"Top Chef" shines as it highlights indigenous and Native approaches to cooking and eating

While a front-runner continues to do well, could he be eclipsed by a dark horse?

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published May 22, 2024 10:05AM (EDT)

Savannah Miller, Soo Ahn, and Daniel Jacobs on "Top Chef" (David Moir/Bravo)
Savannah Miller, Soo Ahn, and Daniel Jacobs on "Top Chef" (David Moir/Bravo)

Savannah hive, rise up! It's a good week to be a Savannah stan. Unfortunately, it's not a good week to be a Kevin stan, but we'll get to that later.

This was a wonderful episode prioritizing Native and indigenous cuisine, as well as eschewing the usual ingredients like wheat flour, sugar and dairy, plus pork, chicken and beef, which allowed for some chefs to truly shine —like Savannah, plus Dan and Soo — while others struggled (pretty much everyone else).

Danny also continued his outright dominance in the Quick Fire  I figured he'd win the instant I saw him juicing cranberries  and I think the shift of Gail and Tom now joining and judging all Quick Fires going forward, which will factor in all elimination decisions, was a long time coming. It only makes sense. At this point in the competition, there should be a cumulative aspect to important decisions like that.

Without further ado, here are the other biggest takeaways of this week's episode. 

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The cranberry QuickFire was great. I loved how Savannah used cranberries in so many different iterations in her dish, as well as Danny's aforementioned juiced cranberry component.


Also, the amount of money Danny has already accrued from his multiple wins is outrageous.


In addition, the whole challenge reminded me so much of the cranberry challenge in the Boston season, which was inexplicably hosted by Tiffani Faison? Good times! 


Hooray for some introductions this week! I've complained ad nauseam about editing not showing Kristen's introductions of guest judges and diners — or perhaps her never doing them — so I was very happy to see those return this episode. 


Also, I loved everything about Elena Terry and Sean Sherman. Had a bit of a Regina George moment, admittedly, after Savannah said she had just read his James Beard-award winning cookbook. It's now on my list!


I am always so inspired by Native and indigenous ingredients. Berries (I so want to try an aronia berry now), beans upon beans, fish, sprouts, rose hip, wild rice, mushrooms, corn, chokeberry, maple, sumac, wild hyssop — the list goes on and on. There's something really compelling about the essence of going "back to the land," like this episode's title suggests. 


I'm so intrigued by the crossover of dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free lifestyles overlap with these Native approaches to eating. Someone, I think Dan, said something like "everything is from the ground" as far as the ingredients in that challenge. It's such a great approach — and of course, "ultra-processed foods" couldn't be further from this type of diet. Something to noodle on! 


Interestingly enough, as reigning champ Buddha points out in his PEOPLE recap, all of the winning dishes were also vegetarian! 


I loved seeing Savannah's asking clear, pointed questions regarding baking and desserts made with Native and indigenous ingredients, which of course, then resulted in her wonderful dessert. It was so exciting to Kristen react in such a physical, encompassing manner. It was like she was literally unable to contain her excitement after tasting the dessert. Her describing it a combination of pumpkin pie and gingerbread also made it sound stupendous. 


Sleeper contestants, come-from-behind resurgences, dark horse “growth arcs” are my favorite things on reality TV, and I had a feeling about Savannah from jump. I'm loving Savannah’s momentum right now, too  peaking at the right time, especially with Danny’s rare caul fat stumble, Michelle’s inconsistency and Manny’s apparently becoming monotonous for the judges.


It also seems as if whenever Savannah tackles desserts, she inevitably winds up in the top  or even wins the challenge. Could she soon join the ranks of Brooke, Mei, Buddha regarding top tier desserts? I hope so.


Lastly, I’d love a clearer shot of her mirror of amazing ideas! Some eagle-eyed viewers over on Reddit have noticed that Savannah apparently had fish boil written on her mirror, so she did her due diligence and research … hopefully that bodes well for next week’s challenge

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How cool was Soo's come-from-behind success? His turn-around was so exciting. Good for him for reconceptualizing his dish — and then taking Gail's advice and not calling them gnocchi, which I thought was such a funny, unprecedented moment. We almost never see judges tell cheftestants to re-title their dishes. Also, I'm always fascinated whenever someone cooks with huitlacoche. It's the wildest ingredient!
How incredible was Dan's treating a sunflower as you would an artichoke? I thought that was brilliant. I find his outright confidence so appealing and refreshing. He "wasn't surprised" that he did really well with his dish and he was upfront about that with the judges. He's so unvarnished about his talent and it's really cool to watch, especially at judges' table when some cheftestants can sort of shrink or become unnecessarily modest. 
It was great to see Kristen's appreciating the intentionality of Dan's foam, which, as she put it "serves a purpose because it melts into the sunflower." It's such a stark difference from the way foams were derided and sort of made into a joke on this very show 15 years ago. They can be wonderful! I will never forget the one I had at Tuome in NYC, which was a part of the most amazing chicken liver mousse dish I'd ever tasted. 

I liked how Manny said he wants "to be in the conversation" when it comes to the contributions of Mexican-American chefs in the industry at large. I think he most certainly deserves that and more.


Speaking of Manny, I didn't love the sudden energy from the judges as if he's a one trick pony? His apparently becoming monotonous for the judges (we were specifically shown two to three mentions of how his dishes have become predictable, which …. Isn’t good and doesn’t bode well) struck me as odd. He's gotten such rave reviews for every one of those dishes, so it seems peculiar to me to now act as if they're all predictable and unexciting when they were certainly winning dishes at the time he made them.


He even won the first elimination challenge — to be fair, though, that was a pozole and not a protein + sauce/puree dish, but still.


Mise en place relay race! Why only in Last Chance Kitchen and not the competition proper? 


I got such a kick out of how Kevin kept saying everything three times throughout the challenges? It cracked me up. He was probably my favorite behind Savannah, so I'm bummed to see him go. I was super happy with the end of episode itself, not thrilled with end of LCK. 


I loved the sound of Laura's dishes with the dual sauces of yellow harissa and an aji amarillo combination. It can be tricky to balance, but I love dishes with multiple sauces, especially when they have a sort of unique flavor/texture/color interplay. So cool


Regarding, Laura's edit: The show needs a villain, and in many instances, they try to pigeonhole someone who doesn't, in any way, fit those criteria. Laura may have made some mishaps with budget and perhaps been a little oblivious to certain things, but in no way was she actively villainous. She was quite resourceful and imaginative with her dishes, too, even earning a Quickfire win back in episode 2. She got a raw deal, I'd say. (Also, how cool was her knife bag? )


But who knows, maybe she'll pull off the win in LCK, which apparently is next week? That was quick.


Amanda performed very well in LCK, but I do have to note that she's always had such a dry, deadpan tone in all confessionals, but it veers into downright sleepy in LCK confessionals; I think her eyes literally closed at one point! I wrote a few weeks back, though ,that she has a real dark horse energy, so I would never count her out. Her demeanor belies her outsized talent and creativity. 


You knew production/judges really wanted to use that double boot in one of the episodes, it came up so much. Both Amanda and Laura were towards the bottom in both QF and elimination, so it made sense. I do wonder if Michelle may have gotten the boot had the judges not loved her QF dish so much?


I think Dan, Danny and possibly Soo could be our front runners, but you know I'm betting on Savannah, who I don't even think is much of a hidden or under-edited dark horse anymore. She's a clearly formidable contender now. Michelle is very inconsistent and Manny seemed to be sort of brushed off this episode with those somewhat disparaging, joking comments about his dishes all being very similar.


And we shall see about LCK! We're getting down to it.

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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