"Keep it f—g simple," is how Wolfgang Puck put it. Last night's elimination challenge on Top Chef was conceptually easy: make good fried chicken. And yet Brooke Williamson removed the bones (and thus the flavor) from her chicken breasts while Stefan Richter did a cordon bleu because, as he told the judges, he's European and doesn't know how to make fried chicken. Puck, a native of Austria, was not amused (his Viennese fried chicken was enormously popular at Spago's). But then there was Josie Smith-Malave who served her fried chicken still dripping with grease. Guest judge Michelle Bernstein took one look and didn't want to even try it. And just like in the previous episode, Josie blamed her greasy dish on a lack of time. Unfortunately for Josie, her time has run out.
Head judge Tom Colicchio said he'd heard the excuse too many times from Josie. The problem, he explained, is not a lack of time but time badly managed. When I spoke to her on the phone earlier today, the Florida chef now based in San Francisco said that in the end, "15 minutes isn't a lot time, 30 minutes isn't a lot of time, if you look at what they ask us to do." She went on, "I just don't cook that way. I like to cook with love and attention to details ... all my senses get involved." Making matters worse, it was Michelle Bernstein who had done in Josie back in season two. "She's like a bad omen," Josie said with a laugh. (Now that she's gone, Josie is rooting for Sheldon Simeon "all the way" and says the Hawaiian chef "brings heart, soul, and technique. It comes from a deep place." Plus she was thrilled his Filipino restaurant concept was a smashing success, though she jokingly admits the cuisine can be "so weird.")
Emerging on top, and maybe finally coming into his own, was Oklahoma chef Josh Valentine, whose specialties include barbecue, pork, and, as luck would have it, fried chicken. He smoked his and dredged them in flour inside brown paper bags, which his grandfather had done. And while the challenge itself was easy, taking the top spot wasn't—Josh had to win over judges Colicchio, Puck, Bernstein, Emeril Lagasse, and David Chang, among others. His prize? 365 bottles of Terlato wine.