Welcome to Talking Top Chef, a weekly blog where we review the latest episode from the best reality show on TV. I’m going to fill you in on a little secret: Shortly after the season premiere last month, I discovered Top Chef is extremely popular at Sports Illustrated. From Crossover writers to our very own managing editor, this show is loved by so many over here. (Even Rob Gronkowski's been on it!)
And why shouldn’t it be? It has everything: Amazing food, intense competition, plus the chefs are insanely talented. But more often than not they can also be erratic and unpredictable, which makes for great entertainment.
As for me? I’m obsessed. As a result, we decided the logical move would to start reviewing the show here at SI Eats. So let’s get down to business.
Season 16, Episode Thirteen; “A Little Place Called Aspen”
The end is nigh. Can you feel it? Ladies and gents, it’s the final three.
This to me is the toughest episode for the chefs because they’re so close, yet so far. The light at the end of the tunnel is approaching and they can almost taste victory, but to lose it right here, right before the final… that would be devastating.
The chefs are now heading to Aspen, getting ready for the Food and Wine Classic, where the challenge will undoubtedly be the toughest yet. But before all that goodness, it’s time for the last quick-fire of the season.
The chefs meet Padma, who is joined by Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino in the beautiful outdoors and they’re about to get a crash course in fly-fishing. The task? Make a great dish that includes trout, but that’s not all… they also have to catch it.
ALL IN 40 MINUTES.
The winner of the quick-fire will get an advantage in the final challenge.
And so it begins as the chefs do some fly-fishing. All I can think of, and Flamm agrees, is that this totally reminds me of A River Runs Through It, but that movie didn’t feature Brad Pitt having to cook a trout meal in 40 minutes so I’m thinking this is a little tougher.
Joe Flamm caught one! Sasto next! Adrienne, however, is still waiting for one to bite… and there are 29 minutes remaining.
22, and she finally caught one!
Adrienne basically has 20 minutes to make a dish. If there’s any consolation, her biggest advantage is that seafood is her specialty but what can you do in 20 minutes? That’s just insane.
Adrienne made a pan-seared trout with spring onion and jalapeño ponzu vinaigrette, but because it’s almost raw, it might not be good enough to win it. Cosentino reminds Adrienne that when bears have to go, they do it in the river, so trout needs to be cooked all the way through otherwise you’re basically eating some fish covered in bear doo-doo.
Sasto’s smoked trout rillette with spring onion corn cakes and summer berry glaze looks delicious. So does Flamm’s pan-seared trout, black garlic beurre blanc with fennel, mushrooms, asparagus and breadcrumbs. The winner ends up being Joe Flamm!
We’ll find out his advantage in the elimination challenge later on.
And here’s the final task before the finale: In order to make a good impression for the culinary world, the three chefs have to prepare 200 plates for the country’s most notable chefs and food connoisseurs at the Food & Wine Classic.
No. Big. Deal.
Serving only a vegetarian dish, the chefs have to win over the likes of Brooke Williamson, Danny Meyer, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Ludo Lefebvre, Scott Conant, Tim Love and guest judge Daniel Boulud—the legendary French chef who has restaurants all over the world including Daniel, his Michelin 2-star joint in New York City.
Here’s another mountain to climb: They have three hours of prep to cook in some Game of Thrones-looking cowboy cauldrons.
But there’s a little help coming as Padma announces some assistance. Enter Carrie, Chris and Brucey! These three will be able to use each one a sous chef.
Joe Flamm, who had the advantage, goes with Carrie. Honestly, I thought he would go with Bruce, but it probably makes sense as Bruce is not great under pressure and vegetables are not really his thing.
The other advantage is that Flamm gets to pair the other guys, so naturally it’s Chris and Sasto while Adrienne teams up with Bruce. Good move.
Already Adrienne has to fight over her decisions with Bruce, who has many ideas over what to make. Disclaimer: They all involve pasta. Adrienne, therefore, needs to take a bigger role here and really emphasize the fact that she’s the boss.
Alright, here we go! The day is here.
So far so good for the chefs as they get prepping, and just when they’re feeling confident, here comes Tom with his traditional “checking in.” He also brought a guest, Nilou Motamed, a contributor to Food & Wine Magazine.
Honestly, they really time these visits well, cause the chefs have a million things to do and right out of nowhere pops in Tom. Adrienne is like, “LEAVE NOW!!”
Alright, here we go. Here comes the talent. This is so nerve-wracking.
Joe Sasto is using beets as his meat replacement, so the dish is a beet carpaccio with beet yogurt, green bean tomato vinaigrette and sourdough bread.
Gail Simmons (aka the Queen of the refined palate) liked it, but the bread needed more, it couldn’t just be this dry addition to the plate.
Adrienne made charred corn pudding wrapped in Swiss chard with shishito peppers and champagne broth. Curtis Stone is a fan! So are the judges, especially Bouloud, who thinks there’s a lot of flavor.
One thing that Adrienne brings up needs to be highlighted: Every time someone would go up to their station, most people think it’s the older, white male who’s the executive chef (in this case, Bruce). Her point being that we need to get rid of this thinking and realize that the one who is here, making the shots, is this kick-ass female chef of color.
Rooting for ya, Adrienne.
Finally we go with Joe Flamm and his zucchini-inspired dish. He made grilled baby zucchini topped with hazelnut zucchini pesto, mushroom vinaigrette, goat cheese and raw asparagus salad. Honestly, it sounds like my favorite.
The chefs love the dish and so does Danny Meyer. That’s a big deal.
Alright here we go. Time to judge and find out who made it to the finals!
All in all, the judges were happy with the dishes. Tom thought there was a missed opportunity to go all out, given the ingredients they were given.
Not all of them were perfect. Gail wanted more smokiness from Adrienne, Tom didn’t think Sasto connected his components enough, and wanted bigger zucchinis instead of mini ones from Flamm.
Here we go. The first chef to the finale is….
JOE FLAMM WON THE CHALLENGE AND IS OFF TO THE FINALE!
Remember, y’all. He came back from Last Chance Kitchen, so this is sweet vindication.
Next up is….
ADRIENNE IS OFF TO THE FINALE!!!!!!!!!!! GO ADRIENNE!!!!!!
I DID NOT SEE THIS COMING. WOW.
This is going to be a great finale. I can’t wait to see it.
Guys, also, big announcement. Join us on SI EATS on Tuesday, as Adrienne and Joe Flamm are stopping by here at SI!
I’ll be joined by my bud Rohan Nadkarni (another huge Top Chef stan) to do a Q&A with the two chefs, so make sure you tune in! More info coming later.