Recap: 'Top Chef' - 'Tribute Dinner'

The chefs must pay homage to their inspiration - but one chef makes a fatal error

"Top Chef"

 "Top Chef"

Credit: Bravo

It's down to the top ten this week, and just as the chefs can no longer win immunity, I hope this means they won't be subjected to any more team challenges, either.  Well, at least not as long as Beverly and Heather are still around, as I fear what Heather might do to Beverly when she thinks the camera operators aren't paying attention. Beverly probably has this fear as well, as she notes that the universe is full of karma and Heather's about due for a big walloping dose of the stuff. 

But no time to worry about bullying! Padma tells the chefs to pack their bags, because they're going to Austin. Paul is sweating, because it's his home town, but everyone else is so excited! It's such a fun place! Not when you're stuck trudging between a hotel and an overheated kitchen, people, but have a good time if you can!
 
The chefs load up their Toyota Siennas and hit the road. Plug, plug, plug! On the way there, Heather talks about boys. She says she thinks a lot about what her life would have been like if she had started a family ten years ago. This seems to be creative editing, because I think what she's saying is she never would have made it as far as she has if she'd started a family, and I say this only because that seems to be something Heather would say. Let's face it, the woman does not ooze maternal domesticity, at least not from what we've seen. 
 
At Le Cordon Bleu, the chefs meet Padma and Tom for the Quickfire Challenge. Fans will be tweeting suggestions to the chefs live during the challenge, and the winner gets $10,000 but not immunity. The first tweet is to make something with bacon. Well, that's easy enough. But wait! That's not all! Next, they have to make hash as well. Finally, each chef must pick a pantry ingredient and hand it off to another chef to use in their dish. Some chefs seem to give this a little thought, and some just grab any random crap and fling it at the person standing closest to them. Sadly, Ty-lor does give his decision some thought (or at least claims to), as he gives Sriracha to Ed, thinking he was cooking Asian food, but he wasn't. Oops.
 
Beverly
Crispy pork belly with corn, bell pepper, habanero and potato hash
This seems to have a Southwestern flavor profile, and I'm interested to see how Beverly does with it -- though I'm glad she's stepping out of her comfort zone. 
 
Chris J.
Corn puree with bacon, potato hash and seared scallop
Tom thinks it's salty. Chris thinks he could have won if he hadn't oversalted the potatoes. I think Chris seems to screw up one element of everything he makes lately. It's as if he's trying to get sent home. 
 
Heather
Smoked paprika quail with bacon jam and leek hash
I hate to say it, because the idea of eating quail just doesn't appeal to me, but this looks both interesting and pretty tasty. I don't like Heather's personality much, but she's clearly a good chef. 
 
Edward
Potato hash with bacon & soft shell car deglazed in Sriracha
Edward notes that the Sriracha is Ty-lor's fault. I hope Edward was able to work some kind of miracle with it, because it sounds like a horrible element to add to his meal. Poor guy.
 
Sarah
Burrata stuffed squash blossom with bacon and zucchini hash
Tom declares it crispy. Crispy is almost always a good thing. 
 
Chris C.
Bacon-wrapped monkfish with potato, leek and bacon hash
Tom thinks it works really, surprisingly well and declares it interesting. I guess Lindsay throwing him the maple syrup wasn't such a bad thing after all. 
 
Grayson 
Shrimp puff with crispy bacon hash cake
Tom doesn't think it should be called a puff. I think that means it's more of a wad or gloop, which is never a good thing.
 
Ty-lor
Maple-glazed bacon with bacon & kale hash
No leading comments from the judges, but this does look good. 
 
Paul
Bacon fat, crispy bacon, blackberries, chorizo and mushroom hash
Padma declares it interesting. C'mon, Padma, give is something! It certainly looks, well, interesting. But it's not like you can tell much from the food porn photography on the show, which makes everything (even the worst dishes) look damn tasty. 
 
Tom says he thought the food was exciting overall. He announces the bottom three -- Grayson (her puff was a wet mousse and light on bacon), Chris J. (really salty), Ed (the hash was burnt). The standouts - Beverly (really subtle), Sarah (fritter was nicely fried) and Paul (unusual, shouldn't work but does). The winner is… Paul. Good way for him to kick things off in his home town. He's won $30,000 thus far, and I think all of the other chefs are now realizing the food truck guy is an actual contender. 
 
The chefs get to go out for drinks, which sounds like a fun night out but you know it isn't. Heather seems awfully excited to get Chris C. sitting next to her. Oh, Heather. Malibu is not as excited to sit next to you. The surprise of the evening is… Patti LaBelle, rocking a cute pageboy wig. She sings "Lady Marmalade" and, of course, sounds amazing even though she just has a guy on a piano for back-up. She's a cookbook author, so it makes sense for her to be a guest judge.
 
The challenge? The chefs must cook a tribute to the person who taught them to love cooking. A lot of the chefs seem to have learned about cooking at Grandma's knee. 
 
After the trip to Whole Foods, there's not a lot of drama in the kitchen (the gift of not forcing the chefs to work in teams), though Chris realizes he's cooked his fish too hot, Heather realizes her meat is spongey and all of the chefs are worried about letting down the ones they love (or the ghosts of the ones they love, I guess). 
 
Time to eat! In addition to Padma, Tom and Patti, Emeril Lagasse and Patti's friends Nadine Vendryes and John Stanley will also be at the table. 
 
Chris J. - lemon-pepper steak with baked potato & vegetables
Chris' grandma made steak and potatoes every Friday, so he wanted to make a miniature version. I'm not sure this is as cute as he thinks it is. 
 
Emeril didn't like the A-1, but that's just him (he says). Patti thought the vegetables were tender. Nadine liked the presentation. So, an okay dish but not a winner. 
 
Heather - Beef Stroganoff with herb spaetzle & roasted wild mushrooms
Heather informs us that her mom was a great cook AND the Queen of One Pot Meals. Really, I don't think those two things go together at all. That's like saying your mother was a foodie who only cooked with a crockpot. 
 
Emeril doesn't know what the cut of meat is, but Patti drily explains it's Bigfoot. Emeril thinks it's hotel food. Eww. 
 
Paul - Quail adobo & ginger rice with green mango salsa
This is (yes) a tribute to his grandma, who made chicken and pork adobo all the time. 
 
Tom likes this a lot, but Patti does not dig quail. She couldn't even get to the rice because the quail "knocked her out." I didn't realize quail could do that, but I think the chef judges are just going to ignore her comments for this one. 
 
Sarah - Pork sausage stuffed cabbage & spinach with browned butter
Again, a tribute to grandma, who made stuffed cabbage every year. Sarah's worried it isn't as pretty as Paul's, but I think it looks pretty good, especially for stuffed cabbage.
 
Guess what? Tom thinks Sarah did a great job and thinks it's light, not heavy like most stuffed cabbages. Patti says it's a little sweet, but nicely done.
 
Beverly - Korean braised short rib with edamame scallion puree & hon shimeji mushrooms
 She's paying tribute to her mom, who made great kalbi jim. 
 
John digs her food. So does Patti. Emeril notes she used the pressure cooker, but he doesn't say whether this is a good or bad thing in his book. Tom thinks she did a great job of honoring her mom. 
 
Chris C. - Sockeye salmon with confit potato & brown sugar carrot puree
He's paying tribute to his uncle, who taught him how to cook fresh fish.
 
Well, it was a nice idea, at least. Patti likes the carrots but thinks the fish is fish. I don't think Patti likes fish. Tom doesn't like the carrots, because they don't taste like carrots. He also notices the white albumen that Chris was hoping he wouldn't notice. Padma also noticed and declares it unappetizing.
 
Lindsay - Trout spanakopita with crispy leeks and rainbow trout roe
She's paying tribute to both of her grandmas -- one was Southern, one was Greek. I'd say she's doing a disfavor to each, as this sounds vomitous. 
 
Patti thinks the roe is like caviar. Emeril loves the crispiness of the trout but thinks there's too much butter. Not as bad as I thought it would be, but obviously not great. 
 
Edward - Modern bibimbap with lemon-chili sauce
He's also paying tribute to (gasp!) his grandma. He's worried that this vegetarian dish is too simple and the judges will ding him for it. But man, it looks good to me. 
 
Nadine loves the dish, even though she's allergic to eggs. Does anyone have an EpiPen or something? Or some Benadryl? Let's not let Nadine suffer, people. Anyway, Emeril loved it, too.
 
Grayson - Grilled rib eye steak with German potato salad & grilled vegetables
Her mom and dad made steak and potatoes, so she made steak and potatoes. I feel a little bad for Grayson that, like almost everyone else, she didn't get homecooked meals at Grandma's. 
 
Nadine thought her meat was stringy, and John thought it was gristly. Tom thinks it's what she ate growing up -- and that implies she did nothing to modernize it. Oh, this sounds bad for Grayson -- bad meat and bad idea. 
 
Ty-lor - Duck fat-fried chicken tender with pickled peaches
He was inspired by his Japanese nanny. I love that he was inspired by the nanny, but more than that, I love that she made him panko-breaded chicken tenders. Who does that? I hope his parents paid her well. 
 
Patti thinks the chicken is beautiful, and Tom thinks he can tell that this nanny meant a lot to Ty. 
 
Padma calls back Grayson, Heather and Chris. The other chefs are immediately pissed. They're the top? What the hell? I wouldn't be so quick to assume that, but I do enjoy seeing Chris J. get all worked up. 
 
The chefs all look like kids who've dropped their ice cream cones on the sidewalk when they realize they're not the top but the bottom. Well, except for Grayson. She thought her flavors were there. She won't take this lying down. Take it lying down, Grayson! They don't like it when you fight back! Emeril didn't think the meat was trimmed. Grayson tells him she trimmed it, dammit! Padma thought it was sinewy and spongy. Grayson, who may have finally realized fighting is not the way to go, apologizes. Tom asks her why she didn't modernize her dish. She admits that she took the challenge literally. Oh, Grayson. 
 
Tom calls Chris out for cooking too hot, too fast. Emeril was grossed out by the chunks of herbs. Patti tells Chris his plate didn't flip her.
 
Padma tells Heather her dumplings felt dry, chewy and overcooked. Patti makes her Bigfoot comment again. Heather looks pissed, but thankfully doesn't argue. Tom doesn't know what she did to the meat. Heather admits she wanted to use the pressure cooker, but it made her duck stringy in a previous challenge. Tom points out that Beverly used it and she's not in the bottom three. Oh, now that's the way to make her mad! 
 
Edward, Bevery and Sarah are the top three. I'm surprised Heather doesn't trip Beverly on her way out the door. Patti loved Ed's mushrooms. Tom thought Beverly's meal was beautiful and every ingredient was important. Emeril thought Sarah's was technically perfect. 
 
The winner is… Sarah. Sarah's so happy! She needed a win! Hey, if you can win with stuffed cabbage, you can take it all the way to the top, Sarah. 
 
The judges discuss the losers. I can't even begin to guess who's getting the boot. Everyone screwed up pretty badly. I keep thinking we must be past the point of overcooking or undercooking proteins, but that problem never seems to go away for some reason.
 
Tom hands out spankings. The person packing their knives is… Heather. Wow. I have to say I'm surprised, especially given how well she's done in recent challenges. Beverly thinks she reaped her karma. I think Beverly must be right. And I wonder if Beverly doesn't have a little voodoo doll under her pillow. 
 
Heather feels "Top Chef" has been the most fulfilling challenge of her career. Lots of hugs in the stew room -- but oddly, I don't see her and Beverly hug. Yeah, that's probably for the best. You know Beverly would flinch anyway. 
 
Heather, the Queen of Mean (Padman's words, not mine) will face off against Nyesha in the last chance kitchen. 
 
Were you glad to see Heather go? Do you think Patti LaBelle was a good guest judge? Which tribute dish looked most appealing to you?
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Liane Bonin Starr is an author, screenwriter and former writer for EW.com. Her byline has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety and a lot of other places. Her last book was called "a scandalously catty, guilty pleasure" by Jane magazine. Expect the same from Starr Raving.
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