Disclaimer: While this is a Top Chef recap, this is also specific to OC. In other words, us Weeklings are rooting for Amar Santana!
Disclaimer #2: There are total spoilers in here. Do not read unless you want to know who won what this week, okay? Now, let's DO this.
We've waited nine effing weeks for this episode. Not because our Bay Area roots are calling, but because something significant occurs. You know what we're talking about. But first, formalities.
Top Chef is a series where all the culinary groupies come out of the woodwork. This particular episode shows us one Oaktown rapper's love of the competition. Memories of Hammer pants and old school rap pump everyone up as they meet the iconic MC in his hometown. Their Quickfire dare: Create a rapper name and make a dish inspired by that name. As Hammer eloquently put it, "It should personify who you are."
Much hilarity ensues, which (after last week's Restaurant Wars) is probably the best way for our cheftestants to blow off steam. Of course, immunity is still at stake, so things aren't that chill. Unless your name is Santana Lov-ah! Then everything is mighty fine, because Amar is going for the Chilean sea bass, a favorite of his ex. We heard a version of that story that didn't match what was said on-air, so for the sake of this recap— we're not elaborating. But we will commend you on busting a move out on the waterfront. Go, Amar, Go!
Amar's soy-glazed Chilean sea bass with dashi broth, enoki mushrooms and shishito pepper unfortunately ended up at the bottom of the pack. Issac continued his streak with a memorable twist on shrimp and grits, utilizing scallops and savory bbq sauce. Fine work again, Toups! But who's that walking toward the foreground . . . Jonathan Waxman toting a globe!
Chef Waxman is there to school our magnificent seven on history. Their Elimination Challenge: Create a dish that evokes a culinary period in history. And to give them the tools they need to succeed, they're going to the library. They have extra incentive to do well, as they learn about some of their dinner guests. More on them later.
Sidebar: What we've loved about this season so far is not only the caliber of chefs, but their respect for each other and the cuisine. By reaching this point of the competition, they've endured physical and mental stress beyond previous seasons. Why would we say that? How many seasons experienced travel throughout an entire state in between challenges? The ongoing change of scenery, plus the procession of regional influencers has made this a unique season.
Speaking of influencers, let's run down the list of special appearances in this singular episode: Joshua Skenes (Saison), Mourad Lahlou (Mourad), Thomas McNaughton (Flour+Water), Melissa Perello (Octavia), Christopher Kostow (Meadowood) and James Syhabout (Commis). These Northern California culinary powerhouses under one roof is simply epic. It is your serious eater's to-do list. Okay, where were we?
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Kwame was thisclose to serving Tom and Jonathan undercooked duck. Marjorie made some bad bread. Jeremy doesn't craft a legit chowder. Karen overthinks Japanese food, ultimately going home for it. It's a bit of Beefsteak all over again, where there is a tough time balancing being, "...historically accurate and creating something of your own."
Except for Amar (Yes, you!). Santana wholeheartedly throws all of himself into the challenge, channeling his 16 year-old self at his first restaurant job in NYC's Chanterelle. Amar's Belle Epoque period in French history was there for the taking, and he took it and began sprinting. There was roasted squab, seared foie, sweetbreads, tourne vegetables and enough truffle sauce, "to cover the bottom of the plate, like they taught me." This was the challenge to shine in, and it got Amar Santana his very first solo victory. Congratulations!
So far, our prediction is holding firm. Maybe it's time to place some Vegas bets?