After last week’s emotional conclusion, when Maria Mazon was told to pack her knives and go and Jamie Tran offered to leave so Maria could stay, “Top Chef” Portland returned Thursday night with an episode that revolved around the ultimate comfort food, cheese. Episode 12, “The Cheesier the Better,” began with the four remaining chefs processing Maria’s departure. Then host and judge Padma Lakshmi informed Jamie, Dawn Burrell, Gabe Erales and Shota Nakajima that there was one more Quickfire challenge to prepare in the Portland “Top Chef” kitchen.
Quickfire Challenge: Apparently inspired by the fact that the chefs are asked to prepare dishes from ingredients settlers traveling on the mid-1800s Oregon Trail would have used, Padma lays into the Western jargon. In the “Top Chef” kitchen, Padma calls on the chefs to “mosey on up here,” and prepare to “saddle up for the final leg of this journey.”
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Whoa, doggies! Padma introduces “our culinary mayor of Portland, Gregory Gourdet,” who then brings on chef and restaurateur Vitaly Paley. Gregory credits Vitaly as a mentor and an innovator in building the Portland food scene. Gregory makes what’s apparently the required reference to the “Oregon Trail” video game, and players dying of dysentery. Vitaly adds that actual travelers on the historic Oregon Trail had to prepare food with no access to refrigeration or other modern comforts.
The chefs have 30 minutes to prepare a modern dish that uses only ingredients Oregon Trail travelers would be packing, such as lard, flour, herbs, coffee, dried meats, and so on.
Jamie serves pan-seared salmon (settlers would have had to cook that salmon pretty early on the trail, wouldn’t they?) with walnut pepper sauce, and crispy parsnips on top. Shota makes jerky-cured salmon with parsnip and apricot puree. Dawn prepares a “Trail Ride” porridge with fire-roasted curry squash and hazelnut bacon relish. Gabe presents a “Campfire” trout with Oregon Trail salsa macha.
Vitaly, Gregory and Padma sample the dishes, and declare that Dawn’s porridge (which has dried herring in it) tastes too fishy, Shota’s salmon is too dry, but they love Gabe and Jamie’s dishes. The winning dish is Jamie’s, who says this gives her a boost of confidence.
Elimination Challenge: Guest judges Dale Talde and Edward Lee come out to join Padma in describing the elimination challenge. Three-star Michelin chef Massimo Bottura joins in from Modena, Italy, via a video call. He recalls his famed Parmigiano Reggiano creation, which used the cheese in five different ways.
Padma then tells the chefs they’ll be going to the Tillamook Creamery, in Tillamook, near the Oregon coast. The creamery makes 160,000 pounds of cheese per day, she adds, informing the chefs that they’ll be getting a tour of the creamery. The chefs will then have three hours to prep, cook and serve a dish to the judges and guest diners at the creamery. The dish must represent the chef’s interpretation of cooking cheddar five ways.
Since Jamie won the Quickfire, she gets an extra 30 minutes to cook. Good thing, since both Jamie and Shota are worried about focusing on cheese, when cheese isn’t an ingredient associated with Asian cuisine.
After driving to the coast, thanks to editing, in about a second — if only it were that easy — Shota is heard saying, “Ah, that fresh smell of umami.” Umami? Is he having fun with the fact that Tillamook is famous for the manure aroma that pervades the area, thanks to herds of grazing cows?
The chefs are greeted by Liam Wustenberg, technical cheese manager, and, after suiting up in masks, plastic bonnets and other protective gear, they get a tour, and see how the cheese is made. They choose from cheddar products, to use in their dishes.
Then, the chefs head to Cannon Beach, which is actually located about an hour north of Tillamook on the coast, and check into the Surfsand Resort. They head down to the beach, and sit around a bonfire. In an interview segment, Dawn says she feels her skills haven’t always been appreciated, because not only is she a woman in the kitchen, she’s also a Black woman. “There’s definitely an inequality,” she says, but she’s here to help change that, and she wants to help chefs who look like her achieve their goals.
When it’s time to prepare their dishes, Jamie opts for sea bass, which sounds iffy, since fish and cheese don’t usually work well together. Shota says his dish is called cheese so yummy, or “Cheesus Christ, I’m trying to think about what I want to go with.” Gabe leans toward apples and cheese, and says he loves the science of cooking, referring to him earning a Master’s degree in engineering, which has helped with his cooking.
Head judge Tom Colicchio walks through the kitchen, and asks the chefs about what they’re making. Then, in a rare interview shot, Colicchio tells the camera that this cheddar-tastic challenge will push almost everybody out of their comfort zone, and that’s what he wants to see right now, with the finale coming up soon.
Guest diners include “Top Chef” veteran Nina Compton, and Josh Archibald, Tillamook executive chef.
First to serve is Shota, who says he employed traditional Japanese techniques, but was able to use cheddar in five ways. His dish is tofu cheddar manju with cheddar dashi, smoked cheddar oil, cheddar tofu miso and cheddar tuile. “I love it,” says Gregory. “I’ve never had anything like this,” Padma says. Tom praises it as inventive.
Gabe presents cheddar oil-roasted apples, white cheddar foam, cheese curds, apple bacon cheddar sauce and cheese and apple crisp. Judge Gail Simmons loves the roasted apple.
Dawn, who asks Jamie for help — Jamie has also already helped Shota — says in an interview segment, “I am tired of racing the clock, and I still have not done my gougeres. I feel threatened by this challenge.” As she says, “Inconsistencies in my plating” have been her downfall this season, and there’s really no room for that any more.
Serving her dish, Dawn tells the judges she was inspired by cheesesteaks, a signature item in her hometown of Philadelphia. Her dish features cheese oil-basted steak, cheese salt, cheddar gougere, extra-sharp reserve cheese foam, soubise and cheddar sauce.
Unfortunately, one of the plates — for guest diner Brooke Williamson — is missing a gougere. Dale is ticked off that Dawn again made a mistake by omitting an element on a plate. Richard Blais says if she references a cheesesteak, her dish should taste as good as that. Edward says there may be flaws, but Dawn’s food makes him happy.
Jamie, in the kitchen, says, “Now I’ve got to focus on myself, I was helping other people,” and time got away from her. She serves pan-seared sea bass with crispy cheddar, cheddar spaetzle, spiced cheese sauce, cheese broth bok choy and pickled cheese curds.
Edward finds the dish lacks cohesion. Tom says Jamie’s dish didn’t showcase cheese very well. Gregory loves the crispy cheese bits on top of the fish.
Judges’ Table: Tom, Gail, Padma, Dale and Edward deliver the news. Shota made the winning dish, and he also gets $10,000 in prize money, courtesy of Tillamook.
The judges discuss whether Dawn leaving a gougere off one plate means she should be sent home., especially since these kinds of mistakes keep happening. On the other hand, they all loved the gougere. Gabe’s dish was good, they say, but the apple stole the show.
Ultimately, Jamie is told to pack her knives and go. She leaves with a laugh, cheerful and upbeat.
Next week: With only two more episodes to go, the chefs go clamming on the beach (which looks rainy — that’s the Oregon coast we locals know and love), and, in tribute to Oregon’s legendary James Beard, are challenged to prepare a dish featuring one of Beard’s favorite ingredients, Dungeness crab.
More of our coverage:
‘Top Chef’ Portland: Gabriel Rucker guest stars, while a bad choice dooms a fan favorite (Episode 11 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland: The chefs go to the Japanese Garden for a ‘Tournament of Tofu’ (Episode 10 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland: ‘Portlandia,’ ‘hipster cuisine,’ and all-star recipe testers (Episode 9 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland: Was ‘Restaurant Wars’ a victory or defeat for our local chef? (Episode 8 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland: Tears and teamwork as the chefs make meals for hospital workers (Episode 7 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland’s Sara Hauman on self-confidence, yogurt and the importance of little fish
‘Top Chef’ Portland: A dramatic, roller-coaster week for one local chef (Episode 6 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland contestant Gabriel Pascuzzi thinks the show will help boost the city’s image
‘Top Chef’ Portland goes to the drive-in for rain, and some ‘horror show’ food (Episode 5 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland heads outdoors to Hood River Fruit Loop, where chefs battle wind and bees (Episode 4 recap)
‘Top Chef’ Portland: Chefs visit restaurants specializing in Pan African cuisine, for education and inspiration
‘Top Chef’ Portland premieres with plenty of air time for local chefs, and lots of fowl play
‘Top Chef’ returns with a Portland-based season, celebrating food after a tough year for restaurants
‘Top Chef’ is back, and the new season is based in Portland
Portland’s Gregory Gourdet says being on ‘Top Chef’ helps us ‘remember what restaurant culture used to be like’
— Kristi Turnquist
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/foodanddrink/foodnews/e2-80-98top-chef-e2-80-99-portland-the-final-four-head-to-tillamook-creamery-for-a-cheesy-challenge-episode-12-recap/ar-AALbUST1871