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And Don't Call Me Shirley

Hugh marvels at Nick's illness and recovery... from a safe distance.

By Hugh Acheson

How to Watch

Catch up on Top Chef on Peacock or the Bravo App.

And here we are again. Tears are falling and drying on the industrial tile flooring. Welcome to Top Chef. We have whittled down to about 10 chefs. I am bad at counting, or so comments on my CNN article this week say. 

What’s going on? More like what’s going around. Sickness. Like a plague of badness. Nicholas has the strep and will not be in the Quickfire. Kermit Ruffins is in the house to not get strep from Nicholas. It’s the bebop improv challenge. They will run around like a game of musical chairs, controlled by Kermit’s trumpet. Got it? OK. This is strange. Carrie, the aristocrat, is flummoxed my the plebian microwave. 

They start on the prep that they will leave behind. They dance around in the circle and land in new spots. Travis, the Vietnamese chef, is confused by Nina’s mise en place that pivoted a dish to “French with Asian ingredients”… like the food of Vietnam. Okey dokey.

Slowly but surely they are finding strange starts to food. Forgotten vegetables, overcooked sauces, raw proteins in tiny ovens, their egos in a circulator. Relief comes when they land on the stations where they started but that doesn’t last long. They move on, much to their chagrin. 

Brian is “conceptualizing a sexy plate-up.” This line encompasses everything that makes me want to be a dental hygienist. 

I do now notice that Kermit has stolen Bill Murray’s pants from Moonrise Kingdom. I think this is cool. 

Padma comes in in a slinky evening gown, cause that’s how she rolls. They eat through the food, and it is way too much information for me to relay. Suffice it to say that for trusting someone to prep and make 75% of your food with no clear destination in mind, the food looks pretty tasty. 

Bottoms are Louis with his pork/ frog surprise and Justin with his microwave tofu scramble. Tops are Carlos with his redfish, Brian with his duck and mussels, and Patty with her pork with stuff. Brian wins cause he made that plate one sexy beast. I am going to take a nap now, as the stress of this whole blog thing is getting to me. Brian is not going to chillax “shoes off, socks off,” but he is happy with his earned immunity. 

OK, I am back. My “me” time was great. Potluck challenge with team menu collaboration. They have to “band” together. Patty is learning this term “potluck” for the first time.  Well Patty, and I are here for you:


[pot-luhk, -luhk] Show IPA 


1. food or a meal that happens to be available without special preparation or purchase: to take potluck with a friend. 

2. Also called potluck supper, potluck dinner, potluck lunch. a meal, especially for a large group, to which participants bring various foods to be shared. 

3. whatever is available or comes one's way: With fluctuating interest rates, homebuyers are learning to take potluck with the banks. 


1585–95; pot1  + luck 

Three teams assemble. They are Blue, Green, and Gray, which makes a kind of really ugly gray. They are first going to Vaughn’s in the Bywater, the new Williamsburg of NOLA. I joke. I joke. It’s a great hood. 

They use the modern office to get this rolling, which looks suspiciously like a Toyota RAV4. Nicholas is contacted via phone, because this will contain the plague that he has. He has grown a striped zebra hoodie and the transformation is almost complete to Zebra Zombie. 

Shopping time. I really want to se a coupon challenge and only buying with SNAP funds but maybe next season. In the meantime, call your congresspeople and senators and tell them to stop eviscerating every tangible piece of nutritional assistance this country has left. Don’t get me started. 

Travis has been instructed to “touch it, smell it, poke it” over the phone, like he just ran over a deer. Nicholas is to Travis what Steve McCroskey was to Ted Stryker in Airplane. Just don’t call him Shirley.*

*to make sense of the last two lines you have to watch Airplane.

Louis thinks that Thomas Keller would like his veggie dish that he is planning. Nice. 

They dress up and go to eat red beans and rice with Kermit. And they drink. And drink. And then they wake, their livers missing, and get to work. Nicholas has gotten over the plague. He is ready to compete. Go Team Gray. 

Not only is Nicholas healthy again, he has been fed super vitamins or something and is trying to cook everything for everybody, on his team or not. He is a man with a plan and a very long prep list. 

Shirley is a taskmaster. Brian wants to know if anyone wants chili threads… this is code for weed. 

They pack up and get their move on. 

Diners start arriving and it’s a who’s who of NOLA music. The good old days were when people faked heart attacks on stage.  

Guest judge Sue Z. in the house. Blue Team up first. 

Blue Team: Shirley, Louis, Justin, Sara

Justin: Hominy Grits with Brown Shrimp, Roasted Okra, Fava Beans, Smoked Bacon

Good grits. Underseasoned shrimp?

Louis: Grilled, Pickled Vegetables, Crispy Sunflower Seeds, Mustard Vinaigrette


Shirley and Sara: Glazed Beef with Charred Onions, Melon Pickles, and Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette

They love the ribs. 

Green Team: Carrie, Nina, Stephanie, Carlos

Stephanie: Fried Baby Artichoke, Preserved Lemon, and Anchovy Aioli

Fancy. People like 'em. Even Tom likes 'em. 

Nina: Semolina Gnocchetti with Sausage

“Fancy Hamburger Helper. That sounds like an insult, but I like Hamburger Helper.” ‘Nuf said, cause they loved it. 

Carrie and Carlos: Summer Tiramisu with Nectarines, Pistachios, and Cheese

Trifle-esque. They love it, except Sue who can’t get over that it is not tiramisu.


Gray Team: Travis, Brian, Patty, Nick

Brian and Travis: Togarashi Fried Chicken with Bee Pollen and Ponzu

It’s a “chefs' potluck,” so bee pollen, check. Togarashi, check. Ponzu, check. Chicken is loved. 

Patty: Tomato Watermelon Salad, Szechuan Pepper, and Goat Cheese Espuma

Needed some spice. 

Nicholas: Barramundi and Red Drum Fricassee, Zucchini, Truffle, and Yuzu Kosho

Fish is bland. 

Travis and Brian: Caramel BBQ Ribs, Dehydrated Potatoes, Peanut Gremolata

No likey the rub. 

Everyone seems to have done quite well. No team really seems to have flopped. 

Gray is the bottom and they get called to the gallows. Patty underseasoned the salad and forgot the chili threads, Nicholas overcooked the fish, and Travis made weird ribs.

Green Team gets on top. They defined tiramisu is the only negative. Stephanie wins with her artichoke dish. She lets her hair down. Most improved indeed. 

Patty goes home. No luck in potluck. Teary-eyed, she leaves the stage. Keep your head high. Godspeed, Patty. 

Follow me on twitter @hughacheson

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