Top Chef Recap: Buddha Lo Recognizes “Those” Reactions from the Judges: 'Not Good'

Aboard a cruise ship in Curaçao, the final four struggle with an eight-course fish tasting menu. Former champ Buddha Lo recaps

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Edward Lee, Tom Colicchio, Dan Jacobs

David Moir/Bravo

Edward Lee, Tom Colicchio, Dan Jacobs

Buddha Lo is a two-time Top Chef winner, executive chef at Hūso in New York City, and a Saratoga Spring Water brand ambassador. He is sharing his thoughts after each episode of Top Chef season 21, set in Wisconsin, offering a unique perspective as a former cheftestant.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

We are finally in Curaçao where the chefs have one more Elimination Challenge to make it to the finale. The chefs have had a six-week break after filming in Wisconsin, which is a long time.

When I did season 19 in Houston, we had one-and-a-half weeks between Houston and the finale in Tucson. And when we filmed in London we went to Paris without a break at all. By the time we made it to the end of filming in Paris we were all exhausted.

Having a six-week break this season gave everyone time to mentally recover, research the finale location, and perfect their final four course menu.

Related: Top Chef Recap: The Blind Taste Test Returns and the Chefs Say Goodbye to Wisconsin

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Danny Garcia, Daniel Jacobs, Savannah Miller, Laura Ozyilmaz

David Moir/Bravo

Danny Garcia, Daniel Jacobs, Savannah Miller, Laura Ozyilmaz


The Quickfire Challenge was centered around the lionfish. They are an invasive fish with poisonous spines, and the twist was that the chefs had to use gouda cheese in their dish, which was based on a local spiced meat and cheese dish known as Keshi Yena.

Savannah again showed she was prepared, by knowing about Keshi Yena. The producers made the right choice of having the lionfish already fileted. Fileting a fish with 18 poisonous spines for a 30-minute Quickfire is pushing that envelope too far. It would have been downright crazy!

The chefs overall cooked some interesting dishes with what they were given. If I were doing this challenge, I would have cooked my fish and served it with a sauce made from the whey of the gouda cheese. Dan came out on top for the final Quickfire — his first Quickfire win of the season!


The chefs “set sail” aboard the Holland America Cruise Line ship, Eurodam, to collectively create an eight-course fish tasting menu. Each chef was responsible for two courses, each one to feature a different fish, prepared in specific way. The chefs had to split preparation options from raw, steamed, mouse, poached, fried, roasted, smoked and blackened.

Before they boarded the ship, the chefs were allowed 10 minutes and $100 to buy fresh produce for their dishes. Laura bought some very questionable banana leaves at the market. I don't recall fresh banana leaves looking that sad and brown in my career, so I found it interesting that she still went ahead and purchased them.

For inspiration, the chefs were then treated to a meal by culinary legend and an OG of cooking competition: chef Masaharu Morimoto. I remember watching the original Iron Chef Japan with my father, being in awe of him.

Related: Chef Morimoto Cooks ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Dinner for Final Four Top Chef Contestants: ‘This Is Crazy’ (Exclusive) 

Chef Morimoto not only cooked lunch, he also revealed the the fish options for the Elimination Challenge: Atlantic salmon, black bass, black grouper, dorade, monkfish, rainbow trout, red snapper, sea bream and striped bass. 

As the winner of the previous Elimination Challenge, Savannah got to choose her two fish first — raw salmon and fried striped bass. Savannah had been cooking great ever since the indigenous challenge (episode 9) but the choices she made in this episode almost felt like those made by a completely different chef. What made me more confused is that Savannah works in a restaurant based on tempura so ultimately this challenge should have been in her wheelhouse. Instead, her raw course was a sake-cured salmon futomaki roll, salmon tartare, twice-fried plantain with a creamy ginger dressing, while her fried course was striped bass, pepper kosho and aji Amarillo aioli.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Laura Ozyilmaz

David Moir/Bravo

Laura Ozyilmaz

Laura chose to steam black bass in banana leaves with recado negro, squash and fried plantain. Her roasted course was grouper with guajillo XO emulsion and pineapple broth.

Danny chose to smoke rainbow trout with pumpkin and plantain puree with smoked trout foam and hazelnut lemon relish, while he then turned sea bream into a mousse with spinach, fines herbs salad, scotch bonnet with green garlic spheres.

Dan poached dorade with with coconut and turmeric, yucca fritter, grilled pumpkin and chili-garlic crisp for his first offering and then blackened snapper with butter-poached potatoes, mandarin butter sauce and dill oil.

Overall, the judges were puzzled by the level of food the chefs served in this challenge. I have seen these reactions and facial expressions before and it's not good. This is when the chefs need to show the world why they deserve to be the next Top Chef. Unfortunately, there were a lot of mistakes and uninspired plates.


For Danny, the guest judge said that while the mousse was not good, he pushed the envelope with the sauces. On his second dish, the judge noted that the smoking was brilliant with lots of flavors, and Kristen said the lemon and brightness was nearly perfect. The second place choice was Dan, because the judges thought his snapper dish was the best fish of the day.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Dan Jacobs

David Moir/Bravo

Dan Jacobs


Savannah was vulnerable after the judges said her salmon roll was clunky and not the best way to showcase the fish. Gail felt her dishes lacked creativity overall. But Laura’s produce came back to bite her when the judges thought the fish was well cooked and the sauces were great, but that the banana leaf was not cleaned well, and it had a “dirt” flavor. And her second dish sealed her fate when everyone got undercooked fish.

Savannah, Dan and Danny have made it! This is where they really need to dig deep and swing for the fences. The only two challenges that are guaranteed on every season are Restaurant Wars and the final cook, so I hope they came prepared with a life-changing menu during the six-week break and bounce back!

Top Chef airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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