The penultimate "Top Chef" episode highlights Holland America more than the cheftestants or Curaçao

An especially lackluster showing in the elimination challenge and scattered cooking mistakes disappoint

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published June 18, 2024 3:00PM (EDT)

Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia, Daniel Jacobs, and Laura Ozyilmaz on "Top Chef" (David Moir/Bravo)
Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia, Daniel Jacobs, and Laura Ozyilmaz on "Top Chef" (David Moir/Bravo)

Well, that "Top Chef: Wisconsin" semi-final episode didn't exactly inspire much confidence or excitement, did it? Kind of a bummer going into the finale, but I'm hoping that our top three can turn that around and end this great-but-inconsistent season on a very, very high note. 

Essentially an episode-long ad for Holland America cruises — featuring our final four, Chef Masaharu Morimoto, the judges and guest judges ostensibly alone on a gigantic cruise ship, which was another peculiar point of the episode — we were first treated to our cheftestants arriving in Curacao, speaking about the stark difference from Wisconsin, what they did over their six-week break and their hopes for winning the title.

The Quick Fire follows, then a sushi dinner, a fun excursion, the elimination challenge and then Judges' Table to cap off the episode, in which Laura bids adieu (for the second time), which sets the stage for our final three to compete in the big finale. 

Now, don't get me wrong, the ship is gorgeous and it was super cool to see Morimoto, but it wasn't especially encouraging to see seven of the eight dishes in the final four to essentially flop. Particularly when, ideally, the  cheftestants should be making their strongest dishes as the finale draws nearer. This sort of touches on why I think the six-week break is rarely a good thing, but that's a conversation for another day. 

Here are the rest of my observations from the first part of the dual-episode finale:

Loved Savannah's quotes in the opening, about how she felt like "the underdog in the room" until she had a "mind shift" in "The Good Land' elimination challenge which "gave her a feeling that she could accomplish anything." She concludes: "I came out of Wisconsin with the most challenges won [and] want to seal the deal and take this home."
I also dug Danny's connecting the marathon to his experience on the show. Speaking of, I like how Danny's been accommodated in recent episodes — a slightly modified taste test board, a virgin blue curacao beverage in this episode — it displays how the show does its due diligence.
I also liked how Savannah and Laura identified the lionfish right away, as well as how Savannah — yet again — did her research and immediately knew that guest Helmi Smeulders was talking about kashi yena. Also, I got a kick out of Danny's "cheese is invasive to a fish dish" quip prior to the Quick Fire's starting.
Does it crack anyone else up that Danny says "let's go" at least once per challenge? He's also been calling everything "cute" recently. I thought Savannah's agrodolce base and chile crisp sounded great, as did Laura's guava and cheese combo, and I'm always a fan of anything involving a frico.

Dan wins his first Quick Fire, which Danny deems a "rebuttal" for his QF performance in the prior episode. Wasn't it funny when all of the judges immediately cracked open their Saratoga Spring water bottles immediately after eating Savannah's dish? 


The elimination challenge highlighted Holland American lines EuroDam cruise ship and its global fresh fish program, which features fish "from port to plate" and is helmed by renown chef Masaharu Morimoto. The challenge itself tasks the cheftestants with making an eight course progressive fresh fish tasting menu, collectively, each handling two courses each: Raw, steamed, mousse, poached, fried, roasted, smoked, blackened. Savannah, who gets first pick because of her wins in the prior episode, is "hesitant because [her] brain doesn't work well if there are too many options." 


That little "canepa head" anecdote was sweet but the shop at the floating market was super quick, so we didn't see much of it. How interesting that Venezuela is only forty miles away from Curacao?

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I loved seeing how in awe everyone was of Morimoto, especially Savannah, who's studied Japanese cuisine for years (how sweet were her head bows every time that he left the table?).
It was never outright acknowledged, but it was clear that Danny had sea sickness patches or stickers behind his ears. I had wondered how that might affect our cheftestants' cooking (and living) on board an enormous cruise ship.
I loved the scene when Dan broke the ice to ask for Morimoto's signature on the "Top Chef" sheet with all of these elimination challenge instructions and then everyone else jumped at the opportunity, as well as that Savannah confessional about how Morimoto wrote "only one time" on her sheet. "I have one opportunity to win Top Chef and for me, that's what this is all about." She continues to give these overarching, momentous confessionals and quotes and I can only hope they're being included because there is some big-time payoff come finale time, but we shall see. 

The Half Moon Cay scenes were fun but I didn't anticipate Danny to react to the sting rays in such a way? 


The elimination challenges dishes weren't exceptional, with Danny's smoked dish and Dan's blackened dish at the top of the pile (I must now blacken fish with Chinese Five Spice — what a great idea!). I do wonder if Savannah may have been given the boot had Laura had properly cleaned her banana leaves and added a bit of fat to her glaze?


We may never know. We were practically hit over the head with mentions or references to those darn banana leaves, which pretty much  telegraphed Laura's boot right away. Kristen's comments about Laura's banana leaf dish may have really been the thing that did her in; using phrases like "uncleaned banana leaf" and "murky, muddy scent" sort of ensured that Laura would be the boot. Furthermore, Laura's second dish with the emulsion and the pineapple broth looked a bit curdled or unappetizing once the broth had been poured over top. 


Danny's spheres were cool, but his mousse flopped. Savannah's futomaki with plantain and salmon was also kind of cool, but she should've steered clear of adding the pulp back into the ginger sauce. I knew there'd be some complaint about the sheer size of the futomaki, but I liked seeing Kristens going to bat for her. Her second dish, though? It left a lot to be desired — and that's putting it lightly. Tom noted how Savannah played it incredibly safe and Gail said she "didn't get juiciness" in the dish, that the bread was too much and the fish was too small, and as Kristen noted at judges' table, the whole dish ate very, very dry. 


Clearly, everybody was a little off their game (sans Tom, who got in a bunch of really funny little shady comments!). I thought it was kind of fun how Kristen and Gail were trying to defend the cheftestants to the Holland America staff, trying to clarify that their food is normally much, much better than it was that day. 


Danny's discussion of his hazelnut and lemon relish was the first time all episode that made me say "ohh, that sounds great." The rotating shot of the dish wasn't great; it looked like a subpar rice pudding  dusted with orange zest that had no "oomph" but obviously, the flavor of that dish was something special. 


I can't decide which Tom comment cracked me up more: "is this mousse cooked?" to Danny or "Dan said he hasn't cooked this fish since 2005 — he still hasn't cooked it." He's a riot when he leans into that more prickly tone, which has a slight Padma-esque nature to it (bringing back fond memories of her leading Qs like "Did you mean for this to taste like it does?") 


I thought that Kristen made Dan's second dish sound great, describing the "juiciest piece of fish" that she had the entire meal and the "salty and creamy potato" 


Other fun moments: Loved when Gail asked Dan why he was so "stingy with the mandarin oranges" and he said they're very hard to supreme so she said "fine, point taken." It's been cool to see Gail be a bit looser and more nonchalant this season, all the while still incorporating her incisive, beautifully-phrased feedback 


Didn't love Savannah's "I feel like every time I have an advantage, I tank," but she's not lying! Also, she has no advantage in the finale now, so I'm hoping that the opposite comes to fruition: She excels with no advantages. I'm still hoping for a “oh no, she didn’t do well, but then she comes back and wins it all” type moment, though. 


Isn't it neat when Tom's observations are proven entirely true? The lack of fat in Laura's glaze, the issue with Danny's mousse that "didn't souffle" because of the blast chiller and the condensation  that dripped back? Love those moments

Laura is super accepting and relaxed about her boot, which I chalk up to the fact that this isn't the first time she's been told to "PYKAG."
Overall, I loved her flavors, her super cool knife bag and bet her food would knock me over if I had the chance to try it. I find her exploration of Middle Eastern flavors so compelling, but I was also struck by her "embracing her Latina side" in her final episode with the guava-fish moment in the Quick Fire. I'm sure anything she makes would be stellar, though (and how lovely did her upbringing horseback riding on the beach and eating fried fish in Acapulco sound?) 
The end of the episode was super cool, with that rare, pure moment from Kristen and Tom's reassuring the cheftestants that while they didn't do their best in that challenge, they have an opportunity to make it up in the finale. 
Very random, but I really enjoyed some of Savannah's phraseology in this episode, which felt distinctly un-2024 to me: "sea legs," "gun shy" and "I didn't want to get caught with my pants down." I thought each one was a fun throwback of sorts, if you will.
Also, how cool was the fact that the "stew room" was basically just atop a gigantic cruise ship? 
Back in now-host Kristen's season, the final four (sans Kristen, who was still in Last Chance Kitchen) had a similar challenge on a cruise ship. Most of what I recall from that episode is the cold climate (it was a Seattle/Alaska cruise), Brooke's absolute domination and the fact that Lizzie was sent home, but there is some sort of fun, full-circle moment with Kristen's hosting this challenge and episode at large.
I am also so struck by her lovely speech at the end, showing such genuine appreciation for what the show has done for her and how authentically excited she is for the final three, as well as Tom's little back pat to console or comfort her as she began to get emotional. Such a sweet moment! 

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Looking towards the finale, I was excited to see Emeril, perplexed to see Kaleena back as a potential sous, excited to see Amanda and Dan paired up, and very happy with two Savannah "journey" quotes in the promo: that she's a "totally different girl" than she was in Wisconsin and that her being on the show is "taking a chance" on herself. Also interesting to see how Kristen's "you are Top Chef" delivery differs from Padma's. I'm excited!! We are so close to a new "Top Chef" being crowned. 
Random note: I was perusing Peacock's incredibly deep catalog of "Top Chef" related contented and stumbled upon "Breaking Baguettes," which is apparently a min-show starring Kevin D'Andrea chitchatting with Olympians about food. I only watched a moment of it but it seemed super fun and Kevin's charisma could be a great, natural fit for Bravo or Peacock. It makes sense, also, that Kevin, with his French background, would be the person they built the show around in conjunction with the upcoming Olympics, but I also found it really interesting that he's the person from this season who scored the first "spin-off," if you will. Very cool! 

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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