Welcome back, cheftestants! Last time on Top Chef, the 14 remaining chefs brewed up some hot competition during their hops-themed quickfire challenge. After Chef Laura Ozyilmaz won the challenge (and $5,000) for her hops-infused rice pudding, the contestants went to the Miller Brewing Co. Caves to team up and cook a bar snack-themed dinner for the judges and guests, including Kyle Knall of Birch, Luke Zahm of Driftless Café, Jamie Brown-Soukaseume of Ahan, and Omar Shaikh of Carnevor and 3rd St. Market Hall—plus a representative from MolsonCoors and beloved Wisconsin comedian Charlie Berens.

Milwaukee Chef Dan Jacobs was on the winning team, and served up a popcorn mousse with clams, roasted corn, and basil. After some great feedback on his dish (“I’m not sure what to think of it, but I thought he pulled it off,” Shaikh said), the winning prize went to Jacobs’ teammate Chef Rasika Venkatesa for her barley pretzel cake with pretzel granita and honey mustard sabayon. Chef Valentine Howell went home after losing last week’s competition.

And now on to this week’s episode…

Door County Cherry-Themed Quickfire Challenge

“Just three hours north of Milwaukee is a place called Door County,” said host Kristen Kish. “The quaint coastal towns of this part of Wisconsin are known for their scenic views, and these cherries.”

For this week’s quickfire challenge, the contestants had to pair Door County cherries with a mystery ingredient that they chose from behind a wall of closed doors (ya know, for “door” county). Ingredients included kimchi, soy sauce, marshmallows, and chicken livers.

Former Top Chef contestant Carla Hall and actress Clea DuVall, alongside Kish, judged this round of competition. Contestants had 20 minutes to create a dish that highlighted the cherries, but also incorporated the mystery ingredient and let it shine.

Chefs Venkatesa, Savannah Miller, and Kevin D’Andrea had some of the leading dishes. With her dish of cipollini onions cooked in tart cherry juice, charred pepper relish, and berbere spice, Venkatesa won the challenge (yes, after winning immunity and $10,000 at the end of last episode) and walked away with a $5,000 prize.

Takin’ It Cheesy At The Elimination Challenge

“There’s something Wisconsinites can’t live without,” Kish said. “CHEESE,” Hall interjected.

Yes folks, this is the cheese challenge us cheeseheads have been waiting for. Kish introduced two of Wisconsin’s top cheese makers—Andy Hatch, co-owner and Cheese Maker at Uplands Cheese; and Pam Hodgson, Master Cheese Maker at Sartori Cheese, and one of only two women in the country to hold that title—to guide contestants as they cooked a cheesy meal for 100 people at the “Top Chef Cheese Fest.”

“Milwaukee has Summerfest, Festa Italiana, Mexican Fiesta, and German Fest, but somehow we’ve missed Cheesefest,” Jacobs said. “So thanks, Top Chef, for making that happen.”

All the contestants got to taste the cheeses—Reserve Gouda, cheese curds, Merlot BellaVitano—that would be the star of their dish. Then, Kish dropped some news about this week’s competition. The 100 people they would be serving would in fact be their judges, and would choose the winner of this week’s challenge, which included immunity in next week’s elimination round.

“Find the balance between showing off your chops and showing off the cheese,” Hatch said before the contestants were off to the North Avenue Whole Foods to grab their ingredients.

Cooking For 100 People

It was another outdoor cooking challenge for the cheftestants, and it wasn’t an easy one. It was nearly 100 degrees the day of filming, and there was no refrigeration available for the prepped food to stay cool. Plus, there were a lot of bees. At least they had a beautiful view at the Cupola Barn in Oconomowoc, a wedding venue that the contestants loved. “It’s cute as hell,” said Chef Charly Pierre.

Several chefs chose to make croquettes, a great way to highlight the cheese they chose, but also something host Tom Colicchio may not have been too pleased with. “It’s a croquette-off,” said Chef Alisha Elenz. “You know Tom’s gonna talk a lot of shit about it,” said Pierre.

A flood of people, including several cheese makers, came into the site, going table to table to try the contestants’ dishes. Guest judge and James Beard Award-winning (and oh yeah, chef/owner of The Diplomat) Dane Baldwin was on site to share his thoughts about the cheesy dishes.

Lots and lots of croquettes later, the judges visited Jacobs’ table to sample his (notably not croquette) dish of Sancho Cruz Manchego potato dumplings, with olives and charred onion.

Jacobs got a ton of great feedback, both from guests and judges. “It’s amazing,” said guest Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheese Haus. “The dumpling texture is really nice.”

Hall agreed. “He not only gave us a really nice dish, he gave us something light and summery because of the texture of the foam. I think he really understood how to pair this cheese.”

Baldwin added: “I thought there was some powerful descriptors there that came off in a strong and subtle way. Which is not easy to pull off.”

“The texture of these dumplings are perfect,” said Hatch.

After deliberation, three chefs took top places. Chef Kalina Bliss with her Merlot mac and cheese, Chef Michelle Wallace with her southern-inspired saag paneer, and our very own Chef Jacobs.

The overall winner of the “Top Chef Cheese Fest” was Wallace. She won immunity in the next elimination challenge.

Chefs D’Andrea, Kenny Nguyen, and Manny Barella were in the bottom three. Ultimately, Nguyen had to pack his knives and go home after judges put his crab rangoon-inspired salad in last place.

Noteworthy Moments

• Chefs Venkatesa and Danny Garcia started the Top Chef running club. They were seen running along the Milwaukee River.

• We learned that Baldwin’s favorite cheese is Upland Cheese’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve (also the cheese used in the winning dish).

• After sampling Miller’s cheesy quesadilla, Kish stated, “Maybe I’m the unpopular opinion, but it was too much cheese.” Converted cheesehead Tom Colicchio said “get out of Wisconsin.”

• In the beginning of the episode, we saw Jacobs put his leg and foot braces on. “I feel like I want to prove something. One of the main reasons for coming on this show was because I want to educate people on Kennedy’s disease and everything I’m going through,” he said. “I do feel a bit of a weight lifted sharing with everybody. I think it helps the other chefs understand where I’m coming from. Sometimes I’m going to have difficulties. I’m not going to run around the kitchen like some of these young bucks.”

• During the prep portion of the night, Jacobs was prepping his gnocchi and took a pretty big fall after two different contestants spilled ingredients. “I fall enough all on my own,” he said. “I don’t need anyone else to help me.”

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

Want more Milwaukee Record? Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and/or support us on Patreon.


All things Milwaukee in ‘Top Chef’ Episode 2

All things Milwaukee in the premiere of ‘Top Chef’ Season 21

Stuff We Missed: ‘Top Chef’ announces premiere date, Milwaukee competitor for Wisconsin-based season

Season 21 of Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’ will be filmed in Wisconsin

About The Author

Avatar photo

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