As teased by host Padma Lakshmi in the final moments of last week’s season premiere, the beginning of episode two cut right to the chase. The episode opened right where we last saw our chefs as they learned that this episode would not feature a Quickfire Challenge. Instead, with this season taking place in Los Angeles, the elimination challenge would center around the work of Jonathan Gold — the beloved LA Times food critic who died in 2018 of pancreatic cancer.
Before beginning the elimination challenge, the show cut to a scene in the Top Chef house as all the chefs gathered for a celebratory drink commemorating the end of the first challenge.
While not necessarily appearing to be rattled, it was clear on a lot of the chefs’ faces that they realized the difficulty of this upcoming season. The All Star competition isn’t going to feature cannon fodder and every chef other than the winner will go home on technicalities and not screw ups.
We also learned during a cutaway interview that Chef Kevin Gillespie underwent intensive medical care, a year prior, because a massive tumor was found on his kidney. He exclaimed that he’s not only competing on Top Chef to win, but to also feel like he’s still alive after the health scare.
The Elimination Challenge
The Chefs spent the day zipping around LA to as many restaurants featured on Gold’s “101 Best Restaurants” as possible. The last list published by Gold before his death, it is a comprehensive guide for Angelenos and visitors alike, to experience the diverse flavor profiles on any budget across the city.
While exploring the restaurants that inspired Gold’s writing, the chefs were to take inspiration from their experiences tasting the cuisines before developing a dish of their own to serve to 200 guests at an event in honor of Gold at the LA Union Station.
The chefs split up into groups to go to East LA, West LA, Hollywood, and Downtown LA to find the respective restaurants in those regions of the city.
The first stop was Chengdu Taste in East LA, which ranked 29th on Gold’s List. Chef Melissa King revealed she is from East LA and grew up in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood, which shapes a lot of her culinary inspiration. However, she, like group members Chefs Lisa Fernandes and Karen Akunowicz, had never been to Chengdu before, and they appeared ready for a very spicy affair.
[Note: Chengdu looks absolutely banging if you can handle some heat.]
Back in Hollywood, Chefs Gillespie, Eric Adjepong, Angelo Sosa, and Gregory Gordet hit up Jitlada Southern Thai — ranked 53rd on Gold’s list. The guys wasted no time devouring a fried fish smothered in turmeric and chiles. Chef Gillespie was quick to point out that the dish was not something you could replicate for the style of the elimination challenge, but the chefs at the table agreed that the essence of the dish is what they wanted to strive for in their own challenge meals.
And for all my Netflix cooking show heads out there, you’ll recognize Jitlada’s Jazz Singsanong who appeared on Jon Favreau’s The Chef Show last year when TCS did their own episode dedicated to Gold. Singsanong was good friends with Gold and even has pictures of him in Jitlada. Favreau and his TCS partner, Roy Choi, would make an appearance later in the episode at the event.
Over in Downtown, specifically in Chinatown, Chefs Nini Nguyen, Bryan Voltaggio, Brian Malarkey, and Jamie Lynch visited Lasa, a Filipino restaurant that ranked 18th on the list. The chefs were treated to a meal of egg noodles and beef tartare that had Chef Lynch exclaiming that he would be back to eat the rest of the menu.
Out in West LA, the first stop for Chefs Jennifer Carroll, Lee Anne Wong, and Stephanie Cmar was Mayura, a southern Indian restaurant specializing in spicy fish curries which just made the list of 101 restaurants at number 98. Dr. Padmini Aniyan, owner of Mayura, presented the dish to the chefs, exclaiming that the spicy fish curry was Gold’s favorite dish on the menu. She revealed that Gold’s writing about Mayura has helped keep their restaurant running, and they have tributes to Gold in the restaurant, like at Jitlana.
[Note: the curry looks unreal and nothing would make me happier than to have a big bowl of that and a couple pieces of naan as I continue to sink further into my couch during this period of social distancing.]
For the sake of everyone’s time, my sanity, and my appetite, I will skip the rest of the places that the chefs tried. I’m already overdue to visit my cousin out in LA, and when this is all over, I’m planning a two-week trip and packing only sweatpants and an issue of Gold’s List. I do urge you to watch the episode if you’d like to see the rest of the restaurants the chefs tried. THEY. LOOK. UNBELIEVABLE.
The Chefs stopped at the store to buy the ingredients for their dishes where a small moment of drama appeared when Chefs Fernandes and Adjepong were looking to purchase duck. Chef Fernandes ended up purchasing all the duck from the butcher’s counter, and Chef Adjepong was left scrambling to do a new African-inspired dish with scallops instead.
With ingredients purchased, the chefs had three hours to prepare their meals for 200 people in the Top Chef kitchen. It was clear during the prep that some of the chefs were more ambitious than others — like Chef Akunowicz, who had to wrap 200(!) dumplings for her dish. Following the prep, the chefs were rushed off to the event at Union Station where they had another hour to complete their dishes before the guests of the event arrived.
The Elimination Challenge Dishes
- Chef Gordet: Halibut, turmeric & tomato broth with chiles, lime & pineapple
- Chef Nguyen: “Masa Ball Soup” with coconut-ginger chicken broth
- Chef Fernandes: Pickled chili salad with spicy caramel duck
- Chef King: Mala beef tartare, anchovy aioli, & five spice potato chip
- Chef Adjepong: Ethiopian braised red cabbage & seared scallop with kitfo oil
- Chef Sosa: Crudo of tuna with chilled turmeric coconut broth & jicama
- Chef Akunowicz: Cumin lamb dumplings with roasted chili oil & pickled cucumbers
- Chef Lynch: Duck mole taco, lime crema, & fire roasted chili salsa
- Chef Malarkey: Fried rice beef tartare with kimchi vinaigrette, “peanut crack,” & fermented egg yolk
- Chef Carroll: Chickpea & navy bean stew with hominy, herb yogurt, cashews, & pickled red onion
- Chef Voltaggio: Short rib with charred eggplant purée, fermented radish, & butternut squash vinaigrette
- Chef Wong: “End of Summer” Hayashi with black plums, tomato-seaweed gelée, mozzarella, & king crab vinaigrette
- Chef Cmar: Grilled naan with curried peas, crispy lamb, carrot relish, & cheese
- Chef Gillespie: Roasted pork, mushroom & black currant terrine with “granny’s” apple butter
As the judges went around trying the dishes, the one that looked the most in hot water was Chef Cmar. Her Indian dish was first tried by Lakshmi and Gale Simmons, and it was immediately apparent that Lakshmi, a native of Chennai, India, was not vibing with the dish. When it was time for Tom Colicchio and guest judge Ruth Reichl to try Chef Cmar’s dish, Colicchio was prompted to ask, “Do you cook a lot of Indian at your restaurant or home?” and the look of Chef Cmar’s face was similar to the (screaming internally) meme.
On the right side of early criticism was Chef Nguyen. Her choice to make the “masa ball soup” was well-received as the judges felt she successfully melded the experiences she had during the restaurant visits with a unique dish. Chef Gillespie also earned praise for his pork and apple butter dish as it was considered succinct and well-balanced by the judges, with guest judge Reichl suggesting that Chef Gillespie start bottling his apple butter for sale.
With the all food served and the event concluded, there was only one thing left for the episode...
Top Three Chefs: Chefs Nguyen, Gillespie and Voltaggio
Winner: Chef Gillespie’s roasted pork, mushroom & black currant terrine with “granny’s” apple butter
Guest judge Reichl, a close friend of Gold’s, declared Gillespie’s dish would be the one that she thought Gold would’ve liked the best. And, again, she repeated that Chef Gillespie needs to bottle and sell his grandmother’s apple butter recipe. Frankly, sign us all up for a bottle if you do!
Bottom Three Chefs: Chefs Sosa, Cmar and Adjepong
Bottom dish: Chef Sosa’s crudo of tuna with chilled turmeric coconut broth & jicama
When the guest judge declares that the protein in your dish “died in vain,” you know you have big problems. Ultimately, a coconut curry broth that was closer to dessert didn’t work in concert with his tuna, and it was his demise.
Pour one out for this week’s eliminated chef: Chef Angelo Sosa
These [judges] do not Love Sosa. Please pack your knives and go.
Power Rankings after Episode 2
1. Chef Gillespie
2. Chef Voltaggio
3. Chef Nguyen
4. Chef Carroll
5. Chef Gordet
6. Chef King
7. Chef Akunowicz
8. Chef Lynch
9. Chef Fernandes
10. Chef Wong
11. Chef Malarkey
12. Chef Adjepong
13. Chef Cmar
Last Chance Kitchen
With the departure of Chef Sosa from the main competition, it’s officially time for the sub-competition, Last Chance Kitchen, to begin. Last week’s departed chef Joe Sasto and Sosa would meet in a one-on-one competition as they each compete to try and get back in the main competition.
Moving on to Round 2 of Last Chance Kitchen: Chef Joe Sasto