'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Episode 13 recap: The chefs set sail in Curaçao in first finale episode (2024)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Top Chef" Season 21, Episode 13, which aired June 12, 2024.

Ahoy, “Top Chef” fans! It’s come down to this: Tonight, we learned who will be the top three contestants vying for the title of Top Chef.

It was the first of two finale episodes filmed aboard the Holland America Eurodam cruise ship, which set sail from beautiful Curaçao.

While I missed seeing Wisconsin shine on the small screen, it’s been a brutal season for the chefs, and they’ve more than earned a Caribbean getaway. But it’s not all fruity co*cktails and beach excursions. The top four chefs had one final, frazzled Elimination Challenge before the last episode.

It wasn’t pretty. We know how talented Dan, Danny, Laura and Savannah are, and the first cruise-line cook showed some cracks. But there were a couple standout dishes, and three of the chefs will have time to rebound in the final episode of “Top Chef: Wisconsin,” which airs next week.

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What in MKE did we see?: Nothing! “Top Chef” wrapped its time in Wisconsin with Episode 12. The finals are set aboard Holland America’s Eurodam cruise ship.

Celebrity sightings: Chef/author Helmi Smeulders, Holland America Line President Gus Antorcha, Holland America Line Captain Mark Trembling, superstar Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Holland America Line Fleet Executive Chef Sinu Pillai, “Top Chef: Texas” contestant Ed Lee, Holland America Line Director of Dining and Beverage Operations Marisa Christenson.

Where was the challenge set? Holland America’s Eurodam cruise ship

How did Dan do?Major spoiler! It was a bit of an up-down-up episode, but ... he did good enough to make it to the “Top Chef” finale! After a middling first course, he redeemed himself with a beautiful blackened snapper that impressed the judges and punched his ticket to the finale. He also won the Quickfire Challenge this week — his first Quickfire win of the season.

Best Milwaukee-related quote: “I’m on the cusp of being the next Top Chef. I’m happy to represent my city of Milwaukee, I’m happy to represent the state of Wisconsin. Let’s go.” —Dan Jacobs

'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Episode 13 recap: The chefs set sail in Curaçao in first finale episode (1)

Sure, Milwaukee has some pretty spectacular water views of its own, but when the episode opened to punchy-colored buildings nestled by glimmering cerulean waters, it was clear “Top Chef” had bid adieu to the Midwest for the season.

“We’re not in Milwaukee anymore,” Dan said as he arrived at the marina in Curaçao.

Weeks after the final episode filmed in Milwaukee, the top four chefs (Dan, Danny, Laura and Savannah) reconvened with host Kristen Kish and judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons in sunny Curaçao, an island just north of Venezuela.

We learned that Danny had just run the New York City Marathon (We saw him running around Milwaukee a lot this season, but how did he manage to train during the competition?!) And Savannah had big news of her own: shegot engaged during her time athome (like, right when she got home. “I got off the plane and it happened,” she said.)

But even from 2,000 miles away, chef Dan hadn’t forgotten about his hometown.

“Winning ‘Top Chef’ changes everybody’s life. Beyond what it’s gonna do for my business, I think about what it could do for the state of Wisconsin or the city of Milwaukee,” he said.

He’s not there yet, but the first of his cooks to determine whether he’ll claim the title was just ahead.

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The Quickfire Challenge: Lionfish and cheese are a gouda pairing

Kish, Colicchio and Simmons were waiting for the chefs by the marina and welcomed them to Curaçao with an azure-hued co*cktail featuring, of course, blue Curaçao liqueur.

“OK, chefs, are you ready to take a stab at your final Quickfire Challenge?” Kish asked.

She pointed toward the display of spiney lionfish just to her left, an easy tip-off to the main ingredient of this week’s challenge, which none of the chefs had cooked with before.

But local chef, cookbook author and lionfish hunter Helmi Smeulders was there to help. She explained that lionfish are an invasive species, and chefs in the area are encouraged to hunt and cook the fish to cut down on the population.

With 18 venomous spines, lionfish are intimidating little suckers, but although the chefs would be cooking them, they wouldn’t have to break them down themselves. Phew!

“Well, I mean, that’d be a great way to eliminate one of us, too,” Dan said, joking (but at this point in the competition, there could have been a kernel of truth there).

The chefs wouldn’t only be cooking with lionfish. A second ingredient, gouda, is prevalent in Curaçao, brought to the island by the Dutch in the 17th century.

“Just because we left Wisconsin doesn’t mean we’re gonna leave all the cheese behind,” Kish said. (Smart woman!)

The chefs would have the "sacrilegious” task of incorporating the lionfish and gouda in one dish, attempting to balance the mildness of the fish with the gouda’s strong flavor.

They’d have just 30 minutes to figure out how.

It was like the reverse of the infamous cheese festival challenge: Three of the chefs made some sort of light tartare or crudo while Danny opted for a fried croquette.

Dan’s tartare was tossed in a little Kewpie mayo and served with orange and fresno aguachile and gouda frico. Laura’s crudo came with guava sauce and gouda crunch. Savannah’s crudo had chili oil and a sauce inspired by Curaçao’s national dish (keshi yena). Danny’s croquette had gouda sauce and red cabbage slaw.

After the quick cook, Dan’s lionfish tartare was the winning dish. Simmons said the Kewpie mayo he used in the dish was a smart bridge between the light fish and gouda.

It was the first-ever Quickfire win for Dan, a last-minute victory for a known hater of the speedy mini challenges. He took home $10,000, his first cash prize since winning Restaurant Wars.

The Elimination Challenge reveal: There’s plenty of fish in the sea

We saw a lot of heartland-favorite ingredients pop up in the Wisconsin challenges this season, but when you’re surrounded by the sea, one ingredient comes to mind: fresh fish.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs would work together to present an eight-course meal featuring eight different fish with eight different preparations: raw, steamed, mousse, poached, fried, roasted, smoked and blackened.

Each chef would present two dishes to the judges’ table aboard the Holland America Eurodam line.

The ship would provide a pantry of ingredients, but the chefs could supplement it at the floating market nearby, where they’d have 10 minutes and $100 to shop for fresh produce.

Without knowing what type of fish they’d be working with yet, the chefs navigated the market selecting ingredients that could be used broadly or those that showed off the region’s local flavor.

On cook day, they’d have two-and-a-half hours to prep and cook their dishes to serve to a table of eight judges aboard the ship.

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The chefs unwind with a special dinner and stingray excursion

But the chefs would have a little time to unwind before one of the most stressful cooks of the season.

Once aboard the Eurodam, they met at restaurant Tamarind, where an iconic celebrity chef was working behind the sushi bar.

It was Masaharo Morimoto,starof long-running cooking competition show “Iron Chef,” and a restaurateurwho owns more than 20 restaurants around the world, including one aboard one of Holland America’s fleet. He also happens to be the fresh fish ambassador to Holland America.

He prepared a multi-course menu for the contestants, who sat slack-jawed in awe of the superstar chef the whole time.

“Chef Morimoto’s just going to cook for me and these three goons? This is crazy,” said a wide-eyed Dan.

“I feel so honored to be here in this moment,” Savannahsaid.

Before leaving, Morimoto presented a list of the fish the chefs could choose from for the next day’s cook. But before he went, he left a poignant autograph for each chef, inscribing the words ichigo ichie on their menus, which means“the one-time chance” in Japanese.

Because Savannah won last week’s Elimination Challenge, she had first pick of the fish and preparation (raw Atlantic salmon and fried striped bass). The divvying up went pretty smoothly for the rest of the chefs, too, aside from a brief moment where Dan and Laura both aimed to claim snapper.

It seemed like the long-squashed beef between them had returned, but Laura offered the snapper to Dan and settled for grouper.

She also chose steamed black bass. Danny chose sea bream mousse and smoked rainbow trout.

Dan ended up with poached dorade and blackened snapper.

The next day, the chefs unwound with a beach-day getaway to Half Moon Cay, where they relaxed on a beachfront deck, sipped drinks and swam with stingrays (much to nature-averse Danny’s chagrin).

“The stingrays, they come and give you warm hugs, but also they can also sting,” Laura said. “Like the chefs in the competition almost.”

And making it this far, whoever got the chop this week would feel the sting extra hard.

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The Elimination Challenge: Rough waters in the kitchen at sea

The chill beach-day vibes screeched to a halt when the chefs entered the Tamarind kitchen the following day.

They’d cooly selected their fish and courses, but their confidence was shaken as their dishes took shape.

Dan’s yucca fritters came out from the frier mushy — another dunk in the oil helped crisp them up, but added an extra layer of grease. Danny’s steamed mousse didn’t souffle as he intended. And Savannah scrambled throughout her time in the kitchen, her vision for both dishes getting completely lost in the shuffle.

It seemed like nerves were getting to the chefs, and with good reason. This was one of the most important cooks of their lives to that point, with just one service between them and the finale.

They would serve a table of eight: Kish, Collichio, Simmons, Antorcha and Trembling, Pillai, Leeand Christenson.

Savannah was up first. She presented a sake-cured salmon roll with salmon tartare, twice-fried plantain and ginger dressing. A fine dish, but a very simple way to show off salmon, the judges said.

Next was Laura, who made a black bass recado negro with squash and fried plantain wrapped in a banana leaf. A fun idea, given the tropical locale, but Kish didn’t think the banana leaves were properly cleaned, creating a dirty musk that overwhelmed the dish.

Danny was never able to revive his sea bream mousse, which he served with a fines herbes salad and scotch bonnet and green garlic spheres.

In true Danny fashion, it was technical and stunning on the plate, but the mousse was so off it detracted from creativity of the spheres.

“Something went wrong,” Collichio said.

'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Episode 13 recap: The chefs set sail in Curaçao in first finale episode (5)

Something was wrong with Dan’s poached dorade, too. He told the judges he hadn’t cooked dorade in almost 20 years. He walked away feeling pretty confident that the judges loved his dish, but Tom swooped in with a real zinger after he’d left the room.

“Dan said he hasn’t cooked dorade since 2005. He still hasn’t cooked it,” he said. OUCH. His fish was raw.

Manny went home last week for serving raw fish, saving Dan from being eliminated just before the finals.

Although Dan’s fish wasn’t poached correctly, the judges did like the flavor of the coconut-turmeric sauce along with the grilled pumpkin and chili-garlic crisp. But Simmons mentioned those twice-fried fritters felt heavy and clunky alongside the rest of the dish’s bright Caribbean flavors.

Savannah's second dish was a bit of a flop, too. Her fried striped bass with pepper kosho and aji amarillo aioli was executed beautifully, but her choice to serve it on a too-large baguette made the dish feel dry. She should’ve cut the fish larger to fit, the judges said.

It was a big whiff for Laura’s grouper. It, too, was undercooked, and when she explained how she prepared it, she described baking the fish, not roasting, which was the preparation she was assigned.

And the guajillo pepper glaze, guajillo-xo emulsion and pineapple broth seemed to curdle in the bowl, an off-putting sight for any dish.

By that point, the judges were feeling a little awkward about their final four chefs.

“They’ve all cooked so much better,” Kish assured the guest judges. It was clear to everyone that the lackluster showing across the board meant the intensity of the competition was getting to them.

“They feel like they’re afraid,” Colicchio said.

Those fears were assuaged when Danny presented his second dish, a smoked rainbow trout with plantain pumpkin puree and a hazelnut lemon relish.

Smoked fish will always be dry, Lee said, but Danny’s smart decision to top his with a smoked rainbow trout foam infused it with moisture.

And the judges were wild about his hazelnut lemon relish, the lemon adding brightness and the hazelnut acting as a natural through line for the smokiness of the fish.

You could sense the relief in the room as the judges discussed his dish.

That relief lingered as Dan “brought up the caboose,” as he said, with the final course: blackened snapper, a preparation he’d never done but a dish his dad always enjoyed. He served it with butter-poached potatoes, a mandarin butter sauce and dill oil.

“This is my favorite dish of the whole meal,” Lee said. “Just comforting, it just made me feel good.”

With a big smile, Kish said Dan’s snapper was the juiciest piece of fish served all day.

After dinner, as the chefs debriefed, Dan was quiet as the rest of the chefs shared where they thought they had failed. He thought he nailed both dishes, but ending on that bright note gave him an extra boost of confidence going in to the judges’ critiques.

'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Episode 13 recap: The chefs set sail in Curaçao in first finale episode (6)

Who won ‘Top Chef: Wisconsin’ Episode 13?

Dan was half right. When Colicchio revealed that his poached fish, among others’, was served raw, Dan’s face fell.

“It flaked!” he said, uncredulous. He was shocked he’d misjudged the doneness of his dish.

But his smile returned when the judges praised his moist and flavorful blackened snapper.

“If everyone made blackened fish the way you did, that fish would not have died in the ‘90s,” Lee said.

Everyone got pretty high-low critiques for the day, for the most part. The judges said they could tell Savannah’s creativity just wasn’t there, and Laura had some major mishaps, including the dirty banana leaves and undercooked grouper.

They were totally turned off by Danny’s failed mousse, but he managed to save himself with his final dish, his unexpected smoked rainbow trout brightened beautifully by the lemon hazelnut relish.

“That dish, for me, was nearly perfect,” Kish said.

And that dish is what ultimately secured the win — and the first spot in the finale — for Danny.

Aside from advancing to the finale, Danny won $10,000 and a 10-day cruise for two anywhere in the world Holland America sails.

“I’m going to the finale, I got $53,000 and I’m going on a cruise?” he said. “This feels really good.”

I bet so, Danny!

'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Episode 13 recap: The chefs set sail in Curaçao in first finale episode (7)

Who was sent home on ‘Top Chef: Wisconsin’ Episode 13?

Who would be the next chef to join Danny in the finale?

Thank goodness for that “caboose” dish, which saved Dan and secured his spot in the finale, too.

“I’ve wanted to be in this position forever,” he said to the judges. “And I’m just happy you guys have given me this opportunity.”

That brought it down to Savannah and Laura, two talented chefs who’ve been on a hot streak the past few episodes, but lost their footing at the end.

This week, Savannah’s dishes were uninspired and Laura’s just hadtoo many flaws.

For Laura, who’d won her way back into the competition from Last Chance Kitchen, her journey on “Top Chef” would end.

“I feel good to be part of this,” she said after Kish asked her to pack her knives and go. “To have an opportunity to work with amazing chefs, to learn from other people, to get feedback from Kristen and from Tom and from Gail. To see the evolution of me as a chef.”

Savannah would join Danny and Dan in the finale.

But the energy had been sucked from the room. The chefs had reached a major milestone, but their subpar dishes had shaken their confidence and stripped away any sense of celebration they’d earned.

“You should feel good about this,” Colicchio said. “And I know why you don’t: You didn’t do your best work today. I get it, but you have an opportunity to make it up.”

Kish, who'd stood in their chef's coats on “Top Chef” before, urged the chefs to relish the position they were in.

“It’s a fantastic moment that you are going to remember forever,” she said through tears. “So have fun with it, truly. It’s really amazing.”

The whole room got emotional as the weight of the moment sank in.

Next week, Dan, Danny and Savannah will compete in the “Top Chef: Wisconsin” finale, one of them taking home the title for the season.

They’ll be joined by six eliminated contestants: Amanda, Michelle, Soo, Manny, Laura and Kaleena, who will partner with the top three as sous chefs, helping them cook a multi-course meal that will determine who will win the competition.

This is the point where I need to chime in and say I am a giant fan of all three contestants. Danny’s talent and artistry have been awe-inspiring from the start. And I’ve loved cheering on “underdog” Savannah as she’s risen and proven herself as an exceptional chef.

But, c’mon. I live in Milwaukee. Of course I’m going to be a homer.

Dan all the way, baby! He’s been such a fantastic representative for our city and state and it’s been so exciting to watch our hometown chef realize his yearslong dream.

“I’m on the cusp of being the next Top Chef,” he said as the credits rolled. “I’m happy to represent my city of Milwaukee, I’m happy to represent the state of Wisconsin. Let’s go.”

How to watch 'Top Chef: Wisconsin': TV channel, streaming

Viewers can watch live on Bravo on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. or stream the next day on Peaco*ck, BravoTV.com or the Bravo app.

'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Episode 13 recap: The chefs set sail in Curaçao in first finale episode (2024)
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