Welcome back cheftestants! We are about 65% of the way through this season and the competition is heightening. Last time on Top Chef, the contestants participated in this season’s Restaurant Wars, a Top Chef tradition where they split into teams and build a restaurant from scratch in 24 hours.

“Dos By Duel” was the brainchild of Chefs Manny Barella, Laura Ozyilmaz, Kaleena Bliss, and Soo Ahn. “Channel” was inspired by the sea, and had Chef Danny Garcia on expo, Chefs Amanda Turner, Dan Jacobs, and Savannah Miller in the kitchen, and Chef Michelle Wallace leading front of house.

Ultimately, the judges thought Channel was the better restaurant, and Jacobs won the elimination challenge with his dish of smoked walleye with labneh, harissa, and a potato cake. Bliss was asked to, once again, pack her knives and head home.

Getting Bogged Down In The Quickfire Challenge

This week, the cheftestants entered the Top Chef kitchen to see host Kristen Kish and judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons wading knee deep in a makeshift cranberry bog. They announced that there would be no more immunity challenges and that Colicchio and Simmons would be joining Kish during the quickfire competitions. This meant that dishes from both quickfire and elimination challenges would be considered in their deliberation of who went home.

“Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state in the nation,” said Kish. Fifth generation cranberry farmer Rochelle Hoffman was welcomed as the guest judge for the cranberry-themed quickfire challenge. Ten thousand dollars was on the line.

After a grueling 20 minutes, judges went around and tried the innovative cranberry dishes. Jacobs, Garcia, and Wallace had the top dishes, with Garcia and his cranberry poached sea bass winning top spot. Simmons said it had “bright and unexpected flavors.” Barella, Ozyilmaz, and Turner were in the bottom slots, making them more vulnerable in the elimination challenge

Welcome To The Good Land

“Did you know that Milwaukee translates to ‘the good land’ in the language spoken by the Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe tribes?” asked Kish.

“There are 11 federally recognized tribal nations in Wisconsin that span across woodlands, lakes, and rivers,” said Simmons. “This is where original and native ingredients are sourced, and they’re making their way into some of the best restaurants around.”

Chef Elena Terry, founder of Wild Bearies, and Chef Sean Sherman—educator, activist, and three-times James Beard Award winner—were brought out to explain the competition and help lead the chefs, as indigenous cooking was not a method any of the chefs were familiar with.

“For the next elimination challenge, we want modern dishes using only indigenous ingredients,” said Kish. “You won’t be cooking with any dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar, pork, beef, or chicken.”

Sherman and Terry brought the contestants to the back room where they all shared a meal of white bean spreads, masa chips, wild rice, mushrooms, hominy, duck, bison, and more. The chefs took notes as they learned about the trade routes of indigenous Americas, and how underrepresented indigenous cuisine is in the culinary world.

“In the culinary world we see things through the eyes of colonization,” said Turner. “I think the impact of that hasn’t been thoroughly explored.”

Cooking With Ingenious Indigenous Ingredients

After the meal, the chefs went back to the hotel to discuss their dishes and figure out how to use these ingredients to create something new. As the prepped, Coloccio, Terry, and Sherman went around to all the chefs as they started using their indigenous ingredients.

Several chefs ran into problems while cooking with indigenous-only ingredients. The caul fat that Garcia used made his pheasant too chewy. Ahn struggled with keeping his wild rice “gnocchi” together. Wallace cooked her duck perfectly, just to put it under the broiler to dry out.

“It has very different limitations than what we’re used to,” said Barella.

They would have three hours to prepare their meals at Milwaukee’s Il Cervo. Guest judges included Jessica Walks First and Chef Bryce Stevenson. As each dish was passed, the judges were able to not only discuss the flavors, textures, and presentations of each meal, but also the intent of approach and the celebration of individual ingredients.

The judges finished all eight meals and went to deliberate. Miller, Ahn, and Jacobs were brought to the front and told that they had the best dishes.

The judges loved Jacobs’ sunflower choke with braised goose and aronia berry puree. He used the heart, seeds, and petals in his dish.

“One of the indigenous values that we look at is being resourceful,” said Shawn. “I think the utilization of all those pieces really came through.”

Ahn’s butternut squash with huitlacoche puree and wild rice gnocchi was also lauded by the judges. The dish was praised for its simplicity, which let the indigenous ingredients shine. Walks First said it tasted like home.

Miller’s unique squash and maple jelly cake with aronia berries, grapes, and plum jelly ultimately won the competition.

“The first bite I got was this mix between pumpkin pie and gingerbread. Once you incorporate those sauces in there, it became something completely brand new,” said Kish.

Wallace, Turner, and Ozyilmaz had the least favorite dishes of the day. Deliberation was difficult as there were no clear losers. Judges had to look back to the quickfire challenge to make a decision of who was going home.

There was one last surprise in this episode. A few episodes back when both Ahn and Bliss were welcomed into the competition, Kish noted that they judges now had the ability to make two eliminations whenever they chose. This week, they used that option. Both Ozyilmaz and Turner were asked to pack their bags and head home.

Noteworthy Moments

• Barella struggled with the loss of Bliss, and felt that he was partially responsible for her going home.

• Miller showed us her mirror, where she had concepted menus on elimination challenges she thought they may encounter. This included cranberry, a foreshadowing of this week’s quickfire challenge.

• We learned that Ahn spent formative years in Korea, and that Garcia converted to Islam while dating his now wife. Jacobs talked about his challenges with Kennedy’s disease when he was trimming the sunflowers. “This [competition] is getting long, and I’m getting tired.”

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