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S18.E10: Tournament of Tofu

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Ed Lee enters the kitchen and tells the chefs they will be competing tournament style; the chefs duke it out at the Portland Japanese Gardens, where they must create dishes featuring various textures of tofu.

Original air date: June 3, 2021

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Whew – Dawn has been my favorite since nearly day one (in a group where I really like almost everyone, so I have several close seconds), so I was actually nervous at the end!

Shota using cooking techniques he learned by watching Maria all season for his QF dish was great.  “Good luck to me.”  And then Jamie running over and asking Maria to taste her salsa.  I just knew after all that lead-up she wasn’t going to win her round.  Dawn’s looked the best to me, but I’d happily devoured all three contenders (and the three losing dishes).

This EC seemed hard, prepping two dishes you hope not to have to make, so either splitting your effort three ways or rolling the dice and concentrating on the first and second.

I don’t like tofu (yes, it has its own flavor), so I thought I might find a lot of the dishes visually appetizing but perhaps not something I’d enjoy eating, but I didn’t even like the look of most of them in the first round.  Jamie’s was the only one I’d voluntarily eat, so I was pleased to see her as a nearly-unanimous winner after two ties.

I felt so bad for Dawn in the second round, but it was indeed lovely to see others jump in to try and get enough plates done.  So close!  And I love one judge putting up his blue paddle in protest.

She and Byron had a lot to mentally overcome in the dessert round, and her distress was fresher, so I really worried she was doomed.  So did she, obviously.

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7 minutes ago, bosawks said:

I think it was the right choice but I will miss sweet Byron.

Yes I have a soft spot for him. Just seems like a really sweet guy like you said. I'm sad 😫

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Honestly I think the dessert decision was a bit suspect. As soon as they said they had to discuss that one first, instead of everyone voting what they actually thought of the dishes, I knew it’d be Byron going. He lost both first rounds overwhelmingly and Dawn won the Quickfire so they were not going to send her home.

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As soon as Jamie talked about how much she loved cooking tofu - even as a dessert - I knew she would win her first round.  

Which is a shame - as I really wanted to see how she would cook tofu as a dessert.  But good for her.

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44 minutes ago, Cotypubby said:

Honestly I think the dessert decision was a bit suspect. As soon as they said they had to discuss that one first, instead of everyone voting what they actually thought of the dishes, I knew it’d be Byron going. He lost both first rounds overwhelmingly and Dawn won the Quickfire so they were not going to send her home.

I think there was also an acknowledgement that but for the cut, Dawn may have come out on top in the second round. 

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1 hour ago, Cotypubby said:

Honestly I think the dessert decision was a bit suspect. As soon as they said they had to discuss that one first, instead of everyone voting what they actually thought of the dishes, I knew it’d be Byron going. He lost both first rounds overwhelmingly and Dawn won the Quickfire so they were not going to send her home.

For TV purposes, having the discussion before any vote made sense.  Once they have the vote, the episode is essentially over.  It'd feel awkward to then watch the judges discuss the merits of each dish even after we know who left. 

Besides, I'd bet money that the judges tell the producers who they're voting for prior to the filming of the actual vote. 

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Wow! That tournament was intense and I was really worried about Dawn. I don't eat chicken and would have loved to try her "Hot Nashville Tofu". I really appreciated Ed Lee raising his blue paddle in protest. I also really liked Byron and am sad that he's gone home. I haven't seen LCK yet but am betting that Sara makes it back in. With this group I'm okay with whoever wins but in order my remaining favorites are:

  1. Dawn
  2. Shota
  3. Jaimie
  4. Maria
  5. Gabe

PS: Shota and Maria taking tactics from each and both doing well was really cute. 

Edited by BluBarbi98
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1 hour ago, Cotypubby said:

He lost both first rounds overwhelmingly and Dawn won the Quickfire so they were not going to send her home.

Yeah this is a good example where I think overall performance won her the challenge rather than her dessert being better than his. She's been more consistent overall, won the Quickfire and it was pretty clear had she not cut herself/plated 10 dishes, she would have probably beaten Maria. But I am pro weighing overall performance into the knifing so, I'm glad Dawn is rightfully still around. I am also surprised they all tasted her dish bloody plates/pickles usually they flip their shit and refuse to taste it. Or maybe thats on Chopped?

Man I know tofu can taste good, but at home I have only ever made one dish/recipe that turned out remotely edible, simple stir fry with extra firm tofu in soy based marinade. I have never actually had fried tofu so I need to get on that.

Dawn's pork and crispy onions was the dish I wanted to try the most, give me crispy onions all day.

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Am I the only one surprised they were using actual meats/fish to flavor the tofu? I thought the point of using it was to avoid “real” proteins.

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57 minutes ago, Msample said:

Am I the only one surprised they were using actual meats/fish to flavor the tofu? I thought the point of using it was to avoid “real” proteins.

That is only for vegan/vegetarian eaters.  My personal favorite is Korean Soondubu Jjigae.  Tofu Soup.  I absolutely love it.  If you get it in a Korean restaurant, it almost always has some diced meat in it.  When I make it I add extra mushrooms instead of meat (or will add pork belly or bacon if I'm feeling bad).  

It's so so good. 

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1 hour ago, Msample said:

Am I the only one surprised they were using actual meats/fish to flavor the tofu? I thought the point of using it was to avoid “real” proteins.

That was never stated as an element of the challenge - it wasn't to make their dishes vegetarian/vegan, just to make them tofu-focused.

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Is it just me, or were the two 5 on 5 judging panel sojourns into the dojo the funniest visual in Top Chef history? The two teams lined up in a group like they're about to square off? I was like "Season 4 of Cobra Kai looks LIT!"

Byron seems like a nice guy but I would literally forget about his existence for stretches of time. 

Maria tying Shota 5-5 in a Tofu match is an accomplishment! You'd assume he'd breeze through that against anyone. I kind of wished there was a winner's bracket who were cooking for something as well as the elimination bracket since the winners were the ones who knew tofu better.

I love tofu by the way, but only the tofu which is just trying to be tofu, not the ones where they try to make it emulate meat. Deep fry some cubes stuffed with shrimp into crispiness and give me a soy sauce on it? I'm all over it.

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15 minutes ago, Fukui San said:

I love tofu by the way, but only the tofu which is just trying to be tofu, not the ones where they try to make it emulate meat. Deep fry some cubes stuffed with shrimp into crispiness and give me a soy sauce on it? I'm all over it.

Yes. The way I usually put it is, I like tofu in its natural habitat, not in disguise as something else. It can be great even prepared simply if done well, especially if it’s a high-quality tofu (like in Fucshia Dunlop's ingenious dish of sliced silken tofu and avocado drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil).

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Interesting way to structure a challenge; the chefs weren't cooking to win but cooking not to lose. Loved the Japanese Gardens. It did indeed look very zen. So we had three chefs who often cooked tofu and three chefs who don't really touch it, but only two of tofu chefs won their rounds. I don't mind tofu but don't really go out of my way to get meals that include it. Pretty much only sukiyaki. Which hey, they could have done. There were a couple I would have liked to try from this challenge however, along with the two desserts.

Really tired of the way Padma keeps pronouncing Shota as Show-da.

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6 hours ago, blixie said:

I have never actually had fried tofu so I need to get on that.

Fried tofu is really good for "meat eaters who don't like tofu." It has a nice chicken-like (ha ha) texture.

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This is a message for the Magical Captioning Elves:  Every time I read that Sara is "Chef, Soter Vineyard, Portland, Oregon" I cringe.  That's like saying of Thomas Keller "Chef, French Laundry, San Francisco, California."

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I have only had tofu a few times and I hated it.  I don’t know if it was “firm” or “extra firm”, but it came down to a texture thing for me.  Maybe if a Top Chef made it for me, or someone with more skills, I’d feel differently.  Once I heard ‘tofu’ I kinda checked out of this episode.  I do like most of the contestants this year so it’s a bummer when any of them have to go.  Shot a and Dawn are my top picks though.

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I too suspect that there was little chance they would eliminate Dawn over Byron not just over performance in this challenge or performance overall, but over who brings the drama. Dawn is a more interesting character (or at least has been portrayed as such) than sweet, quiet Byron with little backstory.  She's an Olympian! She's made a few standout dishes! She's had trouble getting things together! She scrambles a lot! I can't remember much specific about Byron's personality or food other than he's Costa Rican and I don't know if I would have even remembered that like before watching this episode where they talked about it so prominently. 

On another front about how it seemed like Dawn was not a very likely eliminee, it seemed like it would be cruel to boot her when the episode she was injured while cooking. I was also wondering: did she not notice she had cut herself for a while, or did the medic do a bad job of patching her up? Because it seems unlikely her blood should have gotten in so much stuff. If it was a poor job by the medics, that could also be producer intervention. I didn't seem to see a bandage on her, but maybe I just missed it. Also, Dawn, when the judges say they want to see you on a plate, they don't literally mean your DNA! :)

It struck me that minus a potential returnee from Last Chance Kitchen, all the remaining cheftestants are minority. That's probably the first time that has happened this early in many shows like this. 

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So, weren't some of the judges' outfits representative of "cultural appropriation"?  (sorry, couldn't help myself...).

I, too, will miss Byron.  In a season of nice chefs he just seemed like he had an extra sweetness in his interactions and interviews.  

I have not been a fan of Maria this season so was hopeful that all of her interviews meant that she would be leaving.  I so get that she is proud of her heritage and cooking, but inserting it into almost every interview and statement just gets tiresome (IMO).  

I do like seeing the real friendships that have developed.

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8 minutes ago, seacliffsal said:

I have not been a fan of Maria this season so was hopeful that all of her interviews meant that she would be leaving.  I so get that she is proud of her heritage and cooking, but inserting it into almost every interview and statement just gets tiresome (IMO).  

Me too. 

And Byron seemed nice, but I really think it would have been a travesty for him to beat Dawn, given how thoroughly panned his previous two dishes where, while Dawn tied in the first round, and had an "unfortunate accident" in the second round while still making a very well-liked dish.

Edited by dleighg
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6 hours ago, Vermicious Knid said:

Really tired of the way Padma keeps pronouncing Shota as Show-da.

How is his name pronounced?

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1 hour ago, Leeds said:

This is a message for the Magical Captioning Elves:  Every time I read that Sara is "Chef, Soter Vineyard, Portland, Oregon" I cringe.  That's like saying of Thomas Keller "Chef, French Laundry, San Francisco, California."

I don't mind it at all, the more information the better.

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It would have been interesting if, in the second round, Byron and Maria decided to help Dawn overcome her accident not by jumping in to help redo her plates, but by both agreeing to also only send up nine plates of food each.

I'm a bit surprised that the challenge didn't incorporate more of a strategy angle: "will each chef decide to prep three dishes, or will anyone be confident/cocky enough to let it all ride on just one?" lt looks like a few of them did focus more on one or two dishes (e.g., Dawn admitting that her dessert wasn't fully conceptualized), but it wasn't built into the challenge. I guess it's typical of how this is a kinder, gentler Top Chef nowadays.

Edited by Corgi-ears
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14 minutes ago, sugarbaker design said:

I don't mind it at all, the more information the better.

the point was that the location of her restaurant is no more in "Portland" than the French Laundry is in "San Francisco." Not close at all.

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I thought she had to scrap the bloody plates and quickly replace them which is why the others ran to help and she didn’t get all ten done?

I think they said that on camera, but there was no shot of plates being ditched just shots of Byron and Maria coming over to plate the rest of her dishes and her wiping down the ones that were already there which  made me think: is she just wiping the blood off?! In a visual medium you should for sure show the shot of the plates being trashed.

I was also confused how so much blood got everywhere, but I once stepped on a broken glass at a slumber party while dancing and all the other girls had to to tell me I did it/it was bleeding, I think I ended up with four or five stitches, so I can see it taking her a minute or so to realize while plating.

 

Quote

sliced silken tofu 

Ugh I am fine with firm/extra firm tofu, but I can't take the silken stuff in any preparation I've ever had it. I barely love the texture of custard when it's made from eggs, and while I think whipping it into a creamier texture for a dessert might be okay,  when I first tried mapo tofu, I pretty much had to throw it out because I didn't realize it was made with silken tofu cubes.

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6 minutes ago, dleighg said:

the point was that the location of her restaurant is no more in "Portland" than the French Laundry is in "San Francisco." Not close at all.

Oh, I totally didn't get that point!

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44 minutes ago, sugarbaker design said:

I don't mind it at all, the more information the better.

The problem is it's misinformation.  The vineyard is not in Portland, it is in rural Oregon. 

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Just now, Leeds said:

The problem is it's misinformation.  The vineyard is not in Portland, it is in rural Oregon. 

I realize that now, I totally missed the point on the original post.

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Since I am a HUGE fan of KDramas, and tofu is the traditional first "get out of prison" dish, so this episode just tickled me.

I love watching Chefs sharpen their knives.  Sexy!

Those damn mandolins. They bite me every time. I even bought gloves. 

I really enjoyed this episode 

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13 minutes ago, OoogleEyes said:

Those damn mandolins. They bite me every time. I even bought gloves.

yeah I have a mesh glove I use when I use the mandolin. No way would I do what she was doing bare-handed. And see, I'm right!

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My mandolin style is to lose all the time I gained in the first 2/3's in the last 1/3 and then some.

But, oh those pretty, pretty even slices.......

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11 hours ago, JenMcSnark said:

That is only for vegan/vegetarian eaters.  My personal favorite is Korean Soondubu Jjigae.  Tofu Soup.  I absolutely love it.  If you get it in a Korean restaurant, it almost always has some diced meat in it.  When I make it I add extra mushrooms instead of meat (or will add pork belly or bacon if I'm feeling bad).  

It's so so good. 

And not to be forgetting the formidable Mapo Tofu, which has ground pork in it.  Oh to die for!

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I love tofu. A lot of those dishes looked really good. My husband is a vegetarian and so we often cook with it. For anyone who thinks they don't like it, I would recommend trying to order it at a Thai restaurant and choosing it as the protein instead of chicken or pork or whatever you would normally choose. There is a Mexican restaurant down the street from me that also uses fried tofu as a protein option for tacos and burritos, etc...

Both of those desserts looked really good and I would have loved to try them. Instead of cooking to not be eliminated, I wish they would have had the tournament be to cook to the win. They could have then picked the eliminated chef from the three who lost in the first round. 

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13 hours ago, avecsans said:

There were a lot of great jackets, and can we talk about Kwame’s coat? It was gorgeous!

 I was sad for Byron that he was beaten so badly in the first 2 rounds. It had to feel terrible. I wasn’t surprised that he lost. He and Dawn made essentially the same dessert, so it made sense that she would win.

 I am really loving this season. I don’t ever remember wanting to visit a city that has been featured on Top Chef, but I would love to go to Portland just based on what I have seen in these episodes.

I wanted Gregory to take his coat off and give it to me!

Byron is nice and sweet, but I honestly can't remember anything he's made in previous episodes. I can barely remember what he made in this episode. Just forgettable. I kept forgetting he was from Costa Rica, and my brother lives in CR.

I want to visit the places they went to that were outside Portland. The city itself has never looked appealing to me. It's kind of grungy industrial looking to me? I remember an old D. B. Sweeney/Marlee Matlin movie that gave me the same vibe -- grey, gritty, depressing. Does it look more appealing in person? That said, the country side is drop dead gorgeous.

 

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20 minutes ago, bosawks said:

My mandolin style is to lose all the time I gained in the first 2/3's in the last 1/3 and then some.

But, oh those pretty, pretty even slices.......

Jesus..  

You hear me.

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Ed Lee!  He's gone on to great things, glad to see him back.  I think he disliked the format - he was giving votes to people who clearly were going to lose.

 

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48 minutes ago, carrps said:

Does it look more appealing in person?

I imagine it does, and I've only driven through it briefly after returning from a long weekend in Bend, but all I remember was the plethora of pot shops, LOL. This was about 5 years ago, when pot shops were just becoming a thing in a couple of states. Soon even my state (NY) will have some.

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14 hours ago, laprin said:
  15 hours ago, Cotypubby said:

Honestly I think the dessert decision was a bit suspect. As soon as they said they had to discuss that one first, instead of everyone voting what they actually thought of the dishes, I knew it’d be Byron going. He lost both first rounds overwhelmingly and Dawn won the Quickfire so they were not going to send her home.

i think they were going to discuss the dessert round either way since it was the last round.  

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It was weird to see Edward Lee without his shaggy facial hair. That just seemed so signature to him. He's a Top Cheftestant who really seems to have gone on and built his business independent of the show, unlike Richard Blais or the Voltaggios. No shade intended on either side of that. It does confer an air of authority to Lee though that the others never have quite achieved to me despite their successes. Like Christian Siriano's career post-Project Runway would be my analogy.

I like tofu in all its forms, but I admit the batter-fried tofu is not my fave because it usually tastes like cooking oil to me. (The exception being an amazing agedashi tofu preparation  at one of my local sushi joints.) When it comes to soups, I love silken or medium firm tofu in the broth. So I was down with the concept. The one thing that bugged me is automatically throwing Dawn into the final round because she cut herself. Like, should she have just served the contaminated plates instead? Of course not. Punishing people for that kind of obstacle is a Chopped move. I don't know that it should be a Top Chef move.

I really like the bond Jamie, Dawn, and Maria have going on. It'd be amazing if they all made it into the finals, but I don't really see that happening. Also, I'm very cool with Shota rising up there too. Nothing against Gabe as a competitor, but I have to admit the recent press around him ended me rooting for him. I think he's going to be fine though, so I'm sure he wouldn't care some rando online isn't supporting him anymore. I do want to say though that anyone who wants to complain about Maria stays within her wheelhouse, I hope they've got the same complaint about Gabe. I personally love their dishes, so I don't mind, but just saying.

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1 hour ago, carrps said:

I wanted Gregory to take his coat off and give it to me!

Byron is nice and sweet, but I honestly can't remember anything he's made in previous episodes. I can barely remember what he made in this episode. Just forgettable. I kept forgetting he was from Costa Rica, and my brother lives in CR.

I want to visit the places they went to that were outside Portland. The city itself has never looked appealing to me. It's kind of grungy industrial looking to me? I remember an old D. B. Sweeney/Marlee Matlin movie that gave me the same vibe -- grey, gritty, depressing. Does it look more appealing in person? That said, the country side is drop dead gorgeous.

 

I love Portland proper. I haven't lived there for years but have visited whenever I can. Green trees, mountains just in the distance, not overgrown or overbuilt (yet). A bunch of little neighborhoods with, yes, some not as nice areas.

The day trips from Portland are spectacular. Mountains, deserts, rivers, the coast. It's an outdoorsy person's dream.

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9 minutes ago, Rai said:

 I dI do want to say though that anyone who wants to complain about Maria stays within her wheelhouse, I hope they've got the same complaint about Gabe. I personally love their dishes, so I don't mind, but just saying.

I don't have the same complaint about Gabe-most likely because they don't feature as many interviews/comments from him as they do Maria.  So, I hear it far more often from Maria than Gabe.  And, she seems to have an attitude about it more than he does (again, I understand she wants to promote her cuisine and culture, but I just don't want to keep hearing about it [as a retired multi-decade high school teacher I have never had patience with attitude]).

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It's true Maria does seem to have more screen time than Gabe, but he's been pretty consistent on talking about how much he wants to elevate Mexican cuisine, and he's certainly cooked it just as much. Especially moles. Maria's confidence and presence seem consistent with a successful small business owner who has to keep everyone moving and also promote herself. Not going to fault her for having the skills to execute her job properly.

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12 hours ago, caitmcg said:

tofu (like in Fucshia Dunlop's ingenious dish of sliced silken tofu and avocado drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil).

I have the book with that recipe—will make soon, thanks. 
Was anyone as surprised as Shota was when he first tied with Maria?

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