Welcome back cheftestants! Last time on Top Chef, the contestants participated in a Door County cherry-themed quickfire challenge where they had 20 minutes to create a dish that married the cherry and one of several mystery ingredients procured from behind a mystery door (a kind of clever play on “door” county).

Alongside host Kristen Kish, former Top Chef contestant (and former co-host of The Chew) Carla Hall and But I’m A Cheerleader star Clea DuVall joined as guest judges. Chefs Savannah Miller, Rasika Venkatesa, and Kevin D’Andrea had some of the leading dishes. Venkatesa ended up winning the competition with her dish of cippolini onions cooked in tart cherry juice, charred pepper relish, and berbere spice.

After the quickfire challenge, the contestants met Andy Hatch, co-owner and Cheese Maker at Uplands Cheese, and Pam Hodgson, Master Cheese Maker at Sartori Cheese. They were told the elimination challenge would be to cook a cheese-centered meal for 100 people at the “Top Chef Cheese Fest” at Oconomowoc’s Cupola Barn.

Cheese Fest really turned into croquette fest. Nearly half of the contestants chose to make a croquette for their cheesy dish, and it was a point of contention for host Tom Colicchio. Hall rejoined the Top Chef judges at Cheese Fest, and special guest and Milwaukee legend Chef Dane Baldwin of The Diplomat also joined the crew to offer his perspective.

Milwaukee’s Chef Dan Jacobs was in the top three contestants with his dish of Sancho Cruz Manchego potato dumplings with olives and charred onion.. Ultimately, Chef Michelle Wallace and her southern-inspired saag paneer won the competition. Chef Kenny Nguyen had to pack his knives and go after judges ranked his crab rangoon-inspired salad last place.

In this week’s episode of Top Chef, we’re back in the kitchen…er, back in a kitchen at least! The remaining contestants have flown the coop and left the city of Milwaukee to head west…

“America’s Architect” Frank Lloyd Wright

In keeping with the Wisconsin theme, the contestants were told they’d be traveling along the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail to get to Madison. Along the way, they would stop at several of Wright’s buildings, and wrap up at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Taliesin, in Spring Green, where they would tour Wright’s home and studio.

“One of the recurring design themes that you’ll see in the structures along the trail is the duality of compress and release,” Colicchio said. “When you enter one of his buildings or rooms the ceilings start really low, and compresses you into the space, and then releases you into a more open space in the center of the room.”

The elimination challenge was inspired by that theme of duality: compress and release, light and dark, big and small. The contestants went into teams of two and were told there would be a double elimination—but more on that later.

The chefs packed their bags and headed to their first destination, right in Milwaukee: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block, on 27th and Burnham. The chefs all got inspired by the space, textures, light, and colors of the homes, which were designed in 1916 as a series that was meant to offer the city of Milwaukee beautiful and affordable home designs.

“Chefs use ingredients to create emotions for other people, architects share the same passion,” said Chef Laura Ozyilmaz. “Frank Lloyd Wright was also pushing the boundaries and making something interesting and different.”

The chefs wrapped up in Milwaukee, then headed to Madison where they met at the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center. They toured the inside and outside of the terrace, where Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired to reach beyond the right angle, and focus on circles and repeating patterns that married the views of Lake Monona and the Capitol and surrounding buildings.

After gathering plenty of inspiration, the contestants headed to Spring Green and the Taliesin property, where they met Fred Prozzillo, Vice President of Preservation and Collections at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

“The main principle that Wright incorporates into his work is to appreciate the nature of the materials,” Prozzillo said. “He didn’t feel you should cover up beautiful wood. You should let the stone express the stone.”

Double Elimination Challenge

“It is electric, there are so many dualities in Taliesin,” Venkatesa said. “The compression and release is there, the perfection and imperfection is there, even in his color tones. Everything is seemingly similar but strikingly different.”

The chefs went to work on their duality dishes, most of them honing their techniques to create an exceptionally beautiful presentation, as a reflection of what they saw at the several Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

Former Top Chef World All-Star winner Buddha Lo and three Michelin star chef Dominique Crenn joined the judges at the Riverview Terrace Cafe, the only restaurant Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed (which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places).

After an impressive first round of dishes by Venkatesa and Chef Danny Garcia, it was time for Jacobs and Chef Amanda Turner to present their dishes which represented the duality of poverty and wealth.

“Me and Amanda took a lot of our inspiration for our duality from the Burnham Block,” Jacobs said. “Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings that were meant for low-income housing. There’s three ingredients in this dish: leek, potato, and kombu. We have a leek cannoli with potato mousse, brown butter and potato foam, potato tuile, and a potato and pickle kombu salad.”

Turner used expensive ingredients to create her “wealth” dish. “I am using more luxury ingredients like scallop, caviar, and roe,” she said.

“I like what he was thinking,” Colicchio said about Jacobs’ dish. “I like his story. Taking the low-income housing Frank Lloyd Wright was known for and put it on a dish. The problem with the dish is that the leek needs to be cooked more, and the crispy elements are very, very salty.”

“The seafood was cooked very nicely on Amanda’s dish,” said Lo.

“The pasta was made very well, the roasted scallop was made very well on my dish and so was the lobster,” said judge Gail Simmons.

“I feel like both Dan and Amanda overthought making the dish look beautiful,” said Kish.

Ultimately, Jacobs and Turner landed somewhere in the middle, not winning immunity and also not packing up and going home. They are now two of the chefs left in the top 10. Venkatesa and Garcia won the challenge, each going home with $5,000. However, only one of them could win immunity. Venkatesa won immunity, making it her second immunity win and third overall win—an absolute contenter for winner of this season.

Noteworthy Moments

• “If Dan’s like, ‘I’ve been to this Whole Foods,’ I’m going to be like ‘Dan, stop it!,'” Chef Alisha Elenz said about the Wisconsin local.

• Jacobs and Turner really hit it off as a team, naming their team “Damanda”

• This was perhaps the episode with the most criticism. There was no dish that went without criticism, whether it was technique, execution, or concept of “duality.”

New episodes of Top Chef will be released 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.