“Top Chef” does Christmas and, like a typical Kentucky holiday dinner, there’s a lot of stress in the kitchen, people threatening to kill other people, and lots of things that leave a bad taste in your mouth.
It’s episode three, and already patterns are emerging. For instance, the chefs are learning that whenever host Padma Lakshmi smiles sweetly, there is a sting coming.
As in this week’s Quickfire Challenge, with guest judges Brooke Williamson, season 14 winner, and Richard Blaise, the “Top Chef” all-stars winner, in ugly sweaters.
No ugly sweater for Padma, though. She doesn’t do ugly.
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The chefs get instructions: Make your favorite holiday dish in 30 minutes, with just 2 minutes to pull together the ingredients. This seems completely doable. Something, frankly, I could do.
Then the twist: All the chefs end up swapping boxes. And, boy, do some of them end up with some strange stuff.
Kelsey ends up with asparagus and some ham and not much else thanks to Brian’s poor planning. Paducah chef Sara’s box, which ends up with Nini (last week’s winner,) doesn’t have any meat at all.
Kevin’s takes the cake, though, with five different kinds of flour but no eggs or other ingredients to make a dough. Justin who ends up stuck with that box and it isn’t a coincidence that his kimchi meatloaf ends up one of the worst, along with Kelsey’s asparagus (better watch your back, Brian) and Eddie’s carrot curry.
The chefs do the best they can with what they got, and for some that’s really quite something. Turns out Sara’s Jewish, and the judges love her turn on fried chicken liver. David’s leek “noodles” carbonara also get high marks for inventiveness. And Nini turned her meatless mess into a chutney.
David wins the Quickfire for the second week in a row and has immunity going into the Elimination Challenge.
That turns out to be a marathon: The chefs get home, and it’s Christmas Eve feast time, with French culinary legend chef Eric Ripert. They dine, then learn they have to make a dessert. In 2 hours.
Kelsey and Nini are thrilled; they’ve been pastry chefs. Brian and a couple of the others are floored; they’re meat guys through and through.
And in the end, that is pretty much how it plays out, with a few surprises: Eddie, who is once again winging it, turns out a nice play on strawberry shortcake with strawberries, fennel and almond streusel. It ends up being one of the top three, along with Kelsey’s improvised pot de creme with biscotti and Nini’s blackberry and lemon vacherin with meringue triangles.
Ripert says Kelsey’s is his favorite but that Nini’s dessert, with its balance, originality, simplicity and “deliciousness” again takes home the win. Is that a pattern emerging?
The worst dishes?
That distinction belongs to Kevin’s salty fruit and cheese, Pablo’s raspberries on some kind of weird pastry fail, and Brian’s super acidic fruit and biscuit thingy.
“They all messed up, and knew they messed up, but they didn’t really do anything about it,” Tom says.
If it’s that bad, don’t put it on a plate, he says. Words to live by.
Which is worse? Salty or acidic? Salty, it turns out. Kevin is sent to pack his knives for “Last Chance Kitchen.”
Next week: It’s Restaurant Wars!!! With this episode filmed in Lexington, look for lots of locals (including the back of my head.)
And lots and lots of hungry people: In the teaser, you see chefs saying they are going to run out of food (I think they might have) and Padma asking “How long have you been waiting?” (Hours and hours.)
Stay tuned; “Top Chef” airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on Bravo.