Top Chef Week 8 recap: Karma police

Tribune reporter

Do you buy into the idea of karma? I don’t. I’ll tell you what I do believe: Television works best when packages come delivered tied up with perfect bows.

Because on Wednesday's "Top Chef" installment, as soon as Beverly Kim (Aria) said, “The universe is full of karma and it’s very powerful. It always comes back to you,” there wasn’t a doubt in my mind Heather Terhune (Sable Kitchen & Bar) was going home.

For the last two episodes, the show established a feud between Chicago chefs Kim and Terhune. Last week, Terhune scolded Kim for not being a team player. 

The editing this week reinforced who producers wanted to cast as hero and villain. When Kim’s dish was named a favorite in the quickfire challenge (judges solicited suggestions from Twitter), they cut to a shot of Terhune looking displeased. At the judges' table, Colicchio brought up Kim to Terhune, saying Kim successfully used a pressure cooker for her beef, a move that could have saved Terhune from elimination. Then, in one of Padma Lakshmi’s subsequent voiceovers, she dubbed Terhune "Queen of Mean."

How much of it was real and how much was manufactured dramatic tension? Who knows? That said, Moto’s Chris Jones defended Terhune on Twitter Wednesday night: "(Y)ou rock can't wait to visit you again at (S)able. Oh and to the world there is a thing as editing(.)" 

What Terhune said on the show, she said. But this is television. Nuance and complexity don’t make for easy viewing. Black and white works better than shades of gray.

I’m not suggesting Terhune was kicked off this week’s "Top Chef" for any reason other than her cooking. Her beef stroganoff, an homage to her mother’s one-pot recipe from childhood, wasn’t successful in the eyes of judges. Colicchio said matter of factly: “Heather went home for overcooking the steak.” Guest chef Patti Labelle was harsher, describing the beef as eating "Big Foot."

When Terhune was eliminated,  Kim book-ended her karma comment with, "I’m sorry to say, but there is a personal satisfaction with that." In fiction writing, they call this the narrative arc: Protagonist faces a complication, protagonist overcomes it. A perfect bow tied on top.

Lost in the storyline was the elimination challenge win this week by Spiaggia’s Sarah Grueneberg. She told an emotional story about how much her grandparents meant to her, and she payed homage to them with cabbage stuffed with homemade pork sausage and spinach with brown butter.

Judge Emeril Lagasse told Grueneberg: "There’s a lot of technique in that dish. I was impressed. You could’ve bought the sausage, but you didn’t. The whole thing just worked."

Kim also was in the winner’s circle this week, with a kalbi jjim tribute to her mother: Korean braised beef short rib with edamame-scallion puree and hon shimeji mushrooms. Colicchio told Kim that her mom would be proud of the dish.

Now nine chefs remain, with three Chicagoans in the mix: Grueneberg, Kim and Moto’s Chris Jones. The show is on hiatus next week; a new episode airs Jan. 4.
Twitter @kevinthepang

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