In last week’s episode of “Top Chef,” Kevin Gillespie had to wave the white flag after losing Restaurant Wars to Gregory Gourdet. But he won redemption after facing off against Nini Nguyen in the post-show “Last Chance Kitchen” with his trout dish. Host Tom Colicchio told Kevin that he has “one more battle before finals begin.” What happened this week as the remaining chefs headed into the mountains to serve brunch for 200 moms? Read on for our minute-by-minute takes on the ninth episode of Season 17.
10:02 p.m. Chefs Karen Akunowicz and Melissa King are bummed after their team leader Kevin failed at achieving his dream restaurant. Bryan Voltaggio says, “He’s a friend of mine and it’s tough to see him go.” He says in a confessional that, for him personally, “It was a big loss to see Kevin go home. I’ve known Kevin for a really long time and he’s a very intelligent chef and one of the strongest competitors.” He was looking forward to working alongside Kevin to the end. He summed it all up by telling the other chefs, “That one stung.”
10:03 p.m. It is 5 a.m. at the chefs’ abode and pitch dark outside. Brian Malarkey observes, “There is certainly a different dynamic in the house. Coffee is not a thing.” Stephanie Cmar says, “It’s certainly hard to celebrate when everyone is so depressed on the other team.” On the other hand, “I got that ‘W’ and I’m $10,000 richer.”
10:04 p.m. Bryan announces, “We have a letter.” He reads it out loud: “Chefs, pack your bags. You’re going to summer camp.” But that news is greeted with groans. “Meet me at Pali Mountain Retreat Center. Drive safe and I’ll see you there..” Stephanie says, “Like the woods?” Brian adds, “I want to cook in the city, please.” Lee Anne Wong demands, “Define summer camp.” She tells her cohorts she’s “having PTSD right now.” She remembers, “Last time I went camping on ‘Top Chef’ was 8,000 feet in a blizzard. Do I want another camping challenge? F*ck NO!” Her reluctance is understandable. She had to withdraw from the competition due to altitude sickness on that last camping trip.
10:06 p.m. Malarkey thinks it might be a nice resort, noting, “I’ve got my swim gear, I’ve got my tennis racket.” Karen says she went to cheerleading camp, so “if the chefs want to get into a pyramid, I’m totally game for it.” They take off in two vehicles. Lee Anne says she grew up in Upstate New York where summer camp popular. But she’s hoping they won’t have a quickfire. And just like that, they arrive at Pali Mountain.
10:08 p.m. Padma Lakshmi greets them, saying, ”Welcome to summer camp.” She is standing next to the reigning “Top Chef: Kentucky” winner Kelsey Barnard Clark. Padma says that “Being up here in nature gets me excited for grilling season” — sorry, Lee Anne, there is a quickfire challenge.
THE QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE
10:09 p.m. There are a whole lot of canned beans covering a picnic table. Padma says, “In honor of summer, we want you to utilize these grills and make us a dish featuring Bush’s Beans.” Bryan says, “I’m down with beans” and that Bush’s Beans is “something we keep in our pantry at home. No beans about it, I want to win” (he apologizes immediately for that pun). There is a variety of taste options. Kelsey states, “We don’t want you all just to put it on the side of a dish and call it done. Get creative, have fun, make this a delicious meal.” The winner of the quickfire will win $10,000. Gregory suddenly sports a big grin on his face.
10:10 p.m. They have 30 minutes on the clock, and off they go. Stephanie doesn’t know if it is the elevation or she is just brain dead, but she can’t come up with a plan: “It’s like crickets,” she says. Gregory grabs the baked beans and says, “I remember eating these as a kid.” He is roasting pineapple, lettuce and chilies. He adds, “It is hard to get different textures out of beans.” He is frying them and making them crisp while making a vinaigrette out of white beans.
10:12 p.m. Malarkey asks Karen what she is making. “Just some white beans and kale,” is her reply. He then announces, “I, too, have white beans and kale.” “A classic combination, my friend,” she says. She’s making a Tuscan white bean soup, but then realizes there is no stock in the pantry. So she decides to use smoked ham hock to build enough flavor in a half-hour for this to be a great soup.”
10:13 p.m. Melissa asks Bryan what kind of beans he got. He says, “Southern style white beans.” She got the Southern style white beans too and will make a bean fried dough with a bean puree and bacon. Stephanie, however, is struggling as she admits, “It seems when I am taken out of the Top Chef kitchen and put into a different environment, I freeze a bit.” Karen asks about her choice of beans and she says, “A little fiesta, a little Cuban.” She thinks she can put together a bean burger.
10:14 p.m. Lee Anne is using the Cuban style black beans. Gregory approves of her choice.”Hot ham pies are like the jam,” she says. But she hasn’t won a quickfire since Season 1. Lee Anne then shares that she will be a bride in the next couple months, which means some cash would come in handy. Meanwhile, Bryan is thinking a little outside of the box, using the bean cooking liquid to marinate the meat.
10:15 p.m. Malarkey notes that the challenge requires that the beans are the star of the dish, so he is making a char-roasted carrot with a white bean puree. He runs over to get some pine needles to smoke, saying, ”I’m just one with nature.” The clock is clicking down when Padma walks in and announces, “Five minutes!” Bryan’s dish is, as usual, fine-dining-worthy but the beans are nowhere to be seen. Beep, beep! Time is up.
10:16 p.m. Malarkey is first up with his cannellini beans with bacon and char-roasted carrots. Karen serves her Tuscan bean soup. Stephanie says, “I used beans in a lot of different ways,” as she presents her black bean burger with sweet potatoes and bean salsa. Bryan serves his bean-marinated skirt steak with white bean puree and Brussels sprouts. Melissa serves a white bean and bacon with fried dough and mango salsa. Padma asks, “Do you use beans a lot?” Not too often, apparently.
10:17 p.m. Lee Anne serves Cuban black bean empanada, purple hull pea slaw and a mango salsa fresca. Visually, at least, it looks yummy. She gets a smile and a compliment from guest judge Kelsey who calls her dish delicious. Gregory’s dish is a crispy hickory-smoked bean salad with grilled veggies and a white bean vinaigrette. “Nice touch with your pour,” she says as Gregory ladles on the dressing. She is also impressed with his crunchy beans.
10:18 p.m. Kelsey tells them they all did such an amazing job. She appreciated that they reflected where they were in the outdoors and made food that was weather-appropriate. Stephanie, who was in trouble from the get-go, didn’t quite get there with her black bean burger. “It just didn’t hold together,” says Kelsey. And, yes, Bryan failed to make the prime ingredient in the challenge a lead player. His dish was too steak-forward. Melissa’s dried dough did her in as her beans leaked out of her filling.
10:19 p.m. Good news next. Kelsey admired how Karen made her soup broth and how flavorful it was with just 30 minutes of cooking time. Next, Lee Anne impressed by making a dough in 30 minutes. Also good: “It was packed with beans and the flavor was just spot on.” They also were fond of Gregory’s crispy beans. Kelsey said, “It ate hardy but it was really clean.” And the winner is … Lee Anne! Good for her. She just got a $10,000 wedding gift.
THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
10:20 p.m. Padma says, “You may have noticed this, but you aren’t alone at this camp.” What, is Jason from “Friday the 13th” lurking about? Nope, just a whole lot of moms who have gathered for a weekend getaway from all over the country. The task at hand for the chefs? To put together a spectacular brunch buffet for 200 mothers staying there at Pali. Joining Kelsey in judgeship is another “Top Chef” winner and mother, Brooke Williamson. Kelsey explains, “There are a lot of us moms here who have been living off of stale Cheerios, so make sure you create an impressive buffet. Seven items is not going to cut it. ” Each chef has to make two dishes. They get four hours to prep and cook at the lodge but must use the limited ingredients in the camp’s kitchen. Also, Padma says, “Service begins at 9 a.m.”
10:23 p.m. Before they get to work, however, the chefs get to play. The staff at the camp show them rope rungs used to climb up trees and jump off onto a trellis. Gregory is more of a glamper than a camper, but he is the first to go. Stephanie isn’t so confident about propelling herself off of a large tree but she does fine. Malarkey, a big kid if ever there was one, uses a zip line and slides high in the air across a ravine. They then throw axes into wood targets and dangle while bungee jumping. Finally they get to kick back and drink wine around a campfire and cook steak, veggie hotdogs, and salads with fresh vegetables.
10:25 p.m. Fun is over as the chefs get their 4 a.m. wake-up call. Lee Anne couldn’t sleep with the moms getting their karaoke on all night. And when they finally take a look at what ingredients are available, it’s a shock. Karen says, “Not only isn’t there any diversity in the ingredients. There’s not a lot of ingredients.” Gregory describes their situation as “sketchy at best.” Brian says he will make shakshuka with poached eggs in a tomato and pepper sauce. Lee Anne is planning on coffee and doughnuts as well as a fruity clafoutis. Melissa calls the challenge “straight-up ‘Hunger Games.’” She is happy taking what is left over after the other chefs choose their ingredients and decides to do a leafy salad.
10:28 p.m. Besides his shakshuka with baked egg, Brian is doing steak and eggs. Karen is a bit in the weeds while trying to “MacGyver my pork chops into a ragu with grits.” She doesn’t quite know what to do for her second dish. Bryan is attempting potato and shallot cakes with ham gravy and roasted carrot salad with ricotta. He knows they have to make an impression on the moms, making sure that their food matches their expectations. Melissa is also doing a ham congee to go with her romaine salad.
10:32 p.m. There is three hours left. Karen comes up with the idea of corn cakes for dish number-two. Brian realizes there isn’t enough tomato sauce for what he wants to do. So he tosses his egg idea away and starts cleaning shrimp to make a soup also featuring chorizo. Gregory is doing fruit salad and mushroom ragu with tomatoes and eggs. A ticked-off Malarkey realizes that everyone marked their serving area in the buffet line and didn’t leave a spot for him.
10:35 p.m. A clever Malarkey decides he will improvise his own station. Meanwhile, Gregory realizes his eggs won’t be ready so he substitutes spinach in his mushroom ragu. Two minutes and twenty seconds are left and the moms are clamoring outside the doors. Lee Anne pulls out her clafoutis and notices with dismay it has been steamed and not baked. She hopes her doughnuts save her.
10:36 p.m. Head judge Tom Colicchio takes his seat among the throng of ladies. Or as Gail says, “Tom and the moms.” He notes, “This is my fan base right here” as he earns an ovation. The judges applaud Gregory’s substitute of wilted spinach for the eggs he originally intended for his ragu. And they also like the heat in his fruit salad. Padma says Stephanie’s “hash thing” looks like the most unappetizing thing in the world but adds, “I’m actually enjoying it.” Kelsey also notes her biscuit “is seriously perfect.”
10:40 p.m. Melissa’s salad does not spark joy with the judges. But her congee is making Brooke happy. All of a sudden, some moms start shrieking over Lee Anne’s presence, as one says, “I’m so excited to see you!” She serves the judges her nutmeg doughnuts and her clafoutis, which she has to scoop off the top to try to salvage her steaming disaster before dishing it out. Brian ladles his shrimp soup with chorizo and goat cheese and then cuts up his fennel-crusted steak. But Gail says his stew has very little flavor. Kelsey says, “It’s a little one note.” But Padma says she likes his steak and potatoes. Tom observes Lee Anne had too much fruit in the clafoutis: “It should be eggy.” And he does a Fauci-style face palm after trying her dense doughnuts.
10:43 p.m. Karen’s corn cakes with feta cheese along with her white corn grits with braised pork are next. Bryan offers coriander-roasted carrots with salsa verde and a potato shallot cake with a gruyere fondue. One patron calls his dish “heaven in a bowl.” Kelsey says his potato should have been crispier. But Gail describes the plate as feeling “super homey, super brunchy, but it looks so totally elevated.” Tom also sings the praises of his carrots. Then two moms stop by and tell Bryan that he and his brother Kevin are their favorites from “Top Chef.” Tom finds Karen’s “little stew” to be very interesting. Both Brooke and Kelsey liked her corn cakes, too.
10:45 p.m. The judges ask a table of moms what items were their favorites. Both Bryan’s carrots and Karen’s corn cakes get a thumbs up. But not so much Melissa’s grapefruit salad. Another mom pipes up and says Lee Anne’s “doughnut was so dry.”
10:46 p.m. Before the judges chime in, Malarkey reams his fellow chefs for not making room for a station for him. Always with the complaints and excuses with this guy. Stephanie points out, “I don’t know if it was ideal for anyone.” Lee Anne says, “Sorry, Malarkey.” Then he pouts for a second, but makes a joke: “You guys weren’t being nice to me!” Tom admits to the contestants that this was a hard challenge: “You’ve got two dishes, you have to make 200 portions, the ingredients weren’t the best. For some of you, you made the best you could out of a really difficult situation.” Brooke says she was shocked that nobody did eggs except for the breakfast salad — wasn’t for a lack of trying, though.
10:48 p.m. Padma puts forth, “There were three chefs who did a little bit better than the others: Karen, Bryan Voltaggio and Gregory. Karen suddenly gets teary-eyed because she already got cut from the competition but came back. “You just really feel you have to prove to everyone that you belong here.” Gail says her corn cake was the perfect dish for a buffet. Multiple moms told us they were able to eat one in line and one to go.” Padma tells Bryan, “In spite of how much time you took, you were cooking your food. And it paid off for you.” Gail adds that he made the moms feel like they were eating a really elevated restaurant-quality dish.” Brooke tells Gregory if she hadn’t known there was supposed to be an egg on his ragu, “I wouldn’t have missed anything.” Tom, says he managed to pull off his fruit salad and left it at that for that simple dish.
10:50 p.m. And the winner of the elimination challenge is … Bryan Voltaggio! Hurray, he finally used his considerable skill set and nailed what the judges wanted from him. He says that losing Restaurant Wars lit a fire in him. Now the bad news: Padma asks Lee Anne, Malarkey and Melissa to come forward. Lee Anne was asked what her biggest challenge was for her in making her food. She admits she flubbed her clafoutis because she didn’t notice the oven setting. She looks pained when Padma says the doughnut was actually wet with oil too. Tom notes that these are mental mistakes, not cooking ones.
10:52 p.m. Tom tells Melissa her ham congee with ham steak, rice and a hot sauce was a smart decision. But Brooke then shreds her romaine salad with grapefruit. As for Malarkey, Brooke tells him, “The shrimp was the biggest issue for me. It was just overcooked.” Padma damns his soup as bland despite him cooking it for hours. But Brooke does note she was impressed with the cookery of his steak. But Tom was disappointed in his horseradish sauce. The bottom three await their fate.
10:54 p.m. Tom observes that the chefs in trouble basically made mental mistakes. Lee Anne’s dishes were perfect for a brunch buffet in theory. Gail says, “It was very ambitious but it doesn’t excuse the technique.” But at least Lee Anne gave them cooking. Melissa’s salad was a total miss. Tom then digs into Malarkey’s shrimp that were frozen and that he made the mistake of cooking it in the sauce instead of separately.
10:56 p.m. The chefs return, and it is hard to say who will be on the chopping block. Melissa has done incredibly well until salad-gate. But the chef who is leaving us … is Lee Anne. Can’t wait to see her take on Kevin in “Last Chance Kitchen.” Before she goes, she reminds Tom she crushed it last time, lasting five rounds.
Next week: The guest judges will be esteemed chefs Niki and Carol Nakayama. The remaining six All-Stars will be cooking a six-course Japanese meal for Olympic athletes who would be going to Tokyo this summer if not for the ongoing pandemic.
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