Top Chef 9.15 – Culinary Games

This looks IDEAL for preparing fine cuisine, right? ...right?

This is a show about cooking, right? About who’s the best chef? And…that means cooking? Like, I go to a restaurant and order something, and a “chef” would prepare that? Are there…gondolas in restaurants? Obstacle courses? Maybe I’m just not dining in the right place.

(In case you’re not picking up what I’m putting down, I found the “challenges” last night to be bizarre.) 

The Final Four show up in Vancouver to travel north to Whistler for…who knows why. Did someone on Bravo lose a bet and have to promote Canadian Tourism? (I have no problem with Canada, by the way. It’s just…what is going on? Aspen I get because there’s a huge food and wine fest that happens there annually. But Whistler? And they trotted out a bunch of Olympic medalists? Huh? OKAY, MOVING ON.

Sarah says that during the break between winning a spot in the final four and now, she’s had time to learn about herself. Her goal is to stay calm and be a nice person. Sarah? I will forgive you if this proves to be true. Lindsay right away bitches about how her personality clashes with Bev and good GOD, Lindsay, stop it. Paul, on the other hand, is just happy to be here, it’s an honor to be nominated, and have I mentioned that I want him to win? Because he’s just lovely.

They all pile in cars for the drive; Paul asks Beverly what Last Chance Kitchen was like. I am not making the following exchange up.

“Last Chance Kitchen was awes–”

Look at this tree!” Sarah shouts, pointing across her body for Lindsay to see. The only thing missing was a trombone playing wah waaaaah as Beverly sat back against the chair, ignored.

They all make it to the top of the Whistler Olympic Resort (or whatever) and Padma is almost blown over by the wind, Tom is cracking up and trying to not have snot-cicles on his face when on camera. Awesome choice, producers! It’s about 5 degrees Fahrenheit out there. Welcome to the Culinary Games. (Boy, did they miss the chance for a Hunger Games tie-in.) There will be three challenges meant to weed out one person and draw the finale into three episodes. Each winner of each event gets $10,000 and a spot in the Finale. (And you don’t have to keep cooking after the win. It pays to win early.)

Round One: Prepare a dish on a moving gondola (the longest in the world, the Peak-to-Peak) at the first stop, you will hop out, grab an ingredient off a waiting table, and add it to your dish. The next stop you will serve your dish to the judges. It’s essentially 22 minutes inside a swaying, rocking box in freezing cold temperatures. Go!

Paul has motion sickness, Beverly is terrified of heights, Sarah can’t decide what to make from the large amount of choices they’re given, and Lindsay bitches about how everything is moving and swaying and how stupid Beverly’s face is and she’s in love with Michelle. (Okay, not that last bit. But Lindsay, it’s Bravo. You’re with family.)

They’re floating up at 7000 feet above sea level, which makes cooking more difficult, not to mention things start freezing once they take them off the heat. Bev is smart and makes a tartare.

Round One Results:

  • Paul: Seared Lamb with Curried Mushrooms and Wasabi Crème Fraîche (Paul struggled with searing at that altitude and Gail noticed the meat wasn’t thoroughly cooked. The flavors are all admired, however.)
  • Sarah: Chorizo Sausage with Onions, Prune Juice and Gooseberries with Pickled Mushroom (None of this sounds good together to me – but the judges liked the flavors. Eh. Tom wanted to taste more prune, not something you hear often. I actually love prunes, but you feel me.)
  • Beverly: Salmon Tartare, Anchovy Horseradish with Crème Fraîche and Crispy Capers (This looked so delicious, I wanted to make a mud mask of it and then eat it off my face. It’s well loved by the judges, too. No face-smearing happened, though.)
  • Lindsay: Seared Salmon, Red Quinoa “Risotto” with Chorizo Horseradish Vinaigrette (She didn’t make enough salmon, so she cut the two pieces in half, whoops! It does look good, I’ll admit. The judges go bananas for the perfectly cooked fish and the flavors.)

Bottom: Paul! Oh, Paul! Then Sarah. Top two are Beverly and Lindsay, oho! And the winner of this challenge, earning $10,000 and a spot in the finale is….Lindsay! No more challenges for her, she gets to chill at the Fairmount.

The three remaining cheftestants head back out to the frozen tundra where there’s a bunch of ice blocks with stuff frozen inside. Tom goes off on how some people don’t have access to farm fresh, so flash frozen is the only option. Yadda yadda, make delicious food. Yeah, three foot ice blocks – that is just how people get their food up north. Seriously? What on earth, show?

Round Two: Create a dish using ingredients frozen in ice blocks, they’ll have one hour to thaw and cook. And then everyone is given a weapon. Weapons are featured twice in this episode; not too smart, Bravo!

Paul, Sarah, and Bev race across the wind-packed snow and ice with ice-picks in their hands (that’s wise) to find ice blocks with ingredients they’d want to use and start Norman Bates-ing them out. (Ree! Ree! Ree!) More than once Beverly is cautioned to not kill herself or others as she’s practically giving a barbaric yawp while blindly stabbing at a block of ice roughly the size of her whole body.

No surprise, Paul is the first to get his food and starts cooking. But because he is awesome, he goes over and helps the ladies free their food. He says that it’s a show about who can cook better, not who can chop ice better. Paul? You’re exactly right. Meanwhile, he accidentally burns his red wine gastrique and since he gave the rest of his wine to Beverly, he’s going to have to switch it up. Paul, if you lose this challenge after being so awesome, I will quit this show, I swear to the god of your choice. Sarah’s soup, meanwhile, is struggling as the fat is separating due to the cold.

Round Two Results:

  • Sarah: Pea and Spinach Soup with Tumeric, Almonds and King Crab (Nice flavors, but the almonds were too heavy on the thin soup.)
  • Paul: Poached King Crab, Toasted Almonds, Mango and Orange Chutney (The combo of mango and crab is adored, but the mango was still a little frozen. GEE, I WONDER WHY.)
  • Beverly: Seared Scallop with Red Wine Reduction, Buttered Peas, Corn and Couscous (They all are amazed by the sear and caramelization, but the sauce is a little too heavy for it.)

Tom says that they’re not making this easy on the judges, which is awesome. I think we all know where the producers are pushing the final match up, right? The winner of Round Two, $10,000, and a spot in the finale is…PAUL! Whew, I was going to be so upset if he didn’t make it. He gets to chill with Lindsay back at the Fairmount while these two ladies go head to head.

Well, not head to head, but ski to ski. With guns. Continuing the inexplicable need to have Olympic medalists at every round (it’s too weird for me to keep pointing out, you’re not missing anything) a female hockey player is there for a bi-athalon. HUH? Padma greets the girls with a gun and points out some cross-country skis.

Round 3: “Last Shot” [hurr] is the Culinary Biathalon. Just like Julia Child vs. Paul Bocuse in 1972. Paul lost an arm and Julia carried a bullet in her thigh until the day she died. But by God, her Bouillabaisse toted along the mountain on her skis as she shot wild game was the stuff of legends. Oh, right.

Round 3: (for real) Cross-country ski through a course (just to do it?) until they get to a field of “ingredients” (signs with them listed). There they will shoot targets. 10 bullets each, must be a bulls-eye to get the ingredient, once it’s been claimed no one else can claim it, best of luck.

Sarah says because she’s Texan, she knows all about guns. That is a dirty stereotype. Except I’m Texan and it’s true. Bev has never held a gun or skied, so this is going to be rough. Cut to footage of the two girls falling hard all over the place (To which I think, really? It’s cross-country skiing! It’s like sliding on your socks, but not stopping!) and Beverly is ahead.

She gets to the targets, nails the first one. Then she misses five more, picks up two more ingredients, and she’s out. Sarah, Miss I Am Texas Gun Culture, isn’t even hitting the paper behind the target. (My husband is a nationally ranked sniper. No, really.) She finally tags the fifth ingredient, picks up two more and misses the rest. Oh well, it’s enough. (There’s a moment where Sarah is pissed that Beverly might get beets and she wanted beets! Well, I guess you shouldn’t have sucked on your skis and at shooting. And you call yourself a chef.)

They now have one hour to cook. And everything Bev does pisses Sarah off, of course. Whatever, I’m so over people hating on Bev. Tired, tired of it.

Round Three Results:

  • Bev: Arctic Char, Onion and Beet Compote, Celery Root Truffle Puree and Fennel Salad (This sounds delicious, looks delicious, and evidently tasted delicious. Except the fish is mild with its flavors and possibly a touch over cooked.)
  • Sarah: Braised Rabbit Leg and Heart, with Cherries Hazelnut and Sauerkraut Puree (I love sauerkraut. Sauerkraut puree sounds…is it just me, or does Sarah like very 1950s style menu options? It’s not that it’s a problem, it’s just–. Huh. Well, she has her own style, that’s for sure. And the judges like what she’s done, they just wish the rabbit was more tender. An hour to braise? Not long enough.)

Tom asks them about their technique, is impressed with why they did what they did, and says once again that they’re not making it easy on the judges. Sarah: her food was well thought out. Beverly: impressed she went out of her comfort zone. (No coconut milk or lemongrass!)

Padma, with legitimate tears in her eyes, says “Beverly, please pack your knives and go.” Oh, Beverly! Well, she can be proud of herself. Padma is legitimately choked up, which is sweet! This means Sarah is the winner of $10,000 – they remind her of that and she flips out “I forgot about that!” Ha. She joins the final three!

And…it looks like they’re going to split the narrowing down to two chefs into a full episode, too. Good god, producers, I love this show, but unless you’re going to show us the techniques they’re using so we can learn, I don’t care to watch them have to scale a building with paring knives while carrying an actual EarthPot of fresh, unpicked ingredients on their backs.

We’ll see. And again: Paul is my pick. I think now I’d like to see Sarah as runner up. She played nice in the end with Beverly while Lindsay is still the most sour patch kid on the planet. PAUL FOR THE WIN! See you next week!

Please like & share:
  • you know, Beverly just rubs me the wrong way. She’s got that suffering, poor me attitude down pat and I don’t buy it. Yeah, she went through shit, but really, who doesn’t? Professional cooking isn’t exactly a nice place to be, the chefs almost always have egos, there’s lots of bitching and backstabbing and this is the profession she chooses? I think she got a gimme at the last chance kitchen against Nyesha, who really should have gone all the way.

    Is it cool that Sarah and Lindsay were playing cool girl bitches and freezing her out? No, but then again, it’s a competition, not a friendship fest. I know a lot of that crap is highlighted in editing, because you can make anyone look like an ass, we’re human, we say and do stupid shit all the time and Tom was totally playing it up by asking Bev if she was imagining any of her competition as the ice blocks. Really, are we five?

    I’d love for Paul to win, he’s the most humble chef we’ve seen since Kevin who would’ve won if he hadn’t been in the same season with the Volt bros. Mike V was just as bitchy and childish in his season but he didn’t get nearly the flak that the women are getting this season.

    • Oh, I sure as hell don’t want to be friends with Bev for all the reasons you state. I can’t stand kicked dogs, if you know what I mean. But the way the show became about those two beating up on her? TIRED OF IT. She makes good food, they do too, whatever.

      (And if we had existed during the Volt year, oh, would you have heard me cuss a blue streak about Mike’s bitching and whining. Did I think he was so hot that I wanted to hollow him out and wear him like a pair of man pants? YES. Did his attitude drive me nuts? YES. I digress. Lol.)

      I am so Team Paul it’s ridiculous. I just adore that guy! Plus, he seems really in tune with the food, with himself, and I want to eat everything he makes.

  • Cate

    THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A COOKING SHOW. Beverly didn’t go home because she’s not as good a cook as the others, she went home because of GONDOLAS AND SNIPER RIFLES AND SKIS. WHAT THE EVER LOVING CLOWNTASTIC ASS-SHOW WAS THAT?

    I am *bitter* about this. BITTER. Because my god, if you’re abandoning the principle of good food being entertaining, Bravo, then why the hell should I continue to tune into your show ABOUT COOKING?


    • I AM SO GLAD TO NOT BE THE ONLY ONE WONDERING WHAT THE HELL. This stuff could have been interesting in, oh, THE FIRST EPISODE? Haha, who can’t hold a knife while things are rocking?

      It just made no SENSE. Why Whistler? Why Olympic references? WHY?

  • christy

    It is just so stupid to do the whole “game” thing at this stage in the game. That should be in the beginning to weed out the obvious losers. Real cooking happens now. Amiright? Also, did they just get tired of the heat in Texas? Did the production team threaten revolt?

    • It really shouldn’t be any more of these kind of hoops to jump through, not at ALL. Weird. BUT. To the chefs’ credit: they all pulled out some amazing things.

      Still. HUH?

  • Vyola

    It was WEIRD, Laura. WEIRD.

    My attention kept wandering off because I was hungry and they weren’t showing me amazing food.

    On the other hand, if they’d actually let the chefs go after each other with the various weapons, I probably would have been all over that. I WILL HAVE BLOOD, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.

    • When they finally DID show the food, it was amazing. Except they only showed it long enough to get the title card up then whisked it away. WAAAAH, I WANT TO SEEEEEEE.

  • Snow

    There was a short lived cooking competition show called ‘Extreme Chefs’ that I enjoyed while it was on and one of their eps was held inside an ice factory – where at one stage the cheftestants had to cut/stab/break their ingredients out of huge ice blocks and then cook in minus freezing degree temps.

    So I was having flashbacks while watching TC last night … all while thinking that I’d seen this before. On a show that actually *was* about making chefs do insane things while and before cooking.

    Other than that, I’m happy!happy that Paul is in the final 3. He is also my top choice.

    Really bizarre Top Chef episode.


    • Wow, I never heard of that show! Guess the producers of TC did, though, huh? A little borrowing never hurt anyone, I’m sure they thought.

      I AM SO HAPPY ABOUT PAUL. And I want him to stay in Austin so I can eat his food!

  • txvoodoo

    ok, Stoney. I stopped watching this season a while ago but had to read your recap.



    Gondolas? Cross-country skiing? TARGET SHOOTING? When did Top Chef turn into The Amazing Race? (You know, chopping up an ice block to get a clue WAS a challenge on Amazing Race).

    I’m so glad I stopped watching.

    • It is SO WEIRD. I mean, I’ve ultimately enjoyed the season, and I think the chefs just get stronger every year, truly. (I thought they’d peaked with Kevin/Jen/Voltaggio Bros, but they had some truly spectacular dishes this season. Paul is just amazing.

      But yeah – the Amazing Race challenges at this stage? Buh-bye.

  • Sally R

    What the ever-loving-fuck? I think even my friend Sarah who actually trains and competes at World Cup/Olympic level biathlon would think this was nuts. And I’ve been on the peak-to-peak at Whistler. I cannot imagine cooking in the gondola though. Crazy.

    If they wanted to do something Olympics — why didn’t they do summer games? Or visit one of the US sites of the games? (Not that I don’t LOVE Canada, but I don’t understand. It’s Top Chef Texas. What’s Canada got to do with that?)


      I…why?? But Paul is awesome and his food makes me hungry just LOOKING at it, I can’t imagine how great it is to try it. Hopefully I’ll find out soon!

  • Betsy

    Round 3: “Last Shot” [hurr] is the Culinary Biathalon. Just like Julia Child vs. Paul Bocuse in 1972. Paul lost an arm and Julia carried a bullet in her thigh until the day she died. But by God, her Bouillabaisse toted along the mountain on her skis as she shot wild game was the stuff of legends. Oh, right.

    Dude, that literally had me laughing for a good minute. I just had this amazing, beautiful image in my head of Julia Child talking to someone about the stress of traveling at her age and saying, “Oh no dear, I don’t travel much. That bullet in my leg sets off the metal detectors like a motherfucker. Quiche?”
    I just… I do not like Sarah at all. She’s weirdly competitive and aggressive in the kitchen and interviews, yet all Big eyes and playful coy in front of the the judges. it’s a stereotype but she’s two-faced. At least with Heather the Biggest Jerk in the world she wasn’t sneaky about being a wretched human being.
    In conclusion: Go Team Paul! We should make shirts.

    • You don’t know how glad I am that someone laughed at that line, ha!

      I think that’s what it is about Sarah for me, too – you can never get a good bead on who she is (or who she’s planning on being.)

      TEAM PAUL!!

  • I grew up in snow so I was like “that’s not how you cross country ski!” I agree it’s too late in the game for these games. The challenges would be entertaining on an early-season episode or something like Masterchef Australia where it’s not an elimination episode, and the losers will get another challenge to save themselves. At the Top Chef finale? Final four? Seriously? Why not go straight to the shooting-for-ingredients? Why the gondola? I just… I don’t understand.

    Totally rooting for Paul. He’s sweet and considerate and awesome.

    I’m proud of Sarah for at least trying. So many reality contestants see themselves and don’t get it (or pretend not to).

    • I lol’d at the inability to glide, I can’t help it. (And man, did those falls look painful!)


      I don’t know if I came away from the show thinking Sarah made a real change. She did bitch less, so there was that. (I’m looking forward to the after-win show where they’re asked all sorts of questions. I bet that comes up A LOT.)

      • Yeah, I can’t tell either, but at least she’s making a conscious effort not to say bitchy things the editors can use. The whole “that’s my outlet” thing was annoying but I can almost see her point there (god help me, I don’t want to support her). But at least it’s not like Tiffani who was like “Pfft I was bitchy, fuck you, see if I care.” At least there’s remorse, even if only for how she LOOKED, not what she did (still not on the Sarah train though. I want her to lose.)

        Paul is the best.

        And yes. Haven’t those ladies ever done Nordic Track? It’s like that. Loved your socks-sliding comparison, it’s like that too.

  • Julie

    Sorry, a little late to the party, but I heard/read somewhere that next season is going to be held in Canada. They were trying to do a tie-in between this season and next.

    • OH. Well then, that would make sense! Thanks for that!

      • I haven’t heard that and it may be true. But I’ve heard they may come to Seattle (my town so yes please) and I know there’s a separate Top Chef Canada that’s existed for two years, so I don’t know how that would work. It’s totally possible and I know nothing.

        • There’s a Top Chef Canada? Insert rainbow, the more you know! I had no idea. Top Chef Seattle would be very cool!

    • Julie

      I did a quick search and I don’t see anything online about where Top Chef is going to be for Season 10. I thought I read it in our local paper, but perhaps I was just hallucinating. Ha! Either way, I wish Bravo would take a bold step and have a skill competition show that was just about, you know, the contestant’s skills. Quit with all the manufactured drama and selective editing to make someone the bad guy. Let the people who deserve to stay,stay, and the one’s who didn’t measure up, leave.

  • Ivyfree

    It’s heartbreaking how this show has deteriorated… remember the good old days of gas station cuisine and phallic cheeto amuse-bouches? Seriously, at this point, it should ALL be about the cooking. In fact, it should MOSTLY be about the cooking and you shouldn’t have to be an athlete to be successful. It reminds me of Season Four Project Runway where the first challenge was “Run across this field and grab what fabric you want” and seriously made it difficult for Christ March. There really shouldn’t be a cooking challenge that requires such completely unrelated skills to complete. What if one of them had fallen and broken an arm? What if Sarah hadn’t hit any of the targets she was aiming at? What was their backup plan?

    I’ve loved this show for years, and it’s annoying how gimmicky it’s becoming. I’m just hoping that Sarah makes an incredibly stupid mistake and Paul wins. Yeah, I loved that, “I’m going to be nicer…ooh! Trees!” cutting Beverly off. I bet Sarah doesn’t have any idea why people object to her behavior: she’s freaking oblivious.

    • I loved how the editors of the show did the “I’m so sorry for being a jerk. Hey Bev? SHUT UP TREES!!” I think sometimes the editors want to point out what’s really going on behind the scenes with little digs like that. Ha.

      The next two eps (they’re doing two episodes, I think – I should double check) will be all about the food, fortunately. I’m pretty tired of the gimmicks and feel like they’ve been doing the challenges backwards this season, personally.

  • Zyrya

    There are so many cooking and food related challenges, and I know lots have been done in other seasons or other shows, but so have these James Bond gimmicks which either have nothing to do with food or have had the food element edited out. Learning about cooking in extreme cold or high altitude is really interesting; show more of that!

    • HEAR HEAR! I want to see how they pull off these amazing dishes, their knife skills, the process of flavor building! Not how well can they balance while stirring.

  • Ivyfree

    You know…. I would love to see a Top Chef where they get a mystery basket. It’s not so far off from the French Cooking School chicken/onion/potato challenge. How about, “You have three hours. Use anything in the pantry and make the best fruit dessert you can, since none of you are pastry chefs. HAHAHAHAHA!” Or “Here. Have a rabbit. We want an amazing rabbit dinner.” I mean, let’s have them start comparing apples to apples for a change.

    The only real improvement this season is the increase in rewards for winning quickfires. I always hated that they’d come, maybe surrendering a job but definitely upending their lives, and go all the way through it and maybe only get Fan Favorite, if they’re lucky.

    I’m terrified that Sarah will win and that’s why she’s talking nice now. I’m going to go light a candle for Paul. I hope the PTB are reading the blogs: nobody is happy with this challenge.

    • They’ve done that in the past and it’s been really interesting. I think they might be running out of ideas after nine seasons of Top Chef.

      I like the increase in prizes, too, for the very reasons you’ve mentioned. PAUL!! Oh, Paul, I hope we see you kick ass tonight!

  • Brunettepet

    I was actually pissed off at the end of this episode and it had nothing to do with the bitchfaces or the elimination. It was all about the hoop jumping and the total disconnect from cooking sublime food at this stage in the game.

    Yes, I know it’s a game show, but did the cheftestants have to sign a waiver that they’re not afraid of heights, ice picks or falling and breaking a wrist this year? All three of these challenges hit a visceral fear in me which could have triggered a panic attack before I’d even grabbed a gondola. Which I couldn’t have grabbed because I would have been clinging to the camera person like a monkey.

    Paul continues to rock. When he pitched in with the ice block throwing I could have wept. Pointing out that this is a cooking competition not an ice picking competition (or something to that effect) had me grinning. He’s such a good guy. I love him. I want him to win. I’ve heard he’s already given notice at Uchiko. I could kick myself. It’s about a mile from my house.

    • I want to watch beautiful food at this point, too. I want to see it created, hear about the flavors, the textures, the techniques.

      I was seriously worried about them legitimately hurting themselves in those challenges, too. Paul is a true gentleman, stepping in like he did and for the reason he did: this is about cooking, not who can break ice faster. UM, Are you listening, production?

      GAH, let’s hope he goes to another place in Austin (or opens his own!!)