‘Top Chef’ recap: The 12 All-Stars go vegetarian while living up to the motto ‘You’re So Fresh’

On last week’s  Season 17 episode of “Top Chef,” Jamie Lynch was the All-Star eliminated for not having enough time to pour his jus over his seared chicken breast, leaving his plate inspired by baroque paintings rather tasteless. He had a chance to earn redemption in “Last Chance Kitchen,” but Joe Sasto bested him in another poultry challenge. This week, the Los Angeles edition of Bravo’s reality show has the 12 remaining chefs making dishes inspired by the animated film “Trolls World Tour” and participating in a vegetarian six-course meal Read on for our minute-by-minute takes on the fourth episode of the season, “You’re So Fresh” (all times ET/PT).

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10:02 p.m. We start off in the cheftestants’ scenic digs in the Hollywood Hills. Nini Nguyen, the youngest chef this season, notes there is an interesting energy in the house as the males noisily gather in the kitchen. “There’s like the boys club. The guys’ energy is way more cocky. But I think that the women in the house just have more of a quiet confidence.” Considering that three men have gotten the boot so far, Nini may be onto something.

10:04 p.m. The women gather in the bathroom to do their morning hair and makeup routines. “We’re like a little girl gang,” says Stephanie Cmar. “Little female assassins to take them down one by one,” observes Karen Akunowicz. Nini then declares they are “Padma’s Angels.” Karen, continuing with the theme, says they are “beautiful mastermind assassins. That’s what we are here to do. Kill them all. Or just, you know, get them eliminated.” They all turn their hands into pistols.

10:05 p.m. The chefs walk into the kitchen and are greeted by host Padma Lakshmi. There are piles of ingredients that are divided by a color theme. Stephanie observes, “It’s like a rainbow threw up everywhere.” The colors include orange, yellow, purple, blue, pink and red, with a designated character from the upcoming cartoon movie “Trolls World Tour” nearby. Padma then introduces the guest judge for the round – namely, ”American Idol” superstar, coach on “The Voice” and Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson, who voices a character in the film.

10:07 p.m. Kelly tells them, “I’m glad you know me. I’m always worried when I’m a surprise.” Oh boy, we get a sneak peek taste of the film! Kelly says she plays a character named Delta Dawn, the leader of the country trolls. She tells us there are six different genres of music featured and the whole theme of the family feature is “inclusivity.” Padma notes that the pantry for the immunity challenge is full of ingredients representing the colors of the six troll worlds. Each chef will have to use one ingredient from each color grouping in their dish. As our host says, “In musical terms, it should be harmonious.”

10:09 p.m. The winning chef in the challenge will not only receive immunity, but they will get to attend the “Trolls World Tour” red carpet premiere. I am taking a wild guess that might not be the case now that we are all sheltering in place while the film is making its debut on demand on Friday, April 10.


10:10 p.m. The chefs get 30 minutes on the clock and the mad grab for troll edibles begins. Jennifer Carroll says the food ranges from “freaking cotton candy, blue sugar taffies, sea urchin, dragon fruit, crazy stuff up there that have nothing to do with each other.” Her mind is going crazy while trying to combine all this stuff together.

10:12 p.m.  Bryan Voltaggio asks Kevin Gillespie, who won the last quickfire, if he has a plan in place. He says he is going for a Peruvian-style ceviche kind of thing as we see him chop up shrimp. Bryan V. says he is “going along the same lines there.” Lee Anne Wong asks Lisa Fernandes how she is using her cotton candy. She says that she is “going to let it melt on top of my steak and put chilies on top of it.” Spicy, sweet, baby,” says Lee Anne. “That’s how I roll,” says Lisa. Gregory Gourdet is making a butternut squash soup. He has grabbed chilies, blueberries and apples. He points out that on his previous season, “I crushed quickfires.” But he hasn’t got his momentum yet this season. And Stephanie is making a rainbow-fried spring roll.

10:14 p.m. Eric Adjepong says he has collected “all the ingredients for a salad. I think it will really highlight all the colors and hopefully I can get the flavor profiles to work.” He adds liquid nitrogen to make “fairy dust” with his various berries. Nini says, “I want to make gnocchi even though I never made it with purple potatoes before.” Karen asks Brian Malarkey what he has planned. She asks him what he is doing with the cotton candy and he says, “I’m just eating it.” Shouldn’t you be cooking it? He decides to concoct curry ice cream.

10:15 p.m.  Melissa King observes Brian M. making a “crazy mess” at the ice cream maker. With only five minutes to go, he tries to save what he has made with liquid nitrogen. And time is up. Karen has made a beef and pomegranate tartare. Kelly says she loves the crunch. Melissa serves seared salmon with a fruity sweet and sour sauce. She gets a “really good” from Padma. Eric delivers a shrimp and prosciutto salad “with a little bit of frozen berry dust.”

10:16 p.m. Bryan V. has made shrimp ceviche with uni and berry vinegar. Kevin puts out citrus poached shrimp with purple and blue potatoes. Lee Anne’s dish is pineapple plantain curry with brown butter salmon. Lisa has done a citrus brown butter rib-eye with roasted potatoes. Kelly likes her mix of sweetness and saltiness. Next is Gregory’s butternut squash and plantain soup; he also has pickled fruit and chilies, and he adds that his dish is vegan. Kelly laughs and says, “You tricked me.” Stephanie has made a rainbow rice roll with shrimp and cotton candy peanut sauce. Nini provides that purple potato gnocchi with shrimp and curry broth. Curries continue to be a thing as Jennifer gives Padma and Kelly banana curry with crispy prosciutto. Padma declares it “really interesting.”

10:18 p.m. Brian M. has scooped up his sort-of curry pumpkin ice cream. Padma, whose taste buds rarely lie, asks him if he meant the ice cream to be curd-like. Brian tells a little white lie, saying with a devilish grin, “That’s exactly what I was going for.” Jennifer laughs at him, since she knows the truth. So does Padma.

10:19 p.m. Kelly tells the chefs that she thinks all of them did “fantastic.” She then says, “I love you and I hate what is about to happen.” She says Nini’s gnocchi dish was one of their least favorites. Padma calls out Stephanie’s spring rainbow rice bowl for the dip being too sweet and that the rice paper should have been wrapped better. Kelly dings Bryan V.’s shrimp texture, explaining, “I can’t take anything mushy. The texture of the shrimp, Bryan, was the thing that threw me.”

10:20 p.m. Among their favorites was Gregory’s squash and plantain soup, with Kelly gushing that it was “a mouthful of awesomeness.” Lisa’s rib-eye was also on top; Kelly says she doesn’t eat a lot of red meat, “but it was really, really well done.” And since Kelly loves crunchy, she loved Karen’s beef tartare. But the winner is … Gregory! He apparently has revived his quickfire mojo.


10:21 p.m. Padma asks, “Who is ready for a fresh start?” She goes on to say that the Santa Monica Farmers Market is “every chef’s dream.” She extols the cornucopia of seasonal fresh produce on display there with over 75 organic farmers  with 9,000 shoppers who walk through every week. Sorry, Whole Foods. The chefs will be gathering their ingredients at the outdoor venue this time. It is knife-drawing time as they split into two groups.

10:22 p.m. Brian M. is on the red team, but worries that the blue team is stacked with talent: Melissa, Karen, Kevin, Eric, Jennifer and Gregory. His own teammates consist of Stephanie, Lee Anne, Nini, Bryan V. and Lisa. Padma says they will be making a six-course progressive menu and each will be responsible for one course. And one of them must be dessert. But there is a kicker: “Because we want you to highlight the beautiful produce, your menus must be … vegetarian.”

10:24 p.m. The challenge starts the next day and each team will get $1,200 and 45 minutes to shop. The catch is, you won’t know what you have to work with until you go shopping tomorrow morning. On top of that, they will be cooking for a restaurant full of diners. Nah, no pressure at all, as one of their patrons will be esteemed local chef Jeremy Fox. He is providing his eatery Birdie’s G as the challenge venue. Padma notes that Fox earned a Michelin star for a vegetarian restaurant and that he literally wrote the book on vegetables.

10:25 p.m. The teams break off to plan their menus. Blue team member Gregory and Jennifer volunteer for savory courses. Karen says she could do a pasta course and Melissa wants to do a soup. Eric takes the dessert and Kevin plans to serve a chilled first course of vegetables. Brian M. takes charge of the red team, where Bryan V. says he can make a demi mushroom dish as the main course. Lisa goes for Brussels sprouts and Nini wants to do pastry. As they return to their digs, they spy a big basket of troll paraphernalia with a thank you note from Kelly. Karen gets in touch with her spouse of five years, LJ, and receives much needed love and support.

10.31 p.m. We finally get to the farmers market. Melissa says, “The challenge is to be flexible based on what can be at the market. Communicating with each other and being able to pivot is going to be key here.” They are itching to get corn but so far, zilch. Lisa is also chagrined that no Brussels spouts are about. Lee Anne is making a “hummus kind of thing” and is buying fresh veggies for dipping. She says she is making butternut squash hummus with “the most beautiful crudité you’ve ever seen.” She gathers fennel and cucumbers.

10:33 p.m. Jennifer warns, “We have 24 minutes left.” Alas, Bryan V. is chagrined that the mushroom seller didn’t show up. Lisa pours salt on his wound when she brags she found her sprouts. He pivots to a legume dish with sprouted greens, which he says, “pair really good with beets.” He is confident he can build a really meaty texture with them. Kevin is excited to have found fresh-off-the-tree dates. Nini hovers over peaches. She is making a crackling pate a choux, a cream puff and all she has to do is add fruit. Jennifer yells for Kevin, as she has found corn.

10:35 p.m. The chefs finally vacate the market  and they head to Birdie G’s. Lee Anne says, “We are serving 40 diners and the judges. That’s a lot of mise en place. Brian M. is doing tomato and burrata for his first course, followed right behind with Lee Anne’s hummus and crudité. Third course is Lisa’s Brussels sprouts with apples and Stephanie will serve her charred cauliflower and grains. Brian V. will have his meaty smoke beet dish and for dessert, Nini’s peaches and cream. I would eat all that!

10:37 p.m. Lisa asks Nini to save her a cup of sugar so she can caramelize her apple sauce. She says her offering might be less refined than the others’, but she adds, “That’s the way I like to cook.” Kevin yells out, “Hey, red team, stop hogging all the clocks. What time is it?” Brian M. says, “Time for you to get a watch!” Kevin is doing heirloom tomatoes with melon and avocado tofu puree, sprouts with grains.

10:38 p.m. Kevin adds that Melissa is making a coconut corn soup for their second course. Gregory is doing his third course consisting of roasted grilled carrots and charred scallions. Fourth on the menu is Karen’s pasta with mint pistachio pesto while Jennifer is doing a jerk cauliflower. The grand finale will be Eric’s goat milk and butternut squash pudding. Gregory shares that he now lives a healthy lifestyle after getting sober over 11 years ago and he made some extreme lifestyle changes including exercise.

10:39 p.m. Melissa says she was obsessed with eating corn soup as a child. She thinks soup can really showcase what a chef can do with all the little steps required. She is making a broth using her cobs, which sounds like a fine idea flavor-wise. She thinks you should use everything that comes with such beautiful vegetables. Meanwhile, Jennifer breaks down her cauliflower so she can rub it with jerk sauce.

10:40 p.m. Brian M. tells Bryan V. he is shifting down and going very simple — Malarkey making something simple? Surely you jest! He admits he tried to do too much in the quickfire and it was a disaster. He declares his dish “super clean and simple.” Oh, no, disaster strikes again after Jennifer’s cashew butter is, in her words, “trash” after the temp was turned up on her burner. And, oops, the judges are arriving. They sit at a long counter where, as head judge Tom Colicchio says, they watch the chefs do their thing.


10:43 p.m. Jennifer is resigned to starting over with her nut butter, but she only has so many cashews left. With only 16 minutes left to go, diners are flowing into the restaurant. Only five minutes are left before they start serving. And just like that, time’s up. Brian places his plate down in front of Padma, who calls it “beautiful.” But Tom appears to think his dish is too simple. Next is Kevin’s version of a tomato salad that looks a bit more elevated.

10:44 p.m. Tom, as I suspected, didn’t think Brian M. did enough by serving tomato and mozzarella. “It’s ubiquitous. We’ve seen it.” That pretty much sums it up. Padma also notes his vinaigrette “wasn’t that delicious.” Guest judge Jeremy Fox thought Kevin’s tomato plate was “a lot more interesting to eat.” Gail Simmons says she loved the flavors, adding, “They were very seasonal.” Kevin pitches in and helps Melissa by ladling her soup into bowls. Lee Anne says she need sea salt and a little olive oil to finish up. Melissa soup earns a “very nice” from Padma. Lee Anne presents her butternut squash hummus with crudité; Tom was concerned that the corn soup would be too sweet, but “it wasn’t at all.” Gail appreciated all the textures and the corn flavor. It really came through.” Jeremy says he really geeks out on how people handle the raw vegetables. “How crunchy they still are and precise cuts on them. I did see that with the red team with the hummus.” Good for Lee Anne! However, Tom is critical of the red team for bringing out two raw dishes in a row. And Gail wished there was more salt on the dish.

10:47 p.m. Lisa is placing her sprouts and she is careful that the ones that are undercooked don’t make on the plate. Karen serves her pasta with mint pistachio pesto. Tom asks, “Is the asparagus raw?” Karen loses her smile, and says, “No, I blanched it.” Jeremy thought Lisa’s sprouts tasted fine but, “I was thrown off by the temperature.” Tom put it more bluntly: “The Brussels sprouts were dried out.” Gail did like that Karen’s pasta was almost in the background and that it was green forward. Stephanie delivers her cauliflower with quinoa and spiced sauce. Gregory brings forth his grilled carrots and charred scallion dish. Padma loves Stephanie’s dish — no Indian taco in sight. Jeremy calls it, “One of my favorite dishes so far.” As for the blue team, Gail is “crazy for the roasted carrots.”

10:48 p.m. Tom observes that the blue team has progressed with their courses much better. Gail agrees. Jennifer is nervous that her jerk cauliflower is going out alongside Bryan V.’s more elegant dish of smoked beets and legumes with veggie demi-glace. Tom says Bryan’s beets were “fantastic.” He adds that it works well for a last course and he actually delivered that. Gail says she like Jen’s jerk flavoring and she appreciated the way she cooked it. Jeremy says, “It was pretty successful.”

10:50 p.m. Nini’s doing her thing with her peaches and cream puff while Eric is putting together his pudding bowl. He thinks it is one of the best desserts he has made, “especially on Top Chef.” Gail says Nini’s dessert was made with care: “I want this dessert every day.” Tom likes Eric’s as well: “I thought the chocolate crunch was fantastic with the pudding.”

10:52 p.m.  Gail says the blue team did a great job. “There were very few missteps in general.” As for the red team, she says, “They started a little slower but finished really, really strong.” One guest diner observes that Brian M. and Lee Anne both did appetizer courses, adding, “Did they not talk to each other?”


10:54 p.m. Padma says there was a team whose progression was the clear winner. Which could that be. The blue team, that is who. Tom says, “What I liked about the entire meal is it had a start, it had a finish, and everything was solid all the way through.” Jeremy praises Kevin’s tomato and melon, saying it felt “very summery.” He particularly loved his raw sweet dates. Padma praises the texture and viscosity of your corn soup as “perfect.” Jeremy tells Gregory, I’m a carrot guy. Carrots are one of my favorite vegetables to cook.” He appreciated that he cooked them on a wood fire grill. Tom liked Karen’s pasta, and Jen also earned praise. Gail gushes over Eric’s pudding dessert, saying it felt very organic. And the winner is … Melissa! Two times in a row, girl!

10:57 p.m. The red team steps up. Tom brings up the fact that they brought out two raw courses to start. Jeremy calls out Brian M. for not doing some roasted tomato component. Lisa gets called out by Padma for cooking her Brussels sprouts unevenly. Jeremy says that Lee Anne need more oil on her hummus plate. And the eliminated chef is … Lisa! She didn’t have “Last Chance Kitchen” on her season but this time around she has a chance at redemption as she goes against Joe.

Next time on “Top Chef”:  The chefs’ loved ones are in town and the dish they will be eating is the same one for their quickfire challenge.

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