Top Chef Seattle, Episode 2: You Again?

“The title of Top Chef will be mine. Oh yes, it will,” says Stephan.

The second episode of Top Chef Seattle brought the newest round of cheftestants into the storied Top Chef Kitchen, at last. Micah immediately went on the offensive, giving his fellow competitors something he referred to as the waterfall look. I’m not sure what that is, but does it mean he was crying? Anyway, their elation at finally setting foot in TCK was short-lived when they saw that they were going to be judged by former cast members Josie (season 2), CJ (season 3), and Stephan (season 5), all of whom are nice, although Stephan’s reputation from season 5 doesn’t always make that clear.

The QFC entails breaking off into groups of three to create a dish that highlights a local seafood. They have just 20 minutes to pull it off, and choices include crab, mussels, crawfish, razorfish clams, geoduck, and more. Turns out, though, that everyone seems to want the geoduck (which, IMO, has become far too ubiquitous). Let’s break it down…

Blue Team: Sheldon, Kuniko, and John create a geoduck sashimi with the coveted geoduck ,and dress it with ponzu, apple, and cucumber. The judges say it’s great but could use a bit of salt.

Yellow Team: Josh, Eliza, and Danyele serve a razor clam and grilled corn chowder with Fresno chile and grilled lime. The judges like the grilled lime, but call the dish under-salted.

Lizzie tries to explain to Carla that she does not, in fact, have a barrette she can borrow for her bangs.

Gray Team: Bart, Jeffrey, and Brooke make crawfish with pickled red chile, fennel, and crawfish cream. The judges like it, but call it a little bit “old school.”

Green Team: Kristen, Mica, and Tyler present a study in contrasts, with a fried and sashimi geoduck with radish, bok choy salad, and yuzu chili vinaigrette. It’s a hit, except that the sashimi isn’t shimi’d enough. Or, thin enough for those of you who can’t crack my code.

Orange Team: Carla, Chrissy, and Lizzie prepare an oven-roasted crawfish with fennel and herb salad. Lizzie thinks it’s messy, and the judges think it needs more acid (which, it would appear, that Carla took before entering TCK. I kid!).

Least Favorite Dish: The Yellow Team’s razor clam soup. It’s “weak” and “underseasoned.”

Best Dish: The Blue Team’s geoduck. Not sure if this is a case of pure ingredient-advantage, but we’ll never know, as that’s how it goes in TCK!

Is John Tesar going to turn out to be the most beloved chef in Seattle? He might, rabbit. He might.

Immunity: Goes to John Tesar, after the trio draws knives to decide.

And the big twist is then revealed: Josie, CJ, and Stephan are here to stay – and compete. The new cheftestants are none too happy. There’s cussin’ (“Bull$&@#!”), complainin’ (“It’s gonna suck!”), and challengin’ (“I’d love to whip their a$$!”).

To his credit, Stephan takes it all in stride. After all, he has a mansion and a yacht a really cool car and a lot of restaurants, and, by the by, nothing to prove. So, why is he here? Well, Stephan thinks he should have won season 5. And, to be fair, really, I think even Hosea would agree that Stephan should have won season 5.

The alumni cheftestants will form their own Red Team to compete against the others in the Elimination Challenge. CJ isn’t thrilled about this as he’s just back from NOMA and wants to strut his stuff solo.

“All this wine is making me feel like the room is spinning,” Tom says. “That’s because it is spinning, Tom,” Gail replies.

The Elimination Challenge will be a single-dish cook-off at the SkyCity Restaurant at the Space Needle. Each team gets 47 minutes (the time it takes for the Space Needle to go around once) to prep and cook their dish, with 30 minutes to shop before going home. The guest judge is Chef Tom Douglas, who owns Lola and numerous other acclaimed Seattle restaurants.

A constraint of the EC is that only two teams will cook at the same time, for a total of three presentations. First up are the Orange and Blue Teams. Orange Team’s Carla is being loud and bossy and, um, Carla? Which isn’t sitting all that well with Lizzie. The other teams watch the chaos, leading Jeffery to remark about Carla, “God, I would not want to be on her team.” But, the ladies pull off a “flavorful, seasonal” wild salmon with vegetables and a beurre blanc. The real drama comes later when Carla cuts her finger severely after finishing service, but the team – and her finger — survives.

The Blue Team works together seamlessly, except for a minor incident in which Kuniko burns her first batch of chili oil. But, it doesn’t matter because they serve a chili oil poached cod with dashi and spot prawn shabu shabu that unanimously blows the judges away.

The Yellow Team had been working with a mystery fish but quickly identify it as cod once they start filleting. They turn out a “nicely cooked” pan-roasted cod with mushrooms, favas, pickled green apple, and garlic scape pistou, though the judges wanted to see more apple and pistou.

Kuniko doesn’t think her fellow competitors noticed her, but we’re pretty sure they are quaking in their clogs right about now! Woot!

The Red Team changes their dish at the last minute. Daring to be different with quail, they are immediately undone by CJ’s failure of a cherry emulsion. Josie attempts to salvage the cherry aspect of the dish, but their quail breast with confit spot prawn, cherries, and porcini is called “overcooked,” though Tom Seattle enjoyed it.

The Green Team was in a totally smooth groove together. They made a crispy seared salmon with local vegetables and spot prawn butter sauce. It was “perfect” and had good “mouthfeel,” but the “texture of the spot prawn was lost.”

The Gray Team had a bumpier go of things. Brooke was worried about the halibut being overcooked – and she was right to worry. She was also scared of the spinning Space Needle (Me, too!). The team made a lovely looking pan-roasted halibut with morels, English peas, and a wheat beer and herb sabayon. The halibut, however, was overcooked and, according to the judges “like a hockey puck.”

At Judges’ Table, it was the Blue Team FTW! Tom Douglas called the dish “the essence of Seattle,” and Kuniko’s inspired chili-oil poaching gave her the big solo W.

The Red and Gray teams are called in and taken to task, but ultimately, the crime of overcooking fish was the greatest, and sweet Jeffrey and his knives are sent packing.

Next week, we’re going to be treated to a Thanksgiving feast and an unusual number of shots of Tom Colicchio smiling.

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