(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Top Chef 19 Episode 2 Recap: "Fine Isn't Gonna Cut it Here."

Sometimes I wonder if the Top Chef contestants have ever watched the show they're on. If they had, they'd know that questioning the premise of a Quickfire is fine if your interpretation of the assignment is perfect. If they'd watched Episode 5 of Season 8, they'd know a head-to-head battle, in a sports venue, and chickpeas do not go well together. (I bet Chef Jaime Lauren's chickpeas haunt eliminated Chef Spike Mendelsohn to this day.) And if chefs had watched the show they'd know a key Top Chef Commandment: If you're gonna serve it, you'd better cook it.

Top Chef 19 Episode 2 Quickfire

TOP CHEF — "Friday Night Bites" Episode 1902 —

Pictured: (l-r) Luke Kolpin, Sarah Welch, Damarr Brown, Evelyn Garcia, Monique Feybesse, Stephanie Miller, Nick Wallace, Buddha Lo (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

This week's Quickfire was fun. The chefs must make queso, for Padma Lakshmi and Houston culinary legend and pillar of Mexican cooking in Texas, Irma Galvan, and something to dip into the cheesy goodness that isn't a tortilla chip. I'd pass on Stephanie's watery pepper jack queso and Chef Sam's watery Mornay queso. But I would happily eat Chef Damarr's mild cheddar queso with crispy bread crumbs and quick-pickled serrano peppers (!) as the dip vehicle, or Chef Jo's harissa queso with roasted cauliflower, or Chef Evelyn's adobo con queso and taro chips. It was lovely to see the latter place her dish in front of Galvan and say, "It's an honor to stand in front of you."

Chef Jackson, the Covid-afflicted contestant who is continuing to rely on others for how his food tastes, decided to dive into the deep end and presented a crispy disk of queso. The editors scored a home run: Chef Jackson was describing his queso "sandwich" to Lakshmi as crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, just as the latter's teeth were struggling to bite off a piece. Needless to say, he did not win the Quickfire. But Chef Damarr did!

Top Chef 19 Episode 2 Elimination Challenge

TOP CHEF — "Friday Night Bites" Episode 1902 —

Pictured: (l-r) Buddha Lo, Evelyn Garcia, Sam Talbot — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Ah, football. That most beloved of American pastimes, drowning in billions of dollars of endorsements and beer and tailgating and wings and drunk driving, that causes head injuries so severe some players commit multiple murders. Anyway, this week's Elimination Challenge is all about football and even set on a high school football field. Chefs draw knives to be drafted into two teams: the Cougars, coached by Season 2 and Season 14 contestant Chef Sam Talbot; and the Wildcats, coached by Season 18 finalist Dawn Burrell. Each chef will be responsible for their own dish, which they'll present, head to head, against a chef from the opposing team. The five judges—Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Chef Chris Shepherd, and Season 14 winner Brooke Williamson—will vote on their favorite dish. Each vote is worth 5 yards; each round is worth 25 yards, and the first team to score a touchdown wins. If, however, neither team has scored 100 yards by the final round, the MVP and the eliminated chef can be from either team. The dishes need to be healthy, fit for an athlete to consume before a game.

Wildcats: Sam, Sarah, Robert, Damarr, Monique, Luke, Jo
Cougars: Evelyn, Nick, Buddha, Ashleigh, Stephanie, Jae, Jackson

That's a lot, I know.

At this point, I yelled at the TV. Chef Stephanie, who opined last week that adding bok choy to her dish made it Asian, declared to the camera she was making feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew of pork and beans, served over white rice. For some bizarre reason, she pulled the meat from the stew before she served it, which made the dish...not feijoada. More unforced errors: Stephanie's rice broke, and when asked about this by Lakshmi she scrambled, "Yes. I kind of like my rice that way." Really? And suddenly, the same woman, who, just last week, refused to learn anything about Asian flavors from her teammates while getting defensive about her familiarity with meat and potatoes, is suddenly making a Brazilian dish? Cut the shit, Chef Stephanie.

But this was not the only unforced error today. Chef Sarah decided to focus on chickpeas and picked up the following at Whole Foods: Keto diet puffed chickpeas (prepared by someone else) and canned chickpeas (cooked by someone else). Whole Foods does sell dry chickpeas in the bulk section, and Chef Sarah could've bought stock with which to cook them, but nope. Canned food. On Top Chef. If she'd watched the show, she'd know that in Episode 2 of Season 14, Chef Frances got chewed out (pun unintended) by Colicchio and Lakshmi for cooking canned chickpeas instead of using the bounty of fresh produce from a community garden.

TOP CHEF — "Friday Night Bites"

Pictured: (l-r) Brooke Williamson, Chris Shepherd, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

With three exceptions, the chefs loved every dish they were served. My mouth waters in overdrive whenever I watch even a few minutes of Top Chef, but today was something special. Chef Jo's congee tasted ho-hum, so Chef Burrell tasted it and asked her, "Where's your bridge?"

The former's addition of black garlic to the congee, with green pepper and tamari-infused mushroom salad, won over every single judge. I let out a little happy yelp when Chef Jo, seeing the judges' pom poms for her team in the air, pumps her fist at her waist. Chef Sam continues his running streak of being incomprehensibly adorable—he spent a full 30 seconds during the episode listing the carb dishes he loves—and his roasted sweet potato, brushed with brown butter, white soy, and garlic, and a yogurt dressing with anchovies and scallions, got enthusiastic reviews from the judges.

He won the competition for his team, even though neither team made it to 100 yards. Still, "it's going to be a beautiful season if we're going to cook like this," Lakshmi commented appreciatively.

Chef Damarr's dirty farro, which featured andouille sausage, chicken livers, and chicken thighs, won the day. I hope it's a win that'll truly mean something to him because the inspiration for the dish was his mother, a single parent who loved to make dirty rice for her family but could not cook after suffering a severe stroke when Chef Damarr was 15. Turning pain into joy is a rare talent.

I can only describe Chef Sarah's dish as some hummus and croutons; she wound up, as I had predicted, on the bottom. Chef Stephanie served broken rice so she too joined the bottom bracket. Chef Noma—Luke, I mean—continued having great ideas for dishes, but as Colicchio pointed out, "At some point, you gotta get out of the theoretical and into the actual." Chef Sarah got lucky since the broken rice ranked below chickpea muck.

Winner: Chef Damarr Brown
Bye bye: "Stephanie, please pack your knives and go."

Quote float:

Chef Buddha Lo, on the origin of his name: "Growing up I was quite a large and happy kid. It's how I got the name Buddha. And I love the name. It's about a guy that loves eating and is super positive."

Chef Sam Kang (you're gonna see him in the float every week, I reckon) while plating the dish that put his team over the top: "I'm all about the ugly beautiful dishes."

Days Since Last Risotto Attempt: 224
Days Since Last Successful Risotto Attempt: 5+ years

READ MORE: Top Chef Season 19, Episode 1: It's a Competition, But We Also Have Feelings