Top Chef recap: 'Clean up in Aisle 2!' | EW.com

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Top Chef recap: 'Clean up in Aisle 2!'

Unlikely returns and departures shake up the Top Chef kitchen.

Top Chef Recap

(David Moir/Bravo)

Top Chef

Season 12, Ep. 8 | Aired Dec 10

These poor chefs don’t get a break, do they?

This week on Top Chef, the remaining seven cheftestants are still licking their wounds after Restaurant Wars, but the ranks are thinner than ever. With Keriann’s elimination last week, we’ve hit a point where there are few, if any, obvious candidates for elimination. At seven, there’s hardly a middle-ground left when it comes time for judges table—you’re either safely ensconced in the top tier or shifting awkwardly before Padma tells someone to pack up and go.

And as Katsuji slowly pours out his blurred-out-labeled beer for another conquered cook, we inch toward the final four and a change-of-scenery. But there’s change afoot—the first third’s frontrunners are sagging, dark horses are stepping into the light, and it’s becoming less and less clear who’s actually going to last the week.

The chefs are trying to go about things as if it’s business-as-usual. Dougie’s updating his résumé to add “Restaurant Wars winner.” Katie’s convincing herself one last time that Keriann would’ve been sent home even if her dish had been presented the way she wanted (she would’ve). Gregory’s trying to snap out of a funk that seems to be setting in at the worst possible time.

Look…Top Chef is a grind. The chefs have cooked more than a dozen times for the some of the most discerning palates on earth already. At this point, the judges know what they’re getting each week. There aren’t really going to be a ton of surprises in terms of flavor combinations or techniques anymore. Recipe books are dwindling, nerves are getting frayed. And there’s suddenly nowhere to hide.

Another obvious Boston-themed quickfire was a chowdah challenge. We all knew it had to be coming, but adding a sudden-death quickfire with immunity to the winner this late in the game was a bit of a surprise. Something’s afoot. Local legend Jasper White—who wrote the book on the stuff—is guesting, but he’s a man of few words, and the challenge has a weird vibe among the chefs, none of whom want to be sent home for a half hour’s work.

Doug’s taking shots at Gregory for cooking something curry-inspired. Adam’s wondering aloud why Katsuji’s chowder is green. And Mei snagged all of the littleneck clams, only to have Melissa swipe them from her station. Things are…off.

Jasper likes Gregory’s, Adam’s, and Melissa’s, but provides little information as to why. Adam had an interesting strategy, making his tomato-water-infused dish simple, delicate, and lighter than the heavier offerings his opponents plated. Melissa’s Thai-style cioppino with lemongrass, kaffir lime, and ginger looks nice, but it’s not really a chowder. And Gregory’s back into the swing of things with a dish he’d practiced before coming on the show—a razor clam and sweet potato chowder with bacon, dashi, and coconut milk broth. He gets the win and immunity. He’s still the chef-to-beat to me; now begins the slow process of re-convincing himself.

NEXT: Sudden death; sudden rebirth

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