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‘Top Chef’ 21 episode 3 recap: Who was gouda-nuff to win that sweet cheddar in ‘Take it Cheesy’

The cheftestants on “Top Chef” have had a couple of weeks to find their footing in the world of Wisconsin cuisine, tackling some cooking basics in “Chef’s Test” and then exploring hops and bar snacks in “Living the High Life.” But it wouldn’t be a Wisconsin season without cheese. So what happened in episode three, “Take it Cheesy”? Read on to find out.

Valentine Howell Jr. was ousted from the competition in “Living the High Life,” leaving 13 on the main show (and one in “Last Chance Kitchen“) competing for a chance to win a feature in Food and Wine magazine; an appearance at the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado; and $250,000 in prize money: Manny BarellaKaleena BlissKevin D’AndreaAlisha ElenzDanny GarciaDan JacobsSavannah MillerKenny NguyenLaura OzyilmazCharly PierreAmanda TurnerRasika Venkatesa and Michelle Wallace.

“Here at ‘Top Chef America’ I feel like is way, way harder than ‘Top Chef France’ for sure,” admits Kevin after landing in the bottom three in the season’s second Elimination Challenge. “I need to focus. I’m going to put this behind me. I’m here for this $250,000, and that’s what matters.” You’re only as good as your last dish on this show, which is actually good news for Kevin and fellow bottom chef Charly. Surviving the last challenge means the slate is clean for the next one.

Morning comes and Danny and “High Life” Elimination Challenge winner Rasika bond over running. It gives him mental clarity that he hopes to bring into the competition. Dan, meanwhile, has to apply braces to his legs due to his Kennedy’s disease. He feels a weight lifted telling the other chefs about his condition, but he knows he’s not going to be running around the kitchen like his fellow contestants.

Quickfire Challenge

The chefs arrive in the kitchen to see a panel full of little doors and meet guest judges Carla Hall (a “Top Chef” All-Star) and Clea DuVall (an actor, writer and director). Rasika is excited because she watched DuVall in “But I’m a Cheerleader” when she was just realizing that she was queer.

“Three hours north of Milwaukee is a place called Door County,” explains host Kristen Kish. The area is known for its “scenic coastal views.” And cherries. So the challenge is to pair cherries with mystery ingredients. The chefs have 30 minutes, and the winner gets $5,000. Rasika gets to pick a door to open first since she won the last challenge, and she ends up with cipollini onions. She picks her buddy Danny to choose next, and he opens a door to reveal bamboo shoots. Then Amanda (mustard), Michelle (ginseng), Charly (chocolate, so he has no excuse if this dish sucks), Kenny (marshmallows), Dan (kimchi), Kevin (black garlic), Savannah (chicken livers), Kaleena (canned salmon), Laura (condensed milk), Alisha (serrano peppers) and finally Manny (soy sauce).

Alisha thinks Manny ended up picked last because he’s viewed as a threat having won one Elimination Challenge and finishing at the top on another. Michelle is totally thrown off by the bitterness of her ginseng, which she has never used but is going to try to make into a broth. And all the chefs are thrown by the fact that none of the cherries have been pitted, so there’s a lot of extra prep work to consume their precious time. Meanwhile, Kenny loves cherries and has a lot of experience with them, but he hates marshmallows and doesn’t think anyone really loves marshmallows unless they’re four-years-old, so I’m officially rooting against Kenny for disparaging marshmallows and the marshmallow community.

Time’s up, and judging commences on the following dishes:

Amanda: Cherry Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Cherry and Mustard Mostarda

Savannah: Chicken Liver Mousse, Panzanella Salad with Shishito Peppers and Bing Cherry Vinaigrette

Rasika: Tart Cherry Cipollini Onions, Charred Pepper Relish and Berbere Spice

Laura: Montmorency Cherry Condensed Milk Ice Cream, Tart Cherry Syrup and Pepper

Manny: Soy Marinated Roasted Pork Belly with Sauteed and Pickled Cherries

Kaleena: Cherry and Salmon Croquette with Tart Cherry Cream

Charly: Charred Golden Beets with Chocolate Cherry Demi, Smashed Purple Potatoes and Pickled Cherries

Kenny: Toasted Marshmallows with Rum and Cherry Sauce, Fried Cinnamon and Sugar Spring Roll Paper

Michelle: Cherry and Ginseng Broth with Charred Shrimp and Bok Choy

Kevin: Beef Tenderloin with Poele of Cherries and Black Garlic

Danny: Grilled Skirt Steak, Bamboo Shoot and Cherry Gremolata with Cherry Gastrique

Dan: Kimchi Pancake with Kimchi Cherries and Bing Cherry Hoisin

Alisha: Charred Cabbage with Cherry Serrano Reduction and Lime and Anchovy Butter

The least successful chefs were Charly (the earthiness and texture of the beets didn’t pair well with chocolate and cherry), Kenny (the sweetness of the marshmallows and the tartness of the cherries never really came together) and Alisha (cabbage was undercooked).

The best dishes belong to Savannah (chicken liver and cherries came together in a beautiful way), Rasika (she balanced the cherries well, and the acid brought everything up) and Kevin (the tart cherries brought everything alive). But there can be only one winner, and that winner is … Rasika! Two wins in a row. She’s up to $15,000 in prize money, and she has immunity from elimination in the next challenge, so she’s sitting pretty.

Elimination Challenge

“There’s something Wisconsinites can’t live without,” says Kristen. Of course, that’s cheese. They’re joined by two of the state’s top cheese makers, Andy Hatch and Pam Hodgson. Pam is one of only two women in the country with the title of master cheese maker, which is apparently a title that exists. Each chef will be responsible for making one dish with one variety of cheese. They will have to feed 100 guests at the first ever “Top Chef” cheese festival, and the winner of the challenge will be decided by those 100 diners.

Cheeses are assigned by drawing knives: Rasika (Dunbarton blue cheese), Manny (cheddar curds), Kaleena (Merlot Ballavitano), Savannah (Oaxaca), Dan (Sancho Cruz Mexican-style Manchego), Alisha (aged brick), Kevin (triple cream brie), Charly (Canela), Michelle (Pleasant Ridge reserve), Amanda (Mount Raclette), Kenny (glacier gorgonzola), Laura (gouda reserve 1000+ day) and Danny (15 Year Cheddar).

Grocery shopping commences, then night one of cooking starts, and ideas start to materialize, and it sounds like we’re going to be getting a lot of potato croquettes. Michelle is making a different use of potatoes, which she believes will help her stand out.  Alisha is one of the chef’s making croquettes, which she feels is an expression of her Spanish-style cooking, it just so happens everybody else had the same idea. Kaleena is taking a risk, meanwhile, with store-bought pasta; when feeding 100 people, she feels this isn’t the time to make your own pasta. You’ve got to highlight the cheese and get it done.

Carla visits the chefs with Tom Colicchio. They’re concerned about just how many croquettes they’re going to be getting from this challenge. They warn that the worst croquette is going to be in trouble. Kenny is making a crab rangoon, but Tom and Carla exchange a deeply worried look, so there may be something worse than too many croquettes. Then in a corner of the kitchen Laura slips on the floor, spilling a little of what’s in her pot. Dan completely wipes out on that, though, losing some of his gnocchi in the process. Some momentary conflict between Dan and Laura, who failed to clean up her spill, but things are quickly smoothed out.

The next morning Kaleena gets on the phone with her partner Garrett, whom she has been with for 10 years, or nine years, or eight years — she can’t remember exactly. She recently moved to Chicago for a job opportunity, and Garrett and his mother moved with her. Having lost both of her parents, Kaleena feels Garrett’s mom is like her mom too. But Kaleena is worried that she has yet to cook a dish that finished at the top in a challenge.

Then the chefs get outside to finish cooking for the cheese festival. And there’s a problem. It’s 95-degrees out, so a lot of the ingredients are too warm. Manny is especially in trouble since his potatoes didn’t set, which is going to make it a lot harder to bread them. Kevin needs to double bread his cheese so it doesn’t break in the fryer, but he falls behind doing that so he tries to charm the patrons when they arrive as they wait for his dish. Oh, and they’re being attacked by bees.

“Top Chef” Cheese Festival

Danny: 15 Year Cheddar Fritter, Chedder-Lime Mornay and Cheddar Foam

Judges say his batter is beautiful, it’s light and airy, and you can taste the different parts of the cheese the way he treated it. Sounds like we’ve already got a top dish.

Amanda: Mount Raclette Arancini with Mornay and Dijon Sauce, Fig and Olive Gremolata

“It’s very French,” says Carla. Guest judge Dane Baldwin (chef and owner of The Diplomat) gets Cuban sandwich vibes. And the rice is cooked properly. Sounds like another winner.

Alisha: Ham and Brick Cheese Croquettes with Sherry Aioli

“Another really nice fried ball,” says Gail Simmons. It’s well-balanced with some sharpness from the mustard. Three-for-three, no duds yet, but there are plenty more croquettes. They probably won’t all be winners.

Manny: Potato Croquette with Gravy and Cheese Curds

Tom likes the gravy, but it’s really salty. And Manny didn’t really incorporate the cheese curds into the dish. They’re just kind of sitting there. He really needed to try harder to do something interesting with the cheese. Could easily be a bottom dish.

Charly: Yucca Croquette with Canela Cheese and Tomato-Mango Sauce

The croquette is under-seasoned, and the yucca overpowers the cheese, especially when you dip it in the sauce.

Kaleena: Bellavitano Mac and Cheese with Merlot Mushrooms and Bread Crumbs

She took a cue from the cheese by using the Merlot, it’s a tasty dish. Doesn’t sound like an especially enthusiastic reception, but she should at least be safe, and nobody gave her flack for using store-bought pasta.

Savannah: Oaxacan Cheese Quesadilla with Whipped Avocado, Hatch Chile and Roasted Corn Salsa

Like Kaleena, she hasn’t won a challenge yet, and she’s eager especially to be diners’ choice, which would be a special way to win after feeding 100 people. Tom found a lot to critique, but he still liked it. Kristen thought there was actually too much cheese.

Kevin: Brie Croquette with Mornay, Ham and Truffle

The three-stage breading made it bready and too thick. Dane can’t even think of anything nice to say about it. Tom calls it the worst croquette they’ve had so far. Manny, it’s your lucky day! Unless the judges dock Manny extra points for an unimaginative use of the key ingredient.

Dan: Sancho Cruz Manchego Potato Dumplings, Cheese Foam and Olive Tapenade

Strong and subtle. He gave a good dish that still felt light and summery. He really understood how to pair his cheese, and his texture is perfect. Potential winner?

Laura: Gouda Reserve Potato Croquette with Peach Mostarda

It had too much roux, so the cheese flavor wasn’t coming through, and there was no mustard or real spice in the mostarda.

Rasika: Dunbarton Blue Paniyaram with Braised Chicken Korma

She put together a really nice dish, with a fantastic rice cake, the cashews and hazelnuts were great. Rasika is on a roll.

Kenny: Crab Rangoon Salad with Gorgonzola Creme Fraiche Crema, Luxardo Cherry Relish and Rice Paper Chip

Carla didn’t get cheese flavor at all, she thought it was a celebration of too many things, but nobody knows what the hell he was celebrating. It was too watery.

Michelle: Coconut Curry Collard Green Saag with Pleasant Ridge Reserve Potato Fritter

Another chef on a roll, and another potential challenge winner. Kristen thought the dish was “f*cking fantastic.” Carla tasted the nuttiness of the cheese with the collard greens. But the judges don’t get to decide the winner. The diners do. Clearly Michelle is safe from elimination, though.

The results are in! The three crowd favorites belonged to Kaleena (can’t go wrong with mac and cheese), Michelle (no surprise there) and Dan (no surprise there either). But the overall winner is … Michelle! She’s shaping up to be a front-runner, cooking really consistently across three weeks of competition.

Kenny, Manny and Kevin had the worst dishes according to the judges and according to the diners. And the chef eliminated is … Kenny. A bit of a surprise to me since Kevin’s croquette was deemed the worst of the challenge. But Kenny’s ill-conceived crab rangoon idea might have been doomed from the start, especially looking back at how Carla and Tom originally reacted to the idea.

“It sucks to go earlier than I wanted to,” says Kenny in his exit interview. “The whole experience has been really eye-opening just from the sense of how I connect with people. I can’t wait to go home and be better for myself and for my staff. But I’m excited to get into ‘Last Chance Kitchen’ and duke it out.”

Be sure to make your predictions so that the contestants can see how they’re faring in our racetrack odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before the next episode airs every Wednesday on Bravo. You’ll compete to win a spot on our leaderboard and eternal bragging rights. See our contest rules and sound off with other fans in our reality TV forum. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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