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Wherein Stefan Finds a Horse’s Head in his Waterbed

Hugh Acheson weighs in on Stefan's sexist comments.

By Hugh Acheson


How to Watch

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

I have to be honest with you about the chefs and sleep: they don’t get much of it. This has never been the industry for enjoying ten hours a night, but at this point in the competition you are making friends, grating on enemies, working really long days, and tipping a martini glass upside down when you should be slumbering. 

So sleeplessly the chefs rumble in to be greeted by Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine and a mover and shaker in the world of restaurants. This is going to be a worldly dumpling challenge, which should be very interesting. How hard can a disc of flour and water with some filling be? Well, we are about to find out. 

Dana claims to have eaten her weight in dumplings, which is actually not much more than a couple of happy meals. She ain’t tipping the scales to hefty.  

So on to the challenge. They get outfitted with Kindle Fires to do this research, but Carla? She’s more of a classic book girl. They pick their countries and Micah doesn’t think Kazahkstan is real, but if it is, he is putting it into his “Middle Eastern file.” Sure, it’s a mostly Islamic state, but it ain’t in the Middle East. Even with this geographic illiteracy I am still hoping for an “Arab Spring” dumpling which oozes freedom from its crisp shell. Carla’s hand is “kind of useless” which will further hurdle her chances of success, as she has to make the fufu dumpling, kind of like a massive plantain-flour gnocchi.  

Josie explains the dumpling as “love in an envelope.” I am temporarily enjoying her TV company. Brooke has no flour. Carla is freakin’ out. Stefan was born with a silver dumpling nestled in his Germanic palm. Pictures are shown when he had hair, before the accident we never talk about. He is exuding confidence. 

Less confident is Kuniko. You can be an awesome chef who will not excel in the reality environment. It’s happened before. For right now, she’s having her ups and downs. Comme ci comme ca. 

The timer gets to her this time and she has no dumpling when it comes Padma’s feeding time. The other chefs do put up product with varying results. Stefan kills it with a German dumpling. Lizzie rocks a Hungarian dessert dumpling. Carla has just decided to wing it. CJ has a nice pierogi and I friggin’ love pierogies. The dumplings fling on by, with Bart making regal fried hair dumplings and Kristen making Nepalese momos. Tesar makes something unpronounceable that my kids keep repeating in a potty humor marathon: “Kroppkaka. Kroppkaka.” This word should not get into the hands of a third-grade class in the USA, as all cultural understanding will be lost and be replaced with fart jokes. Nudie or Gnudi dumpling from Brooke, named by Dana. Alas, Brooke has no wrapper. I have no filter. All good. Micah went all out and is very confident again. He is consistently confident. 

Josie wins with her Korean Mandu dumpling. I could eat that. Immunity is granted from the immediate further proceedings. 

Turkey day meal for charity. Gray team vs. Red Team. Emeril and Tom are going to be leading the teams and guiding them on their versions of the holiday spread. For Tom that means Italian fresh, and for Emeril that means Nawlins’ delights. Padma quotes Arnold and everyone is giddy. 

Carla tells about struggles with sexism in the kitchen and Stefan classily responds with, “That’s why I left Europe… European women.” He insinuates that Carla’s ex is a mafiaso, and naturally a national T.V. show is the most anonymous place to do this.

The judges help the teams out for a while cooking and planning, and then the teams pack up for the meal leaving their judges to dress in civilian garb to pass judgment. 

Gumbo, dressings, raviolis, whipped potatoes, spicy turkey, Bam powder, and desserts abound. Stefan is on a landgrab mission and doing his thing. He’s aggressive until you actually defend, and then he recoils.  

Josie’s turkey gets all burnt, up but it’s like a blackened turkey, pink and raw in the center. Yummy. Kuniko is running behind, and we hear about Tyler’s battle with alcoholism. In all seriousness, I wish him the best of luck and strength in that battle. It’s a malaise in our industry and has taken out many a great chef. I had a soft spot for him before cause he just speaks his mind, but now I find myself holding pompoms and cheering whenever he comes on-screen. 

Tom and Emeril come in and conduct a turkey inspection. Tom spits out the gumbo. Emeril does the spice dance. DO NOT TASTE CARLA’S SOUP. She’s a little defensive and tries to attack Stefan’s hairless head. 


The dinner starts up and Thierry is in the house. The hat is on. Love the FareStart charity involvement. Timers go off and its time to eat. 

Gray Team first. That turkey does not look great. Sashimi of seasoned gobbler. Dressings are great. Kristen’s veg is good, but has a crème fraiche addition that is deemed unnecessary. Tyler’s gumbo is not terrific, and Kuniko’s pave is undercooked. Potato pave and gratin is another classic failure dish on Top Chef and took out Whitney Otawka last year. Sheldon’s greens are a little underdone, which is not good for the Southern style. Biscuits rule by Brooke, and desserts are judges to be quite stellar, yet a touch grainy. 

Carla has a strange way of delivering a really good point about sexism in the kitchen. It’s rampant and needs to be stamped out. Stefan is not helping to remove that glass ceiling from fine kitchens. He actually is building a stronger roof of machismo. 

Red Team brings the Tom thunder. Stefan takes the reigns in the German prince role that he revels in. CJ’s turkey looks great with it’s traditional stuffing of Italian foie gras. Carla’s soup is killer. Bart’s greens look fresh and light and enjoyable to me, but Padma wants some refinement. Josh’s raviolis are a little off. Thick outer dough makes them tough. Brussels need salt. Whipped potatoes rule. Thanks, Joel Robuchon. Desserts are sweetly contested, but are a letdown in the end. 

Tom’s Red Team wins. Someone on Twitter is chalking that up to socialism. 

Tyler, Kuniko, Josie, and Sheldon in the bottom tier. Kuniko is done. 

Kuniko has no regrets and is well-loved by the fellow chefs. That’s the nicest way of leaving the show you can ever hope for. Just to keep it real, Tesar rips her good reputation as the door closes. Classy John, classy. Maybe there will be a Last Chance Kitchen and Kuniko will make amends. Happy Thanksgiving to all. 

Follow me on Twitter  @hughacheson


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