It was all hands on deck last night on “Top Chef,” when the six remaining cheftestants were sent out with the crew of a shrimp boat, fishing for the famous local Carolina crustacean. Newport Beach’s Shirley Chung confessed to being seasickness-prone, but soldiered through. Back on terra firma, the Quickfire challenge was, yep, creating a shrimp dish, which seemed simple enough. But the twist, when it came, was a serious one: this was a sudden-death Quickfire, a cook-off between the chefs cooking the worst three dishes, resulting in the loser’s elimination. This loomed large—and of course we can anticipate another elimination later, after the main challenge.
Things were looking bad when Shirley ended up in the three-chef cook-off, but it was Casey Thompson who ended up with a trip to “Last Chance Kitchen.” Shirley moved on to the main elimination challenge, which was inspired by chef Dominique Ansel’s cronut, a wildly successful croissant-doughnut hybrid. The challenge was creating a mashup dish for brunch, and Ansel, who was also a guest judge, encouraged the chefs to “be creative,” a hazy directive at the best of times. Taking the cronut as a model, it seemed like newness was the high priority—certainly not breakfast or lunch, but also not quite brunch, or at least not a brunch we’d seen before.
Shirley’s creation was whimsical, but also solid—beef and cheddar dumplings, with bacon-tomato jam. The concept: a dim sum cheeseburger. Look for knockoff versions on menus at your favorite modern American restaurants starting now. The judges loved it, and awarded Shirley her second win of the season. More importantly, she’s a member of this early version of the final four, though the makeup is subject to change when the last chef standing in “Last Chance Kitchen” returns. We also have to allow for whatever unforeseeable Reality TV tricks might be thrown into the mix.
The night’s second loser was Sylva Senat, the last rookie remaining in regular competition. Only veterans on their second tours of “Top Chef” duty remain. Not that he’s fully out, yet. Senat headed for “Last Chance Kitchen,” where another rookie, Jamie Lynch, had taken on all comers and thus far emerged victorious. This time, judge Tom Colicchio made a surprising announcement: all three chefs would cook, one would be eliminated, and two would move on. So Lynch and Thompson move on, but to what? Another “Last Chance Kitchen” next week? Or an in-show showdown to arrive at the final final four? We shall see. Watch “Last Chance Kitchen” here, and read all my Taste of Orange County “Top Chef” coverage here.