If you haven’t been keeping up with “Top Chef” this season, now would be the time to tune in — and to root for the home team. Marjorie Meek-Bradley, chef at Ripple and Roofers Union, earned a spot last night in the two-part “Top Chef” finale with her dish, a roasted lamb saddle with artichokes and oven-roasted tomato with marinated squash.
She is the fourth chef with ties to D.C. to make it this far in the competition — and she could be the first to win it all. Previous finalists include Carla Hall and runners-up Bryan Voltaggio and Meek-Bradley’s former boss, Mike Isabella. Kwame Onwuachi, who is opening The Shaw Bijou this spring, was eliminated last week.
The chefs have been traveling throughout California this season, and they ended their tour in San Francisco, where they had to make the most San Francisco thing ever, artisanal toast, in a dreaded Sudden Death Quickfire Challenge. Meek-Bradley, who expressed disbelief that someone could go home for something as lame as toast, played it safe with a sourdough toast with pancetta marmalade and Dungeness crab, and escaped elimination. Farewell to Amar Santana, whose foie raisin toast matched him up with Carl Dooley for the sudden death round, where he was defeated by Thai snapper crudo in the sudden death round.
Then the gang went to Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys, the site of “Top Chef’s” very first Quickfire Challenge. The shuttered San Francisco institution was the setting for the elimination challenge — a chance for the competitors to bring it back to life for one meal. But first, they had dinner with Keller in the ornate restaurant, which Meek-Bradley described as “So decadent and beautiful, it feels like a jewel box. I feel like a princess.” (A princess wearing a very cool leather jacket, we might add).
Challenged to come up with a tribute to the former restaurant, Meek-Bradley’s lamb saddle went up against Dooley’s foie gras torchon, Isaac Toups’s duck ballontine, and Jeremy Ford’s filet de loup de mer. And as she cooked, she worried — first, that the dish wasn’t challenging enough, and second, that she would over-rest her meat. She also endured a sexist joke from Ford when she shouted “Behind, behind, move!” as she walked behind him — a totally normal thing to say in a kitchen! — only for him to sarcastically reply, “She’s a sweetheart, isn’t she?” They seem to be friendly enough, though.
Anyway, Meek-Bradley’s fears were not unfounded. Keller said that, flavor-wise, she “hit it on the head,” but that the meat did not have enough time to rest. When she went to the judges’ panel, she acknowledged that she “didn’t execute it to the fullest.” And then she shed a few tears.
“I know the mistakes that I made, and I made them out of fear,” she said. “My fear is always there.”
Waiting with her fellow chefs while the judges deliberated, Meek-Bradley acknowledged the emotional moment.
“How did I manage to make it all the way to the end and keep it together, and now I’m a [bleeping] wreck?” she said.
In the end, though, her mistakes weren’t bad enough to get her sent home. Ford’s loup de mer was the winner, and Toups squeaked into the finals. Dooley’s hubris in attempting a torchon in just three hours — it usually takes days — got him the boot.
Next week: Lets cross our fingers for Vegas, as the three remaining chefs — plus the winner of the Last Chance Kitchen competition — will compete for a place in the final pairing.