Episode 5 of Top Chef: Portland launches right into it without any pretense, and so shall I.
Eleven chefs remain, including both of Portland’s representatives, Sara Hauman of Soter Vineyards and Gabriel Pascuzzi of Stacked Sandwiches and Mama Bird. This week’s elimination challenge sends chefs to the drive-in. Let’s see who gets two thumbs up and who gets a rotten tomato.
The Quickfire: Decked out in roses, the Top Chef kitchen has never looked more beautiful than today. Padma and former contestant-turned-judge Amar Santana (Season 13) emerge, and Padma offers another PDX platitude: “The people of Portland love roses.”
With Mother’s Day coming up, the charge is to make a dish honoring the chefs’ mother figures by using roses in any form. This is an ingredient that earns a unanimous groan from the group—Avishar notes he’s banned it from his restaurants for its soapy taste. It’s a tough ingredient: too much and it gets inedible, but it’s also easy to not add enough.
A few chefs, including Sara and Maria, go the salad route, which, like, moms eat salads, I get it. Sara wants to use buttermilk, but there is none, so she—I kid you not—uses yogurt for the fourth time in five episodes. Someone get this lady an Activia sponsorship.
Gabriel notes he doesn’t have a good relationship with his mom, and instead talks up his sisters as he makes a cured snapper with hibiscus rose juice and rose pickles. Chris, who was at the bottom recently for cooking some not-great Haitian food, goes back again to his roots, this time making labouyi, a cornmeal porridge with rose water and candied pistachios. He notes it’s a risk, so we’ll see how that goes for him.
After 30 minutes, the team presents their plates. Maria and Sara’s salads land them in the bottom, along with Nelson, who doesn’t get enough rose flavor in his dish.
Chris’ return to Haiti pays off. He’s in the top with Byron and Gabe, and he wins, pulling down immunity and an advantage in the elimination challenge.
Elimination Challenge: Richard Blais and Tom Colicchio saunter in, and Blais makes a crack about the studio smelling like Grandma’s purse. Rose is my go-to scent and I have decided (after two glasses of wine) that I will fight this man.
This is a fun challenge: Portland Expo is being transformed into a drive-in theater, where 50 cars will pull up to watch the chefs in their final push to plate on the big screen. The chefs draw knives to form two teams, and one member of each team will face off against the other to see who can make the best play on six genres: comedy, drama, action, sci-fi, horror and romance. If there’s a tie, the best dish of the day will win it outright.
The chefs are warned to make car-friendly food—nothing too messy or drippy.
On the yellow team is Jamie, Gabriel, Sara, Shota and Nelson. The green team is Gabe, Dawn, Avishar, Maria and Byron. Chris gets the advantage of picking his team, and he goes yellow.
Jamie—she of many sound effects—for once states plainly that she’s nervous about a team challenge, specifically because “Gabriel rubs people the wrong way.” It’s a nice set up for the planning, where she talks about wanting to make a play on White Castle for the comedy entry. Gabriel immediately challenges this (has he not seen Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle!?) and Jamie bows to his idea to make chicken wings, because, as Gabriel says, “Funny bone, chicken bone.” Ehhhhhh?
Meanwhile, Gabriel decides to make cauliflower tots with the act of dipping them into sauce as his “action.” Sara, breaking Portland ranks, calls his concept “pulling at straws.”
Maria is a struggle-bus this episode, worrying she’s too uncompromising in her approach as a Mexican chef, and crying on her call home. Instead of fading, she goes hard, making 65 sausages and buns from scratch for a Sonoran dog. Love the energy.
At the drive-in, we get some good old Portland pouring rain. Cars start pulling in, and I have decided (after three glasses of wine) to become personally offended that I wasn’t invited to this party. The judging begins.
For comedy, it’s Jamie’s chicken wings vs. Byron’s Korean Fried Chicken. Chicken, you see, is high comedy. Jamie says she likes to fry her wings for seven minutes to get them crispy, but her team tells her to go for less time. She again capitulates, and the judges clock her for having rubbery, messy-to-eat-in-the-car fare. Point to the green team.
Up next is drama. Dawn makes a popcorn duo, while Chris makes harissa-rubbed ribs. Apparently the yellow team missed the memo on not making food that requires multiple napkins, and we’re blessed with a shot of former Top Chef-fers and Portland locals Doug Adams and BJ Smith trying to get a handle on that rib. Point, again, to the green team.
For action, Maria explains that a Sonoran dog is what you eat after you get some action in the bars, while Gabriel’s doing a lot of heavy narrative lifting about “choosing your own adventure” by dipping your tots in either a Calabrian chile aioli or a vadouvan curry sauce. The tots, the judges fret, are gummy and boring. Point to the green team.
In the sci-fi round, it’s do-or-die for team yellow, who will lose if they don’t get the point. Nelson makes my favorite named dish, an “Unidentified Dominican Object,” otherwise known as a pupusa. Avishar makes a space s’more with burnt marshmallow ice cream, liquid graham and milk chocolate. I wanted to eat Avishar’s more, but the point goes to Nelson on the yellow team.
Horror is next, and Shota must win to keep the yellow team alive. He makes an appalling-looking black corndog with a Japanese bechamel inside, while telling a story about how sad he’d be if his dog died. Bleak, bro. Gabe makes a Mexican campechana with oysters, scallops, Dungeness crab and charred shrimp. Tom calls them both a horror show, but Shota edges the win.
It’s down to romance, where Sara for the yellow team offers a “Your Place or Mine?” chocolate hazelnut milkshake with strawberry miso whip. Dig the horniness on main, Sara. The green team, short one member, collaborates to make a churro with chicken liver mousse, strawberry sauce and dulce de leche. Listen, as a longtime eater of Le Pigeon’s foie gras profiteroles, I get offal as a dessert, but chicken liver with a churro and dulce de leche? That belongs in the horror round. Sara gets the point and the teams are tied.
The tie-breaker is announced at the judge’s table, so off we go. Byron’s Korean Fried Chicken is named best nugget of the night, and he saves his team from an elimination and wins $10,000.
Chris is told he’s lucky he has immunity, and Gabriel’s “action tots” take a beating, but in the end, it’s Jamie who has to pack her knives and go. She makes a few bawk chicken noises and departs the Top Chef kitchen.
Episode MVP: In acting out the intros to each cinema genre, Padma got hit with pies, played an alien and pretended to be terrified in the woods. Get that Emmy, girl.
Biggest bummer: After watching Maria make freaking everything from scratch and cry her way through this episode, I wanted her to win. Prediction: Next episode she scores big or goes home.
Richard Blais hair watch: Walking through the kitchen with Tom, he’s got an almost Texas “the bigger the hair, the closer to God” 4-inch lift in the front. Next to Tom’s cue ball, it’s a macroaggression.