recaps

Last Night’s Top Chef Included Deconstructed Omelettes and Broken Food Trucks

That’s not a happy face.

As the sun rises over the scenic mountains, the Top Chefs prepare for battle. Connecticut Tyler doffs his sleep-apnea mask. Joe (mustache) is doing his daily stretches. On an idyllic patch of Denver grass, Alaska Laura has a chat with her Alaska son. “I felt that I was going to be okay being this far away from him, and I was wrong,” she confesses, glumly. “This is extremely harder than I thought it was.”

Little does she know how right she is! As the chefs troop into the kitchen, Padma introduces tonight’s Quickfire guest judge, Denver’s own Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. Bruce has met him before. “It’s kind of a joke in the house that I know everybody,” says Bruce. “It’s not a bragging thing, it just so happens that everyone I know is judging Top Chef.” Sometimes all of your friends get pregnant at once, and sometimes they all judge the reality television show on which you happen to be competing, you know how it goes!!

“Eggs, ham, onions, bell peppers, and cheese,” sings Padma. “Does anyone know what dish these ingredients are usually used for?” A Denver omelette, they chorus together. Indeed. But as Friend of Bruce Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson will now explain, they will not be making plain old Denver omelettes. Instead, they will be making deconstructed Denver omelettes. “I don’t want to see any omelettes,” menaces Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. There’s just one complicating detail: This is a Sudden Death Quickfire Challenge, which means the three people who deconstruct the worst non-omelettes will go head-to-head in a battle for survival. “Of course, there’s a twist,” sighs Tanya, who has seen this show before.

Luckily, Tanya has a plan. The plan is: crêpes. Joseph, who is hacking at a challah, has a vision for a “Denver panzanella, if you will,” and Rogelio is going with eggs-in-a-hole, which have to be timed exactly right, or they’ll be totally ruined forever. “I’m not going to let a deconstructed omelette send me back to Napa Valley.” On the one hand, I get what he’s saying. On the other hand, there are worse places. Meanwhile, Laura is wandering through the kitchen with an empty frying pan. “I’m trying to keep my head focused on the challenge right now, but my head and heart are back in Alaska,” she says, bleakly. Eventually, she lands on savory Denver French toast, mainly because it is a food.

Pretty much every deconstructed Denver omelette is a disaster, but the exciting part is that every deconstructed Denver omelette is a disaster in its own way. “Is this how you like your egg on an egg-in-the-hole?” Padma asks Rogelio. “Gnocchi, again?” she sighs in Bruce’s general direction.

The best of the lot were Tu’s fried-egg salad, featuring onion tarragon vinaigrette and caviar; Carrie’s extra-unctuous breakfast sandwich; and Brother’s smoked-duck egg with cheddar and ham tempura, which wins it all. Now let’s talk about the losers: Tanya’s crêpes were dry and had no acid, but Laura’s French toast was thick and heavy and “not very beautiful,” according to Lachlan, who is. Then again, Rogelio’s eggs-in-a-hole was “just not cooked well,” so it’s truly anyone’s loss at this point. And the theme of their Sudden Death Match is … also omelettes! Tom arrives carrying three bowls of eggs, which the chefs will use to make the perfect French omelette. “It’s all about the technique and the timing,” threatens Lachlan. “Let’s see who has it.” No one, it turns out.

Here is what happens: The chefs who are not competing in the death match call lots of useful tips from the sidelines, and the chefs who are competing ignore all of it. “You should have nothing in there but egg and salt!” calls Brother, as Rogelio vigorously slices mushrooms. Tanya is stuffing her omelette with spinach, and Laura is draining chunks of liquefied egg-juice into the garbage can. “What is that mess?” cries Padma. “It’s gut-wrenching,” whispers Fatima. “To watch such a giant in the industry doubt herself, it’s really hard.” Another thing that is really hard is to make a French omelette.

“This challenge really epitomizes what I think about food: Simple things have to be done right,” opines Tom. What I think about food is that maybe French omelettes are kind of overrated? Just to make sure that it is maximally miserable, the judges confirm that while all of the omelettes were very bad, the worst bad omelette was Laura’s. “I really could use a hug from home,” says Alaska Laura, packing her Alaskan knives, and if there is a bright side, it is that she will soon get it.

Onward and upward! And who better to introduce tonight’s Elimination Challenge than Hosea Rosenberg, Colorado resident and winner of Top Chef season five. Think global, judge local, that’s what I always say. Anyway, Hosea launched his “empire” with food trucks, which is convenient, because the theme of tonight’s challenge is also food trucks. Working in four teams of three, the chefs will create a “food-truck concept” with a three-item menu, and then serve it to 150 college students, and also “social-media influencer” Logan Paul. “His followers are in the millions,” raves Tom, who definitely does not know who he is.

Let’s draw knives! Fatima, Joe (mustache), and Tyler end up together on the Yellow Team, which is just as Joe (mustache) likes it. Their concept is hangover cures, which is why they are calling their truck “The Hangover Cure.” Across the lot, Adrienne, Chris, and Tu — the Blue Team — decide that their plan is sandwiches, while Bruce, Rogelio, and Brother on the Green Team unite in the creation of “Foodgasm.” The concept, as far as I can tell, is “food.”

That leaves Carrie, Joseph (no mustache), and Tanya on the Black Team. “We’ll call it ‘Down the Chin!’” suggests Carrie, brightly. “It’s supposed to be like cheese and sauce, not fluids and stuff, no,” she explains. Tanya looks horrified, which is correct, but Top Chef is a real “Yes, and” kind of situation, so Down the Chin it is!

So, here is the thing about food trucks: Everything is broken all of the time. The machine Fatima wants to use to whip her whipped cream is broken, for example. Bruce, who’s doing a pork-belly grilled cheese sandwich, needs the convection oven for his pork, which is also broken. The grill is broken. The waffle-maker is broken. Do you want to own a food truck? Surprise! You don’t now.

Like a heard of co-ed bison, the college kids arrive, along with the now-identified Logan Paul, Tom, Padma, and Gail. Where is Graham Elliot? I rewound many times to verify, and I am sure he is not here. First stop is the Yellow Team, and everyone loves everything. Gail thinks it’s a little weird that Tyler’s serving hot tomato soup from a food truck, but then again, it’s delicious, Joe’s licky-sticky Chinese chicken wings are a universal hit, and Fatima’s strawberry-caramel-bourbon-whipped-cream waffles are Logan Paul’s favorite, because “waffles are kind of my thing.”

Everything at the Blue Team’s Blazing Sammies sounds good — Tu did a meatball bánh mì; Adrienne did a chopped cheese, which is a hamburger chopped up with cheese; and Chris did fried fish — but the secret is, it’s all actually kind of terrible, mostly on account of the bread, but also the flavorlessness. “Not a lot of blazing,” observes Hosea. “I honestly think that it’s way too much bread for me,” suggests Female College Student One.

“This makes me the most excited so far,” drawls Logan Paul, surveying his tray from Chin Drippings. That is because of the quantity, it turns out, but he isn’t wrong: It’s all good, especially Tanya’s chicken and waffles, and Carrie’s cheese-stuffed burger. (Joe’s ribs were meh, according to Gail, who’s had better.)

Since it is always best to really tank things at the end, the judges end their tour at Foodgasm, where everything is bad. Tom says Rogelio’s Mexican corn salad is “dying for vinegar.” Padma says Bruce’s fatty pork-and-cheese grease bomb is “a big fail.” Gail says the honey powder on Brother’s fry-bread dessert is “cute but useless,” which are also words Logan Paul uses to describe himself.

In the great tradition of popularity contests, the team that lured the most college students to their truck is safe, so Down the Chin is in. Fine, Carrie, it was a good name. In the eyes of the judges, though, the winning team is the Hangover Cure, and the winner-winner is Joe (mustache) for his licky-sticky chicken wings. “I’m building my confidence day by day,” beams Joe. Honestly, I did not think Joe’s confidence was suffering, but I am happy he sees progress.

Now it is time to bear witness to human tragedy. The judges really, really didn’t like that the Blue Team all used the same sandwich bread. “Why?” Gail wants to know. She cannot understand how they could do this to her. “You didn’t have to do one kind of bread!” On the other hand, the Green Team served a random assortment of bad food, including Bruce’s fat sandwich and Rogelio’s bland corn salad, which everyone agrees should have been cold, except Rogelio. He wanted it to be room temperature, but also cold, he tries to explain, but it is no use. When Padma blinks blankly, she is blinking for all of us: Rogelio is going home.

“I never dreamed that I would be on Top Chef, so for me, it’s a win already,” reflects Rogelio, with everlasting grace. If there is one thing we have learned here tonight, it is the proper temperature of corn salad.

Top Chef Recap: Deconstructed Omelettes, Broken Food Trucks