"Top Chef" makes the case for cabbage

The verdict is clear: Cabbage is a winner.

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published April 28, 2024 5:30AM (EDT)

Fresh organic baby cabbage (Getty Images/Diana Miller)
Fresh organic baby cabbage (Getty Images/Diana Miller)

This was far and away the best episode of the current season of “Top Chef” by far. Perhaps this is just because I’m a Savannah stan or because I really, really like Danny — but it felt like the first time the show has unfurled into its former glory. Plus, a “shock boot,” especially one with arguably the two frontrunners in the bottom two, is always exciting. 

It had shades of now-host Kristen Kish’s departure back in the Seattle season, actually; might we see the pattern repeat with Rashika? But first, let’s focus on the real hero of the week: Cabbage. 

Yes, you read that currently. Danny’s winning dish, scallop chou farci-stuffed boiled cabbage with yuzu kosho foam, elicited some of the highest praise I’ve heard from Tom Collichio in 21 seasons of “Top Chef.” I also loved how Tom described the dish: “chaos under water,” comparing the initially calm aesthetic of Danny’s boiled, wrapped cabbage sitting serenely atop the calm white foam, yet containing a whole bunch of unexpected flavor once the diner dove beneath the surface. Kish was also visibly enamored by the dish, offering arguably her most outright positive feedback as a judge/host so far. 

Back in the ninth season, Sarah Gruenberg —the eventual runner-up, current chef/owner of Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio in Chicago and author of "Listen To Your Vegetables" — also won an elimination challenge, plus rave reviews and accolades. with a fine-dining interpretation of her grandmother's stuffed cabbage rolls

Now, I get it, stuffed cabbage isn’t going to prompt yelps of excitement. For some, the cruciferous vegetable has a certain old-world appeal, buoyed by economic practicality and nostalgia. For others, it’s a bit drab (and the aroma of boiled cabbage isn’t especially appetizing either). 

But in so many instances — certainly including Sarah’s and Danny’s — there’s a type of unvarnished appeal to the durable cabbage leaf, which can be seasoned and heightened in many ways. 

As Salon’s Bibi Hutchings wrote in her recipe for Cabbage Casserole:

"Simple, ignoble, under-appreciated green cabbage: It has got to be one of the most unpretentious and humblest in all of the Cruciferae family, if not among the entire vegetable kingdom. It is nutrient-packed, like the rest of its cruciferous brethren, yet it has not always garnered the same respect as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or even broccoli." 

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Salon writer Maggie Hennessy is also a member of Team Cabbage, writing "I've come to cherish its versatility — grilled, roasted, sautéd or raw, recipe star or supporting actress."

Last month, Kim Severson wrote in the New York Times visited restaurants in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta where “the coolest menu item at the moment is . . . cabbage?" 

"Cabbage has spent an eternity as the workhorse of the stir-fry and the braise, the quiet companion to endless duck legs and pulled pork sandwiches. It never complained, even when boiled with corned beef or shoved into a crock for months,” she wrote. “But today, a vegetable that can make your house smell like a 19th-century tenement is the darling of the culinary crowd." 

I actually prefer cabbage raw — preferably red — very, very thinly sliced and tossed with a pert vinaigrette and some sort of braised, crispy protein, but cooked cabbage is a staple for a good reason. I think of the Italian term “povera cucina,” which translates to “poor kitchen”; it encapsulates the cuisine many ate in Italy when experiencing poverty and food scarcity. Cabbage has a sturdy, timeless nature that has made it a staple of such cooking, while also letting it recently become something of an anti-hero. And hey, let’s celebrate that.

It’s about time we embrace cabbage. Perhaps all of the restaurants selling cabbage dishes like hot cakes or Danny’s special dish on this week’s “Top Chef” episode might be the harbinger of a new era for the cruciferous standby.

The verdict is clear: Cabbage is a winner.

Top Chef takeaways, Episode 6

  • I've been waiting for the Savannah breakout episode — and it's now arrived! Also interesting that as she rises, the frontrunners stumble. However, I'd argue that Danny is the actual frontrunner at this point (if you think about it, one of Rasika's wins was actually also his, too.)
  • The more I think about it, I’m sort of amazed that Michelle stayed? Nothing about that dish seemed appetizing or appealing, it was somewhat amateurish, the pork was raw, the pita was burnt, it wasn’t chaotic at all — and she would’ve been another "Quick Fire" winner who went home in the same episode, directly after Charly last week. 
  • As mentioned earlier, I wouldn't be surprised if Rasika straight-up runs the "Last Chance Kitchen" gauntlet and has a Kish-like trajectory circa season 10 — and potential win? Wouldn't that be a fun, full-circle moment. 
  • Interesting to see mustard-spiked dessert rearing its head yet again, this time from Savannah.
  • Always love seeing Christina Tosi!
  • I hate the term “QuickFire cash” - it sounds like something from Nickelodeon or maybe a Food Network show in 2010, not the preeminent fine dining cooking competition on Bravo.

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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