Milk Carton. Coco Chanel.
On the surface, it was a fairly quiet episode for Dawn, who has now gone two full episodes without a forgotten component. Does this mean I’m going to have to change her nicknames? Of course not, precocious blunders live forever in nicknames, that’s half the point. Didn’t you ever see the Susie Underpants episode of Friends?
Anyway, on the surface it was a quiet episode for Dawn, landing in the middle on both challenges, but keeping in mind that she attempted basically the same apple risotto dish that Avishar did, and in her case the judges all loved it, I’d say things are still looking pretty good for Dawn. She defied the risotto curse!
Notable Critique: “This is so luscious.”
4. (-1) Gabriel Pascuzzi
AKA: Patriarchy. Evil Gabe. Chad. Bluto. Mr. Mackie. The Noodge. Yogi.
Evil Gabe feels like he’s been trying hard not to become this season’s villain after he fell into it so easily in the first couple of episodes. But he still has the badly-trimmed beard of every dumb white guy (see also: Derek Carr, Donald Trump Jr.) which screams “VILLAIN!” even when Evil Gabe is technically being nice.
Evil Gabe got stung by a bee this episode, which didn’t stop him from landing in the top three for his chilled oysters with apple, peaches, and plum. It looked good, but how the hell are you going to call three raw oysters an entree? I’ve eaten 18 of those as an appetizer before a steak. Nonetheless, Gabriel joins a storied tradition of Top Chef contestants landing in the top three of challenges with raw dishes. That we’ve only had this and Avishar and Shota’s sunomono from a few episodes ago actually seems below average for this point in the season.
Turns out, the best way to cook something is not to.
Notable Critique: “This is very enchanting to me.”
3. (-1) Sara Hauman
AKA: Tails. Yogurt. Trapper Keeper. Manic Pixie Cream Sauce. Fiddlesticks.
Sara remained an obnoxiously strong competitor again this week through the quickfire challenge, in which she smoked her mushrooms to give them a meatier flavor (dammit, that was actually a really good idea) and landed in the top three, conspicuously not swearing and laughing self-deprecatingly after everything she said.
Then in the elimination round, it seemed like the judges finally got fed up with Sara’s Portland bullshit. After last week’s “matcha-dusted cream puff,” this week she made grilled shrimp with quinoa and more yogurt sauce. Christ, what’s she going to make next week, kombucha granola?
Notable Quote: “Mine is so dull and so heavy.”
2. (-1) Shota Nakajima
Shota is so eminently likable that I could even tolerate him describing a dish as “me on a plate” in the first five minutes. That’s a chug-your-drink moment in the Top Chef drinking game. Also, for the love of God, stop saying that. It’s a dumb cliché and it’s gross.
Shota suffered a rare misstep in the quickfire challenge, a failed chawanmushi that didn’t set in time. Stop making custards! It never works!
“I like it pretty loose,” he told Padma, unconvincingly. “Oh, well then you’ll love Tom’s mom,” responded Padma, in my fantasy. Really whiffed on that opportunity. So far this season has had a disappointing lack of the usual Padma sex entendres in general. Where have you gone, Padma?? This was a whole episode full of plums and peaches with a too loose custard! Get that woman some champagne, stat.
Then in the elimination challenge, the judges called Shota’s fish dry. It was definitely a down episode for him, but not many chefs could get away with serving dry salmon and not land in the bottom three. This is almost entirely a gut call, but Shota is still a favorite in my mind (oh God, he’s going to go home next episode, isn’t he).
1. (+3) Gabe Erales
AKA: Good Gabe. Canelo. Fozzy. The Foz. Masa Father.
Good Gabe made a cabbage-braised cod in the quickfire and some slow-smoked plums in the elimination challenge and landed in the top three in the first and the top spot in the second. The man is on fire! Fruit in gravy, who knew?
Gabe’s mole-inspired slow-smoked plums covered in sauce (no protein!) was so good it had Amar Santana licking his plate. And again, not a single god damn sex joke about any of this. What do I have to do, guys? You’re going to have Amar Santana slurp Gabe’s plum juice off a plate and not a single person is going to make a crack? Disappointing.
Not Gabe’s food though. Gabe’s food looks bomb.
Notable Critique: “This is the best thing I ate so far.”
Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.