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As Tom Petty Sang: You Got Lucky, Babe

Who's Ted Allen referring to? Read on and find out.


How to Watch

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

I'm talkin' to you, Richard. But you knew that. I wasn't there, I didn't taste the food, I didn't get to participate in the hours-long debate about who stays and who goes. But, as an armchair critic on this episode, I have to say: It was not looking pretty for cocky King Richard. He leads the charge to serve a salmon dish, then fails even to scale the fish properly -- an enormous culinary sin that would result in some chefs literally beating the hell out of you next to the grease bin out back. He also uses a trendy cooking technique that the head judge believes results in mushy salmon. The focal point of the dish is flabby and improperly cleaned? Not good.

Over on Team Earth, things were bleak, too. The lovely and talented Ming Tsai said that every element of the dish was underseasoned -- that is, it did not contain enough salt -- and improper seasoning is another crucial, fundamental failure. Also, Gail didn't think the rosemary flavor worked; and, while I love that herb, I agree with Spike that I need a little lemony, caper-y brightness on carpaccio. Meanwhile, it was established throughout the epi that Spike had argued loudly to cook something else, so he was not to blame. And Antonia had immunity.

That left Zoi and Richard, twisting together in the hot, pitiless wind.

For me, Richard's were the worse mistakes. The one factor that made Zoi more deserving of the axe? That the judges voted her dish their least favorite overall, an opinion that was shared by the guests at the benefit. I agree with the judges' decision. But just barely.

You did get lucky, babe. Very.And by the way, Spike: I don't think you need to yell or be a jerk to sell teammates on your ideas, or to make sure your style is somehow represented on the plate. You just need to have, well, good ideas. Shot glasses of soup are, indeed, a great starter, and I like me some butternut puree. But Antonia was right to disagree with you. How about something a little more special, more surprising, a little less everyday? Is there a restaurant on god's green earth that doesn't put squash soup at the top of its autumn menu, year after year?
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t was a shocking end to what looked like a promising start for Team Water. Using a water-based technique for the seafood that clearly was mandated seemed like a great idea to me. Richard cooked the salmon "sous vide," that is, vacuum-sealed in plastic bags and brought gradually up to doneness in an immersion circulator, a piece of laboratory equipment that heats and circulates water at a precise temperature. This technique works beautifully with many foods, cooking them extremely gently, keeping them very moist, and allowing exact control over doneness. It's an approach that has surged in popularity with chefs; the circulator is a great tool to have in the arsenal. But it doesn't work well with everything. It even looked to me as if Richard might have used a plastic bag that had a textured surface, and that that texture was transferred unpleasantly to the filets. They looked as if they had been run over by little cars, or pressed and formed in a factory. And Andrew served the same kind of faux caviar that he prepared last week. Yawn.

On Lisa, Stephanie, and Dale: Well, y'all pulled that one out of your, um, hats. And Bravo and the Magical Elves pulled one over on us viewers with some excellent, tricky editing -- the promos showed Dale seriously blowing his stack, convincing me that he had seriously blown a challenge. In fact, his and Lisa's tensions somehow did not prevent the team from cooking up a winner. And while I can understand his frustration at her nailing the Italy trip, I have to say: bacon glazed with maple and miso sounds freakin' heavenly. Once, on Iron Chef America, Cat Cora served us bacon glazed with maple syrup she called "pig candy," and this sounds like an even more sophisticated version thereof. Also: Ming once had me on his show East Meets West, and bacon was one of the ingredients he wanted me to work with -- yet another chef who is deeply enamored of smoky, crispy Wilbur. Chef L., you made a great contribution to the dish. Congrats. Dale, I love ya, but you were awfully whiny tonight ....

And, so, our pajama-ed, lesbian snugglefest comes to its inevitable end (cue the Indigo Girls, soundtrack people). I'm sorry to see you go, Chef Zoi -- you did some great work. It'll be interesting to see how Jen holds up without her partner around. (Maybe that's partly why Bravo cast them -- d'ya think?)Side note: That party was held in the Walnut Room at the erstwhile Marshall Field's flagship on State Street, a room where I've had many good times. I met Ellen Degeneres there after she hosted Field's Fash Bash, and I saw Richard Gere speak to the Chicago Film Critics Association. And in that very kitchen, I cooked pierogies to serve to that great Polish-American, Martha Stewart (nee Kostyra), as a gimmick for a Chicago magazine article I was writing. (Her reaction: She'd had better.)

Moving on ... let's backtrack to that Quickfire, which I loved -- a blindfolded test to see who could discern which ingredients were ordinary, and which were of higher quality. Try it yourself at home -- it's tougher than it looks. Still, Stephanie, it wasn't clear from the editing, but did you pick imitation crab over the real thing? Surely not! Say it ain't so!

And now, a haiku on TC4:

Chicago: Delicious drama;
Skills, thrills, avant-garde techniques;
One lesbian left!

Meanwhile, over at, I've taken to answering people's questions -- check it out -- along with the mix of new photos and free recipes. Y'all drop in! And see you next week.

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