On last week’s episode of “Top Chef,” Season 6 and 8 competitor Jennifer Carroll failed to tickle the taste buds of the judges with her Sunny Lemon Ginger Love sauce. She then lost in “Last Chance Kitchen” for underestimating the time that her beef sauce needed to thicken while Lisa Fernandes gets to move on in the after-show. This week, the remaining 10 chefs will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Read on for our minute-by-minute takes on the sixth episode of the season, “Get Your Phil.”
10:02 p.m. It’s rise and shine time in the roomy house in the scenic Hollywood Hills. Nini Nguyen and Brian Malarkey share a love of crystals, apparently. She explains, “It’s ‘Top Chef.’ Everyone at some point will have negative energy. And when they do I hold on to my crystal and I say, ‘Get away bad energy.’” Melissa King says she is superstitious too so she puts on her jade all the time, because her mom told her to.
10:04 p.m. The guest judge for the quickfire challenge is the James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Bianco, owner of Pizza Bianco. Kevin Gillespie says that Bianco is known as an artisan and a baker as well as one of America’s greatest pizza masters. When host Padma Lakshmi asks if he could share some wisdom about baking. He says, “You learn things and you burn things.”
THE QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE
10:06 p.m. Padma says, “We want you to make your perfect dish. You just have to use flour.” There are assorted types of flour in canisters ranging from buckwheat to rice flour. What’s missing? Any all-purpose flour. Apparently, alternative types of non-wheat flour are becoming a thing. Brian M. says the challenge is “way, way outside his comfort zone.” Padma adds there will be no immunity for the elimination challenge. But “to soften the blow, the chef who rises to the occasion will receive $5,000.” As it that pun weren’t enough, she comments, “That’s a lot of dough, right?”
10:08 p.m. They get 30 minutes on the clock to complete their dish. Melissa has almond flour. She plans to make a duck-fat financier. Thank goodness the scroll on screen explains it’s a small French almond cake. Bryan Voltaggio picked both hazelnut and rye flour and is making a crumb with kalamata olives. He will serve it in a fish dish. Gregory Gourdet chose tapioca flour and is making pancakes with blueberry maple syrup. Kevin shouts out, “What are you making, Malarkey?” Brian says, “I’m making a coconut bread and coconut ice cream.” Karen Akunowicz brings up the last time he did ice cream as we flashback to a rather messy outcome in last week’s quickfire.
10:10 p.m. Brian says: ”It’s the joke of the house – Malarkey has got the ice cream machine again. But this time it should work just perfect.” He says he is going to make a great coconut honey ice cream. Somehow, he pulls it off. Lee Anne Wong has buckwheat flour. “Dumplings are my jam,” she proclaims. But buckwheat doesn’t work for dumpling dough since it has no gluten. So she will boil little dumpling balls instead. Nini makes a Vietnamese rice flour crepe, something she learned from her grandmother. Stephanie Cmar is using blue corn flour for the first time and is making gnocchi. She worries that it might turn into “blue poop.”
10:12 p.m. Five minutes are left. Malarkey’s dough is in a fryer and he says the texture is like “mud pie.” That isn’t good. He fears he won’t have something representing flour on his dish. Padma and Chris walk in while Brian is boo-hoo-ing. Time is called and he dubs his plate to be “the worst dish in the history of ‘Top Chef'” and “an epic failure.” Lee Anne is up first with her buckwheat polpette. Eric Adjepong has cooked porridge with roasted cassava and cornmeal. Chris tells him his choice of ingredients “plays very well together.” Gregory serves his nutty tapioca pancakes that look quite yummy to me. Chris compliments the lightness of his flapjacks.
10:14 p.m. Stephanie’s Parisian gnocchi is next. Chris is pleased with the scale of her dish. Bryan serves his roasted sole with his hazelnut crumble. It looks, as always, as a fine dining dish. Karen has a spinach falafel. Chris’ reaction? “Really, really nice.” Next is Nini with her Vietnamese flour crepe. Padma says she likes how lacy her crepes are. Next is Melissa’s duck fat financier. Chris observes: “Texturally, that’s really rich. Great job.” Kevin goes rustic with cornbread with beans and greens. Chris comments that the dish is a “tad salty” but he likes the moisture and texture in his bread. Padma likes Brian’s ice cream but alas, “That wasn’t the challenge.”
10:16 p.m. The bad news? Chris says to Bryan, “Surprisingly, this might be my favorite dish to eat.” But he didn’t employ enough grains in the dish. Bryan is bothered that it this is his third quickfire at the bottom this season. He is determined to win the next one. And, as expected, the other Brian is right there with him. The good news? They loved Melissa’s fancy cakes, Gregory’s pancakes and Nini’s crepes. The winner getting the dough is … Gregory! This is his second quickfire win of the season to go along with his two elimination challenge wins.
THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
10:19 p.m. Padma tells the chefs that the challenge will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the L.A. Philharmonic and that tomorrow night is opening night of their 100th season. Lee Anne says she actually saw the orchestra play at the Hollywood Bowl years ago when she was a child. “It’s just an incredible experience.” Among their guests will be legendary conductor Gustavo Dudamel and 60 members of the orchestra.
10:22 p.m. It’s time to draw knives. They each have one of five taste profiles on them – sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Padma tells them, “Just like in music, each instrument has a purpose. Each ingredient should as well in your dish.” The catch? “Each chef must pair up with another chef with a different flavor profile to create one cohesive dish that highlights the two tastes that you pulled.” Brian draws bitter and says, “I love bitter. I can’t get enough endive and raddichio.” Nini (sour) and Karen (umami) quickly partner up. Kevin and Melissa make a match with their salty and sweet selections. Bryan and Eric make a bitter and sweet combo. And Gregory and Stephanie buddy up with salty and sour while Lee Anne with umami is stuck with Brian – who threw her under the bus in the vegetarian challenge.
10:25 p.m. Padma suddenly tosses out some not-so-good news: “This is a double elimination.” Nini recalls she was cut last season during a Kitchen Wars double elimination. As she says, understandably, “It sucks.” She feels pressure since this is a harder season. The chefs brighten a bit when they learn they will get to visit the Walt Disney Concert Hall as the guest of maestro Dudamel, where they can soak up inspiration. They will have two hours to prep and cook at Otium restaurant before service begins. As for the guest judge, it’s Otium’s chef and owner Timothy Hollingsworth.
10:28 p.m. Gregory says, “I just wanted to pick someone based on the taste.” Stephanie snarks back, “So it wasn’t because I am popular?” Gregory just laughs. He says he knows that he and Stephanie work well together. “We won as a team before. So it just seems like a nice fit.” She asks if she can wear his vest and he complies. Melissa and Kevin are contemplating a dessert. Eric and Bryan feel good about their chances. Karen and Nini seem to be on the same page. But not so much Lee Anne and Brian who don’t appear all that happy even seated next to one another on the drive to the concert hall.
10:33 p.m. The chefs admire the silvery Walt Disney Concert Hall as Kevin calls it “stunning.” He admires the interior as well with its blond woods and the cup-shaped ceilings. He observes, “It almost looks like a cabbage leaf.” The conductor comes out and greets them.
10:35 p.m. Gustavo speaks in sacred tones as if the hall were a church. He says he loves the similarities between music and food. “Food is an art,” he states, “For the flavor, for the feelings. Put them together and you create harmony.” Karen says being in the hall is like a dream come true. She shares that she was a music major when she started in college. Kevin asks how he handles music that have really strong contrasting elements inside them. Gustavo explains passionately, “It is the best, because you have that all of the time. Every instrument sounds completely different. A violin can be a beautiful match with a bass drum.”
10:38 p.m. Karen and Nini are bent on grape tomatoes that burst with sour and umami. Gregory suggests miso cod for his salty component. Eric and Bryan who have sweet and bitter think about getting a pair of duck legs that would be bitter, sweet and roasted with a bit of smoke from the jus. Eric thinks the key to the challenge is to show restraint. He thinks of a West African spicy peanut stew usually made with beef, sweet potatoes and carrots along with a special caramel crust. Sounds perfect to me. Melissa likes the direction that she and Kevin are going in. They seem to have tossed the idea of dessert as they talk about roasted cabbage and fish sauce instead.
10:40 p.m. Lee Anne says beef is classic umami. “However, we shouldn’t put a giant piece of steak on there.” Brian agrees, but then he suggests, “What if we cooked it in talo?” She says Brian goes in a million directions “like a cat with a laser pointer.” She struggles to edit him down. Off they go to Whole Foods where they have 30 minutes and $700 for each team. Lee Anne manages to take all the bitter endive in the store, leaving Bryan and Eric with none. Bryan decides to pivot to pork since his first choice meat isn’t available. Meanwhile, Karen and Nini are doing an Italian fish dish with a special broth.
10:42 p.m. Lee Anne lays down the law, telling Brian they don’t need carrots because they are sweet. That’s when she comes out with what might be the best and truest description of Season 17: “Shopping with Brian Malarkey is like shopping with monkeys on crack.”
10:44 p.m. The chefs swoop into Otium to claim their prep spots. Nini asks what Kevin is doing. His reply is bleeped out. He quickly says, “Just kidding.” Nini fights back and calls him a bitch, though it’s all in good fun — Kevin is clearly a Method actor playing the salty member of his team. Melissa says they are going to top their braised cabbage with a cured pork crumble. Bryan is making a West African caramel sauce. He says, “It is Eric’s cuisine. I am confident in his ability to pull it off for sure. It just sounds delicious. It sounds like something I want to lacquer all over meat.”
10:45 p.m. Stephanie and Gregory do their sour and salty fish dish, and when Stephanie looks over she describes Lee Anne and Brian as an “oil and water combination.” Sure enough, they are clashing over how to plate their dish. Brian says if they don’t come to an agreement about how their dish is served, “The wheels are about to fall off.”
10:47 p.m. Stephanie says, “There definitely is a heightened sense of nerves today in that two people will be going home.” She adds that she feels a great deal of responsibility to make sure that Gregory and I are not on the chopping block, especially since I’ve been on the bottom forever now. At least, “We have a clear idea of what we are doing.”
10:48 p.m. Stephanie and Gregory place their plates before the judges. He explains they had sour and salty as he describes their sea bass with miso. Head judge Tom Colicchio says every element in the dish is salty and sour. Gustavo adds that he put all the elements in his spoon and it was really well-balanced. Tom observes, “It was like melody and harmony working together.” The flaw, according to Timothy, is the spice from the jalapenos. But it’s apparently a hit with the musicians and with Padma.
10:50 p.m. Kevin and Melissa are next. He tells the judges that they were sweet and salty and that they are serving a fish sauce caramel roasted cabbage. Padma likes that the pair just focused on a vegetable. What she loves about their dish is that “when you put it in your mouth, there’s this bang of flavor, both sweet and salty.” Gustavo says the vegetable dish was addictive, which is a good thing.
10:52 p.m. Next is Team Trouble aka Brian and Lee Anne. She tells the judge that they had umami and bitter as they put together beef with a miso anchovy hollandaise and bitter greens. Padma asks (of course), “How was it working as a team?” Brian says, “We have known each other for a long time. So we’re OG Top-Chef-fers over here.” Gustavo praises how they put their notes together, saying, “It’s very beautiful.” Gail Simmons offers high praise: “I think this is the best food we’ve had from Lee Anne and Malarkey.” Tom puts in his two cents: “It’s a beautiful dish.”
10:53 p.m. Eric and Bryan are next. Eric tells the judges they had sweet and bitter. “We decided to do a play on a traditional Senegalese West African stew with maafe lacquer and bitter greens. Gail says, “This dish is incredibly subtle and incredibly focused. But I think they could have drawn out the sweetness a lot more.” Timothy agrees: “I think that cooked-down apples or some sort of glaze or honey over the pork would have benefited them.” Tom also notes, “The ratio of crust to meat was off.”
10:54 p.m. Last but not least is Nini and Karen’s umami-sour dish. Karen says they made a tomato broth with poached cod and pickled cucumbers. She also gets a smile from the maestro by calling the broth the melody and the rest the harmony. As for the tomatoes, the chefs hope they act as a crescendo. “They are like a bright popping point.” Alas, the judges think the tomatoes needed to be roasted. Says the conductor, “You need a balance. That’s true. Because some things are killing some other flavors.”
10:55 p.m. Eric says, ”This challenge was also a personality challenge. The fact that you are doing it with someone else, it’s almost like that one voice has to be very clear.” Stephanie says, “We’re 10 now and we will be eight tomorrow. It’s like mind-blowing.”
10:56 p.m. Tom says, “Every dish had umami, sweet, sour, salty, bitter. But clearly the challenge was for those two that you chose were really prevalent in the dish. I think some of you did that to a better degree than others. All in all, I’ve got to say that hands down this was a fantastic meal.” Padma says that is what makes their decision even harder because, as you know, it’s a double elimination.
10:57 p.m. Padma says all the dishes were fantastic but the judges had their favorites. Guest judge Timothy has the honor of announcing the triumphant dish. And the winners are … Melissa and Kevin! Padma then says, “Lee Anne and Malarkey, you guys were really close to winning this.” All Lee Anne can say is, “It feels good.” Stephanie and Gregory get slammed for their spicy jalapenos but they are safe too.
10:58 p.m. Padma sadly delivers the news to Nini and Karen and Bryan and Eric that theirs were the two least favorite dishes and two chefs will be going home. The ladies failed to bring out the umami in their tomatoes and the guys lacked enough of the sweet element they needed. The eliminated chefs are … Nini and Karen. Oops, there is a twist. They will get a chance to get back in the competition tonight as “Last Chance Kitchen” commences immediately as the best friends square off.
Next week: Action star Danny Trejo makes an appearance that features a machete and it appears the dreaded Restaurant Wars are on the horizon.
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