Is it the end of the “Top Chef” road trip for Orange County’s Amar Santana? He was eliminated in a controversial sudden-death Quickfire over a piece of new-age, value-added toast. Santana concocted a undeniably luxe, over-the-top super-crostini topped with duck breast and foie gras. Jeremy Ford won the challenge with a quite safe-seeming chicken liver mousse, probably executed well enough but quite the sort of thing you might find on any modern American restaurant menu.
So no Amar in the elimination challenge, which took place in chef Hubert Keller’s reconfigured, erstwhile Fleur de Lys. The assignment was to make a dish worthy of, and inspired by, the iconic San Francisco restaurant, which closed in 2014. Completing a stunning one-two punch, Ford won again, sending him straight to the final four. Marjorie Meek-Bradley and Issac Toups also move on to the Las Vegas finals.
Joining Amar in the “Top Chef” purgatory of “Last Chance Kitchen” is Carl Dooley, whose attempt at shoehorning the three-day prep of a foie gras torchon into three hours was a ticket to elimination. In LCK, Santana and Dooley cooked fish for Tom Colicchio. For anyone watching—well, for me—it was clear that Amar created an incredible dish in the allotted 12 minutes, including perfectly scaling and butchering the loup de mer/branzino, which was presented with ultra-crisp skin, onion soubise, and yuzu-caper brown butter sauce. Dooley’s grilled snapper, a fish we’ve seen him work with before this season, was pedestrian by comparison, and I mentally dock him additionally for using bottled sambal, a prepared product I and many others keep on the refrigerator door, but not something we should see used in a high-stakes “Top Chef” shootout.
We won’t know until tonight if Amar is back in as one of the four finalists. Tom Colicchio left us with a cryptic hint: it comes down to a few grains of salt. Ay yi yi. Not too much pressure! Watch “Last Chance Kitchen”—and you can read all my earlier “Top Chef” posts by clicking here.
UPDATE: To no one’s surprise, Amar is back! SO back, in fact, that he’s now one of the Final TWO contenders—more to come in Taste of Orange County before next week’s finale.