Contestants on ‘Top Chef Seattle’ got their pick of salmon fresh from an Alaskan fishing boat on Wednesday night’s episode. Faced with a silver-and-pink sea of about every possible variety (do all those salmon runs really overlap?) ukulele-playing chef Sheldon choose to cook with sockeye and chum.
“Why did you use chum?” asked judge Padma Lakshmi. “The locals use chum to feed the dogs.” (Not all chum.)
Sheldon said the chum “seemed pretty cool to me.” And his pea soup with salmon was cooked well enough to keep him going into next week’s show, which will be the third one in a row set in Alaska. (At what point do we rename it ‘Top Chef Northwest?’) Here’s our weekly roundup of highlights and lowlights:
The quickfire: Idyllic shots of Juneau scenery set the stage for a crab-shack cookoff using simple preparations of fresh Alaskan crab. Sheldon won with his creative miso soup using crab innards.
The reverse-carpetbagger: Fourteen episodes in, I should be accustomed to guest judges who have no connection to the season’s theme, but I still wondered what Southern James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock of Charleston, S.C., was doing up north. “Crab meat is such a treasured ingredient here,” he told the contestants on the Juneau dock. There wasn’t an Alaskan or (cough cough) Seattle James Beard award-winner to tell them that?
The ingredients and the absent dad: The chefs got some fine and appropriate ingredients this time — salmon and sourdough, the latter involving tubs of a 30-year-old starter. A sourdough starter is “like a child,” said Josh. “You just have to take care of it.” This grates a little, as we hear throughout the episode how Josh’s wife is about to go into labor back home with their own child, and he has chosen a reality TV show — albeit a potentially career-making one — over being home for the birth.
Elimination challenge: Preparing dishes with that salmon and sourdough for 300 Juneau locals at a salmon bake. The contestants are unusually — dare we say it — chummy; all seem to truly enjoy heading out to the boat to glory over and then gut the the super-fresh fish. All did relatively well with the challenge, so it came down to the details.
Winner: Brooke, for her delicately poached salmon in seafood broth with mustard seeds, serving dill sourdough on the side. The other three looked quite tense as her name was announced. Any of them could have reasonably hoped to win, so the 1/3 odds of elimination felt especially grim.
Noooooo! Lizzie, my own favorite, was sent home. While she was the only one to bake a beautiful crust on her sourdough, the judges thought her salmon sliders on little rolls were too tame and also too bready. She also admitted that she only tasted the individual components of the dish, not how everything worked together.
Seattle highlights: None. But if you need to see our city on food TV this week, watch these outtakes of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” season finale in Seattle, featuring lots of well-known and lesser-known great eats from Calf & Kid and Paseo to Rainier BBQ and Little Uncle and Rob Roy.
Photo by David Moir/Bravo TV