‘Top Chef: California’ episode 12 review: Frozen fast casual

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Thursday night’s all-new episode of “Top Chef” may be the most shocking of the season, and not just because of the person who went home. It was also the way in which they left.

To us, Kwame is the sort of young wunderkind who does everything that he can to prepare for a competition like this, including studying old episodes of the show to know what works and what doesn’t. Somewhere through these past few seasons, he should have seen a floating (imaginary) neon sign saying “never serve the judges anything that is either frozen, or from a can.” They don’t like it. A number of people have been sent home over it before. It’s hard to see your artistic vision when something like this happens.

Kwame’s elimination came via a fast-casual themed challenge where, with the help of a sous chef, you create your own concept and serve it to the masses. He thought up chicken-and-waffles as a perfect idea, and was handed Phillip by quickfire winner Marjorie. She knew that she needed to give him someone who could cause him problems, but the irony here is that Phillip was fine. He did everything Kwame asked and seem to work efficiently. He just had a bad concept from the start with frozen waffles. Had he simply made his own (someone could’ve found him a mini-waffle iron, right?), it probably would’ve been enough to push him past Jeremy’s weird Taco Dudes concept. That just didn’t happen, and now Kwame is sent off over to “Last Chance Kitchen.” It’s a weird place for a one-time favorite to be, but we think that he has a chance to get himself back in the kitchen.

Elsewhere, congrats to Carl for winning with a Mediterranean concept! It was a super-smart idea, but we really think that Marjorie is right now the person with the most momentum. She’s incredibly likable, she works like nobody’s business, and she also has been at the top a lot recently. (For the record, we don’t think Isaac got in the top 2 just because he’s done so many similar things to gumbo before.)

Now, is there a way for Jeremy to recover? He was so strong in the early going, but this is the third straight elimination challenge where the “dude” has received some negative feedback. He just needs to focus, and get back to what he is good at: Innovative food that still makes sense. Taco Dudes made little sense, other than a tongue-in-cheek name (or at least we hope it was tongue-in-cheek).

In the end, a very fun episode of the show. The wok quickfire was fun, even if many of the dishes felt similar. It was during the latter challenge we started to see the competition shine. Grade: A-.

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