Having barely survived their tenure in the wilderness, the remaining chefs huddle together for comfort. “I’ve never been so excited to sleep in a fucking bunk bed,” groans Joseph, the wounds of winter still fresh. “That was torture,” agrees Carrie. “Want some protein shake?” offers Uncle Bear Bruce. It is almost as if forced winter camping is a bad idea.
As though to prove this point, it turns out that Lee Anne — who surprise-returned to the show last week and is pregnant — isn’t feeling so well, in a real way. “I have a headache that won’t go away and I’m a little dizzy,” she tells Claudette, sounding only very panicked, and Claudette advises her to do what she needs to do because nothing is more important than her health. Then everyone trots off to Alpine Kitchen Stadium, except for Lee Anne, who boards an ambulance to the hospital.
Today’s special guest is none other than our old pal Richard Blais! He reveals a giant chalkboard with each chef’s most complicated signature dish written on it. “What the fuck is this?” muses Joseph. Indeed. “You can’t scroll through Facebook these days without seeing one of BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos,” Padma drawls, explaining that Tasty videos make fancy cooking approachable, and everyone nods wildly. For example, here is a video of Richard Blais, whipping up spaghetti with “bone marrownara” sauce! Attempting to follow in his footsteps, the chefs will get 30 minutes to turn their most elaborate restaurant dish into a simple 30-minute home meal, and the winner will be featured on — wait for it — BuzzFeed Tasty. “Your Instagram followers would quadruple overnight!” marvels Fatima. Deep down, isn’t that all any of us truly want?
The clock is ticking! Claudette explains that she wasn’t going to use octopus in her octopus dish, on account of how it takes three days to make, “but then I said fuck it,” so now the plan is just to beat it really hard with a rolling pin. Joe gets the bright idea that instead of making gnocchi and separate scallops, he will purée scallops and potatoes together and call it dumplings, which sounds very logical, when he says it.
Can you make octopus in 30 minutes? The answer is we don’t know, because Claudette didn’t have time to put it on the plate, so she serves Richard and Padma little puddles of pineapple salsa. In response, Padma icily reminds her that she will lose. Padma likewise does not care for Adrienne’s crawfish-stuffed hush puppies with molasses sauce (“Is this supposed to be a savory dish?”), or Bruce’s roasted-duck diavolo (“Is this how you like your duck cooked normally?”), and she is so disappointed by Fatima’s fried-chicken biryani, she cannot muster the power of speech. It’s not a total loss, though, because everyone is really head over heels for the way Carrie toasted the bread with her mussel curry. “I love that you actually cooked the bread!” raves Richard Blais. “I like toasted bread a lot,” Carrie says. I would like to come out here with the bold stance that I also enjoy toasted bread.
Obviously, Claudette is on the bottom, because she did not serve any food, as is Adrienne, because of her fishy dessert hush puppies. “And I also want to call out Fatima,” announces Padma, awakened suddenly from her cryogenic slumber. “Last week, when you cooked Western food, it was so flavorful! Why aren’t you cooking our food like that!?” This is an incisive point, but I still think you should follow Fatima on Instagram.
The top three are Chris, who did a spicy pepper-pot shrimp that Richard found “rounded and dynamic”; Brother, for his deeply flavored squid-ink paella; and Joe’s “incredibly creative” gnocchi scallops, which remain just past the grasp of my understanding. Carrie and her toasted bread didn’t even make the cut! (The winner is Chris.)
“Yesterday I was on the bottom; today I’m on the top,” philosophizes Chris. “This is the reason I don’t carry the baggage with me.” Counterpoint: I prefer to carry the baggage at all times, so that I will have a place to put things.
“Who’s ready for a party?” wonders Padma, introducing human fiesta Keegan Gerhard. Keegan Gerhard was raised in Germany, explains everyone many times, so for the Elimination Challenge, they’ll be throwing what Padma calls a “little German festival.” The chefs are each responsible for creating one German-inspired dish that will take German classics to new heights, and one matching radler, which, Keegan explains Germanically, is a German drink that is half beer and half fruit soda. It is drunk by Germans.
In the interest of cultural immersion, Keegan then sweeps everyone off to a bier hall, where we learn that Chris has been sober for three years. “I don’t put myself in situations where the old demons are knocking at the door,” he says, sipping his juice uncomfortably. Prost!
Loaded back into their BMW X5s, the chefs discuss their German plans. Brother is plotting a German spring roll, because his parents used to be exotic dancers in Asia. Tanya studied in Europe, so she’s doing pork-and-apple croquettes with black-bread crust. “I’m trying to be inspired by German food,” reflects Chris, who is still shaken by the drinking, so he’s doing premade sausages with pretzel rolls. Lee Anne is making nothing, because she has altitude sickness and is still hooked up to an IV.
Back in the kitchen, the chefs attack their spoils for day one of cooking and take turns explaining that it is important to be true to yourself. “I’m not going to win making someone else’s food,” declares Adrienne, who is filleting an arctic char. “I’m really trying to tie in Italian cooking,” says Bruce, braising slabs of pork belly. Carrie, meanwhile, is inventing a very Carrie dish called David Hasselhoff Potatoes. “I was like, who knows anything about Germany? Well, David Hasselhoff,” she explains, duh, and then Tom grins at her blankly. “Right?” she asks, again, with the unbroken spirit of a Labradoodle.
Lee Anne is there to greet them back at the ranch with news: She is going home, for the sake of her health. “Definitely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” she says. “Hopefully, this won’t be the last you see of me on Top Chef.” Luckily, there is nothing Top Chef loves like a reunion.
The next morning, the gang heads out to Elitch Gardens, site of a certain little German festival for 200 people in the rain. To commemorate the occasion, a woman in a dirndl plays the trumpet. “German festival!” says Padma, correctly identifying her surroundings. It is like a logic puzzle: Some of the dishes are good with bad radlers, and some are bad with good radlers, and some are good with good radlers, and one is Brother’s German egg roll, which is baffling to everyone. Keegan: “It loses me.” Tom: “We’re at a beer garden and we’re talking about egg rolls!” Adding insult to injury, Padma does not like his chai radler, either.
Adrienne’s smoky char is oppressively saltless. Carrie’s jalapeño-limonata radler is oppressively vegetal. Joe’s “wollwurst pretzel sausage in apple-beer cheese sauce” is just a string of words. Otherwise, though, everything is going great! Bruce hits it out of the park with both his radler (“delicious”) and his smoked pork belly with cherry mostarda (“delicious”), and everyone is into Tanya’s pumpernickel-crusted pork-apple croquettes with cheddar sauce (“crispy”). Claudette’s schnitzel-liverwurst combo also got a vigorous “good,” but what matters most is that Fatima’s Black Forest cake with chai mousse redeemed her in the eyes of Padma, and now her life again has meaning.
The top three are Bruce, Claudette, and Tanya. On the one hand, Bruce has his own style. On the other, Claudette’s schnitzel was “somewhere between cozy and a hug,” which is a word in German (of course). Keegan will tell you all about it. But the winner is Tanya! No one is more surprised about this than Tanya.
On to the bad news! Is it worse to have a dish that is bland, like Adrienne’s low-sodium fish, or a dish that is overcooked and overcomplicated, like Joe’s pretzel cheese wollwurst apple, or a dish that is not even kind of Germanic at all? “But Brother’s dish was the yummiest!” argues Padma. But it is no use: Spring rolls are not German, and Brother is banished to Last Chance Island. It is a graceful exit, as we knew it would be. “Being on Top Chef was accomplishing a goal,” he says, softly. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could hang with all these chefs. And I did.” Auf Wiedersehen, old friend.