‘Top Chef’ Week 12 Recap—And Then There Were Three

First things first. On last night’s show, it was Brooke Williamson who made it out of “Last Chance Kitchen” to rejoin Shirley Chung, Sheldon Simeon, and John Tesar in the “Top Chef” Season 14 competition. This was not at all surprising—Williamson’s been a tough-to-beat contender since her first “Top Chef” round in Season 10, when she went all the way to the end only to lose to “Last Chance Kitchen” returnee Kristen Kish. Will the same kismet help Williamson in the Guadalajara final?

Diving into the Quickfire, goat was on the menu. All but Williamson were fairly sanguine about cooking this meat, but her pressure-cooked goat ribs with a fruit element in the sauce at first perplexed, and then delighted, the judges. Back from the depths and straight to the top, she took the Quickfire win.

For the elimination challenge, to no one’s surprise, a cadre of eliminated cheftestants appeared, and as Quickfire winner, Brooke got to choose her own sous chef and assign the others. She claimed Casey Thompson, saddled Tesar with his Reality TV frenemy Katsuji Tanabe, and Simeon with hapless Emily Hahn. Shirley was paired with popular Sylva Senat, but it wasn’t clear this would be a big help to her. Only Williamson started off on firm footing, partner-wise.

The Patrón Tequila product-placed elimination challenge, on the beautiful grounds of the Patrón Hacienda, was to create a margarita and a dish that were perfectly complementary. A difficult job, and not so interesting, frankly. Cocktail concoction just doesn’t give a whole lot of insight into a person’s cooking ability.

Shirley went full Mexican with her dish, charred skirt steak and salsa molcajete, rather than sticking to her usual Asian flavor profile. Oddly, the vanilla note in the meat marinade that the judges pointedly criticized was a consequence of Senat’s having grabbed the wrong bottle when Chung asked for agave syrup—she was bravely unconditional in accepting responsibility for the gaffe, but what a heartbreak. Williamson got her second win of the day.

It proved to be the end of the road for Tesar, whose chile verde chicken soup and straight-up margarita didn’t set the judge’s palates on fire. This means next week’s final will start with the remaining three: Chung, Simeon, and Williamson. It’s easy to picture any one in the winner’s spot.

You can read all my Taste of Orange County “Top Chef” coverage here.

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