Restaurant Wars comes to Top Chef, with a surprise twist!

Familiar faces! Former Top Chef contestants Nina Compton, left, and Karen Akunowicz standing on the other side of the competition: as judges. Pic credit: Bravo

It’s that time of the season again … no, not that time. That was the other day. We’re talking about Top Chef’s Restaurant Wars episode!

There’s twelve chefs left in the competition at this point, after Kevin went home last week for dishing up a too-salty dessert. The pressure cooker is slowly turning up as the challenges get more intense.

The episode kicks off with the usual Quickfire Challenge, which brings two special guest judges: James Beard Award winners and Top Chef alumni Karen Akunowicz (Season 13) and Nina Compton (Season 11).

Padma announces the challenge, and it’s small, but mighty: Create an amuse bouche in 30 minutes. One bite. How hard can that be?

The chefs practically mow each other down trying to grab plates and ingredients, because time is of the essence.

David is making pasta, because it’s his thing. His pasta was voted the Best in New York City. It seems like a lot of trouble to make pasta from scratch just to extract one bite, but David is determined.

Unfortunately, time was not on his side, and he was scrambling to get it done. The judges deemed his Brussels sprouts and apple ravioli bite dry.

Ambition gets the better of David. His pasta might be the best in New York City, but his ravioli was not voted best amuse bouche. Pic credit: Bravo

Brian gives the judges grilled watermelon with mozzarella and Prosciutto. Adrienne also prepares a watermelon amuse bouche of lamb tartare watermelon salad. Nina and Karen felt her lamb was underseasoned and one of the more less-amusing bouches of the bunch.

Michelle pulls out a tasty halibut bite, which earns high praise. Also earning praise was Brandon’s halibut broth chowder, which was called “summer in a bowl.”

Eric also makes a soup, a curry corn chowder, that the judges loved. Nini plates an aguachile with yuzu fruit, which Nina and Karen loved because it was “bright” and “acidic.” Eddie’s steak tartare with eggs straciatella gets compliments for being well-seasoned.

Southern belle Kelsey prepares a shrimp and grits hush puppy, but it missed the mark — Nina and Karen felt the portion was too big and it was dry. Our other Southern belle, Sara, whips up pickled shrimp and sunchokes. Justin presents fried chicken and Pablo shares his grilled corn miso aioli, which was “like a truffle taco.”

So who had the most amusing bouche and won the challenge? Michelle! What did she win? Immunity!

Without further adieu, it’s time to reveal the Elimination Challenge. Surprise! It’s Restaurant Wars! And this year, it’s “bigger and better than ever,” vows Padma.

“Surprise!” Pic credit: Bravo

They’ve brought in a pretty major guest judge, too: Caroline Styne, this year’s James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurateur. In addition to Restaurant Wars being early this year (usually it happens once the contestants dwindle down to eight), for the first time ever, there will be three teams competing instead of two.

The teams have two days to plan, design, and execute a restaurant (something that usually takes months, if not years. But, you know, 48 hours is probably enough time, too). Each team must create a three-course meal, with two options per course, for 100 people.

Before they depart, Karen and Nina have some words of wisdom: “My team won Restaurant Wars, and we worked as a team,” Karen shares. Nina chimes in and warns the chefs to leave their egos at the door. We’ll see how that works out.

Since there’s absolutely no time to waste, the teams get started immediately. Adrienne, Eric, Brian, and Eddie are one team, and they decide to name their restaurant North East, since all four of them are located in the Northeast. Brian wants to be front of the house. He has experience and the team feels he has the charisma.

Nini, Kelsey, Justin, and David are another team, and they opt for a geographical name for their eatery, too: Third Coast. As for their restaurant vision? They tell their designers they’re envisioning “Forrest Gump’s mom’s house 2.0.” What on earth does that mean? Well, hopefully their designers know. Nini volunteers to be front of house, and no one objects. As for food, they’re thinking seafood with a Creole flair.

Last but not least leaves Sara, Michelle, Brandon, and Pablo. Sara immediately takes charge, and even already has a name for the restaurant: Thistle. No one really has time to think of anything else, so Thistle it is! They’re envisioning an earthy, vegetable-based restaurant.

The teams go to Lundy’s Catering warehouse in Lexington to scope out their spaces and meet with their design teams.

From there, they head to (where else?) Whole Foods to stock up on supplies. Eddie in particular is being mindful of staying on budget, which he struggled with last episode.

How far can a budget go at Whole Foods? Eddie’s trying to find out. Pic credit: Bravo

The chefs head home to continue planning. Team Thistle finalizes their details while chilling in a hot tub sipping what appeared to be champagne. Maybe if more meetings were held like that, people wouldn’t dread them so much? Just thinking out loud.

After what is most likely not a good night’s sleep, the teams head to Lundy’s to get the fun started.

Team Thistle is starting off cool and collected. Sara and Michelle are prepping apps, while Pablo tackles the second course dishes. Brandon’s on desserts.

Eddie starts the sauces for North East. He wants to make sure he’s set up for success. Brian is going big (which might send him home) with chicken ballotine. It’s a complicated dish, but Brian has assured his team that he’s confident he can pull it off. Which means it’s probably going to be a disaster.

Things also start off well enough for Third Coast. The team is going to work together on one app and Justin will handle the second, Justin and David will create the second course, and Kelsey and Nini will make the desserts. Kelsey is making a blackberry buttermilk biscuit panna cotta, and Nini is making what the team is calling “chocolate.” Just “chocolate.” All righty, then.

David remarks on how well they’re doing on timing. Give it ten minutes, David.

Servers and staff arrive for the teams, because you can’t have a functioning restaurant without them! Nini introduces herself, but that’s about all she can do since the restaurants haven’t been created yet. So she can’t show people sections, seating charts, etc.

Back to North East, Adrienne is starting to voice concerns over Brian’s chicken ballotine, which, of course, is taking too much time. “I tend to overreach,” he confesses. Now you tell us, Brian! (Although who didn’t see it coming, really, with the exception of his teammates?) Since he’s still working on his dish, Adrienne goes to talk to the servers and staff and gives them Brian’s training manual.

While this is all going on, Caroline and Tom start making the rounds and talking to the teams and to wish them luck.

Brian’s prep is still going. “Never enough time, never enough time,” he mutters. Had to make the chicken ballotine, didn’t you, Brian? Finally, he’s done, and he comes out to train the staff.

Slowly but surely, things are turning chaotic across all kitchens. Eric asks Eddie for help, which stuns Adrienne. She feels that since Eric only had one dish to prepare, he shouldn’t need help. Well, Brian only had one dish, and look how that went. As Eric mulls over whether or not to marinate the fish, Adrienne tells him that’s the least of their concerns.

“Is it too late to switch teams?” Pic credit: Bravo

Over at Third Coast, things are going downhill, fast. See, David – give it ten minutes! Nini appears overwhelmed and tries to leave to get changed, but the team needs her to work on ice cream.

Kelsey asks the servers if they’ve gone over the menu yet. They have not. In fact, in appears they have no idea what’s going on, except they know they’re on Top Chef. “She hasn’t told them anything,” Justin murmurs to Kelsey. Finally, Nini leaves to get changed while Kelsey continues to try and train the staff. The team is getting frustrated with Nini, who seems to have just kind of gotten lost in the challenge.

“Yesterday we were all best friends but now we might be ready to kill each other.” All’s fair in love and Restaurant Wars, Kelsey.

“One of the servers just asked me the difference between a soup spoon and a dessert spoon. We are so screwed.” Pic credit: Bravo

Here comes Tom! He has an announcement! Tonight’s elimination is a double elimination. Because these poor chefs weren’t stressed out enough!

Even more stressful? We need to wait until next week to find out how everything played out and to find out who went home!

Based on the preview for next week’s conclusion, things are only getting to get more intense as tempers flare hotter and boil over.

The conclusion of Restaurant Wars airs next Thursday at 8 p.m. (new time) on Bravo.

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