Last week, we were left with the promise that local chef Gabriel Pascuzzi and his eliminated partner, Nelson German, from Oakland, Calif., would be headed straight back from the Gorge to the Top Chef Kitchen to face off in a sudden death Last Chance Kitchen. The winner would get to reenter the game for another shot at the title.
“You have awoken the beast,” says Gabriel, who swears he will win.
But Nelson bows out due a strained ligament sustained in the orchard challenge, a situation eerily reminiscent of Portland’s wunderkind Gregory Gourdet having to quit his season of Top Chef: All Stars due to a back injury—someone better check on the whereabouts of Tonya Harding’s ex-husband. So Gabriel pairs off against Jamie, who went home in Episode 5.
Gabriel and Jamie are asked to make an elevated re-creation of the first dish they ever cooked. Gabriel takes eggs and turns them into steak and eggs with a tomato confit, corn custard and an anchovy porcini butter. Tom calls it flat, and Jamie wins with her take on a crispy fried rice.
Cut to sad Gabriel face. But then, all the remaining five eliminated chefs are told just to cook whatever’s clever, and the winner of that battle will get to take another shot in Last Chance Kitchen. Cue happy Gabriel face. He is a human drama mask.
Kiki, Roscoe, Gabriel, Sasha and Brittanny have a half-hour. Gabriel sees this as a chance to make…a salad. Sure, it looks good, with smoked feta, watermelon and plums, but Sasha’s handmade ricotta pasta with a harissa-inspired sauce comes through. Cut to Gabriel, who I’m pretty sure has been cooking for 24 hours straight at this point, headed out the door. And now, just one Portland cook, Sara Hauman of Soter Vineyards in Carlton, remains.
The Quickfire: Jamie returns, to the delight of all the remaining cheftestants.
In the redemptive spirit, the chefs are asked to make a dish that they’ve messed up before, either on the show or in real life, using ingredients that are imperfect or past their prime. The premise is sponsored by locally founded Dave’s Killer Bread, which has always worked to give formerly incarcerated folks a second chance at employment. At stake is the last immunity of the season.
Sara makes a spoon bread with bay shrimp gravy in an attempt to redeem her loss to Jamie in the Quickfire where she made shrimp fritters. She is safe.
Shota makes aradaki, soy-braised fish heads with dried-out ginger root and old wine, and wins the challenge. The collagen in the lips, he says, soaks up a lot of flavor—100% would eat.
Elimination Challenge: It’s time for Top Chef: Portland, which wrapped up filming last October, to recognize this is reality TV in a pandemic. As such, the chefs are asked to make 65 meals to go for hospital workers at Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Emanuel and Good Samaritan. They must travel and reheat well and contain a protein, starch and veg.
After the wild choices some of the chefs made during the drive-in challenge (ribs and glazed wings are not car food), I was nervous about ER nurses rushing off to a code blue with sauces flying off their gloves.
The chefs are deputized into the ranks of chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, which has famously arrived at disaster zones and started serving food well ahead of government relief agencies and other NGOs.
Sara opts for a vegetarian meal of lentil falafels, pita bread from scratch, and roasted carrot and pumpkin seed hummus. “Guess what I have to use?” she chirps, a cup of familiar-looking dairy product in her hands. “Motherfucking yogurt!” This is like the eleventy-billionth time she has used yogurt, and I am here for this signature probiotic steez.
Shota can’t get inspired and throws some chicken drumsticks in with some miso. Maria is making a pork verde stew and making flour tortillas for every plate. It’s personal for her, as her wife has been a firefighter for 20 years. Avishar, whose dad is a doctor, is making a beef curry with basmati. Yikes, bud: rice again? After messing it up twice?
Jamie is back in a big way, making an absolutely scrumptious-looking kimchi tofu stew with bulgogi-style pork and deep-fried eggplant with steamed rice. She wins and makes some more nonsensical noises, including finger guns with a “pew pew pew” sound. She’s joined at the top by Sara, who gets big props for her vegetarian move, and Dawn, who once again is making a flavorful dish—tamarind beef with braised and grilled cabbage—but doesn’t quite win.
Avishar and his curry wind up in the bottom three. This time, it’s not the rice that’s the problem but the flavor and texture of his curry. Tom sums it up: “How do you take cumin, cardamom and clove and make it tasteless?” Chris and his chicken breast with a gratin and Brussels sprouts is once again castigated for having zero salt, and Maria is in the bottom for serving her tortilla raw on one side, even though she cooked them all by hand in the wood-fired stove, burning all her arm hair off. Shota is told he’s lucky he has immunity.
Avishar, whom I love but have been expecting to be picked from the herd like a small, sick wildebeest, is sent home.
Episode MVP: Gotta hand it to Colicchio: He’s not messing around with his critiques this episode. Padma says she’s sad to send home chefs who tried so hard, and Tom is all like, “It’s not that hard to send someone home for rookie mistakes, and they all made them.”
Biggest bummer: Avishar nooooooooooo! I loved your floppy hair and dorky demeanor! You nailed the rice but forgot the flavor!
Richard Blais hair watch: There is no Blais Hair this episode as he managed to stuff it all into a World Central Kitchen baseball cap that he wore to deliver meals. Like the rest of us, even Blais’ indefatigable hair is weighed down by the pandemic.