Orange County fans came to this week’s “Top Chef” in high spirits, after Shirley Chung’s well-deserved win on the previous outing. It was a critical win as well, because it elevated her into the almost-solidified final four, along with Sheldon Simeon, John Tesar, and Brooke Williamson. The makeup of this small group of survivors was definitely subject to change, however, as another elimination challenge loomed at episode’s end.
But first, Quickfire, which took an affectionate turn as the four cheftestants were paired with mystery partners to cook. Three spouses, Chung’s, Simeon’s, and Tesar’s, plus Williamson’s sister, unseen behind a screen, step up to the stations. The challenge for the chefs? Create a dish, and narrate its preparation to the unseen partner, with the goal of creating identical plates and flavors. All four pairs did uncommonly well, but in the end, Sheldon and wife Janice clinched the win, sweetened this time with $10,000 cash—and a home sous-vide machine.
On to the elimination challenge, which included an added incentive—as if cementing a place in the finals wasn’t enough—cooking at the James Beard House. The directive was to create a dish representing the journey each chef had taken from whence they came, to Charleston and “Top Chef.” Some very refined and thoughtful dishes resulted. We’ve rarely if ever seen the panel of judges so impressed. Amid this field of excellence, however, Williamson’s overwrought, ill-advisedly sous-vided pork tenderloin stood out in a very unfortunate way, and it was “Last Chance Kitchen” for her. Shirley and Sheldon seemed about dead-even for the win, which went to Sheldon. He really cleaned up this episode! Sheldon was my favorite, and pick to win, in his original Season 10—as Shirley was in her Season 11. There couldn’t have been more than a hair’s breadth between them here, because Shirley’s dish was as fulsomely praised as Sheldon’s. Best part: both move on to the final in Guadalajara, as does Tesar.
Williamson joined a crowded “Last Chance Kitchen,” where not one, but two competitors awaited: Jamie Lynch and Casey Thompson. From this three-way battle, one chef will be competing in Mexico with the other finalists. All three cooked, and experience reigned, as Lynch, the remaining first-timer facing the veterans at season’s start, was eliminated. This is kind of a shame, because it starts to look like the show intends to run every contestant twice through the mill. Is Bravo moving towards something like a “Top Chef Apprentice” that will feed the regular competition?
So, a second, we-really-mean-it-this-time “Last Chance Kitchen” last night saw Thompson and Williamson in ultimate battle. In “Top Chef” tradition, we won’t know who prevailed until next week’s final show. You can watch that “Last Chance Kitchen” ep here, and read all my Taste of Orange County “Top Chef” coverage here.