Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 9

Restaurant Wars!

Sara's greasy summer nectarine brown butter cake was just one of the many things that went wrong for her during the challenge.

It’s the time again: Restaurant Wars!

The episode began with the chefs walking into the kitchen to meet Padma, who told them right off the bat the theme of the episode and then introduced them to David Chang, who offered them a bit of advice: plan on everything going wrong (which certainly proved prophetic for one team). They drew knives, ending up with two teams of five: Shirley, Nina, Carlos, Justin, and Sara on Green, and Stephanie, Nicholas, Travis, Carrie, and Bryan on Purple. They had 24 hours to build a restaurant from the ground up ad serve a meal, and — oh yeah — Danny Meyer would be on hand to judge it.

They teamed up to conceptualize; Green settled on modern American while Purple chose seafood. Then they checked out the space, only to discover that it was a completely blank canvas, even down to the kitchen. Roles were planned, equipment was rented, dishes were (more or less) settled upon, food was purchased at Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot, and names were decided: Team Green named theirs Found, and the Purple team named theirs Fin.

Fin hit a bit of a snag on the prep night: Bryan picked up xanthan gum instead of agar agar, which apparently would affect the flavor and texture of his purple corn gel.

The next day, with four hours until service, the dining rooms were set up and the service staff was trained. Then, the guests arrived and service began.

 The judges arrived at Fin first; here’s what they were served:

Bryan: Scallop crudo with corn and squash relish and purple corn gel
Carrie: Sautéed Gulf shrimp, chickpea purée, oregano, and lemon
Stephanie: Linguine with caviar, oyster cream, and fennel
Nick: Roasted black drum, king trumpet mushrooms, oxtail, kale, and hibiscus reduction
Travis: Olive oil cake with Greek yogurt, cherries, and pistachios

The corn gel was off-putting as expected and the shrimp was a little too oily, but the pasta was very nicely done. The drum was delicious and bold, and the cake was tasty but not too moist. Service was on-point, and all the guests looked happy.

It was a different situation over at Found, where tickets were being filled out improperly, and Meyer didn’t get a chance to look at the menu. Guests received the wrong dishes (including the VIP table), runners were confused, service took forever, and overall it was a big mess. And then the judges arrived, only to sit around waiting. Here’s what they were served (with no explanation from Sara, mind you):

Carlos: Red snapper crudo, avocado mousse, pickled baby carrots, and fried plantain
Justin: Roasted parsnip agnolotti, Mississippi rabbit, and collard greens broth
Shirley: Olive oil poached cobia, blanched ong choy, and salsa verde
Nina: Pork tenderloin with sunchokes and trumpet royale mushrooms
Sara: Summer nectarine brown butter cake with moscato nectarine salsa

The crudo was poorly cut, the agnolotti was a major letdown, Shirley’s fish was delicious, Nina’s pork was nicely cooked, and Sara’s cake was "like a greasy cookie," and her mascarpone emulsion broke. Service was a total mess, highlighted by Sara’s inability to stick around and actually describe the dishes to the judges.

Fin was called out first, and they were told that they, of course, won the challenge. Travis did the best front of house job ever on Restaurant Wars, all the dishes impressed (except for Bryan’s corn gel), and the judged really had nothing but praise for them. Nicholas, acting as head chef, won for his control of the kitchen and for his delicious fish dish.

Next came the abysmal Found, and the judges weren’t afraid to heap on the scorn.  Sara refused to acknowledge the disaster, to add insult to injury, There was major confusion in the kitchen, tickets weren’t filled out properly, the waitstaff wasn’t trained properly, and the judges were left waiting up to half an hour in between courses. And that’s before we got to the food: Justin’s rabbit wasn’t braised well, Carlos’ crudo was unexciting, and Sara’s dessert was missing a crucial component.


In the end, Sara got the boot, for essentially blowing everything that she was tasked with. Restaurant Wars is always a really tough challenge, and as manager she bit off a whole lot more than she could chew.