The Reynolds Wrap Challenge
Improvisation. That was the idea behind Episode 7’s Top Chef: Seattle quickfire challenge. In a fairly hilarious take on a white elephant gift exchange, the chefs were told they could make anything they wanted . . . only all the ingredients were wrapped in aluminum foil. “You open it, you use it,” Padma instructed. “And Reynolds Wrap is your only cooking vessel.”
Bart was excited, like a little kid opening up shiny silver presents and making hats of the wrapping paper. Micah, not so much. “All you can really do is hope for the best – unless you’re Superman and can see through foil,” he reasons.
Only some chefs hope for the best, and others try to make it happen, like Chef Kristen. I don’t know what kind of person would look at a cupboard of silver-wrapped food and think it feasible, even reasonable, and make a sponge cake. Danyele’s reaction? “Are you kidding? She’s making a cake. That’s the craziest sh&* I’ve ver heard of.”
Then there was John – is the most hated chef in Dallas turning into the whiniest, or what? He grabbed a big heavy thing wrapped in foil and complained after opening it, thinking, or hoping, he’d gotten a bag of herbs. “What am I going to do with a pineapple?” he bemoans. Come on, Chef Tesar. Even I can come up with at least a dozen ways to use a pineapple.
Overall, the Reynolds Wrap Challenge goes fairly smoothly. The chefs are in comparatively high spirits with no inter-chefonal drama. They make pots with handles, pots without handles – Bart even makes a colander.
Guest judge is Stephanie Izard, Top Chef’s Season 4 winner and the only woman – so far! – to win the competition. Her least favorite dishes were from Brooke, who fell to the bottom for a lack of seasoning on her bacon roasted yams. Micah, whose lamb was too rare, and Josh, whose dish was deemed as just plain uninspired.
Her favorites were Danyele’s cannelini bean stew, Sheldon’s smoky lemongrass scallops, and Kristen’s almond and chocolate sponge cake with buttered apples. Kristen won the quickfire, and earned immunity.
Quickfire challenge winner Kristen Kish:
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It’s a Blenderbuss
In the elimination challenge, the chefs are to cook with berries in a head to head competition, creating a dish that highlights a specific berry for 150 festival guests at Remlinger Farms. Stakes are high once again – the loser is booted. The winner receives $10,000.
The pairing are:
- Sheldon and Micah with strawberries
- Danyele and Josh, a Texas-Oklahoma face off, with blueberries
- John and Stefan, the oldest chefs (as Stefan pointed out), with gooseberries
- Lizzie and Josie with raspberries (and Lizzie has cooked for Desmond tutu so don’t mess with her!)
- Brooke and Bart, the last of the bunch, with blackberries
- Kristen, as quickfire challenge winner, cooks alone. She gets tayberries.
The chefs head out to Central Market, and while there is the usual running around and chaos, we see that Kristen seems to have her ideas clearly dialed in and is comfortable with her shopping. We also see Stefan rejecting fresh tuna that doesn’t look fresh enough and instead chooses a high-quality fresh frozen tuna.
Back at the Top Chef house, John starts dissing Stefan for his choice of frozen food. Kristen and Stefan, sprawled on the sofa in a flirt-fest, just smirk. The next morning everyone is psyched about the bucolic setting they’re heading into, but as soon as they arrive at Remlinger Farms, chaos sets in.
It’s a Blenderbuss. Bart and John, frantically prepping their offerings, butt heads over blenders. John insists, “I’m using it, I’m using it right now!” Bart turns away in disgust, “He’s not lending it, he’s not even using it . . . do I hear a blending? Noooo.” Something explodes out of Josh’s blender, hitting Danyele in the face. Josh “apologizes” by continuing to denigrate her for the camera, continuing a train of thought he started during the Anna Faris/Chris Pratt challenge.
John is whining again, this time complaining about not being able to measure anything. He’s making a white bread/garlic/chorizo/gooseberry gazpacho and is having a hard time getting the proportions right. He also continually calls out Stefan for using frozen tuna, even pointing it out to Tom Colicchio!
Soon the crowd of 150 guests arrive, and they are charged with deciding who is on the top and bottom by voting for their favorites. Josie, preternaturally exuberant, puts on a show for the guests while she makes each -“Rock and Roll” – to order. In one of this season’s judges’ highlights, Gail Simmons whispers to Tom, “Is she high?”
Here’s what the chefs concocted:
- Josie: Rock n’ Raspberry Roll: Sockeye Salmon, Dungeness Crab & Raspberry Aioli
- Kristen: Matcha Goat Milk Custard with Macerated Tayberries
- Bart: Blackberry Soup with Salmon & Rhubarb Yogurt
- Stefan: White Gazpacho with Spanish Chorizo, Gooseberries & Sweet Grapes
- Josh: Savory Goat Cheese Mousse with Blueberry Compote
- Stefan: Cali Crudo with Radishes, Gooseberries & Spiced Vinaigrette
- Sheldon: Ahi Summer Roll: Ahi Poke, Strawberries & Sweet Chili Sauce
- Danyele: Chicken pine nut terrine with blueberry mostarda
- Micah: Strawberry fried chicken with strawberry and bacon biscuit
- Lizzie: Raspberry Steamed Cabbage Roll with Heritage Pork & Bacon Stuffing
- Brooke: Chocolate pudding with blackberry tapioca
Padma came into the stew room and asked to see John, Josie, Bart, Micah, Danyele first. Turnaround burn . . . these chefs all lost their head to head battle, with the guests’ tally matching exactly the judges’ scores.
“I’m not making excuses,” John told his judges about what one guest called “cheeseburger soup,” but he certainly wasn’t shy about ticking off reasons why he was at the bottom. Cut to Stefan, also weighing in on the awfulness of the chorizo gazpacho, “I wouldn’t even flush my poop with it, that’s how bad it is.” Seriously, Stefan?
The judges were the most catty about Josie’s dish. “It could have been pepto bismol. And after I ate it I almost needed some Pepto Bismol,” said Tom. Harsh. Beyond harsh.
The judges let the chefs go back and stew while they declared the winner. Sheldon, Brooke, Josh, Stefan, Kristen were all on top with the best dishes. And the winning dish? Kristen Kish, with her second double win! The judges unanimously adored her tayberry-goat cheese offering, Stephanie Izard deeming it “flawless” and Tom stating that he “loved” the olive oil and tayberry together.
“It’s so brutal, man” -Chef John Tesar on being at the bottom
Based on the judge’s comments, I though it was a toss-up between Danyele and Josie for the final loss, but in the end Danyele’s rubbery chicken and overly crunchy crostini caused her the elimination, and Josie survived to cook another day, as they say.
Whew! I can’t wait until next week! In the meantime, please go to Twitter and vote to save your favorite chef’testant: