On "Top Chef," a frontrunner emerges as the numbers dwindle

But can she keep up the momentum as the competition leaves Wisconsin for Curacao?

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published June 12, 2024 10:00AM (EDT)

Hunter Lewis and Savannah Miller on "Top Chef" (David Moir/Bravo)
Hunter Lewis and Savannah Miller on "Top Chef" (David Moir/Bravo)

Well, as a Savannah fan, it certainly goes without saying that I’m a happy camper after that episode! A Savannah clean sweep? I don't think "Top Chef: Wisconsin" could get any better — unless she pulls out the big win in the finale, of course.

Overall, I thought that was such a perfectly edited episode, with highs and lows, humor and drama, such thorough run-throughs of each dish and all of the subtleties of the cookery, along with flashbacks galore — and perhaps even some foreshadowing for the final two episodes of the season?

I also loved the focus on the chefs, the in-depth nature of the edit and all of the flavors across the board and the excitement to wrap up the time in Wisconsin as the final four travel to Curacao for the finale.

Featuring a "show us your growth" elimination challenge and a tried-and-true "Top Chef" classic with a blindfolded taste test component in the Quick Fire, this episode fired on all cylinders.

Here are the rest of my takeaways. The finale is just around the corner!

There was a very quick moment in the "previously on 'Top Chef'" segment that I didn't even recall and found interesting to include: It showed a moment of Dan and Danny at judges' table and Dan leans in and says "it's getting real familiar up here." That was definitely included for a reason and I'm very curious to find out if that has positive or negative connotation leading into the final episodes of the season.

According to "The Dish with Kish" — a digital after-show hosted by Kirsten, found on Peacock or YouTube — Manny had the highest-ever score in the blindfolded taste test, with 23/26 correct. Amazing! I've always wanted to do one. I liked how the challenge was in alphabetical order, from anchovy to za'atar (including vadouvan and umeboshi, which always makes me think of "Top Model" season 3). 


I laughed at the editing of the taste test more than I have while watching this show in a minute. I also got a kick out of that seemingly inexplicable inclusion of Manny's brushing his tongue in the very beginning of the episode, but it obviously made more sense with the context of his win and Danny's confessional joking about the tongue scraper. 


I loved Manny's quote: "I like to think that my taste buds are where they need to be, maybe that's one of the reasons I'm in the Top 5." Well put!


It was so cool to see Savannah win (yet another) Quick Fire, and with only nine ingredients, as she was tied for the least amount of correct guesses in the taste test. I loved the fry on her pork, which reminded me of her fry in Restaurant Wars, as well as the inclusion of cheddar in the "faux" Caesar. Three QF wins in a row!


Laura's mussels escabeche also sounded terrific; I'm a sucker for a good escabeche. And how superb does a watermelon A1 sauce sound? 


I'm still sort of amazed over Dan's Quick Fire dish — was there really shell in it? It's pretty wild to serve that at top 5. I also found the dynamic really interesting: There's such convivial, jovial chatter and tone, but also a tepid acknowledgment that that was by far his worst dish yet. Which, this season more than any, could really hinder your chances at judges' table. It's an interesting dichotomy.


There was a moment when Tom nonchalantly asked Dan to "tell us everything wrong with your dish." 


"We know you can cook," he said. "But you'd never know it today." 


That was probably one of the more scathing things I've ever heard him say on this show. Speaking of,  this episode had some really damning comments in general, from "all I'm eating is smoke" to "[this dish] is suffering from an identity crisis." 

I adored the prompt of the final challenge in Wisconsin, basically encompassing all of your growth in the competition into a single dish. Like I previously mentioned, I love the momentum, the gravitas, the excitement of those final challenges in the last few episodes. They're always such a pleasure to watch. This one was also super cool because the prompt had no hard-and-fast parameters whatsoever, which allowed for some really terrific dishes, like Savannah's and Laura's.
I also liked seeing the recurring characters, if you will, from Danny's soba-cha tea and Dan's walleye to fantastic guest judge Chef Elena Terry. It was also really cool seeing some open feedback and opinions from the judges overall — about topics like Laura's return, Savannah's Quick Fire and Manny's week one puzzle — instead of those being strictly limited to the dishes themselves.

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Unfortunately, Manny wasn't able to parlay his success in the blind taste test to the Quick Fire itself, or to the elimination challenge, either, ultimately seeing him eliminated him in fifth place. I am such a fan of his and I'm certain he'll be incredibly successful in the future. Would also love to see the Kevin/Manny pair back on another season sometime down the road! 


There were so many references to Dan's lemongrass and turmeric paste (when he originally wanted fresh lemongrass) that I wondered if that might be the ingredient that takes him out of the competition — but it was no match for Manny's raw fish. I actually didn't think that the Quick Fire even had to be discussed whatsoever at judges' table because I figured Manny’s fish would’ve been a clear-cut reason for a "pack your knives and go," but I guess Dan’s over-smoked dish must’ve been objectionable enough to warrant QF discussion. 


I also liked how succinctly Kristen summed up Dan's dish in the elimination challenge, comparing his "Restaurant Wars" walleye iteration to this one and saying that it was "less successful, so the growth isn't there" — which, of course, is the whole point of the challenge. 


In both the Quick Fire and the elimination challenge, for some reason, I thought Savannah would come up short and Laura would take the win, both times — and I was wrong, both times. 


I loved the quick shot, again, of Savannah in her mirror, as well as her referencing back to that first challenge when she was tasked with making a roast chicken for Tom (complete with an avgolemono sauce, which was one of the standout components of the premiere episode for me). Her pave dish was mind-boggling and I am going to attempt it myself one of these days. The quote "I love a potato pave and I love it even more now that Savannah told us why and how she made it" made clear just how much she impressed that table of chefs and judges. Pretty exciting! She really is "cleaning up," as they say. 


The whole narrative of the "pave = Savannah" was fantastic and she delivered it so well, describing how growth takes time, how the pave needs finesse, how the potato itself already contains everything it needs to become a pave, but just needs "time and pressure." She sold the story so well, so eloquently and it seemed like she cinched the win in that moment, for both of dish and her "speech" — and that sentiment didn't really seem to abate as the entire rest fo the crew presented their dishes. This episode really was a win-win-win for her. 


With these dual wins in this episode, Savannah also joins a select group of "Top Chef" alum who’ve had back-to-back (QF and elim.) wins in a single episode ‘cycle’ — only 10% of competitors ever on this show have accomplished that feat. 


If she does indeed pull off the win, I'd argue that Savannah gifted the editors with one heck of a quote with that pave speech. 

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There’s such an effortlessness to Savannah — sort of feels like the editing tries to lean into “oh no! Will the pave work?” but there’s never actually any payoff because she is too capable for that. She just calmly and consistently performs well and then has pretty measured celebrations. I’m fascinated by her entire arc. 


In my recap for episode one, I wrote “Savannah is my dark horse for no reason other than the fact that I always tend to root for under-edited female competitors on reality shows and because she made an avgolemono sauce." Would you look at that! I should become a betting man. 


Such an endgame, late-season domination like this hasn’t been seen ever? The only comparable person I can think of, actually, is Carla, who had a slightly similar trajectory, starting very slow and quiet before emerging as a serious contender and wildly lovable fan favorite as the season continued before unfortunately winding up in third place. I can only hope that that is not the case for Savannah! Other slightly similar trajectories on this show are perhaps Steph Cmar, maybe Melissa from her first season or even Casey Thompson from back in season three. 


At the end of the episode, she called herself "the one to beat."


"I'm realizing it and think other people are, too," she said. I couldn't agree more. 


I loved Laura's talking about how she primarily works with Eastern Mediterranean flavors but in this dish, she leaned into Mexican flavors, with guajillo and lamb barbacoa, but also using those flavors in manti, which is usually considered either Turkish or Armenian. Again, her dishes stun: both the aforementioned escabeche and those perfect little manti, She’s so talented, so inventive, so imaginative!


I have an obsession with frizzled onions, so the idea of a burnt onion and cherry sauce sounds utterly magnificent to me. Combine that with a rich, deeply reduced chicken jus and a layered, tightly-compressed potato pave? It doesn't get much better than that.


Also, Manny's gussied-up Saltines sounded so good! I'd love to try those. He'd mentioned snapper a la veracruzana multiple times so I'm glad he got a chance to make it. It was also lovely hearing him describe the experience as "the highlight of [his] life" and listening to Paul Bartolotta telling him to "never forget the pozole," yet another reference to his winning week one dish. I feel like that could be the title of his memoir or cookbook sometime down the road, actually? It has a real ring to it.

How funny were Tom's facial expressions throughout this entire episode? His reaction to both Dan's Quick Fire dish and to to Danny's use of the word "subtle" as he presented his elimination challenge dish cracked me up — as did that moment with the credit card at Ristorante Bartolotta.
With the conclusion of this episode, the cheftestants’ time in Wisconsin is over. Our final four are on their way to Curacao. 
Savannah and Danny are tied at five wins each, while Dan has two and Laura has two (actually, three overall if we're counting Last Chance Kitchen). Also, one of Danny's wins was in conjunction with Rasika, and she technically won that challenge on her own, so not sure if that counts? In that case, then, Savannah takes the lead. 
I’m always a little iffy on the break before the finale — Savannah has had such forward momentum for the past few episodes and I hope that that time at home doesn’t dull that shine and throw her off going into the finale. I'm admittedly a little anxious that she might stumble at the end here. Conversely, Dan seemed quite tired and that time off might be just what he needs to rejuvenate him going into the final challenges.
What is Kristen so moved by in the next episode? I could be wrong, but my hunch is it has to do with either Laura or Savannah and it’s something very, very positive. I’m really looking forward to that. I always found it so compelling whenever Padma would get emotional at judges’ table. 

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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