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Our Swords

Hugh Acheson applauds Micah Fields' knife skills.

By Hugh Acheson


How to Watch

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

The Battle of the Redwoods happened on Last Chance Kitchen, and CJ was left standing in a chicken breast battle. The Bart Knight is gone, but not forgotten. CJ is kickin’ ass and taking names. I still feel bad for his lower back though. There is no table at the right height for that chef. 

Good morning, Seattle. Everyone is still riled up from roller derby fun and tree bark wars. 

Sheldon welcomes us with morning ritual. Some people drink Dew wearing shades (Josh), some people rub strange white lotion all over their hairless bodies (Stefan), and some people sharpen knives (Sheldon). This ritual is what separates, as Sheldon tells us, “good chefs from great chefs.” He then talks about how he is a small pygmy warrior who likes to battle. Sir Spam-A-Lot from Lahaina is back in the house. 

Skillset challenges are always awesome. In my tenure on Masters, we had the silly senses challenge which took its place, but I nailed that. Just saying. I do love watching people succeed at brunoise, or totally fail at something that should be commonplace, like breaking down a chicken or making a basic stock. Those bright lights and cameras can make even the most prolific chef wince, and it comes down to being calm and, well, carrying on. 

So the Quickfire has Bob Kramer in the house with his heavyweight knives. Bob can make a mean knife and has been a leader in the new artisan knife movement, which has made many beard-sporting, selvedge apron-wearing dudes in flannel shirts very happy. Now you can buy stunning blades made by hand from metalsmiths near you, provided that you have about $600 to $4000 to part with and really want to whack some ropes to pieces. I have never been that enamored with spending huge sums on knives and find myself with a collection of random Japanese knives that work fine for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t get excited when I look at those fancy Black Cherry Burl wood handles, the hand-hammered steel, and the razor sharp blades, but I also have a mortgage to pay and little mouths to feed. Padma says the knives cost $500 an inch. I am ordering a one-inch long knife for myself for my next birthday. It’s not how long it is, but rather how you use it. I will make tiny food that will bring you to tears of joy. Bob shows off his knife and rope-cutting skills which bring up all sorts of 50 Shades of Grey ideas. Sheldon is in love, having found the first person on the mainland who actually understands him.  

So the challenge is a trifecta of sorts: 1) sharpen a dull knife to have the ability to cut through paper cleanly 2) tourne 50 potatoes like the fastidious French culinary instructor named Albert had you do in that culinary school you paid too much to attend (much like algebra, a skill learned that you will never use again) and 3) butcher down some bunnies with your knife. If you so much as draw a dram of blood from a mishap, you are out. I don’t cut myself much in the kitchen, but I do when doing basic things, like sharpening knives, or getting a knife out of a knife bag. While cutting, I am usually fine though. My most recent cut was just the other day during a photo shoot for a big national cooking magazine. Hugh grabs new mandolin. Mandolin attacks Hugh’s thumb while slicing radishes. It’s not the blood that bothered me, it was the fact that I had to wear bandaids for the rest of the day; that really puts a damper on effective tweeting.

Stefan is complaining that all he has won in this season is a key to Kristen’s chastity belt, which most people agree is way cooler than a Prius. We have some sad chefs too: Jimmy Sears is getting ornery sharpening his knife and commanding his team, and Brooke is having troublemaking the dull knife come to life. 

It whittles down to the Red Team with two players, John and Kristen, versus the Light Blue Team of Sheldon, Micah, and Josh. Micah has kind words for Tesar, calling him the Ol' Dirty Bastard of cooking. If I was a Wu-Tang chef I would want to be the RZA, but in his Bobby Digital guise. 

I do love tourneing vegetables. It’s like a therapeutic way to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Josie cuts herself to get out of this competition. The Periwinkles are tops in potato tourneing and Micah is the reason -- the other two are like having two left thumbs. 

Bunny time and frenching a rack of rabbit with a knife that big is a pain in the ass. Micah is a machine and wins this showdown of core skillz. Sheldon was close, but butchering Spam is so much easier, though requires the chef knife of middle America, also called the electric can opener. Micah will feed his daughters good food and raise them right. You go, Micah.  The EC is an ode to the most sensational moments in Top Chef history. Kindle Fires are involved. The winning dish will inspire a Healthy Choice meal. $15 G are on the line. 

“Get that money, God, keep your sword sharp (Eastside, Westside)

Get that money, God, keep your sword sharp (Eastside, Westside)

Get that money, God, keep your sword sharp (Eastside, Westside)

Get that money, God, keep your sword sharp (Eastside, Westside)

Get that money, God, keep your sword sharp (1-2-3-4)”

Wu-Tang Clan, Tar Pit

I can’t document everything that is going down here. It’s busy and I, brutal moment of honesty, have not actually seen every season. This sometimes comes up when I meet former contestants who I have no idea were on the show. Respect and apologies… I went through a four-year period of basically being a Luddite and just working. But the point remains, “I am not your bitch, bitch.”

Lizzie worked for Traci Des Jardins. TDJ is awesome. Love her. Like, complete reverence. 

Has anyone seen my pea puree? 

We learn that little Wolverine, Marcel, was quite the rabble-rouser, that Howie plays Bourdain like a symphony conductor,  and that M. Voltaggio likes braising the belly. This segues to the public outing of Jimmy Sears by Sears himself. 

Josie points out how food is a lifestyle, and if you want to grow yourself into the strongest tree in the woods, you have to eat a lot of healthy stuff. Micah meanwhile is trying to find a way to emulsify Heather and Bev together from Season 9. This is like planning peace in Peshawar, but at least he has duck. Duck is one of those ingredients that you can really make shine if you know what you are doing. Just make sure you render off that fat side to make that sin crispy as can be. 

Wylie, Chris, Jonathan, and Wolfgang and are in the house as eaters, with Wolfgang playing double duty as a judge. Tesar is having risotto failure premonitions. Risotto is just not something you should cook on Top Chef. It’s too risky. 

Josie is excited. She has made chicken. Stefan has made soup and sandwich. Tesar has an umami risotto. Waxman calls Josie’s chicken B-O-R-I-N-G. Go and have chicken at Barbuto in NYC. Not boring at all, and 1/4 of the price of other nomadic birds, though rumor has it they are stellar as well and serve two. The lunch special that Stefan has prepared gets half and half reviews… soup good, sandwich is a oily gut bomb. Tesar’s risotto is kind of ho-hum right out of the gate, and he is blaming the pot. Josh is trying to find a chinois and getting all up in arms about it. Lizzie is having a bad scallop experience that I can relate to. They serve. Sheldon has made beef carpaccio, Lizzie has cooked scallops that suck, Josh has cooked pork. The judges finally like Josh’s pork. Sheldon’s carpaccio is a messy mess. Lizzie’s scallops are dubious, as Wolfgang says. Lizzie ain’t happy. 

Next trio: Brooke has a salmon plate with forbidden rice, Kristen has a pot pie all modernized, Micah has a duck plate with polenta. Micah excelled except the marriage of miso and polenta is not a cross-cultural winner in any of the judges' minds. Kristen is kicking butt. Even Waxman is loving it, but OMG Cosentino’s plate is incomplete. Brooke can make a salmon plate with pea puree. They likey. 

So the tops are Josh, John, Kristen, Lizzie and Brooke. Josh, Kristen, and Brooke served the best food of the day and the other two the worst. Kristen continues her run and makes the $15,000. She will also be appearing in every freezer aisle from coast to coast. 

John is still defensive about his risotto. That pan is killing this guy. Josh takes the knife handle and twists. Lizzie hated those scallops and they hated her. Not a happy dish. She is very unhappy with this and wants to be somewhere else. 

Hook is that they will now compete head-to-head to fix the memorable moment from this season, the one where I got to skewer CJ for his burger. Here we go. 

The burger battle is 45 minutes long and they get right to cooking. Tesar threatens to steal all the pickles, but even he can’t stoop that low. 

They both make pretty great burgers, but John Tesar/Jimmy Sears goes home. They both look tired. Onwards. Lizzie, keep on with your badass self. Tesar, it’s been a hoot. You’re a great chef. Cheer up.


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