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Big Easy to Ocean Breezy

Hugh discusses the way chefs unwind, the gaseous properties of breadfruit, and the penultimate Elimination Challenge.

By Hugh Acheson

After a slog of a competition in beautifully storied, but wildly humid New Orleans, the chefs find themselves in Maui, Hawaii. You would be hard pressed to find a more stunning place to have this all come to a conclusion. Maui is beautiful. We stayed at the Andaz Wailea, and I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation. Absolutely beautiful.

How to Watch

Watch the Top Chef Season 21 premiere on Wednesday, March 20 at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

Nina, Nicholas, and Shirley are living it up on the beach, waiting for the LCK competitor to emerge. The last LCK is a duel between Carlos, and Louis but Louis is the man who comes out of Tom's playpen victorious. He will live to fight another fight. There will be no Mexican food infiltrating these semi-finals. Carlos will bide his time swimming in the pool and drinking daiquiris.


Sam Choy is having a luau. Shirley is confused. A bunch of people they don't know clap on the chefs arrival to the beach front. Padma says "Aloha" a lot to get the chefs in the spirit of things. Nicholas is hell-bent on winning this thing and reminds us a lot. "Chee-hoooo. That's how you get yourself not nervous." Actually in the world of hospitality, a Percocet and a bourbon is much more common.

Louis emerges from his leaf ghillie suit, white clogs and all. The white clogs always make me think he is secretly a nurse. Whatever he is, he just won like nine LCKs in a row. Beastly.

Spam challenge. I have never even tasted Spam and had no idea it came in so many flavors. Spam cakes. Wow. Like wow.

Louis has been excelling in the privacy of LCK, and this public forum is bothering him. He has to listen to the Plebeians pepper him with questions. "Look man, just back off a little bit." Re-entry into the pack can be difficult for some lone wolves.

Louis: Spam Mousse, Chives, Scallions, Snap Peas, Beech Mushrooms, and Togarashi. He was going for a torchon but it looks like he will settle for a blob/quenelle of mousse. Padma says it is very silky in her mouth.

Nick: Spam Broth, Pancetta, Seaweed, Dried Shrimp, Clam Juice, and Quail Egg. He is trying to get past the lack of seasoning that has dogged him this season so far. The judges like it. This makes Nick nervous.

Shirley: Deconstructed Spam Masubi, Spam-Infused Rice, Nori, and Cucumber Slaw. Sam likes the crunchiness of the Spam.

Nina: Breadfruit and Teriyaki Spam Croquette with Sour Orange and Mango Slaw. Nina pleases people again.

We get a Hawaiian history lesson from Sam, Tom, and Padma. We learn about canoe crops. The chefs rush to the boat to grab some supplies, and obviously they step all over Shirley in the recreation of a Black Thursday sale at Walmart.

They start to prep in the Andaz kitchen. There is some fish problem that I don't really understand. Nina seems very stressed. They pack up and the timer goes off. They move into their sleeping quarters, which are pretty swank. They wander the island. They chase a waterfall. There is a song that tells people not to do this.

They are off to Merriman's, which is one of many restaurants under the culinary direction of Peter Merriman. The chefs have two hours to cook and get all setup before service begins. The weather is overcast and rain is in the forecast. Tom comes down to check on the work so far and to make them really nervous.

The diners are coming! The diners are coming! Emeril and Gail waltz in to judge this semi.

Louis: Grilled Opah with Sweet Potato and Coconut Sauce. It is loved by most but the cooking is erratic.

Nick: Opakapaka with Jalapeno and Crispy Chicken Skin. Nick is on a seaweed kick. Everyone seems to love his dish. He celebrates by making a "white guy in the sun" joke.

Shirley: Honey-Glazed Pork With Sweet Potato and Turmeric Puree. It is a sweet dish. Well executed, but maybe too sweet.

Nina: Grilled Opah with Taro Root and Coconut Puree. Fish is perfectly cooked and the spice level is high with good acidity.

We have a break and learn about the gaseous properties of breadfruit.

The chefs are micro managing their hindsights when the portal into the judges minds opens up and they begin to understand where they stand. As always the TV feed is a little non-committal and vague.

I don't think this chef lineup is about to throw each other under any buses. They have gone beyond that point. It is actually the rosiest of judges tables.

Winners are Nicholas and Nina. Bottoms are Shirley and Louis.


Dear Louis,

You are a very adept tactician in the kitchen. Your clawing back in LCK was a test of your skills and patience and you prevailed. I ain't worried about your rise in this industry. Keep being the great dad and stellar chef. Massive success is right around the corner.



Dear Shirley,

You show everything about yourself in your food, a tribute to your security with who you are and how you cook. You are a badass. Continue being you and cooking your heart out every single day.


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