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A Yen for Yan

It was about time Martin Yan guest-judged a challenge!

By Alex McCord

Hello my little, Last Chance Kitchen viewers!

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

Before we get to this week's grand reveal, we take a couple trips. First, we follow Sheldon back to Hawaii (if only we were really there) and see him expediting in his own kitchen. His kitchen staff is just adorable, totally flustered by the cameras watching them. They're keeping it real, you guys. Sheldon seems to be enjoying some newfound fame, and if that gets more covers in his restaurant, I'm happy. We learn that Sheldon staged at a restaurant very unlike his own in an attempt to hone his technique, and although this has mixed results later, I don't think it was a bad idea. We also have the pleasure of seeing Sheldon with his beautiful wife and children, enjoying a beachfront BBQ. OK -- who's ready to move to Hawaii?

Next, we fly to L.A. to find Brooke, explaining her day-to-day life balancing motherhood and her roles as a chef and restaurateur. She heads to her restaurant, cooks a well-received special, and then enjoys some adult time with her husband at Roy Choi's A-Frame. 

Finally, the two chefs rejoin Top Chef-dom in L.A. and find a ravishing Padma Lakshmi, Hugh Acheson in a Gant Rugger blazer (in case you were wondering), and Emeril Lagasse in the kitchen. Then, in comes Tom, ready for the big reveal, the winner of Last Chance Kitchen. And the winner is…


Are you all happy? Your girl is in the final!

Padma wastes no time in presenting the chefs' penultimate challenge -- they're going to take over Tom Colicchio's restaurant, Craft, and cook three-course meals. Oh, and Tom will be expediting. This challenge is reminiscent of one of the three "ultimate chef tests" issued during the season premiere, but none of these chefs were in Tom's group then, so it's fresh for everyone. The three chefs are overwhelmed by the great ingredients in Tom's kitchen, but eventually divvy up the proteins and plan three very different menus. Kristen is sticking to her style, but incorporating what she learned in Last Chance Kitchen and not overthinking it. Sheldon is trying to show the chefs a "new Sheldon." Sheldon!!! If it ain't broke… And Brooke is getting a little psyched out. 

There are two very special diners joining our esteemed judges -- John Besh and Martin Yan. I've mentioned how much I love John Besh in many a recap before, but am happy to report that his restaurant, August, is a James Beard semifinalist for Best Restaurant. But then there's Martin Yan. Martin Yan is my childhood. I used to watch Yan Can Cook religiously with my father on PBS. He was so entertaining and maybe the most impressive produce chopper I've ever seen. Whenever he added something new to a pan he'd say, "Look at that." it was amazing. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacques Pepin, another one of my childhood culinary heroes, and I'd have to say I'd be just as starstruck meeting Martin Yan.

As service begins, we see all the chefs struggle a little, but Brooke is really in the weeds. Tom starts service calmly and progressively gets a little more hurried, as Brooke gets a little more harried. Thankfully, there are no major service issues. Tom would probably take over the chefs' dishes before he left a customer dissatisfied in his own restaurant.

I won't go through each dish, but, ultimately, all of the meals had some highs and some lows. Unfortunately, Sheldon's lows were lower and more frequent than Brooke's and Sheldon's and so our Menehune goes home.

Although I never really reveal my favorites, I really adored watching Sheldon this season. And although his elimination doesn't alter my impeccable record of guessing at least one finalist every season since I started at Bravo in 2007, I'm bummed he didn't make it to the end. Hopefully Sheldon will continue to evolve as a chef, melding what he's learned with the food he loves to make. I'm pouring one out for you, Sheldon.

As disappointed as I am to see Sheldon go, I'm pretty elated to have an all-female final! I think it's so fascinating that little boys (and even older ones) are often taunted for liking to cook and yet professional kitchens are so disproportionately male. I've been thinking a lot about that paradox the past couple weeks, and I really have no explanation for it. Let me know if you do.As you saw from the previews, every previous winner returns fo the finale. I'm full-on geeking out at this point. So, make sure to tune in as we crown our tenth Top Chef!

Until next week, Have a Nosh!


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