“Top Chef: California” recap (13.11): Culinary Time Machine

Previously on Top Chef, Restaurant Wars happened and, more importantly, Bunhead went home!

This week, the chefs are heading to the Bay Area! They arrive in Oakland to find Padma just chilling with M.C. Hammer. That is pretty random, but okay. Boston Carl apparently used to “write rhymes” and “make beats” in his younger days—again. Okay. After some M.C. Hammer historical facts, Padma segues into the Quickfire Challenge. The chefs must come up with their own “rapper names” and create a dish that visually and conceptually expresses it.

Amar, or “Santana Lovah” is making Chilean Sea Bass with love. For the ladies. Or something, IDK. Baldy decides to call himself “Spicy J-Rock 305,” and that is the last straw for me. With Bunhead gone, Baldy is my new least-fave. Kwame, who actually did have a short-lived rap career when he was younger, is now “Bay-lish” and he’s making a cioppino. Risky, considering where they are. “Toups Legit” aka Cajun, is making a New Orleans style grits dish. Karen is the “Pink Dragon,” for her hair and her attitude in the morning, and she’s making hot and sour soup.

The Great Pink Dragon and the Spice from the Soup

Boston Carl is “Dr. Funky Fresh.” His first idea was “Soigné Ploosh,” but felt it sounded too much like a stripper name. Boston Carl, you are rapidly slipping down to Baldy’s level. He’s making raw beef, Vietnamese style. Marjorie has become “Miss Punch-A-Lot,” and she can barely get the name out before she starts laughing. She’s making sriracha-honey glazed chicken sandwiches.

The chefs serve Mr. Hammer and Padma, and when Dr. Funky Fresh brings up his dish he decides to rap. Padma feels the same way about it as I do:

Oh the other end of the spectrum, Padma asks Kwame to rap because he mentions that he used to. Kwame looks like he might puke, but he does it and is rewarded with a Padma hug. Kwame is living his best life in that moment.

Anyway, back to the food. On the bottom in the challenge are Amar, Marjorie, and Kwame. The best dishes belong to Boston Carl, Cajun, and Karen. Cajun takes the win, and it looks like he’s on a little bit of a roll. Cajun is kind of a crazy motherfucker, but I like him.

Padma says goodbye to Hammer and welcomes Chef Jonathan Waxman, the guest judge for this week’s Elimination Challenge. The chefs have to create a dish that evokes a significant culinary period in history. The chefs draw knives to figure out the order they can pick their time periods, and poor Karen is last.

Cajun goes first and selects the Viking age; Boston Carl is next, and he goes for ancient Greece. Amar picks Paris during Belle Époque (late 1800s-early 1900s), and Chef Waxman mentions that would be his first choice. Marjorie grabs ancient India, and Kwame goes for China during the Han dynasty, which sucks for Karen because she loves Chinese food. Baldy goes for San Francisco during the gold rush, and, last but not least, Karen selects the Empire of Japan.

The chefs have two hours to do research at the San Francisco library today before having three hours to prep and cook before service the next day. On the way to the library, Karen talks about her love of libraries and learning before mentioning that, in college, she minored in Women’s Studies to meet other queer ladies. I love that she owns it. I mean, we’ve all done something like that right? I played rugby in college for a minute for the very same reason. As it turns out, I am made of bird bones (and I also got mono and met my wife), so my rugby career was very short lived, but I was 100% doing it to meet girls. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The next day, the chefs head to the kitchen and begin cooking their historical dishes. Marjorie is making curried lentils, which reminds me of a tangential story and this is my recap, so you’re stuck with my tangents—sorry. So, I lived in D.C. for a few years, and I loved Marjorie’s restaurant Ripple (seriously, if you’re in the area, go there). One night I was there with my wife for dinner, and a waiter described something as “the champagne of lentils.”

Anyway, it’s still one of my favorite things to ever happen to me. And honestly, they were probably the best lentils I’ve ever had in my life, so I guess you win, pretentious waiter guy.

Back to Top Chef. First up to serve is Boston Carl with his ancient Greek marinated mackerel and calamari and he gets really good feedback from the table. Marjorie also presents her lamb kebab with curried [champagne of] lentils and paratha (bread). The paratha does not go over well, and she gets mixed reviews on the other components. Eeep!

Next up is Cajun and his Viking-inspired roasted venison, which he served on smokey wooden slabs for plates. The judges seem to mostly like it a lot. Kwame serves his Chinese coriander-crusted duck, and they love it. Karen is plating next, and she’s concerned there is too much Chinese influence in her Japanese dish. Faves! You’re making me worry!

Baldy’s Gold Rush chowder tastes like a sauce instead of a soup and Chef Waxman calls him out for doing something way too refined. The judges seem to really enjoy Karen’s soba noodles in dashi broth, but they think she made it too complicated and let her Chinese background influence the dish too much. Last to serve, Amar present’s his Belle Époque roasted squab, sweetbread, and foie gras. He crushed it.

At Judges’ Table, Tom congratulates the chefs across the board. They had to cook for an intimidating group of people, and they made Dad proud. The top dishes belong to Amar, Kwame, and Boston Carl. The winner is Amar!

Karen, Marjorie, and Baldy are on the bottom. PLEASE BE BALDY, PLEASE BE BALDY, PLEASE BE BALDY. Karen over-thought her dish; Marjorie’s paratha was a mess, and Baldy didn’t have enough depth of flavor and made something overly fussy. Okay, I know I’m very biased, but I really do think Baldy deserves to go home. I feel like he’s been sliding by lately and the errors in his dish seem more egregious to me.

Motherfucker, Karen is eliminated.

Siiiiiigh. Oh well, she leaves very graciously with her head held high. But DAMNIT, JUDGES! I’m mad at you. (Except Padma. You know I can’t stay mad at you honey.) Unfortunately, Karen could not beat Jason over on Last Chance Kitchen, but you can vote for her as Fan Favorite here.

Unless Karen comes back for future challenges, this is probably my last recap this season. As always, it’s been a pleasure, and until Padma invites me on the show, you can just find me over on Twitter.