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Top Chef 20: ‘polarizing’ delicacies and an odd pause for the Queen’s death

Top Chef 20: ‘polarizing’ delicacies and an odd pause for the Queen’s death
Top Chef 20's contestants—Tom Goetter, Gabriel Rodriguez, Victoire Gouloubi, Ali Al Ghzawi, Buddha Lo, Sara Bradley, and Amar Santana—run to get dried seafood proteins for the episode 10 quickfire challenge (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

With seven chefs left, Top Chef: World All Stars presented two challenges that asked them to work with produce and prepare a meal—both of which may have been unfamiliar to them, but is very familiar to others.

In the Quickfire, they had to cook with preserved fish and seafood—”often smelly and polarizing delicacies,” as Padma said.

But Victoire explained that the lack of refrigeration in Africa means she cooks with this kind of prepared fish all the time. (Victoire also told us she wanted to win Top Chef’s $250,000 prize “not for me to buy lip gloss. I really want to help my people” and open a culinary school in Africa, she said.)

A chef chopping herbs
Amar during the Top Chef 20 quickfire challenge (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

For the quickfire, immunity was off the table, but the winner did get an advantage, which turned out to be an extra half-hour to cook in the elimination challenge.

Guest judge Tom Brown said that all the chefs’ cooking “really, really was impressive,” but this is Top Chef so someone must be shit upon!

The chefs on the bottom were Sara, because she had too much salt, and Gabri, because his cracker was too soft. The best three were Ali, Amar, and Buddha.

So everyone was critiqued except Victoire and Tom, non-guest judge Tom, non-permanent judge Tom. So many Toms this season, it’s like a production of Cats.

Amar won his first individual quickfire challenge ever, and earned an extra half-hour.

Padma freaked out the chefs by saying “I’m really excited about what’s going to happen now.” What happened first was a BMW advertisement that Padma was not part of, because her field trip with the chefs did not involve driving with them.

Two people talk to a chef with a large kitchen and pantry space behind them
Top Chef 20 episode 10 guest judge Asma Khan and host Padma Lakshmi talk with Gabri Rodriguez (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

They arrived at Flora Indica, an Indian restaurant, where they got to spend time with time with the chefs and the guest judge.

That guest: chef Asma Khan. She prepared thali for them—a meal of smaller components, which covered all six flavor profiles. “Here, everything is contradictory; it’s like an orchestra, each instrument is playing a piece, but together it becomes a full experience,” Asma told them.

The chefs were learning and asking questions; as Sara said, they knew this wasn’t just a leisurely lunch. Still, I loved seeing them all just enjoying food while they—and I!—learned about cooking.

“Cheers—before we get into business,” Padma said. The business: an elimination challenge that required the chefs to create their own thali. They had to include sweet, salty, bitter, sour, heat, and pungent flavors.

There was also additional instruction. “You need to feel it,” Asma said. “You need to cook from your heart.”

Padma explained that the original plan was to cook at a location, but the Queen’s death and subsequent activity made it logistically impossible and/or difficult.

That’s when Top Chef took a moment to try to acknowledge, I guess, the Queen’s death, but did so awkwardly.

There was a brief montage of flags at half mast, wreaths and flowers being placed, people gathering, barriers on sidewalks for the funeral procession—but also people walking across a bridge with the London Eye in the background, and a closing shot of Big Ben and Westminster. What do those have to do with Queen Elizabeth or the monarchy?

Then the show jumped from those few somber seconds into the Top Chef kitchen, where things were instant chaos. I’m not sure they needed that London footage. Padma and Asma’s acknowledgement seemed like enough.

That whole segment felt cobbled together in post, like someone insisted on wedging in something to honor the Queen and they just used some b-roll.

In the kitchen, Buddha wanted to redeem himself because the last time he made Indian food for Padma, she described it as simply a “grease ball.” Yum!

Some of the chefs were on the struggle bus the entire time. When something started burning, Gabri said, “please don’t be me.” Then: “Fuck, it was me.”

His beans burned in the pressure cooker. Then he burned the lentils that were the replacement for his black beans.

And that was just the start of the things he was unable to do well, though the judges liked some of it. “There’s too much conflict of spices,” Asma said. “Everything tells me he ran out of time,” Tom C. said.

Buddha screwed up his rice. “If the rice is just bad, then the whole thing goes downhill,” he said. He also left something off of Padma’s plate, and I would have loved to see what happened backstage when a producer was like MAKE SURE PADMA GETS THAT ONE to the masked servers.

Victoire also overcooked her rice, and the judges thought she had seasoning issues, like too much saffron in the rice and not enough salt on her cucumber salad.

A chef stands at the end of a long table of people eating
Ali presents his thali to the judges and guests during the episode 10 elimination challenge (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

Sara, Ali, and Amar were the top three.

Sara’s was playful; Asma said she “is cooking from her roots.” Asma said Ali’s dish “reminded both of us”—she gestured toward Padma—”of school canteen, which is a huge compliment.”

And Asma said Amar’s thali was “a dish that I will remember for a long while,” and also fun. When announcing the winner, Asma said, “one of you managed to really hit it out of the park,” and that was Amar.

Amar started the episode telling us “I don’t think I’m good enough” and “I always underestimate myself,” and now he’s won two episodes. But being familiar with self-doubt and anxiety myself, I doubt two wins will magically change his self-image, however impressive they are.

The bottom three were Buddha, Gabri, and Victoire. Once again, non-judge Tom was in the weird middle, ignored.

Buddha knew his rice was bad, and his chutney was bad, too. Asma said “it was unfortunate that so much went wrong” with Gabri’s dish, including his unstrained tamarind chutney.

But Victoire’s “lamb ate a little bit dry and tough,” Padma said, and she also had seasoning problems. That’s what sent her home.

Tom, head judge Tom not standing-to-the-side-all-the-time Tom, told the bottom three that “a lot of the mistakes made today are just basic cooking mistakes, and one thali was just not as good as the rest.”

Victorie was still upbeat: “it’s not the end for me, it’s the beginning.” She also seemed a little surprised about going on to Last Chance Kitchen when Tom—judge Tom, not other Tom—told her he’d see her there.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Tuesday 16th of May 2023

I was super impressed with Amar, getting the win despite having never cooked Indian food before. I think it's between him, Ali and Buddha for the win.