This was my favorite"Top Chef"episode this season. Void of manufactured rivalries or a clear-cut winner/loser, we witnessed the show at its most elemental and compelling: seven chefs cooking their hearts out, fulfilling the mission of the show’s title with a simple question. Who is the Top Chef?
The dishes this week had visual appeal (create a grotesque scene on the plate that depicted "evil"), and it had star power (Charlize Theron — wowee zowee — who appeared as a guest judge to promote her forthcoming movie).
Mostly, this episode was terrific because the seven remaining chefs cooked strong dishes. Unlike, say, "American Idol," viewers don’t derive joy from watching contestants fall on their face. "Top Chef" works when everyone cooks well. Maybe it's the heightened dramatic tension, because I had genuinely no idea who was being sent home.
This episode, dare I say, even elevated viewers' gastronomy quotients. Judges weren't given the chance to point out obvious flaws. Instead, they critiqued as experienced diners might. Novices might not know arrowroot is a common thickener, and that it risks creating an unappealing gumminess to sauces. Or that one person’s "a touch undercooked risotto" is another's "perfectly al dente."
"You should be proud of what y'all did today," said head judge Tom Colicchio. "I'm nitpicking because I have to."
Alas, it was Kim who got the unlikely heave-ho (Austin chef Paul Qui was the winner). And all because during the quickfire challenge, Kim was five seconds late in plating the curried Rice Krispies to her salmon dish, disqualifying her from certain victory and immunity. But Kim lost her opportunity, and found herself with the bottom three even as her halibut was "cooked perfectly" (Theron) and her black rice "delicious" and "really well done" (judge Emeril Lagasse).
Who saw it coming when they said Kim's name? Our sweet, perpetually cheerful (except when she gets emotional), bullying target underdog drew the short straw in what was likely a tough decision for judges.
All this being said, I don't think we've seen the last of Kim in this competition. She won this week's online-only Last Chance Kitchen, whose ultimate winner rejoins the show.