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Flying Blind

Eli explains how little the chefs really know about the conditions of their challenges.

By Eli Kirshtein

The Quickfire seemed like a really fun one. Take a typical American idiom with a foodstuff in it and translate it to a dish. Really not much convoluted about it, but I feel the chefs really didn’t hit the mark with them. Instead of doing dishes translating the idiom they just did ones featuring the ingredient. Think Kelly doing a dish that had a grape sauce as opposed to doing say, a pickled grape component; get it? “Sour Grapes.” Don’t get me wrong, the dishes sounded good, some were even pretty thoughtful, and playful. Just none seemed to really embrace the idea of the challenge. With that being said the ones that did well were solid because of their elegance and accentuating the main ingredient while the bottom dishes just fell flat. I think Ed’s success really was about having refinement, good flavor, and an executable nature for the frozen food idea, as well as being the most literal translation of the idiom “Hot Potato.” This was the first time I saw the chefs sort of confused with one of the components of the challenge -- the expediting issue. One of the things that you don’t really put into consideration at home is that after the Elimination Challenge is told to you by Padma very little else is explained. No one tells you how the service will go, where the customers will line up, even what is in the off-site kitchen. This is really left in the hands of the chefs. I’m not saying that I have quick fix or idea for how to handle it but it became clear pretty quickly that the chefs weren’t prepared for this issue. Oh, and also, no one ever said that the chefs are required to give the people coming to the concession stand choices, it was well within their right to make them take any of the dishes. But it ended up that having a chef expedite seemed to work out well. Ed working with Angelo was the most sporting and professional way to handle it. Whether or not he floundered about with the idea Angelo did suck it up and take care of the task so it was only fair that one, or several, of the other chefs helped pick up his workload. And in the end, it really didn’t seem to make a whole lot of a difference. The Elimination Challenge was a wide-open opportunity for the chefs to cook good food. The main thing that seemed to get lost in the mix for some of them was that it was still at a ballpark. Make any qualifications you want about how baseball stadiums are worldly, and modern places, when you think of a ballgame, you think of a pretty specific style of food. I think that you see this over and over again in all the seasons, chefs get out of touch with the inspiration of the challenges and just try to turn out dishes that they like, whether or not they fit the theme. That’s why I think you saw Ed and Tiffany really excel -- it was fried food and sausage-themed dishes. I think Ed took the cake for having more refinement and creativity in his fritters. I was really surprised to see how Amanda prepped her tuna. Asking Angelo about a technique is totally fine, but outside of his explaining how to use a grinder for tartare it really was her responsibility to use her better cooking intuition and skill to make it work. At this point in the competition if you are going to try to use a new technique you really need to focus on all the issues that may come up. She should have known to oil the fish or at least maybe vacuum pack it. But the worst mistake was really the decision to cut it the day prior to serving it, you would be hard-pressed to find a reputable restaurant that does that. I was even more surprised to see her do it after she vocalized her concerns for serving seafood to Eric and Rick. So I wasn’t really surprised that she got sent home for it. Follow me on Twitter @elikirshtein

How to Watch

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

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