After losing Sara Hauman, the last of this season’s two Portland contestants, last week, and the promise of guest appearances by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein this week, I was feeling heavy-headed pressing play on Episode 9 of Top Chef: Portland.
Fortunately, it was a snack of an episode, with a fun li’l Quickfire and an elimination challenge that brought some All-Stars into the kitchen, soothing my indigestion from Restaurant Wars like a glass of fizzy Alka Seltzer.
And, a quick watch of Last Chance Kitchen shows that Sara is still in the running to come back, so make sure you don’t miss that bonus content. We’re down to seven chefs: Gabe, Maria, Byron, Dawn, Chris, Shota and Jaime, so there may be a returning chef soon.
The Quickfire: Like the Cascadia Megaquake, we knew a Portlandia-themed something-or-other was headed our way eventually. Sure enough, Fred and Carrie joined Padma for the Quickfire, doing a schtick the whole way through.
The kitchen is set up with vintage electric stoves and equipment, and the chefs are given 30 minutes to make a dish with hipster ingredients like kombucha, hemp oil and almond flour. Someone mentions a fixie, and I am transported to 2009.
Dawn notes that she is a hipster, as she owns many of the old-school cooking implements featured, and Jaime says she’s a big fan of alternative milks—not because she’s a hipster, but because she’s lactose intolerant. (Same, girl. Same.)
The chefs largely eschew proteins in the name of hipsterdom, and Gabe cuts a purple yam hasselback-style to create a play on sausage, while Shota goes in on a green bean dish. I’m going to take this moment to ponder what a hipster even means in 2021. Some millennials are pushing 40, skinny jeans are supremely uncool, and I haven’t been snarked at by a barista in ages. It’s not a thing.
Dawn grabs a cast iron pan with corn cob shapes and makes a play on cornbread with a fonio grain and semolina flour quickbread with pancetta jam, pear butter and goat butter. This does seem like something on a Portland brunch menu.
She wins, with Carrie calling it a joy to eat. Glad Dawn takes a W here, even if I’m a bit miffed that her failure to share her final plates with her teammates during Restaurant Wars directly contributed to Sara packing her knives.
Elimination Challenge: Richard Blais and Dale Tilde join the judges’ panel, and the chefs are asked to create a dish and recipe for a cookbook that can be completed in 90 minutes. That means these pros, who Salt-Bae dishes and improvise with gusto, must articulate steps and measurements that a home cook can follow and replicate.
The final seven are given just a half-hour to shop, and three hours to cook and write their recipe. The next day, they’ll cook their own creations in the Departure kitchen, while four All-Stars do the same. They’ll be judged not only on the plate itself, but also on how well their All-Star can re-create it.
Portland ambassador and All-Star Gregory Gourdet is back on his home turf in the Departure kitchen, and he’s going to cook Gabe and Jamie’s dishes. Kristen Kish gets Maria, Melissa King is doing Chris’ food, and Kwame Onwuachi is making Byron and Shota’s recipes.
At judging, Gabe is up first, with GG making an almost identical replica of his steamed black cod in banana leaf with crispy skin and salsa Veracruzana. (Side note: I just got back from Austin, where I had a chance to eat at Gabe’s former restaurant, Comedor. It was frankly hit or miss, but bone marrow tacos and a chocolate masa tamale were real great. Also, details are slim to none, but Gabe got fired from Comedor in December for “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values,” according to one of the owners.) The panel is wowed, and Blais calls the sauce “stellar.”
Kwame makes Shota’s soy-braised pork belly with turnip puree and pear salad. Kwame notes that Shota didn’t give good measurements for reducing the broth, but overall everyone seems fine with the outcome.
Up next, Kristen makes Maria’s gallina pinta, a traditional Sonoran pork and bean soup with cilantro, onions and lime. Kristen was really struggling with the 5 pounds of meat Maria calls for in a six-serving recipe. (“I’m Mexican,” Maria responds with a shrug.) It looks like a hangover soup of my dreams, and the judges clock the inconsistencies in the recipe but love the flavor.
Melissa tackles Chris’ sorghum gnocchi with green romesco, braised dandelion greens and saucisson sec. It took me almost 90 minutes to write out those components, and the results for Melissa aren’t any better. Chris is beating a dead horse making pasta in a third challenge because he keeps losing with it, and seems to seal his fate. His gnocchi are too dense, and Melissa’s are barely edible, because Chris failed to write clear instructions creating a good gnocchi dough consistency.
GG makes Jaime’s seared foie gras with brioche French toast, blueberry compote and black sesame. It’s a faithful adaptation, but the judges call both versions soggy and too sweet.
Byron somehow makes a four-page recipe for Kwame, who gripes about the dozens of ingredients called for in a 90-minute dish. The steamed striped bass with seafood broth and beans is panned, particularly for being flavorless despite the lengthy shopping list.
Kristen praises Dawn’s recipe for salmon with buttermilk, gai lan and olive puree as “very, very, very clear,” and Richard Blais notes that a home cook can handle protein, veg and sauce. It’s a hit.
Dawn is in the top with Gabe, Shota and Maria. Gabe pulls out the win, his first since the fruit orchard challenge in Episode 4.
While I think any of the three at the bottom could have easily gone, Chris, who has struggled throughout the competition, is asked to go.
Episode MVP: Padma seemed genuinely annoyed by Fred and Carrie, and rocked some seriously Starsky and Hutch aviators as reading glasses during the elimination dinner. Basically, I’m Padma for President at this point.
Biggest bummer: This episode was so light tonally that I can’t even get super-mad at Fred and Carrie. But I’ll give it to them since Portlandia has been off the air in 2018, and we were just starting to collectively forget it ever happened.
Richard Blais hair watch: Somehow, Blais’ crimson wave (heh) has been molded into a nearly 90-degree angle, shaped like a capital L with the short side resting upon his forehead. I bow to his gel.