With the elimination of LA-chef Micah Fields last week during part one of Restaurant Wars, we are down to our final seven cheftestants in this 10th season of Top Chef. There are still two LA area chefs in the mix, Brooke Williamson and Stephan Richter, in the hunt for the ultimate prize. But it is Boston's Kristen Kish who looks to be the frontrunner. With four elimination round wins and one quickfire win, she has been the most dominating chef in the competition. Her traditional French-style cuisine has been a hit with the judges and hers was one of the two restaurant concepts to be chosen for the culmination episode of Restaurant Wars.
Coming along strong in the competition as the numbers of participants dwindle is Hawaii-based owner of Star Noodle in Lahaina, Sheldon Simeon. His flavor profiles are unique in this competition and he has managed to elevate what some may consider just "island food" to satisfy the discerning palates of the judges while being popular among the "regular" eaters. His first elimination round victory was a doozy, as his restaurant concept was also selected for the second part of Restaurant Wars.
Williamson is another serious contender for the title. With two wins, she has not stumbled since episode five when everyone's food -- adapting the unique products found at Pikes Place -- was found lacking. Even when she falls short -- making matzoh balls that guest judge Gail Simmons called an insult to her people -- the rest of her meal earned praise.
Her fellow LA restauranteur, Richter, is -- as he has been throughout this competition -- sitting safely in the middle. Neither failing nor soaring, his food this season has been good enough to keep him out of trouble but not good enough for him to rise above...in his words...sloppy seconds (showing that his Finnish to English slang book needs an update). Richter is going to have to take some risks if he wants to be remembered as more than this season's Lothario.
Texas pork specialist (and I'm not talking government projects, though some diners wish I were) Joshua Valentine appears to have been cast based exclusively on his resemblance to an oversized Leprechaun (let's hear it for oxymorons!). With the silly, frendlier version Snidley Whiplash 'stache, the never--in-season caps, Valentine was cast more for his ability to stand out in confessionals than behind the stove. Yet, here he remains, as the competition has moved past the halfway point. Does this mean he has a chance? Not really, but I predict he'll last longer than...
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Binder, whose accent is so heavy that I wish she had close captioning and a translator with her at all times. The South African chef finds entirely new ways to curl her lips around consonants and unique approaches to vowels. But that is where her creativity seems to stop. She cooks northern Italian food, but has not received much praise for it and is hanging by a thread not nearly as thick as her accent. How she outlasted John Tesar is a mystery.
While that is a mystery, Josie Smith-Malave's continuing place in the competition and, unfortunately, on my TV is a complete bafflement. She doesn't seem to have any particular culinary skill, aside from the ability to always be late serving her food. Her most memorable quality is a decidedly forced, awkward, and unpleasant to the ears laugh which she throws around like she's at a Robin Williams concert back when he was funny.
Next up is the second part of the Restaurant Wars episode, as Kristen's French "don't call it a bistro" restaurant goes up against Sheldon's "bringing Hawaiian flavors and aloha spirit to the kitchen" restaurnat. Kristen is leading the all girl 4-person team while Sheldon will be one man down. But since Kristen has to juggle Lizzie and Josie, the two teams are pretty evenly matched.