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Top Chef Season 15, Episode 6: 'Now That's a Lot of Schnitzel'



While much of the United States shivers amidst record-breaking low temperatures, the 11 remaining chefs reflect on last week’s Elimination Challenge, which unfolded in the show-marinated hills of Estes Park.

Colorado’s sky-high altitude, the lack of sleep and camping hangovers have made most of the chefs grouchy—including hometown heroine Carrie Baird, the chef of Bar Dough who sailed through the Elimination Challenge and seemed to be the only chef who’d ever actually slept on the ground, in the cold, in Colorado. “That was torture,” she grouses. 

Brother Luck, the Colorado Springs chef who appeared awestruck by Baird’s outdoor survival skills, is more concerned with the hierarchy now that Lee Anne Wong, the chef from Honolulu along with Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, who currently resides in San Diego are back in the competition following “Last Chance Kitchen,” in which both chefs performed so valiantly that head judge Tom Colicchio couldn’t bring himself to send either of them packing.

“When it comes to Top Chef, you have no idea what’s coming. It’s crazy,” Luck says. “And with the whole bringing back of Lee Anne and Claudette, there’s even more pressure to step up your game. There are more contestants, and you’re not in the top 10 anymore. I’m a little freaked out.”

But Luck isn’t nearly as freaked out as Wong, who’s pregnant and having a rough time with the elevation. “I have a headache that won’t go away, and I’m dizzy. I feel terrible right now,” she moans. And she’s not kidding: Moments later, she’s in an ambulance headed for the hospital.

Meanwhile, the rest of the chefs pile into the Top Chef Kitchen, where host and judge Padma Lakshmi reminds the chefs of their experience in the frigid wilderness: “Did you finally thaw out?” she quips. Richard Blais, chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars, is introduced as the guest judge. Tangent: He’s got the coolest purple glasses on the planet.  

In anticipation of the Quickfire Challenge, Blais flips over a chalkboard, which reveals dishes from the chef’s own restaurant menus. But the dishes are hardly pedestrian: They’re complicated, labor intensive, ingredient heavy and a few take more hours to prepare than the longevity of some weddings. The challenge? Recreate the dish that takes eons to produce and make it approachable for the home 30 minutes. “It’s a big challenge to take a restaurant dish and simplify it for the home cook without removing the sense of authorship that made it your dish to begin with,” Blaise admits.

There’s a collective sense of panic among the chefs as the gravity of the time-sensitive clock sinks in, but there’s also determination. The chef who emerges victorious will be granted immunity and his or her winning recipe will be featured in a BuzzFeed “Tasty” video, which means instant social media stardom for one competitor.

Baird is tasked with simplifying a Thai curry mussel dish. Luck, who must unscramble his paella, declares that it’s “pretty much impossible.” Nonetheless, he’s determined to show off his skills, if only to increase his presence on social media platforms. “This is a great opportunity to market yourself to the masses, and I want this Quickfire. And I’m going to take it!” he barks.

The Quickfire ends with a slew of deflated chefs, none more so than Zepeda-Wilkins, who doesn’t have time to plate her dish for the judges. She clearly won’t be running a victory lap.

Luck’s squid ink paella positions him in the top three. “In the amount of time you had, you got an incredible amount of depth, and the chorizo gave it the umami that this dish wanted,” praises Blais, who also likes the fact that Baird toasted her bread.

Fatima Ali, who was born in Pakistan and now cooks in New York City, has consistently impressed the judges week after week, and if you were placing bets on who rides off into the sunset with the Top Chef crown, she’d be a contender. Wait, maybe not. Her Pakistani fried chicken concoction results in a cringing critique from Lakshmi, who’s from India: “Last week, when you cooked Western food, it was so flavorful. Why aren’t you cooking our food like that”?!?!? she melodramatically asks, obviously mind-boggled by Ali’s misfire.

Despite the accolades bestowed upon Luck, it’s Chris Scott, the chef of New York’s Butterfunk Kitchen, who emerges triumphant for his pepper pot shrimp with Jerk spice. #ImNotAJerkIJustCookLikeOne. Just kidding. Scott has chops and he seems like a really nice guy, even if he does admit that he’s got no idea what a hashtag is. Of course, he quickly rescinds the comment. Bring on the tasty hashtags! 

Cue Lakshmi, who cheerfully asks the chefs if they’re ready for a party. And, on that note, she introduces the Elimination Challenge guest judge. Aha! It’s Keegan Gerhard, a Denver-based pastry whiz who, we learn, was raised in Germany. Naturally, the challenge pertains to German food. “All of my first food memories were absolutely about German food, which goes beyond pretzels, beer and mustard. I want to see is you elevate German food to a new level,” he tells the chefs. Let’s get this party started!

The soiree, which is actually a German festival that unfolds at Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, includes a little twist: Along with a Germanic dish, the chefs also have to create a radler. A what? “It’s like a summer shandy,” explains Gerhard, adding that the libation is a fifty-fifty mix of beer and fruit soda. The chefs, of course, are in craft-beer country, so Colorado beers are front-and-center in their liquid creations.

To acclimate the chefs, Gerhard whisks them away to Rhein Haus, A German-inspired biergarten in Denver’s Lower Downtown. The chefs are treated to currywurst, duck prosciutto, strudel, schweinschaxe (braised pork shank) and a radler. Everyone is animated, except for Scott, who shares his sobering story of alcoholism and admits that he’s uncomfortable with the “old demons knocking on the door.”


Also unsettling: Luck’s dish. For some inexplicable reason, he chooses to do a fried “spring roll,” or, you know, an egg roll. Mind you, this is a German festival, an element that’s sort of integral to this whole elimination thing. “My parents traveled around Asia, and they were both exotic dancers. I was raised around a lot of Asian culture, and I use that as inspiration,” muses Luck, who just made everyone in Colorado (and Germany) erupt in a unified sob. What on earth is he thinking?

Baird, on the other hand, channels David Hasselhoff, who was born in America, but, hey, he’s a legend in Deutschland, so Baird, whose dish is a David “Hassle” Hoff duck-fat potato with apple-studded kraut and coins of bratwurst, gets a pass.

Meanwhile, Wong, who returns to the Top Chef house after a brief stay in the hospital, makes the decision to exit the competition on her own accord to focus on herself and her pregnancy. The chefs bid her a tearful farewell, but Wong is a fierce competitor, and some of the chefs are undoubtedly relieved that she won’t be around to fend them off.

The judges make their rounds. Predictably, Luck’s fried egg roll stuffed with bok choy (seriously?), summer sausage, apples and potatoes is met with shock and snorts. “Were at a German beer garden and we’re talking about egg rolls. Something’s wrong here,” snickers Colicchio. Gerhard is slightly kinder, but agrees that it’s a fail. Luck’s radler, which includes Odell Brewing Company’s 90 Shilling ale, chai tea and lots of other things, receives mixed reviews.

Baird pairs her Hasselhoff thingamajig with an Oskar Blues IPA, jalapeno and limonata radler. Her dish generates admiration, but her radler renders Colicchio horrified. Sidekick judge Graham Elliot labels it “brutal.” Baird looks like she’s going to have an anxiety attack, but quickly recovers.

Colicchio and his cohorts saunter off to deliberate, and Gerhard kicks off the sound bites: “You took some food and radlers to places they’ve never gone. And I liked the way you attacked it. It was inspiring,” he says.

The Elimination Challenge winner is a legitimately shocked Tanya Holland, whose pork and caramelized apple croquette with a cheddar mustard sauce, wows the judges. So, too, does her peach-ginger radler. In return for her victory, she gets three-night trip to Palm Springs. Yay!

Luck, to no one’s surprise, is in the bottom three. And to no one’s surprise, Lakshmi bids him auf wiedersehen.

Despite his ejection, Luck considers himself, well, lucky: “Being on Top Chef was accomplishing a goal. I wanted to prove to myself that I could hang with all of these chefs, and I did,” he says. “I cook Brother Luck food, and I’m really enjoying where that cuisine is going right now because it’s blank pages ahead of me and I’m getting to write all of those words.”

Luck has the opportunity to redeem himself in “Last Chance Kitchen,” where he’s pitted against Tu David Phu, the Oakland, Calif., chef who was axed in episode five for his mediocre three-way rabbit dish.

“It’s like Eminem. You get one shot,” says Luck, who’s regained his confidence and insists that Colicchio isn’t going to get rid of him that easily. “I don’t want to lose on another technicality,” he mutters. Technicality? Not.

Anyway, in order to stay in the competition, the chefs must cook a unique dish using the unconventional parts of trees native to Colorado! TREES! Spruce tips! Pine tips! Curry leaves! Bay leaves!

The Colorado Springs chef picks pork for his protein and toasts guajillo chiles and avocado leaves, which result in ash, and blends them with brown cane sugar, pine syrup, cumin and salt to create a glaze.

Phu wants to make a chicken roulade, but he needs plastic wrap to properly do the bird-in-a-bag trick, a restaurant hack that involves rolling the chicken tightly in plastic wrap and poaching it in hot water to cement the cylindrical shape. But he can’t find any plastic wrap, so he resorts to plan B: a flour-and-milk curry with chicken. “The skin is kind of flabby,” remarks Colicchio during his taste test.

Luck, it turns out, had a huge roll of plastic wrap right in front of him the entire time, but he fails to mention that fact to Phu, who’s seething. “That’s a dirty way to play it,” he scowls. “My bad,” smirks Luck.

Survival of the fittest.   

It’s reckoning time. “Both dishes were very focused and very clean,” enthuses Colicchio, who wonders why the two chefs waited until “Last Chance Kitchen” to prepare some of their best food. “The pork was perfectly roasted, and I love what you did with the avocado ash, but the rest of the dish was kind of an afterthought,” opines Colicchio, who then announces his verdict: It’s Luck’s lucky day. He wins the challenge, so he’ll be back next week to compete in another round of “Last Chance Kitchen,” much to the chagrin of Phu, who skulks off with no love for Luck.

“You look like you’re determined,” Colicchio tells Luck, who snarls, “I’m a big ol’ Rottweiler that just got the door open. I’m coming for that steak, and I want that prize. The king of one-liners is clearly in it to win it.

Next week on Top Chef Colorado: While chef Bruce Kalman gleefully announces that he’s going to be a dad, like, any minute now, and the chefs appear to compete in some sort of competition that involves real athletes, which makes them giddy, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. There’s obvious friction between chefs Tanya Holland and Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins.

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. 

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