Welcome back cheftestants! Last time on Top Chef, Chef Laura Ozyilmaz was welcomed back into the fold after winning the final Last Chance Kitchen competition. The chefs participated in a quickfire competition against host Tom Colicchio, where they played 20 Questions to figure out what ingredients he used in order to mimic his dish.

The elimination challenge was a “plating on the table” competition that tested each contestant’s creativity. Chef Michelle Wallace was sent home for her take on a brunch plate that used only a tiny strip of the table. Ozyilmaz won with the only sweet dish, a gorgeous spread of desserts including a baklava that “demanded respect.” Hometown chef Dan Jacobs also did well in the elimination challenge. He even created an entirely new category of bread: a “puffin,” or pita-english muffin.

This week on Top Chef

The Last Ever Quickfire

Local legend Paul Bartolotta returned for the last quickfire challenge of the season. He and host Kristen Kish introduced a traditional Top Chef two-part challenge. The cheftestants had to blindly identify 26 ingredients through taste or smell. They could only use the ingredients they correctly identified, plus a limited pantry, to cook their quickfire dish.

After five rounds of sniffing, Jacobs and Chef Savannah Miller were at the bottom with only nine identified ingredients of the 26. Chef Manny Barella identified 23 out of 26, winning $5,000 and better positioning himself for the cook.

Some interesting things came out, like a caesar with cheddar instead of parmesan and a watermelon steak sauce. Miller and her pork chop with two sauces (including the cheddar caesar) won the challenge and the $10,000. Barella and Jacobs were at the bottom. Bartolotta even said Jacobs’ dish had an unappetizing odor—not a good scenario now that quickfire dishes are taken into consideration during elimination.

A Talent Show(down)

“For your final elimination challenge here in Wisconsin, we want you to take a look back at your time here and make a dish that shows how you’ve grown as a chef.”

This open parameter posed an issue for this crew. Historically, challenges that aren’t super specific, like the Frank Lloyd Wright challenge or the “chaos” challenge, have resulted in a number of poorly ranked dishes. For the five remaining contestants, there was no room for error.

“We’ve seen you go so much these last many weeks,” said judge Gail Simmons “We want to see that on a plate.”

Each chef would get $150 to spend at a specialty shop, and $200 to spend at Whole Foods. The following day they would be cooking for Kish, Bartolotta, Simmons, Colicchio, and a host of local chefs.

But for now, it was time to eat. Bartolotta invited the whole crew to dine at Ristorante Bartolotta, where they were celebrating their 30th anniversary.

“Ristorante has been in the same place for 30 years,” said Jacobs. “Any time you can have a restaurant around for that long, there’s a reason for it. You can feel the love in that space. It’s a special place.” The chefs enjoyed cucina Palermitano, traditional food from the region of Sicily that Bartolotta’s family is from (fun fact: it’s also a region where the large majority of Milwaukee Sicilians are from), while talking about their growth and evolution over the last few weeks.

“Maybe tomorrow, we’ll see some of that learning in a literal way,” said Simmons.

Harbor House Hustle

One of Milwaukee’s most gorgeous restaurants, Harbor House, was home for this competition. The chefs prepped for their big day while discussing the concept of their dishes.

Some ideas fell flat—Barella eschewed the idea of “growth” and decided to cook what he was most comfortable with—while some concepts were a little more clear, like Miller’s interpretation of “time and pressure” in her pavé.

Some familiar guest judges, including Elena Terry from Wild Bearies, Tory Miller from L’Etoile, and Dane Baldwin from The Diplomat gathered at the restaurant to discuss their predictions. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, chaos ensued. Many of the chefs were behind in their time. Barella asked, “Will I even be able to plate?”

“Right now I’m playing Russian Roulette with my stay here at Top Chef,” said Jacobs.

The Dishes

Miller: Potato pavé, burnt onion & cherry jam, chicken sauce reduction

Barella: Snapper a la veracruzana with creamy potatoes and saltines

Garcia: Soba Cha mushroom broth, mushroom puree, and cod

Jacobs: Smoked walleye, potato dumplings with lemongrass, turmeric, and brown butter emulsion

Ozyilmaz: Lamb manti with barbacoa sauce

Dining Deliberation

“This was one of the challenges that you really had to pin the challenge to the dish,” said Colicchio. “Some chefs definitely told a much better story.”

“There is one chef that really demonstrated their growth in their dish,” said Kish.

Miler won the competition, her second win of the day. Her presentation “told a wonderful story and was executed with precision,” according to Hunter Lewis, Editor in Chief at Food & Wine magazine.

Miller now officially has the most wins in the competition. “I’m the one to beat here,” she said. “I think other people are realizing it and I’m realizing it too.”

Ozyilmaz was also praised for her dish that was a labor of love. It was announced that she would move on to the finals as well.

The winning women stepped away, and the three remaining contestants, Jacobs, Barella, and Garcia, faced deliberation.

Each chef had to defend their choices, their stories, and their cook.

After private deliberation, the judges asked Barella to pack his bags and go home due to him serving three plates of severely undercooked fish. “I’m taking ownership of what I did wrong,” he said. “Being part of Top Chef changed me as a person and as a chef. Wholeheartingly, it was so fucking worth it.”

Most importantly, Milwaukee is well represented in the finals. After a “terrible” quickfire challenge and an overly smoky elimination dish, Jacobs is holding on by a thread. But he’s officially in the top four, participating in the finals, and on his way to win a Top Chef title.

Noteworthy Moments

• Barella guessed more ingredients during the blind taste test than anyone in the show’s history

• We saw Jacobs use some of his assistive devices, including one that helped button his chef whites.

• This was the last episode in Wisconsin. The judges announced that the finals would be filmed on the island of Curaçao.

New episodes of Top Chef air Wednesday nights on Bravo. Episodes can be streamed on Peacock or Bravo TV the following day.

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About The Author

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Carmella is a local copywriter. When she's not typing behind the computer, you can catch her at a local show or thrift store.