By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 25, 2024 at 6:01 PM

I think I speak for everyone – longtime "Top Chef" fans, newcomers here just to cheer on Wisconsin, even the producers themselves – when I say in response to Wednesday's new episode: Wut?

I've seen some bizarre "Top Chef," from contestants having to make amuse bouchery out of half-eaten hors d'oeuvre party trays, to creating dishes entirely out of vending machine snacks, to that wholly strange Padma-less first season. But this easily ranks as the most wackadoo episode of "Top Chef" I've ever seen, like everyone hit the Schlitz a little too hard the night before. I guess the theme WAS chaos. But man, did they embrace it, whether it was the dishes themselves, the shocking eliminated chef-testant or the entire main challenge – so confuddling that even Kristen Kish seemed confused about what anyone was supposed to be cooking or what the judges were supposed to consider. And what was that crazy Danny "A Beautiful Mind 2" dream sequence thing?!

Safe to say, I have questions – so let's try to chew through this topsy-turvy "Top Chef" episode. 

1. What the heck was that elimination challenge?

But seriously: What was that elimination challenge?!

It seems very clear what happened with this week's episode: Bravo clearly told the show that, between his wild YouTube cooking videos and his role on the smash hit "The Bear," Matty Matheson needed to be on an episode. Doing what? For what? Uh ... we'll figure it out! And when we do, let's not tell Kristen Kish about it for some reason, I guess. 

Apparently they landed on "chaos cuisine" – which, if you follow Matheson's YouTube persona or general cooking aesthetic, is a fair enough match but pretty vague. And it only got more vague when it came time for Matheson to explain to the chefs what that meant for the elimination challenge, saying a bunch of enthusiastic nonsense about throwing new techniques around and maybe throwing literal food around and breaking things and ... here's some footage of some messy food and sausages on a plate that isn't particularly helpful either? Kish seemed no less confused by the challenge concept. Was it supposed to be messy plates? Or was it supposed to be fusion-focused? Maybe mashing up unexpected flavors? Or all of the above? I don't know: All I know for sure is that the general theme was "ChAoS" and that if you took a drink every time someone used that word, you'd be reading this article from a hospital bed after being treated for extreme alcohol poisoning. 

A few chefs figured out how to get on the challenge's baffling and confusing wavelength. Savannah, for instance, worked bitter mustard greens into a dessert that somehow didn't get her yelled at and her cooking license revoked; Kevin meanwhile made a dish that tasted like raspberry potatoes that tasted ... good? Maybe? Even the judges couldn't decide ... which either made it genius or wretched, but they couldn't decide on that either. At one point, the judges argued, "Maybe the simplicity IS the chaos," and my brain shattered and brain. We've chaos-ed too hard, "Top Chef."

Anyways, after having an epiphany sequence like a deleted scene from the BBC's "Sherlock," Danny was the one who claimed victory and immunity – his second of the season – with a take on a classic chou farci but with scallops and Asian inspirations that, frankly, looked to fancy and sophisticated to win a chaos-focused challenge. But it must've tasted good – and I guess, in the end, the judges took a "legal definition of obscenity" approach to what they wanted from chaos: They'll know it when they eat it. Makes about as much sense as anything else in this bizonkers episode. 

Now, to level myself out and make things feel a little more calm and sane, I'm going to put on "Everything Everywhere All At Once."

2. Two more cooks in the kitchen

Even BEFORE the chaos cuisine challenge of it all, things were all akimbo this episode as not one but TWO chef-testants – one a fresh face, the other more familiar – hopped into the culinary pressure cooker. 

Let's start with the new mystery man ... or not that mysterious if you've been keeping up with "Last Chance Kitchen," as Chicago chef Soo Ahn has been truly cooking the competition in the bonus spin-off show found on Peacock. For those new to the show, "Last Chance Kitchen" is where eliminated chef-testants go for a second opportunity to get back into the contest. There, they cook head to head against the latest dispatched chef, week by week, until normally around the finale where the lone chef still standing and the most recent loser battle it out to rejoin "Top Chef" proper. That's how Kristen Kish herself claimed victory in the Seattle season, (wrongfully) eliminated during restaurant wars only to come back for the final few episodes and claim the title. 

Soo sure seems like he could follow in her footsteps, too. Starting right in "Last Chance Kitchen" right off the bat (maybe in part because of all the confusing drama silently surrounding Hat Guy), Soo has made mincemeat out of his competitors – so much so that it's seemed clear that the producers weren't going to wait until the very end to bring him into the official fray. And indeed they didn't, graduating him to the main competition six episodes in.

The actually surprising reveal on Wednesday, though, was that Soo wasn't alone when he walked through the chef-testants' door. Kaleena – last seen making a cheesecake crust so hard, it's currently being tested by the U.S. military as new bullet-proof tank material – apparently earned a second chance at the "Top Chef" title, too. Before the episode, I assumed that, if they were adding a previously eliminated chef, someone was dropping out to balance things out – mayhaps Amanda who ended last week's episode too sick to attend the judges' table. But no, Amanda was totally fine Wednesday night, and nobody spoke of that loose thread ever again because ... I don't know, chaos. That's the answer for everything this week.

Now, I'm not sure how long Kaleena's second stab at "Top Chef" will last. She was fairly middle of the pack before her initial elimination, and while she was a top dish in the Quickfire, her main plate – essentially burrito pasta that has to be the first dish on the show to be described as Hamburger Helper but in a generally positive light – was heavy and had some technical issues for the judges. But Soo, landing right off the bat amongst the top dishes on his very first elimination challenge with his "General Soo's Shrimp," sure looks like he's here to stay. 

3. More highs, lows and Laura problems for Dan

After his best success last week and graduating into potential frontrunner status, Dan got the full rollercoaster ride of "Top Chef" on Wednesday night – the highs, the lows and even the drama. Because somehow the most Midwest Nice guy on the show is weirdly a drama magnet, at least when it pertains to one particular person.

Yes, after blowing out her team's budget last week on a dumb dessert that was doomed to fail, Laura was back to her modestly devious chef-nanigans in this week's Quickfire Challenge. The early challenge tasked the contestants with making a dairy-centric dessert – fair enough – and Dan was on the hunt for some dark chocolate for his pudding recipe. Just one problem: Laura hoarded all of it at her station ... and then didn't bother to say anything while Dan spent time searching for the ingredient and loudly asking the rest of the chefs if they knew what happened to them. Maybe we'd be more generous toward the situation and think she was just locked in and didn't hear him ... if she hadn't put herself above others similarly last week. Instead it's another kinda shady villain move from Laura this season, though still pretty tame. (We're VERY far from the dramatic heyday of "Who stole my pea puree?!")

It helps that Dan had no interest in instigating any further drama – mainly because he's a good guy, but also mainly because he had his own concerns to address. After all, he was ironically adapting a vegan chocolate pudding recipe for this dairy-happy contest, blending cream cheese and dark chocolate in the hopes of lactose-ifying the dish enough. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, as Dan landed in the bottom three of the Quickfire as the judges were critical of the gloopy and sticky peanut butter-like texture of the pudding. Somehow I feel like this is all Laura's fault. (Just kidding ... but boy oh boy, I hope for the sake of drama that she makes it to restaurant wars week.)

Thankfully things turned around significantly for Dan in the elimination challenge. Considering how confounding the challenge was and how unfocused the target seemed to be, it seemed like Dan picked a good week to have immunity – but instead of being timid and taking a week off, he truly embraced the chaos theme with a gloriously delicious mess of a dish. To list off everything on the plate would blow up the word count of this article even more than I already have, but basically he cooked up an okonomiyaki Japanese pancake topped with a whole hailstorm of seemingly mish-mashed ingredients like bacon and seafood ... and also the pancake was a funnel cake. It was A Lot – but it was A Lot that worked for the judges, all delighted by the harmonious chaos served before them.

The dish wasn't enough to earn Dan another week of immunity, but he did make the top three and confirmed that last episode's win was no fluke: He's a serious contender ... as long as Laura doesn't get in his way anymore. 

4. More like "Top Chef: Studio Kitchen" than "Top Chef: Wisconsin"

If you're a casual "Top Chef" fan mostly watching the show for the Wisconsin references, you woefully underserved on Wednesday night. 

Other than a few scant references to obvious Sconnie dessert favorites like kringle, the cream puff and custard, the Quickfire Challenge – guest judged by Milk Bar mastermind Christina Tosi from New York City – was otherwise devoid of local nods. As for the elimination challenge, the chefs traveled all the way ... back to the studio kitchen to do all the prep work, cooking and even seemingly the meal itself, featuring no local chefs to note. The only time the entire episode left the "Top Chef" kitchen and saw any Milwaukee was during the shopping part of the show, ditching Whole Foods and instead hitting three international food markets around town: El Rey, Mo's Asian Market and Adom African Market. It was nice seeing those small businesses – ones even many locals may not know about – in the spotlight, but otherwise that was it for local flavor.

One attendee at our weekly Zocalo viewing party had a brilliant idea: If the theme was chaos, wouldn't the kitschy fun of House on the Rock have been the perfect unique setting for the challenge? I'm sure there were logistically problems – but it certainly would've added more color to the episode than the studio-set kitchen. And really, putting aside my local biases, that's why they should've ventured out into the state more on Wednesday night: For all the weird dishes and bizarre chaotic combos, it all felt a little samey and bland all holed up in the same venue the entire episode. You can make as many weird slug-like stuffed eggplants and raspberry potatoes as you want, but if we're in the same one-note setting for it all, it can start to feel like Crispix on TV. 

5. Chaos reigns with the final elimination

Somehow between all the added contestants and seafood bacon funnel cake, the most chaotic part of Wednesday's entire episode came at the very end as we shockingly lost one of the early contenders for the title: Rasika. 

One would've thought that a chaos-minded challenge would've been ideal for the New York-based chef; after all, she won her first challenge and made her name this season with her strangely scrumptious mustard pretzel dessert in the Miller High Life episode. Blending unexpected flavors was seemingly her thing – but that approach was always going to be a double-edged sword, high reward when her boundary-pushing flavor combos worked but also high risk if they clashed or fell flat.

And boy did they fall flat with the chaos challenge, as Rasika attempted to make a crab-stuffed eggplant that mystified Tom and even the open-minded Matty during their mid-prep check-in. They'd be even more mystified when it was served to them, and it tasted like ... nothing. Well, nothing but slug, apparently, as the only real flavor or texture takeaway the judges got from the dish was sliminess. And generally speaking, when you serve a dish that's compared to eating a slug on "Top Chef" – even with your past wins – you're probably gonna have to pack your knives and go. Even this chaotic episode couldn't embrace that level of chaos. I know many fans expect that this won't be the end of Rasika, that she'll fight her way back through "Last Chance Kitchen" – but I'm not so sure. Again, when you're playing on the cutting edge of wacky flavor combinations, any trip-up can be a fatal wound.

You know what's even crazier than Rasika, an early favorite, leaving? That we almost lost TWO frontrunners last night! That's right: Michelle finally found somewhere too far outside her comfort zone on Wednesday's episode, flopping in the elimination challenge with her glorified filled-pita. Even just watching the episode and not tasting the dish, it seemed underwhelming – nowhere near as creative or adventurous as most of the other chef-testants' plates. It didn't taste like a slug, though, so Michelle was able to survive this bad day ... a bad day that still included her winning the dairy-based dessert Quickfire Challenge.

So yeah, as long as she's on the show, she's still the favorite to win. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.