‘Top Chef’ 17 recap: The All-Stars get artfully inspired by ‘Strokes of Genius’

On last week’s episode of Season 17 of “Top Chef,” Angelo Sosa was sent packing for his too-sweet tuna crudo in broth during the Jonathan Gold challenge. This week the Los Angeles-based edition of the Bravo reality show required the 13 remaining chefs to make dishes inspired by pieces of art at the Getty Center. Read on for our minute-by-minute takes on the third episode of the season, “Strokes of Genius.”

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10:02 p.m. High-fives all-around for Kevin Gillespie as the winner of the elimination challenge at the cheftestants’ scenic Hollywood Hills digs. After beating cancer, the Season 6 finalist is glad he is able to continue his story on the show.

10:04 p.m. The chefs arrive in the kitchen where a smiling Padma Lakshmi greets them. “So far, you have been cooking for some of the biggest names in the business. Today, please welcome two masters at their craft and frequent collaborators.” The chefs break into smiles as comic actors Ali Wong and Randall Park enter. Padma adds that food was what brought the pair together. As a student at UCLA, Randall co-founded an Asian-American theater company and one of the members would hold a yearly fried rice competition. Ali actually entered the competition, but didn’t win.” She says she is still bitter about her loss. “I made it with dried cranberries.” Maybe she shouldn’t be that bitter.


10:06 p.m. The chefs have just 30 minutes to create “the best damned fried rice you can think of,” says Padma. “To make things interesting, Ali and Randall have curated a few ingredients to help you.” Ali says, “Randall picked anything that a kid would have their shoes decorated in. Like the jelly beans and red hots. I picked anything that smelled like a foot, like cheese and frog legs.” Padma says they must use at least one of the options brought by their guests. And, yes, immunity is up for grabs.

10:07 p.m. Ali tells the chefs that the clock starts now, and off they go to grab stuff. Nini Nguyen got the watermelon and she doesn’t even know why. Lee Anne Wong asks if anyone found cilantro. She gets no answer. She says, “I’m Chinese. Fried rice is like a lifestyle. The grains have to be a little bit crispy. You need little bit of color and texture on the rice. And you need to have really great seasoning.

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10:09 p.m. Bryan Voltaggio says, “Fried rice is not something I cook often. But I have a lot of respect for fried rice when it’s done correctly. I’ve had a lot of chewy fried rice, where it sticks to your teeth. That’s what I really want to avoid in this challenge.” He’s doing a shrimp fried rice, but more like a porridge. He will pour fried rice over the top with crushed Fritos. Karen is doing a version of something called nasi goreng that includes meat and veggies, and is served with a fried egg.

10:11 p.m. Lee Anne learns Randall loves her restaurant Koko Head Café in Hawaii. But Jamie Lynch gets a thumb’s down from Ali for using Japanese fish sauce because it hurts her Vietnamese pride. Meanwhile, she bonds with Nini as “bitches who can’t see” as they both sport their fashionable glasses. Nina is incorporating pickled watermelon into her rice and hopes it works like raw tuna. Eric Adjepong has a big bowl of peanut butter and Randall says he can’t wait. Kevin takes a chance with pickled hotdog pieces mixed with whiskey and Cheeto fried rice. He admits he doesn’t know how to make regular fried rice, but it makes him happy to “use the giant jar of wieners to make my fried rice because, even if I don’t win, I will at least get to say the word wiener 15 times.” Ali even gives Kevin’s version a name – “stoner fried rice.”

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10:13 p.m. Brian Malarkey asks out loud, “Who wants immunity?” Well, they all do, including Jamie, who says a good fried rice wants some texture as he employs Spam with crispy shallots and crispy rice. He then reminds us “Top Chef” fans that he has a history with immunity: he actually gave up his immunity during Season 14 when his dish put his team on the bottom, and he was then eliminated. But he makes clear that won’t happen again.

10:15 p.m. Eric says when his mom would make fried rice, “She would put everything that was about to go bad in the refrigerator into it. So I’m trying to think outside the box. Indeed, he is by doing a savory peanut butter and jelly fried rice. Oops, Padma announces one minute is left and the race is on to finish. Nini is not too confident in her watermelon fried rice, observing, “It’s a little weird.”

10:18 p.m. Time for the judges to taste their creations. Kevin is first up and dubs his dish “bachelor fried rice” with wieners, hot cheese puffs and bourbon. Padma, Ali and Randall don’t look displeased at least. Brian M. is next with his fig and pomegranate forbidden rice with tempura frog legs and vadouvan curry. Eric follows with his savory PB&J plate with a fried egg on top with ponzu and soy sauce on it.

10:20 p.m. Stephanie serves Nashville fried frog legs with fried rice, slaw and red hots. Randall compliments her use of the red hots. Nini is next with her watermelon fried rice with yuzu, fish sauce, fried chili and shallots. She gets a “Hmm” from Randall.  Gregory Gourdet is up next with his frog leg and salt cod fried rice and soft scrambled egg. Lots of yummy sounds are made by the celeb judges.

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10:22 p.m. “Look at these big hunks of spam!” shrieks Ali as she spies Jamie’s rice, which also has Fresno chilies, scallion and whiskey barrel-aged fish sauce. Brian V.is next with his shrimp fried rice, rice porridge, fried rice pearls with corn chip togarashi. Padma, strict as she is, asks him, “Did you make a fried rice or did you make a porridge?” Karen delivers an Indonesian version of fried rice with hot cheese puffs and egg, and Padma says she nailed the dish. Lee Anne makes curried anchovy and beef fried rice with corn chips. Ali likes that she got a good crisp on her dish, making it “nice and firm.”

10:24 p.m. Ali says she has two children under five so she is used to eating macaroni and cheese and pizza pockets, so this was a big treat for her. But first the bad news. Ali tells Jamie that Spam is so inherently salty that when she ate that big block of it, it overpowered everything. Too bad they didn’t invite Monty Python members as judges. As for Nini’s melon take, Padma says the size of the chunks watered down the flavor of her food.

10:26 p.m. Ali reveals that one of her favorites was Kevin’s. She was really impressed by his use of the hot Cheetos and the hotdogs. “It was like a party in my mouth.” Randall picks Eric’s dish as a standout. “Peanut butter was one of my favorites, so I thought it was such an inventive dish.” Padma enjoyed Karen’s version. “Texture is so much of the fried rice experience and I think you nailed your nasi goreng.” So who won this quickfire? Kevin, who is on a hot streak since he won last week’s elimination challenge and was part of the winning quickfire team on the first episode of the season.


10:30 p.m. Padma tells the chefs that Los Angeles is home to more museums than any other city in the country. At the top of that list? The Getty Museum. They will be interpreting a work of art on a plate. They each will explore one of four art movements determined by drawing knives and will compete with those chefs with the same result. “One chef will be up for the win. One will be safe and one will be up for elimination.” Kevin gets to choose whatever movement he wants. The rest must draw a knife.

10:33 p.m. Brian M. says, “It doesn’t matter to me what knife I draw. I don’t get any of these different styles of art. I just hope that I draw the knives with people I have a better opportunity of beating.” Jamie is upset that Bryan V. is in his baroque group. He had a bit of “an emotional moment” when he learned they were pitted against each other along with Lisa Fernandes. Jennifer Carroll, Eric and Karen have neoclassicism. Brian M., Nini and Lee Anne are Renaissance. And Melissa King, Gregory and Stephanie get rococo. Kevin’s pick? Neoclassicism.

10:34 p.m. At the museum, the rococo group get to see an ornate big pink bed from 18th-century France. The tour guide says the style has lots of sinuous lines, curves, flowers, leaves and vines. It also incorporates art from the Far East. The Renaissance group view paintings from 14th-century Italy whose religious subjects are more naturally observed. Nini decides to make gumbo in honor of New Orleans, which had a rebirth after Hurricane Katrina and whose football  team is the Saints.

10:36 p.m. The baroque gang study early 17th-century works from Rome. Bryan V. observes, “The paintings have very striking, bright colors –green and blue and yellow and pink. That could be inspiration for my plate.” Lisa notes, “We have religion clashing. We have animals clashing. I’m thinking of having two cuisines come together clashing.” Next is the neoclassicism bunch with paintings from mid-18th-century Greece and Rome that feature darker, more muted colors.

10:38 p.m. Kevin is whistling while he shops at Whole Foods, and why not, he has immunity. Melissa wants to capture the rococo movement’s elegance and opulence so she is doing a lobster wonton floating in a broth. Jennifer will reflect neoclassicism with a dish that is just one color and let her fish be the star. Brian M. says in the Renaissance there are a lot of halos. So he is thinking halibut in a French curry with the gold and white acting as “a halo of halibut.” Karen asks for bone-in thighs for a simple chicken dish, something that has noble simplicity.

10:43 p.m.  We get to see Lee Anne cut up her duck for her confit. Her inspiration? A painting of the Virgin Mary “with JC suckling at her breast.” She has to make a yellow beet puree, a red beet puree and black garlic crumble, and Brian M. notes Lee Anne has way too much prep to do. Nini is cooking up her gumbo while Lisa is depicting conflict with a Jewish-Mexican brisket. Oy-lay! Turns out her last name is Portuguese but she is a white Jewish Canadian. She is incorporating prunes because … you can guess.

10:44 p.m. Bryan V. is working on a red snapper dish. He says, “The skin calls to me. The skin is bright red.” Lee Anne asks Stephanie about the female forms she was talking about as her inspiration. She says, “I saw so many beautiful curves and their stomachs reminded me of a tortellini.” She is stuffing her pasta with a mortadella filling, “sort of like flesh but I’m going to not say that.” Melissa is smoothing out her wonton dough. Gregory chose to make beef short rib with miso jus to represent the Asian influence on the rococo time period.

10:46 p.m. Head judge Tom Colicchio stops by with guest judge and French cuisine specialist Ludo LeFebvre. Brian M. tells the judges about his “halibut hallo.” Tom stops to talk to Eric, who is poaching a halibut with a green peppercorn broth. He says he wants his dish to stand out aesthetically. Jamie is making a seared chicken breast that he will sous vide first and serve it with a nice jus. Kevin is making lamb, and, no, he isn’t finished yet. Lee Anne is racing the clock and knows she has too much “bleep” going on in her dish. The judges and their guests take their seats. Jennifer tries to help Lee Anne finish when the buzzer goes off. Time’s up!


10:47 p.m. Four restaurateurs join in at the table. Nini serves poached halibut, shrimp crab over seafood gumbo and rice tuile. Brian M. is expounds on his halo of halibut with roasted carrot, burnt farro, quinoa, beets, chili and olive. Lee Anne explains there was a lot of imagery of Madonna and child; her plate has duck breast and duck egg, beet purees, black garlic sauce, bread and celery root puree with poached apples.

10:49 p.m. Sara Hymanson really liked the flavor of Nini’s dish, but she didn’t think it was beautiful. Ludo prefers Brian’s effort more than Nini’s. He says, “It was more refreshing. It’s full of texture. It’s colorful.” Ray Garcia says Brian’s halibut was the dish he was most excited to dig into. All the visual components came together very well. As for Lee Ann’s dish, Craig Thornton says, “There’s a lot going on in it.” Ludo says that the duck was overcooked ,”and it was too messy for me.” Tom notes the plating better reflected rococo – as in,“too much going on.”

10:51 p.m. Jamie has a lot of pieces to put on his plate. “I want to arrange them so they look real artful and it is taking forever.” Darn, he left the jus off. Bryan V. starts off saying he had the baroque era and that he was intrigued by the very bright pops of color. Besides his red snapper, he served smoked sweet potato, celeriac veloute and parsley oil. Lisa is next and tries to sell her conflict theme with her chipotle-braised brisket, dried fruit, habanero pickled red onions, tomato salsita with chilies and crispy carrots.  Jamie is next with his seared chicken breast with charred citrus gremolata, butternut squash, glazed vegetables and arugula puree. Alas, Ludo laments the lack of jus. Tom says Jamie’s plate “looks great but it doesn’t taste like anything.”

10:52 p.m. Padma basks in how beautiful the dishes made by Melissa, Stephanie and Gregory look. Stephanie explains that the supple bellies of the nude ladies in the artwork made her think of pasta. Melissa explains that the rococo era had a lot of luxury and was inspired by nature. Hence, her lobster wonton with shellfish consume. Gregory says his plate of his miso braised short ribs and veggies was inspired by Far East Asia. Alas, Tom notes Stephanie’s pasta is undercooked. Judge Gail Simmons says that Melissa’s wontons were pretty close to perfection. Ludo declares it “a Michelin star dish” and he is ready to put it in his restaurant. Craig likes Gregory’s the most because “when you eat it you can tell every single thing.”

10:54 p.m. The last four chefs – Karen, Eric, Jennifer and Kevin – are on their way. Eric says he was inspired by neoclassicism that was the opposite of rococo. He serves very clean-looking poached halibut, peppercorn broth, buttermilk vinaigrette and pickled vegetables. Jennifer was inspired by one painting that was all about simplicity: “I wanted to give you a seared red snapper, apple, radish and fennel relish with Tunisian pepper sauce.” Karen says she was struck by noble simplicity and colors. “I wanted to keep the dish incredibly simple with braised chicken and chicories with brown butter and capers.” Kevin says his inspiration came from finding a way to incorporate simple old flavors into a new dish. He serves poached and grilled lamb loin with glazed carrots and feta carrot tops.

10:55 p.m. Craig says, “Eric’s fish was cooked very nicely and it was austere.” Tom agrees, although he didn’t like the combo of Xanthan gum and buttermilk. Gail thinks Eric’s was the only dish that captured the neoclassic style. Ludo says Karen’s food had a lack of flavor and adds Kevin’s sauce didn’t taste good at all. As for Jennifer’s dish, he is not impressed with just fish and sauce.


10:56 p.m.  Padma announces the favorite dishes from each group. They belong to Brian M., Bryan V., Melissa and Eric. The judges praise how Brian M. edited himself for once. Melissa basically thought it was a no brainer to use lobster to show the opulence of rococo. Ludo tells her he also loved her broth and calls it “a Michelin star wonton soup.” As for Bryan V., he says he wanted to reflect the vibrant colors in the baroque art. Ludo says Eric’s dish was cooked perfectly. Gail dubs it, “The most exciting dish we ate all day.” And the winner is … Melissa.

10:57 p.m. Lee Anne, Stephanie, Jamie and Karen were all on the bottom of their groups. Tom tells Stephanie her pasta was undercooked. Jamie knows his missing jus was his Achilles’ heel. Lee Anne admits she should have started plating a lot earlier. Padma says she wants to get to Karen’s dish, but first she tells Kevin it was a good thing he had immunity.

10:58 p.m. Tom says this challenge was a good one because “when you try to express something through food, if you don’t have the culinary chops to pull it off you end up with dishes that are kind of cartoonish.” With that said, the chef packing their knives is … Jamie. “It sucks leaving the competition so early,” notes the freshly cut chef. Tom says, “We’ll see you in ‘Last Chance Kitchen.’ The last time you were there, you won about five or six in a row.” Yep, Jamie says, “Five in a row.” Tom says, “I’m looking forward to a strong performance.”

“I wished that I delivered better cookery,” says Jamie. “There is no greater sin than that. My approach to food has changed since the last time I competed. It’s a newer way to look at it. For me, I’m uncomfortable with it yet. My hope is to be able to ‘Last Chance Kitchen’ and just hammer out and get back into the competition doing the food I want and do it the way I want to do it.”

Next week on “Top Chef”:  The guest judge next week is “American Idol” champ and “The Voice” coach Kelly Clarkson as she promotes her animated film “Trolls World Tour,” which is going straight to on-demand  on April 10 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Padma tells the chefs, “Your menus must be vegetarian.” Meanwhile, Brian M. and Lee Anne get into a beef over oil and salt.

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