“Top Chef” Recap: All-Star Chefs Return for a Battle of the Seafood Boil

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Mental fatigue sets in during episode 10. Former champ Buddha Lo recaps

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Manuel "Manny" Barella Lopez

David Moir/Bravo

Manuel "Manny" Barella Lopez

Buddha Lo is a two-time Top Chef winner, executive chef at Hūso in New York City, and a Saratoga Spring Water brand ambassador. He is sharing his thoughts after each episode of Top Chef season 21, set in Wisconsin, offering a unique perspective as a former cheftestant.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

We are at episode 10 — in the final stretch — and this is where the mental fatigue sets in. As the chefs were saying, they can work long days/weeks in the kitchen and they won't be as tired as they are now.

Yes, the chefs are cooking, but only a small portion of their time on Top Chef is actual cooking. Quickfires are usually 30 minutes and the Elimination is only about 2-6 hours, with each on a separate day. So in kitchen terms, this is easy work, but the chefs spend most of their time thinking about dishes, challenges, outcomes. I saw chefs on both of my seasons struggle with mental fatigue, just as the challenges are getting more difficult.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Manuel "Manny" Barella Lopez, Michelle Wallace, Savannah Miller, Soo Ahn, Danny Garcia, Daniel Jacobs

David Moir/Bravo

Manuel "Manny" Barella Lopez, Michelle Wallace, Savannah Miller, Soo Ahn, Danny Garcia, Daniel Jacobs


It all started with a meat raffle. Guest judge Art Smith pulled ping pong balls with chef names on them, and as each chef was called, they chose their protein. The ingredients ranged from Wagyu beef to canned meat.

Most chefs chose fresh proteins until Savannah took a risk and chose canned corned beef over lamb chops. She went in with the mentality of high risk and high reward and that is what the judges want to see in the final six. The judges love chefs who pull off dishes with low end ingredients over high end when the challenge gives you limitations.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Savannah Miller

David Moir/Bravo

Savannah Miller

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Manny, who found himself on the bottom, chose Wagyu ribeye, an ingredient that needs very little to make it exceptional, so from the start he was limiting himself. Savannah and Soo (who had canned spiced meat) had to really create incredible dishes to make their ingredients shine. They did, and both were rewarded for it.

Related: Top Chef Recap: Immunity Is Gone and the Competition Heats Up

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Jeremy Ford, Justin Sutherland, Sara Bradley, Mei Lin, Shota Nakajima, Gregory Gourdet

David Moir/Bravo

Jeremy Ford, Justin Sutherland, Sara Bradley, Mei Lin, Shota Nakajima, Gregory Gourdet


The Elimination challenge brought in six all-star chefs — Gregory Gourdet, Shota Nakajima, Mei Lin, Sara Bradley, Justin Sutherland and Jeremy Ford — for a beach fish boil for 100 diners. I have never had a seafood boil before and can't wait to finally have one myself, just not in New York City!

Dan made a fair statement which I agree with: something as delicate as fish shouldn’t be boiled, period.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Door County Fish Boil

David Moir/Bravo

Door County Fish Boil

In a twist, the all-star chefs did the shopping for the contestants. Even in a season with a lot of twists, I thought this wasn’t the right challenge for something like that. The chefs were already under pressure from the intense physically demanding conditions in order to execute a fish boil for 100 people on a beach.

Most of the chefs in this challenge chose to go with flavored broths, which sounded delicious. I would have done something southeast Asian like a tom yum or a Penang laksa for the boil, and served the broth with the fish, which would be important, because it’s hard to infuse a lot of flavor into fish when it’s only boiling for eight minutes. Also, I would have brined my fish just like Danny did, which was a smart move.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Danny Garcia

David Moir/Bravo

Danny Garcia


Michelle, Danny and Dan were the top three chefs. Gail said Michelle’s boil was a perfect summer story and Art felt the smoked sausage flavor infused in her potatoes was delicious. Kristen praised Danny’s carrot salad as “phenomenal” and Art said he would dream about it. Tom felt using the broth for his fish to infuse flavor was a good idea. Art announced Danny as the winner and said he “killed it.” Tom said Danny was the unanimous choice of the all-star judges as the top dish.

Related: Top Chef Recap: Restaurant Wars! Buddha Lo Offers His Critiques


The bottom three dishes were from Savannah, Manny and Soo. Savannah stabbed herself while filleting her fish with a brand new knife. It looked worrying and obviously threw her off mentally. Luckily, she had won the Quickfire, which saved her.

Manny went with a fish boil that I felt was the least creative of the six chefs and Mei Lin was feeling the same way because she got ingredients that she hoped would push him, but ultimately Manny just played it safe. It worked in his favor and saved him from elimination, but “safe” won’t win Top Chef. I find it interesting that Manny had a bottom Quickfire and a bottom Elimination challenge but was not eliminated in this episode. It reminds me a lot of my friend El Gato (Gabri Rodriguez from Top Chef: World All-Stars).

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Soo Ahn

David Moir/Bravo

Soo Ahn

Soo’s dish was confusing, and I agree with the judges who referred to it as a potluck. It sounded like nothing went together or was cohesive. Soo will have to fight his way back on Last Chance Kitchen — again!

Top Chef airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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