With challenges this week featuring breakfast, coffee and beer, I worry that they're burning through our local clichés too quickly. If we don't eventually get a gluten-free vegan challenge, I'll eat my locally-made artisanal wool hat.
The Quickfire: It's Top Chef Diner time, y'all!
Padma says Portland has amazing breakfasts, and local Top Chef Ambassador Gregory Gourdet rattles off Fried Egg I'm In Love, Canard and Mother's Bistro as examples. Not gonna argue with ya, GG.
The chefs are playing line cook. Each panelist calls out a dish they'd like to eat—shrimp and grits, steak and eggs, dim sum and so on—and the first two to ding their bell gets a half-hour to make eight plates. As someone points out, that's about three minutes a plate. Oof.
Sara dings on shrimp and grits, along with Jamie Tran, chef-owner of The Black Sheep in Las Vegas. Gabriel pairs off against Maria Mazon in a battle of Spam and kimchi fried rice. ("I don't know why I hit that bell," Gabriel says, wandering off to find pineapple.)
So it goes, with fairly simple breakfast hits, until the last panelist, Richard Blais, asks for corned beef hash, an over-medium egg, hash browns and Hollandaise. Clearly someone hit up Farma on the way to the judges panel. Chris and Nelson, the holdouts, get that hot mess of a mission and wind up very sweaty and with half-finished plates for their efforts.
In the end, Jamie wins best breakfast dish, with a gochujang shrimp with cheddar polenta, besting both her direct opponent, Sara, who made a shrimp and grits fritter, and all other comers. She gets immunity and emits a whole series of weird sound effects, as is quickly becoming her trademark.
The Main Challenge: For the main event, chefs draw knives to choose which vaunted Portland ingredient would be the main star of their dish: beer or coffee (cue shots of Stumptown bags). Meal planning and shopping ensues, then everyone goes home to Hotel Monaco for the night.
In the morning, the chefs are met by Tom Colicchio in the kitchen of Red Star Tavern (conveniently located in the hotel), where he tells them they need to pair off into teams of coffee and beer, and must use their pre-purchased ingredients to create a cohesive dish. There's a lot of worries about how to make coffee and beer work together, which is something that my digestive system learned to handle long ago.
Gabriel pairs off with Dawn Burrell, an Olympic Track & Field champ turned Houston chef. I've been super-interested in Dawn since Episode 1, but she's struggled to get food on the plate in time and, in true elite athlete style, is real intense. The two have to figure out if Gabriel's ahi and Dawn's pork ribs are gonna go together. (They do not.) Dawn is making the ribs, while Gabriel tackles a marinade, herb salad and a sour beer-compressed watermelon. Like in the first episode, Gabriel is clashing with his female partner, saying Dawn is "steamrolling" him when she refuses to not add pepper to her coffee spice rub. Dawn, in turn, says Gabe is "chefsplaining things to me he has no business doing."
Meanwhile, German chef Brittanny Anderson is new BFFs with her partner, Sasha Gruman. Sasha gets a storyline about how she got sober during the pandemic (props to her), and the two laugh their way through prepping a pork dish with a coffee hazelnut crunch. I'm personally into the concept that Maria and Nelson create, putting a beer and curry lobster tail into a chile relleno with a coffee pasilla negro, but they make it out of judging as just safe.
Sara and her partner, Gabe Erales of Austin, are also getting along swimmingly, and put together a pork tenderloin cured in espresso with a smoked yogurt with hazelnut salsa macha and a tortilla made with stout and pilsner.
Despite the spiciness in the kitchen, Dawn and Gabriel make the top, along with Shota Nakajima from Seattle and Avishar Baruta from Columbus, Ohio, and Sara and Gabe. Gail notes that Sara has "a thing with yogurt," as she's twice now centered it in a dish. Shota and Avishar, with a seriously bonkers-looking lobster sunomono with a double cream coffee and stout reduction and carbonated grapes, take the win.
Sasha and Brittanny are now besties torn asunder—Sasha is eliminated on the back of a dish the judges found chalky and that didn't truly blend their two approaches. Gotta watch out for anyone who gets an emotional edit during the episode. Sorry, Sasha.
Episode MVP: Padma's pained facial expression when trying to react to Jamie's bleeps and blorps after she wins the Quickfire. Cringe personified.
Biggest bummer: I'm not sure it was fun or fair to watch Chris and Nelson get robbed of a chance at immunity because of Blais' ridiculous diner order. Chris was in the bottom, and if he'd gone home, I'd have written a strongly worded complaint letter.
Richard Blais hair watch: After some truly impressive bouffants in the opener, Blais opted for a blowback this week, like a softly receding high tide.
Other thoughts: Apparently Sara has a stuffed fish back at Hotel Monaco that she kisses before each challenge. She's doing really well, so keep snuggling that salmon, I guess.
Shota and Avishar are also the buddy comedy I'm here for in this competition. While they gently dunked on each other, Avishar also sweetly thanked Shota for pushing him to do things he wouldn't have otherwise to get their win. Dawww.