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Top Chef Review: “Kings of Alaska”

We’re down to the final four chefs and they’re headed to Alaska, which means an episode full of beautiful scenery, rustic surroundings and the freshest seafood you can possibly imagine. Think Deadliest Catch fresh.

The camera crew must love filming in Alaska because the entire episode is filled with gorgeous views of mountains, water and wild life.  Plus, all the judges are dressed in the cutest little scarves and puffy vests. Who knew Tom Colicchio could totally rock a little wool scarf?!?

Top Chef in Alaska

With Brooke, Josh, Lizzie and Sheldon in the final four, there is a noticeable lack of drama in the house, which is exactly what I want. Leave the drama to the Real Housewives and get down to the cooking. This group embraces the "drama free zone." No back stabbing, bickering or eye rolling and they even sit around and compliment Stefan about what a good-hearted guy he is and how sorry they are to see them go. Way to keep it classy, people.

Quickfire Challenge
The chefs head to a local crab shack to find out the details of their Quickfire and are met by Padma and guest judge, Sean Brock. Immediately, Josh is nervous due to the fact that Brock is a southern chef and one of his idols. I can’t help but be nervous for Josh, too, wondering how he will choke this time; because you know it’ll happen. For the love of your beloved swine, stay away from the bacon! Please, oh please!

For the Quickfire, the chefs must cook the famous Alaskan king crab and make it sing. Brock goes on to add that he loves simple crab, but it’s not appropriate for a challenge like this. This is a set up for failure and I feel a fickle judgment in the chefs’ futures.

Josh decides to make a butter poached king crab with succotash and bacon (I saw that coming from a mile away), but runs into trouble when his butter sauce breaks. Yet he feels he nailed it. 100%í. Oh, Josh.

Sure enough, Brock questions his use of bacon and the fact that it over powered the crab plus the fact that his sauce was all wrong. Once again Josh is embarrassed for screwing up the cooking he is supposedly known for. Perhaps it’s time to put down the pork, buddy.

Lizzie takes an interesting approach and makes a king crab frittata with cherry tomato, garlic oil and fried capers. Sounds like the fanciest eggs I’d ever heard of, but alas, Brock feels there are too many flavors going on in the dish and once again, the crab is overpowered.

Brooke, however, does nail it with a king crab, sweet corn and leek salad on toast with Dungeness Crab butter. She gets ripped off, though, for making it too simple, even though Brock himself admits that it was straight up delicious. I don’t understand the judges, sometimes. It’s too simple! It’s too complex! Make up your minds already and drop the Goldilocks routine.

Sheldon makes an innovative miso from king crab and Dungeness crab with pine tree smoked asparagus and charred corn. Pine tree smoked asparagus? It’s definitely creative and the way he utilized all parts of the crab grabs him the win for the Quickfire Challenge. Way to go, Sheldon! Even if your crab innards creeped me out a little bit.

Elimination Challenge
For the elimination round, the chefs are presented with a challenge of using – you guessed it – Alaskan Salmon. We’re talking fresh, straight from the ocean salmon. In fact, the chefs meet the boat at the docks wearing rubber raincoat outfits, and proceed to gut and clean there fish right by the water.

Along with the salmon recipe, the chefs are given some 30-year-old (seriously, 30 years old) sour dough starter to make their own bread to use in their dishes. And each chef takes a totally different approach to this bread making. Also, I love when they make the chefs bake in challenges because it truly shows the versatility of each chef. Separates the men from the boys, if you will.

The entire elimination challenge takes place at a salmon bake, which is like a huge outdoor rustic picnic area, complete with picnic tables and incredible views.

The Dishes
Josh (wisely) stays away from bacon during the elimination challenge and decides on two different types of bread: one traditional and one studded with roasted olives. He then makes a roasted garlic soup that he thickens with the traditional sourdough bread, which I pretty much love the idea of. 

Bread thickened soup? Yum. He slow roasts his salmon and he makes his olive bread into croutons to serve with the soup. All in all, his dish looks hearty and comforting and downright delicious; but then again, I’m a sucker for roasted garlic. The judges commend Josh for a beautifully cooked salmon and wildly tasty garlic soup, but question the pairing of the two. Again with the overpowering flavors that lose the taste of the main component. At least there was no bacon in sight.

Brooke whips up a judge pleasing dish of poached sockeye salmon in a seafood broth with mustard seed cavier and grilled dill sourdough bread. I would walk to Alaska for her bread alone. It boasts beautiful grill marks and I can just about taste it soaked with her flavorful broth that the judges rave about.

Sheldon has a hit and a miss with his totally odd choice of pumping perfectly lovely sourdough bread full of green tea and chive. I mean, what in the world? What an efficient way to screw up bread. I am with Padma and her nose crinkling on that one. He did make an interesting looking pea soup that had lovely color. His choice to use chum salmon is met with incredibly mixed reviews; mainly negative from the natives. 

Apparently, chum salmon is what the locals use to feed their dogs. Huh, you might have wanted to go with something a bit more mainstream, Sheldon. That being said, my heart does go out to him because it is incredibly uncomfortable when the natives call him out for his choice. Poor Sheldon.

Lizzie goes a different direction from the other chefs; shunning soup and going instead for a beet and citrus glazed salmon slider on a hand rolled sourdough roll finished with a poppy seed butter. Sounds awesome to me  but Lizzie makes the mother of all Top Chef sins and doesn’t taste the finished product. And apparently, her finished product is bland. That alone can do her in.

Judges Table
Brooke brings home the win with her beautiful grilled dill sourdough bread and flavorful broth. I hope she continues on to the finale because she consistently comes up with creative and innovative flavor pairings.

It’s down to Josh, Sheldon and Lizzie.

Lizzie served a beautiful roll, scrumptious pickle but some bland salmon.

Josh paired together two tasty, yet mismatched components.

Sheldon made questionable bread, ok soup and bitter salmon.

In the end, itís Lizzieís fatal mistake of not tasting her final dish that forces her to pack her knives and go.

I’m sorry to see Lizzie go because she is incredibly classy and an extremely thoughtful chef. Every time she cooks, she seems to strive for beauty and elegance in her dishes. But we’re down to the end and mistakes like improperly seasoned fish are going to send you packing in a hurry.  I will miss her accent, though.

All in all, this was a great episode filled with inspired dishes. No one fell completely on their face or made anything that really ticked the judges off. And when you get down to the final three, that’s the way it should be. I’m on the edge of my seat to see who makes the final two and who will be joining them from last chance kitchen. Who do you think will make it to the finale?