Restaurant Wars! Buddha Lo Offers His Critiques: Top Chef Recap

Buddha Lois a two-timeTop Chefwinner, executive chef atHūsoin New York City, and aSaratoga Spring Waterbrand ambassador

Published Time: 09.05.2024 - 05:31:04 Modified Time: 09.05.2024 - 05:31:04

Buddha Lois a two-timeTop Chefwinner, executive chef atHūsoin New York City, and aSaratoga Spring Waterbrand ambassador. He is sharing his thoughts after each episode ofTop Chef season 21, set in Wisconsin, offering a unique perspective as a former cheftestant.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

It’s that time of the season again, it’s Restaurant Wars! Surprisingly, none of the contestants could guess the challenge correctly. Restaurant Wars is something I prepared for no matter what part of the season. Everyone knows the final cook and Restaurant Wars are the only guaranteed challenges in the modern era of Top Chef.

This time, chefs got to choose their teams, and most gravitated towards Danny Garcia, so whoever didn’t get to him in time created their own separate team. Because Michelle won the last challenge, she was able to choose her team after they had been formed, ultimately giving that team the advantage with five against four.

They went back to old school Top Chef where the teams had to open a restaurant with an a-la-carte concept. Diners had two choices for each course instead of one set menu, which is more difficult than just serving what’s on the menu. After watching many seasons of Top Chef, I've learned that the key to being successful is having a solid concept, otherwise it’s just another elimination challenge where the chefs cook whatever they want and design a dining room.

Michelle, Dan, Danny, Amanda and Savannah’s team focused on Danny as the executive chef and chose a global concept that leaned into every chef's strength. Their restaurant name, Channel, allowed them to use seafood as the connection. Michelle voiced concern about the idea not being a cohesive concept and I agree. If Dan didn’t pivot from his beet tartare to a seafood dish, I personally think the results would have been different. 

The team of Manny, Laura, Kaleena and Soo chose a Mexican-Korean restaurant called Dos y Deul. The combination of Mexican and Korean is not new to the culinary world, so there was a ton of inspiration to draw from. It was interesting to see the lack of balance in cuisines when they were cooking their dishes. Dos y Deul also opted not to have a dessert, and while it’s not compulsory, it’s a personal pet peeve of mine when they don’t do desserts on a menu for Restaurant Wars or the final cook. All restaurants offer desserts, so why would Restaurant Wars be any different? 

The day of the coo -

k, Danny made the smart move of preparing tickets ahead of time which I think is instrumental to success. Both times I competed in Restaurant Wars, I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing the tickets, drawing the floor plans, listing server responsibilities, creating task lists and fine-tuning the restaurant concept.

Michelle felt like the right choice for the front of the house, but it was a let down to see that she did not fully lean into that responsibility. She didn’t greet the judges, didn’t say goodbye when they left, and didn’t fully explain the concept. You need to drive that home on top of making sure the judges feel like VIPs, as they are the ones who determine who goes home. It gave me Jackson flashbacks.

The judges table was a difficult decision, because neither team nailed their concepts or service, but they did produce some great food. It made choosing the winner difficult. Dos y Deul could have done a lot more with the Korean-Mexican concept to give themselves the win. Kristen stated they had a more cohesive theme, but the dishes left her confused with the concept. I wasn’t a huge fan of Channels as a concept, because it felt like everyone was cooking whatever they wanted as long as there was a sea element in the dish. I would have loved to see them dive deeper by incorporating sea salt with chocolate or a seaweed-fish sauce caramel in their desserts, rather than two random offerings that could be served anywhere. 

Channel ended up with the win by producing the better plates of food and Dan took the win with smoked walleye, labneh, potato cake and harissa, and his maple dessert.

The losing team, Dos y Deul, received a lot of criticism from the judges. Kaleena’s dish had a non-crispy, greasy tortilla that was described by Kwame Onwuachi as boring. Manny made a shrimp dish that was described as bad, and while he did a good steak and mole dish, the judges felt he really gave the bare minimum to the fusion concept.

Kaleena was told to pack her knives, and I think that it ultimately came down to a few factors: with her dish she allowed bland pork and flavorless pineapple to leave the kitchen even though she was executive chef; and she lost control of expediting, which led to the judges having a bad experience. It was another case of the captain sinking with their ship in Restaurant Wars, and Kaleena now finds herself fighting her way back in Last Chance Kitchen yet again.

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