Your Top Chef: California Recap (OC Edition) – Week 5

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.

As one chef put in, this week the dirty dozen found themselves in Chad’s wheelhouse. Our cheftestants arrive in San Diego, over by Seaport Village. Javier Plascencia and Padma greet them at the harbor. A chef/partner at Bracero, Javier excels at contemporary Baja cuisine. He is the perfect judge for their next challenge.

Another Sudden Death Quickfire, the group is expected to create a decadent fish taco in 20 minutes The least favorite will be up for elimination. First off, 20 minutes goes by in a flash. Secondly, per Kwame, “There are so many technical things that can go wrong.” And on the topic of sudden death, Amar feels the pressure, “It’s kind of scary today.”

After a few stumbles (like Wesley misplacing his lobster), the group gets it together in the final moments. Except for one person. We’ll get to them in a moment. First we want to know what Amar made! A beer-battered Ono taco with guacamole and marinated cabbage, cilantro and jalapeno. Unfortunately, the heat wasn’t pronounced enough for Plascencia.

Local boy Chad nailed the challenge with grilled thresher shark with oyster and sea urchin salsa, plus sal de dusano. Chad knew both Padma and the judge liked it hot, so he made sure the heat was strong. Unfortunately, Angelina did not get her tacos on a plate, a sin on Top Chef punishable by being on the losing end of this challenge. She had to select a competitor to go head-to-head with. If she won, they both stayed. If the opponent won, she packs up her knives.

Angelina selects Wesley, and they are put in a Caesar challenge: Use every flavor found in the salad, but don’t make a salad. It’s a lot of components to work with: Romaine, anchovy, bread, Parmesan, and so forth. Angelina made a crostini with all the flavors piled on. Wesley was a bit more ambitious, eventually creating a composed egg dish. It was enough to beat Angelina, and we say farewell to A.

Emeril, Tom and Richard Blaise then show up with beer! And not just for toasting, either. These are Stone Brewing and Ballast Point collaborations specially created for the judges. The Elimination Challenge ties right in: Create a dish capturing the flavors in your judge’s specialty beer. Padma’s Golden Ale contains jalapeno, ginger and tamarind. Richard’s Stout has beets, chocolate and ras el hanout spice. Emeril kicks it up with coffee, cayenne and tangerine. Tom’s Wheat beer includes lemon, coriander and banana.

With $350, 30 minutes in Whole Paycheck and 2 hours to prep the next day at Blais establishment Juniper & Ivy, the chefs go grocery shopping. Back at the hotel, Emeril drops by with bottle service, checking in on everyone. It’s a rare scene of conversing and not competing. Per Amar, “It is harder than it looks on TV.”¬†

The next day, they are hustling in the kitchen. We get a little more backstory on Amar this time around, learning that he was cutting meat as early as age seven. In fact, he used to make sausages in a place that smoked meats. For this challenge in particular, Santana says this is the first time he’s able to showcase his style of cooking. He loves taking different flavor profiles, ultimately plating a sous vide chicken breast, crispy chicken thigh, jalapeno popper and tamarind ginger chutney.

Blais calls Amar’s dish “Outstanding”, while Tom remarks that it is a very assertive dish (in a good way). Bold flavors and those green, grassy notes of jalapeno come out in the popper, according to Padma. This earns him a place at the head of the pack. However, it’s Karen’s roasted duck breast plate with cocoa nib puree and ras el hanout roasted carrots that wins the judges over.¬†

Overcooked lamb and the pressure of being Richard’s successor at The Spence get to Wesley, as he’s the next to depart. He says it best when he remarks at how far he’s gotten, especially with the competition. Next week, they are back in Los Angeles. Until next time.

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