Top Chef Season 15, Episode 7: 'Olympic Dreams'
If you thought the chefs had a tough time “glamping” in the Colorado wilderness, just wait until you hear them grouse about German food, the subject of last week’s Elimination Challenge, which resulted in auf wiedersehen for Brother Luck, the chef of Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs, who made eyes roll when he apparently got his cultures crossed and inexplicably served an egg roll…at a German beer festival.
For those of you who may have missed it, Luck was banished to Last Chance Kitchen in the last episode, but he actually won the battle. He’s a fighter, that one.
There’s excitement at the Capitol Hill cheftestant slumbering pad. Chef Bruce Kalman is now a dad! We have a Top Chef baby! His name is Jude Paul, and Bruce is overcome with emotion after his wife calls him just before midnight to deliver the news.
Morning comes all too soon for the chefs when the doorbell rings at the crack of sunrise. The chefs struggle to raise their limbs out of bed and head downstairs to find host and judge Padma Lakshmi and Brooke Williamson, winner of Top Chef Season 14, at the front door.
Padma, who looks wonderfully refreshed, is cringingly perky when she asks the bleary-eyed crew if they’ve had enough sleep. There isn’t much time for them to yawn, much less answer, before she gleefully announces the Quickfire Challenge: create a “mouthwatering breakfast dish” featuring Nutella hazelnut spread. The chef who emerges triumphant gets immunity and a nice chunk of change—$5,000! That’s certainly enough Nutella to see baby boy Kalman through his potty training phase.
The chefs, decked out in their slippers and sweats, make a mad dash for ingredients—and kitchen space. “If there aren’t enough burners, what are we going to do?” wonders Carrie Baird, the combatant from Denver’s own Bar Dough. Despite her sleepless night, Carrie has the wherewithal to notice that just about everyone else is making a sweet dish. She, of course, chooses to do the opposite.
She hunts around the cramped kitchen for chiles. “I want to do something unexpected,” she declares, settling on a savory and spicy eggs Benedict with Nutella, strawberry-habanero jam, prosciutto, a poached egg and a “perfect, classic” hollandaise. “The best thing that you can do in this challenge is cook something that you would eat, and I would eat this for breakfast. I do eat this for breakfast. I love it,” she enthuses.
The chefs walk their dishes out to the patio, where Padma and Brooke are warming themselves by the toasty fire. Predictably, there are a lot of waffles. Carrie’s Nutella Benedict immediately sets her apart. “I’m really shocked at how well everything went together. I really got the essence of the Nutella, but it was a complementary flavor to the dish,” praises Brooke, who subsequently awards the hometown idol with the winning verdict: immunity and a cool five grand. “I’m good at taking simple comfort food and putting an odd twist on it. I mean, I put pepper jam with Nutella, which is weird, right? But it works,” she marvels.
Once Carrie finishes her explanation, Padma poses a question: “Are you ready for some games?” she asks. And then, right on cue, a trio of USA Olympians emerge: ice dancing gold medalist Meryl Davis; freeski slopestyle silver medalist Gus Kenworthy; and two-time winning skeleton racer John Daly.
Despite being filmed months ago, the airing of this episode is just three weeks shy of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, so the Elimination Challenge focuses on Team USA—Top Chef-style.
The chefs split off into three groups, and they must compete head-to-head in three rounds. Round one is all about speed—specifically feeding 30 diners in 45 minutes. Round two concentrates on precision, namely cooking a protein at the perfect temperature and exhibiting three precise knife cuts: chiffonade, bâtonnet and brunoise, all of which are dedicated to vegetable cuts. The chefs that compete in round three have the luxury of free-styling it, but there’s a catch: The mystery ingredient won’t be exposed until just moments before they start cooking. “Use all of your tricks,” urges Padma.
Who’s going to win the gold? Who’s going to get kicked off the podium? Let the games begin!
Top Chef Kitchen has been magically transformed into Top Chef Stadium, complete with bleachers, a pumped up crowd and scorecards that the judging panel—which includes the Olympians—hold up after each chef completes a round. Carrie and her cohorts—Fatima Ali and Adrienne Cheatham—make up the Red Team, and Carrie, who's safe from elimination, takes the free-style round. “I’m going to get random products and adapt to them,” she freewheels.
Head judge Tom Colicchio throws a curveball at the chefs competing in round two when he asks them to give him an exact temperature of their proteins…before they’re cooked; he tells them to hand over their meat thermometers, too. And that’s not all: One point will be deducted from the scores, he warns, for every three degrees of temperature fluctuation.
Round three starts, and the mystery ingredient is revealed: short ribs. Carrie makes her own fettuccine, matching the pasta with butter-poached morel and oyster mushrooms, shards of braised short ribs and blue cheese sauce. “I tend to push the envelope with my flavors, especially my flavor combinations,” she says.
That strategy doesn’t do her any favors: “It’s a very amateurish attempt at making pasta,” scolds Tom. “God knows why she did that,” he puzzles. And then he just adds more insult to injury: “It was one of my least favorite dishes all season. Fortunately for her, she has immunity.” Brother Luck may be gone, but it looks like he may have left a little luck behind for his Colorado teammate.
The Blue Team, comprised of daddy Bruce, Joe Sasto and Joe Flamm, wins the gold in the Elimination Challenge, and it’s Sasto—the Joe with the signature mustache—who wins the individual gold for his urfa biber-spiced roasted chicken with apple brunoise, sorrel chiffonade and butternut squash bâtonnet.
Everyone on the white team—Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, Tanya Holland and Chris Scott—is up for elimination, and there’s obvious friction between Claudette and Tanya, who take multiple swipes at each other throughout the Challenge. The Olympics—and any hope of winning Top Chef—come to end for Tanya, who’s told to pack her knives and go.
She competes in Last Chance Kitchen against Luck, and damn if Luck doesn’t have multiple streaks of good karma. He edges out Tanya in a frantic 10-minute challenge. We’re nearly halfway through the season and both chefs from Colorado still have a chance to win the whole kit and caboodle. So far, so good.
Next week on Top Chef Colorado: It’s Restaurant Wars at Mile High Station!
By Lori Midson
For its fifteenth 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. Tune into Top Chef Colorado every Thursday night on Bravo. Check your local listings for airtimes.