Immunity Is Gone and the Competition Heats Up

Buddha Lo is a two-time Top Chef winner, executive chef at Hūso in New York City, and a Saratoga Spring Water brand ambassador. He is sharing his thoughts after each episode of Top Chef season 21, set in Wisconsin, offering a unique perspective as a former cheftestant.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

The episode starts with the aftermath of Restaurant Wars. We are over the halfway point now, so things are going to get harder. There is no more room for playing it safe or landing in the middle because soon there will be no middle.

What I found interesting in this episode was Savannah’s “war mirror” that she used for brainstorming. That’s something I did in my seasons, but I would write it in my book and keep a chart of the previous episodes and the challenges. I wrote down every possible challenge I thought was possible for an idea and crossed it off when it happened. For example, in my season in Houston, I knew NASA was most likely going to be incorporated into a challenge. I didn’t know when, but I knew as we kept getting closer to the end, it was more likely. So, I planned multiple ideas for any outcome and possibility.

I also kept in my book a Top Chef fantasy league, where I gave points to winners and the top three chefs of the Quickfire and Elimination challenges so I could see who was becoming a threat.  

THE QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE

At the start of this week’s Quickfire, chefs were told that there is no more immunity for the rest of the season and that their performance in the Quickfires will also factor into who goes home. I love this because it makes chefs responsible for everything they cook for the remainder of the competition.

All food is being considered when judges decide who and how many chefs are eliminated. You need to go all the way with the best of your craft to show why you are the Top Chef. This will keep them on their toes and is a good addition to the show.

Also, the Quickfires just got more challenging because the chefs are now cooking for a panel of judges (Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons are joining Kristen Kish) and a guest judge, whereas in previous seasons it was only Padma Lakshmi and a guest judge. 

Danny Garcia, Soo Ahn, Savannah Miller, Michelle Wallace.

David Moir/Bravo


This Quickfire was to create a unique dish using Wisconsin’s state fruit: cranberries. Overall, the chefs did well, but unlike most challenges, the top three were announced first.

Danny really understood the challenge. He made a cranberry poached sea bass with cranberry panade that looked beautiful and creative. He was on the top with Michelle who made a cranberry beet soup with foie gras and maple mascarpone; and Dan who made salt and pepper scallops with cranberry red curry and herbs.

Danny won the Quickfire again giving him another $10,000. Amanda, Manny and Laura were on the bottom, making them vulnerable in the Elimination Challenge.

THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were to cook a modern Native American dish using only traditional Native American ingredients, meaning no wheat flour, cane sugar, dairy, pork, beef or chicken. All the chefs used ingredients chosen by guest judges Sean Sherman and Elena Terry. I know a lot about Sean because I studied Native American cuisine when we were on our way to Tucson for the season 19 finale. Before the challenge, the chefs were treated to a feast and left with a ton of information and inspiration. 

Danny Garcia, Laura Ozyilmaz.

David Moir/Bravo


WHO WON

The top dishes for the Elimination Challenge were made by Dan, Soo and Savannah. Soo made a wild rice gnocchi with glazed sweet potato, which was genius. Dan made a dish from all parts of the sunflower including seeds and flower petals creating a sunflower choke with braised goose and aronia berry puree — and the judges loved it.

But the judges were most impressed with Savannah’s dish: squash and maple jelly cake with aronia berries, grapes and plum jelly that was completely new to them. All three winning dishes were vegetarian and crushed it.

WHO LOST

Michelle, Amanda and Laura were on the bottom for this challenge. Michelle made an acorn squash polenta cake with braised rabbit, smoked onions and mushroom. The judges said her cake was soggy and fell apart and the rabbit was dry. Her jus to me looked more like a broth than a jus and that’s most likely why it was soggy.

Amanda Turner.

David Moir/Bravo


Amanda made an elk tataki tartar that the judges didn’t understand. Laura made a duck tamal wrapped in mustard greens with huckleberry sauce and haroset that the judges felt had way too much happening.

Michelle was saved from elimination because her Quickfire performance came into play. All these curveballs made the episode very interesting, and ultimately led to both Amanda and Laura going home.

Top Chef airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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