TOP CHEF SEASON 15 EPISODE 10 RECAP
After last week’s Denver Broncos tailgating Elimination Challenge, in which none of the chefs scored a touchdown (at least according to head judge Tom Colicchio) and host Padma Lakshmi miserably announced that Fatima Ali, a fan favorite, must pack her knives and go, we’re down to just five remaining chefs, including Denver’s own Carrie Baird, chef of Bar Dough.
Meanwhile, over on Last Chance Kitchen, Brother Luck, the Colorado Springs chef who was eliminated several weeks ago, just keeps browbeating his fellow cheftestants, winning challenge after challenge after challenge. We wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Luck is the one booted chef who breaks all culinary barriers and returns to the competition. Fingers crossed!
Back at the Top Chef sleeping quarters, the surviving chefs reflect on their journeys thus far and agree that the road is bumpy, the challenges just keep getting more difficult and they need to step up their game. But Baird and Chris Scott, the team that won last week’s Elimination Challenge, are in a celebratory mood; their prize for scooping up the win were tickets to the Super Bowl. Yep, they were front and center when the Philadelphia Eagles deflated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Baird also gets to make a phone call to her dad. “We talk every single day, so being apart has been a challenge for both of us,” she sighs, adding that her dad, who lives in an assisted living residence, is showing early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. “He’s not always super-lucid, but I can tell that he’s pretty proud of me, and a big part of why I’m here is to hopefully make his life better. Making him more comfortable and getting him the care he needs is a big motivation for me,” shares an emotional Baird.
While the rest of us are left to ponder the realities of aging, the chefs pile into their BMWs and realize, rather quickly, that they’re not heading to the Top Chef kitchen. Baird soon figures out their destination: It’s the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, famous, for among other things, hosting horror novelist Stephen King and his wife for one night in 1973—a terrorizing 24 hours that later became the inspiration for King’s bestselling novel, The Shining.
As soon as Los Angeles-based chef Bruce Kalman realizes the connection, he turns creepy. “Red rum, red rum,” he throats in a shuddersome inflection that happens to coincide rather nicely with the macabre music that suddenly turns Top Chef into the Frightmare Compound.
Lakshmi, whose eye makeup is a rather ghastly purple, greets the chefs in the lobby of the Stanley and announces that this is the last Quickfire Challenge of the season. She gives the chefs a cherry little history lesson that details King’s night of horror and then asks them if they’re “ready for the scary part.”
Everyone, it turns out, must create a dessert that visualizes their worst nightmare, and most of the chefs seem more than a little terrified, including Baird. “I don't like scary movies, and I don’t watch them. My imagination is a little too vivid for that,” she professes, noting that her dreams often include a bit too much detail. She then recounts one of them, in which she makes tater tots with pine nuts and jam.
In other news, Denver-based Craftsy has donated some scary tools to ensure that the chefs don't go without. Turns out, too, that Lakshmi is going to judge the dishes in Room 217, the haunted slumbering chamber in which King and has wife spent a restless night.
The chefs pull out their bag of tricks, and some of the desserts look downright diabolical, which, I guess, is the whole point. There’s blood, guts and eerie stickmen in Scott’s bag. And Baird has plenty of tricks, too, but time runs out on the clock before she can assemble them on her plate, so it’s no surprise that Lakshmi is aghast when Baird delivers her meager blobs of panna cotta—and not much else. “It’s a good thing no one’s going home after the Quickfire,” preaches Lakshmi. Baird agrees, admitting that she’d cry a river if that were the case.
Lakshmi tastes the remaining desserts, and it’s clear that she really, really loves the terror theme, most notably the shock and awe of Scott’s “Pushed from 12,000 feet” dessert, which resembles a blood massacre but was allegedly a chocolate buttermilk cake with marzipan. It was probably the dead stickman hiker that cemented his Quickfire Challenge victory. Smith, we learn, is, uh, deathly, afraid of heights. “That dessert was magnificent,” enthuses Lakshmi, who tells Scott that he’s also won $5,000 from Craftsy. Cool!
For the Elimination Challenge, Lakshmi bids farewell to the ghosts at the Stanley and completely switches gears, tasking the chefs with creating a dish that epitomizes the culinary stories of their journey on Top Chef. “It’s your final opportunity in Denver to show us what you’ve got,” she warns the chefs, adding that they’ll be cooking for craft beer geek and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, as well as guest judges and Denver chefs Frank Bonanno, Steven Redzikowski and Tommy Lee. It’s going to be a fancy affair at the governor’s residence.
The chefs return to the familiar territory of their prep-and-cook kitchen, except Colicchio is waiting for them, which is not normal. The chefs are uniformly bewildered. “For some reason on this season, the food in Last Chance kitchen is better food than what you’re cooking, and if we don’t see a big improvement, I may bring two people in from Last Chance Kitchen,” he warns. “Cook like you guys know you can and just bring it. I want to see great stuff tomorrow night,” he stresses, concluding his pep talk.
His comments, of course, invite reflection. “My journey has given me the confidence to be bold,” contemplates Baird. “I hate to admit that I didn't have very high expectations for myself coming in. Cooking with all these chefs from Chicago, New York and LA…I’m just the small-town girl, but here I am,” quips Baird who, unlike the other chefs that mostly want to recreate redemption dishes from past failures, decides to make a dish that combines all of her challenge wins. “I’m remembering the challenges where I did well and taking little pieces of all of those and making them into one cohesive, colorful, Colorado-forward dish,” says Baird.
Meanwhile, Scott is making a dish inspired by his fellow chefs—the “’people who I’ve shared this experience with.” He wants to pay homage to the friendships he’s cultivated, which is all warm and fuzzy and sweet, but he’s also making pasta, something he has yet to do on Top Chef. Baird is flattered, but concerned. “I don’t think you should be practicing a new technique on Top Chef. What are the chances that you’re going to nail it?” she wonders. Good point.
The parade of judges file into the governor’s mansion, and “Hick,” as he’s affectionately known in Denver, sweeps them into the formal, olde-worlde dining room. “I’m not sure this room has seen this much food loving…ever,” giggles the governor, who then asks if he gets the deciding vote. Cute. But, no.
When Baird’s plate arrives—Colorado elk with roasted cauliflower, shishito peppers, blueberry poblano sauce and Shepherd’s Halo cheese from Fruition Farms Creamery—the governor realizes the errors of being a novice judge. “The portions are getting larger. I should have paced myself,” he confesses. The other judges smile knowingly and heap accolades on Baird’s plate.
“This dish is very flavorful, and I think that’s is the most intensely flavored and delicious food that I’ve had so far,” raves Lakshmi.
Baird, for her part, predicts that she and the governor will “probably be best friends this time next year.” It’s worth noting, too, that all of the judges, with the exception of Hickenlooper, are sipping wine. The governor is drinking a pint of beer. Wait—it’s actually two pints of beer. Way to promote the city’s craft beer scene, guv!
The governor bids farewell to the judges, who saunter off to deliberate. “It’s been an honor having you,” says Hick, in the way that governors usually do.
Baird, “Mustache” Joe Sasto and Adrienne Cheatham are in the top three. Bonanno, the chef and restaurateur behind Mizuna and numerous other Denver restaurants, bestows the victory lap to Sasto, whose lamb agnolotti with beets, hazelnuts and Cacio Pecora cheese, also from Fruition Farms Creamery, won the judges over. “It was a perfect dish,” beams Bonanno.
Tonight, it’s Kalman, who has a newborn baby to kiss and cuddle back home, that’s told to pack his knives and go, which leaves Cheatham, Baird, Sasto and Scott to battle it out in the finals.
Next on Top Chef: The chefs are Telluride bound, and someone from Last Chance Kitchen rejoins the competition.
By Lori Midson
For its 15th season, Top Chef, the smash Bravo TV show that features 15 chefs from across the country competing in high-pressure culinary challenges, unfolds in venues across Colorado, including several locations in Denver.