Philly native Eddie Konrad underwhelmed in a Muhammed Ali-themed challenge on “Top Chef” this week, but he has a chance to return by going against “LCK’s” current champ who hails from San Francisco, Michelle Minori. As host and judge Tom Colicchio tells us, “Will Michelle rise to victory and rejoin the ranks? Or will Eddie dig deep and prove he wants it more.”
Eddie walks in with confidence, his knife bag a-swinging. Tom asks Michelle if she thinks she can beat him. “I want to. Eddie is tough.” She then admits she was not expecting to see Eddie on the after-show. “He’s one of the strongest chefs here, I think.” Not to put any pressure on the pair, but Tom reminds them that since “Last Chance Kitchen” will be shutting down for Season 16 of “Top Chef,”whoever wins goes back into the competition and joins five other players.
Tom observes that Eddie has struggled with challenges where chefs had to find some inspiration and get it on a plate. That was clear during the song challenge that led him to put puffed rice cereal on his food. For the Ali challenge, his dish was pleasing but it didn’t reflect the theme. But as Tom says, “In boxing, when you get knocked down, you have to get right back up.” Yes, this guy has a million pugilistic clichés in his pocket.
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Let’s focus on the food. Tom tells the “LCK” finalists that their dish must represent one of the most difficult knockout moments in their life. “Think about that time when you thought you were down, think about that time you thought you wouldn’t cook anymore. And tell me how you overcame it. Take that inspiration and put it on the plate.”At least the two chefs get a whole five minutes to think about what to make, what their story is and the ingredients they will use. And they get a generous 45 minutes to make their dish.
“It’s time to enter the ring,” Tom announces. And off they go. Eddie’s greatest knockout? Losing his mom, who never got to see him become a chef. He decides to make a dish that, if she was still around, he would make for her. He goes for halibut, cauliflower and flavors that would complement those choices.
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Michelle’s story is about a time when she was struggling with depression and self-doubt. “I was ready to quit being a chef.” But she met Magnus Nilsson, a highly regarded Swedish chef, and heard him talk – and he basically saved her life and her career, she says.
Eddie sweetly tells the eight-member peanut gallery of eliminated chefs as he runs by that he misses them. Michelle reveals she is making a scallop dumpling “because Eddie took all the halibut.” She is basing her dish on the recipes she saw Nilsson’s “Nordic Cookbook.” She will do her dumpling Nordic style and cooked it in a brodo.
She begins cooking her beets. She will pair them with other vegetables and they will “act like a little bed for the dumplings.” Smart. Eddie is nervous about doing an emotional dish, since the “Top Chef” song challenge put him on the bottom.“Hey Eddie,” yells David Viana, “What kind of feelings are you putting in your food?” Eddie says, “All of them.” He is using cauliflower as a textural element. Does that count as a feeling? He is adding macademia nuts, too, as well as verjuice, chili and onions to make a rich cauliflower relish.
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Michelle is lightly poaching her dumplings. They will be served with beets, fennel and carrots with a preserved lemon sauce. That actually sounds quite yummy, although Tom thinks it might be too complex.
Tom asks Eddie about his inspiration, and he chokes up when he says it was when his mother died when he was 22. Cooking helped him handle his grief. Brandon Rosen pipes up from the peanut gallery that, “I don’t think I would’ve been great at food to emotional things.” His frenemy, Brian Young retorts, “Is it because you are a sociopath?” Get these two a cooking show.
Five minutes are left. Suggestion from the Greek chorus? “Make it sexy!”
It’s all over but for the tasting. Tom saunters over to Michelle’s dish, with her dumpling in a beet and fennel broth. She tells him she was working at Swedish American Hall and thought about quitting until she heard Nilsson speak. Eddie’s food is attractively plated this time.
Interestingly enough, Tom says he can relate to both of their stories. He has thought about quitting his profession. And he lost his father when he was 26, before his dad saw him become a chef. As for the food, he thought both offerings were really good. With Michelle, he liked her story and her dumpling was perfectly cooked and the mousse she made was soft and subtle. His only negative comment? Nix the olive oil.
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As for Eddie, he calls his food very precise, clean and pristine. The halibut was perfect and the texture of the cauliflower was smooth and silky. And the relish was fantastic. On the downside: The cauliflower was bland and the fish needed salt. Tom is going with his gut and picks the dish that he wanted to go back for more … and that one was Michelle’s.
We see Michelle coming back through the garden at the group home – and the five chefs left come out to greet her. Her final words: “I’m going to kick some ass.” There are three “Top Chef” episodes left and I for one would like to see a final showdown between Sara Bradley and Michelle, because they both cook from their heart.