Last week’s episode of “Top Chef” brought the 13 contestants to an Asian night market to prepare their own versions of Asian street foods. Unfortunately, Sam Kang‘s ill-advised preparation of his potatoes got him eliminated. But that was easy compared to this week’s episode, “Doppelgangers,” where there was a double elimination, cutting the competition from 12 contestants to 10 in one fell swoop. So who were the unlucky duo? Read on to find out what happened when the chefs had to create clever lookalike dishes.
The 12 cheftestants who went into “Doppelgangers” were Damarr Brown, Jo Chan, Monica Feybesse, Evelyn Garcia, Robert Hernandez, Jae Jung, Jackson Kalb, Luke Kolpin, Buddha Lo, Ashleigh Shanti, Nick Wallace, and Sarah Welch. But before they broke up into teams of two, they had to mind their own biscuits.
Host Padma Lakshmi introduced guest judge Chris Williams, a chef and restaurateur. To pay tribute to his great grandmother, Lucille B. Smith, the chefs would have to make their own biscuits from scratch, but they judges were expecting complete dishes and not just “a biscuit on a plate,” as Padma explained. The winner of this challenge would get an advantage in the Elimination Challenge — but not immunity, unfortunately.
Not everyone in the kitchen had experience with biscuits, though. As last week’s challenge winner Jae said, “I don’t like baking, I just like to get baked.” Luke was also concerned; much of his culinary experience has been in Europe, where biscuits aren’t so much a thing. Buddha hadn’t made biscuits either, and he was especially worried since last week he tried samosas for the first time at the Asian night market, and he ended up in the judges’ bottom three.
The strategies going into the biscuit battle were also different. Robert went with a sweet dish, while Evelyn went for something savory with chorizo. Jae tried to play to her strengths: she knew how to make fried chicken, so she made that the focal point of her dish. Jackson, meanwhile, wanted to keep things simple … except for the ostrich sausage … and some crispy cheese to try to redeem himself from his last Quickfire Challenge where he had the bright idea to crisp up his Tex-Mex queso.
Thankfully for Jackson, this week’s cheese experiment worked out better than his last one. Padma and Chris loved the texture and temperature of Damarr’s drop biscuit with shirred egg, smoked bacon, and hot honey, and Evelyn’s well-balanced biscuit with poached egg, chorizo, and country gravy, but it was Jackson’s scallion biscuit glazed in hot maple with ostrich sausage, crispy cheddar, and fried egg that won the day.
The judges were less fond of Ashleigh’s fried black pepper biscuit, Jae’s buttermilk biscuit and buttermilk fried chicken, and Buddha’s buttermilk biscuit with fried chicken, hot honey, and cheddar. But they’d all get a chance to redeem themselves in the next round.
Out came another guest judge, chef Wylie Dufresne, who presented the contestants with dishes to taste. They all looked the same, but each chef was describing different flavors, leaving them wondering if there was anything wrong with their taste buds (except for Jackson, who already knew his sense of taste was shot). It turned out that the dishes really were different — identical presentations, but one dish was sweet and the other was savory. That would be their challenge, to form teams of two who would work together to create a pair of dishes that would look the same but have different flavors.
But there would be no knife block with which to be randomly assigned partners. The chefs would arrange themselves into teams, starting with Jackson. His advantage from winning Quickfire was to select his partner first, and then the two of them would get an extra 30 minutes of cooking time. Jackson picked Buddha, which was a little surprising since Buddha just had one of the judges’ least favorite dishes in the Quickfire and in last week’s Elimination Challenge. But Jackson likes his modernist techniques and elegant plating, so he followed his instincts.
Then the remaining chefs arranged themselves: Damarr with Monique, Nick with Jaw, Jo with Evelyn, Ashleigh with Like, and Sarah with Robert. And those pairings would be important since both members of the losing team would be sent home. Naturally, that increased the pressure since it meant that every chef’s dish could potentially doom them and their partners. And collaborating also meant having to balance appearance and taste. Ashleigh was especially concerned with potentially sacrificing flavor to match the two dishes visually.
Naturally, each team had different ideas for how to create matching dishes. Nick and Jae would make noodles, one with udon and the other with daikon. Buddha would prepare strawberries to look like Jackson’s tomatoes. And Robert and Sarah focused on trying to create similar shapes and planned their dishes backwards from there; Sarah would make a shrimp dish … even though she’s allergic to shellfish.
The first day of cooking went smoothly for most, though Jo and Evelyn didn’t have enough time to get their pork belly as tender as they wanted it. Day two was trickier. After Buddha and Jackson made good use of their half-hour advantage, Robert and Sarah found that Robert’s panna cotta hadn’t set properly. “If our technique fails us, we fail,” said Sarah nervously. And Jo and Evelyn were again racing the clock, trying to plate and match their dishes right up to the very last minute.
It was time for the teams to present their dishes to the judges, including Padma, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Wyle Dufresne, and “Top Chef” All-Star Melissa King. Jackson and Buddha were up first to present their takes on an everything bagel: Jackson with salmon tartare, capers, shallots, cream cheese bavarois, marinated tomato, and buttermilk scallion dressing; Buddha with a white chocolate panna cotta, strawberry jelly, strawberry bon bons with cream cheese. And the dishes were an immediate hit. They tasted “fantastic,” according to Tom. Padma thought Buddha’s dessert might have been one of the best ever. And Melissa loved the textures.
Robert and Sarah were next, and they had bigger problems: Sarah’s brioche was too firm, while Robert’s panna cotta was too loose, probably because of the liquid from the fruit he included. The judges thought their flavors were on point, though, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.
Nick and Jae were mostly successful with their noodle dishes. They created two unique savory dishes, unlike most of the other teams who paired sweet with savory. Tom thought that was a smart idea because they still managed to create two dishes that tasted markedly different, though their noodles were overcooked.
Jo and Evelyn’s respective pork belly and goat cheese cheesecake were a split decision. The cheesecake was successful, though Tom thought it was too sweet. It was the pork belly that fell flat: both Tom and Melissa described it as leathery.
The last two teams fared better. Ashleigh and Luke made scallops and king oyster mushroom, respectively. Tom thought the way they sliced those ingredients was “brilliant,” and Wylie called it a visual “home run.” Ashleigh and Luke have had uneven results in previous challenges, so this was a great step up for both of them.
Damarr and Monique closed it out with his chicken live mousse cornbread sandwich and her coffee ice cream sandwich. Damarr’s cornbread was kinda dense, and Monique’s ice cream sandwich seemed a bit too simplistic, but Gail thought it was some of the best food they had all challenge.
What made this Judges’ Table so tense was that none of the teams fell flat on their faces. There were technical problems here and there, but there were no abject disasters, so two chefs would have to be eliminated for otherwise forgivable execution problems. But first came the good news. The top two teams weren’t surprising given the praise they received: Jackson and Buddha, and Ashleigh and Luke. After Tom called Ashley and Luuke’s dishes “absolutely stunning and delicious,” I thought that duo had it in the bag. But the judges gave the win to Jackson and Buddha.
It’s remarkable how much success Jackson has had all season so far despite his COVID-afflicted nose and taste buds. Imagine how good he would be if he could actually taste his food. Or perhaps his sensory limitations have forced him to trust his craft in a way that has actually improved his cooking. Either way, so far so good.
The bottom two teams, not too surprisingly, were Sarah and Robert, and Evelyn and Jo. The judges criticized both teams for basic cooking errors. Robert and Sarah’s poor textures went back to their poor preparations, and Padma was baffled as to why Sarah cooked shrimp in the first place when she’s allergic to shellfish and thus wasn’t particularly used to cooking it. Nevertheless, their dishes had good flavors. Jo and Evelyn, meanwhile, were actually praised for Evelyn’s dessert; what brought them down was the dry pork. And in the end it might have been that dessert that saved them because ultimately the judges decided to eliminate Sarah and Robert.
That was a swift and sudden downfall for the two chefs, who were on the winning team in the season premiere episode, with Robert declared the individual winner of that challenge. Now they’ll head to “Last Chance Kitchen” in the hopes of beating Leia Gaccione, who was eliminated in the season premiere episode.
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