Finally, Top Chef has returned after the holiday break, and in this episode we get a lot of Jason Stratton. And it's awesome.
Thirteen chefs remain at this point, and the episode launches with a trip to a date farm. "It's pretty crazy. It just looks like another world," Jason says. After receiving instruction on how to properly wield a date machete, the group is then whisked off to cook for the Quick Fire challenge.
Padma instructs the chefs to each construct a dish using dates inspired by their best romantic date. She and Chrissy Teigen will judge, which sets everyone's hearts aflutter. Unfortunate plays on words and innuendo ensue.
While the chefs cook, there are some sweet asides about the dates that inspired their date dishes. "It was kind of our first fancy restaurant date," Jason says. "I've been with my partner for 17 years now. One of my favorite dates, Harry and I went to a restaurant that was courting me to work there. It ended up being kind of a life changer." We're treated to some photos of Jason and Harry, and it's really nice to learn these personal details Jason seems to keep so close to the vest.
He creates a dish of roasted carrots with deglet nour dates, brown butter, and pine nuts, and the ladies love it. Padma coos "I heart that char." And well, what do you know. Our man wins his first challenge, thereby securing immunity in this episode. Nice! Jason says he's happy to have his first win, and he feels like he can relax a little. We can relax a little, too, after he seemed so middle-of-the-pack in previous episodes.
Now Padma says, "I know there's a lot of love in the air, but you haven't sealed the deal yet." She introduces big time chef and LGBT activist Art Smith, and we learn the crew is going to cater a "big, fat, gay wedding," as Art calls it. Padma, who got ordained that very day, will officiate a wedding of 25 couples. "My outfit's going to be insane," she says.
Mercifully, we move on from the silly date-date wordplay and awkward flirting to the more serious task of cooking for the wedding. The chefs must all work together, which is a bit of mess at first. Jason and Angelina, a consistently weak chef in this competition, are making a Swiss chard caponet stuffed with braised chicken and caramelized honey sauce, Jason's idea.
He and Angelina butt heads, with her wondering if Jason is giving this his all since he's safe from elimination.They fight over how to properly execute the dish he came up with, and whether there's enough time to finish it. Jason doesn't let her petulance push him around. "It's a really beautiful, precise dish," Jason says. "I don't think that Angelina understands that process has to be exact." His opinions win out.
When the wedding rolls around, it's stunning and touching. There are flowering cactus centerpieces and string lights, for crying out loud. And Padma looks great in her white suit, natch.
The judges love Jason and Angelina's dish even though they're still fighting about it during service. Angelina describes it as "kind of like a dolma," which Jason corrects once the judges are out of earshot. "It's completely different," he tells the camera. "This is my dish. I know how it's supposed to be. Don't fucking tell me what you don't know."
Call their dish what you will, the judges dig it. Angelina rides Jason's coattails to safety.
And then we move on to judging, where shit gets really real. Perennial pain in the ass Phillip, who is up for elimination, is called out for making horrible mashed potatoes, which he's trying to pass off for a sauce. Phillip tries to throw his cooking partner Kwame under the bus, and Jason steps up to call him out on it, giving Phillip the smackdown he so aptly deserves. A few other chefs chime in similarly, and we see a clip from earlier that proves Phillip is full of it.
It's pretty great to see him put in his place, but Philip isn't the one to get the boot. Giselle is eliminated, and she'll head to Last Chance Kitchen to try for redemption.
Overall, it's refreshing to see Jason shining and coming into his own in this episode. And it's always fun when the big egos get taken down a notch. Jason, nice smack talk, buddy.
Next week, the chefs head to San Diego. For a more detailed recap of the episode, head to Eater National.