Jamie Tran, the chef and co-owner of The Black Sheep, the Eater 38 restaurant in the southwest where Tran melds her Vietnamese upbringing with French techniques, competes on Top Chef: Portland with a goal of winning $250,000. Tran already made her mark in Las Vegas with The Black Sheep, which won an Eater Award for Restaurant of the Year.
In Episode Five, “Meet You at the Drive-In,” Tran continues to compete on the show where so far, four chefs were eliminated.
Episode Five starts with a Quickfire Challenge giving the contestants the task of creating a dish paying tribute to the mother figure in their life using roses or rose-flavored ingredients. Tran made mama’s imperial rolls with pork, shrimp, and mushroom topped with rose salt and vinaigrette, a dish similar to one served at The Black Sheep, sans the rose.
“If anybody asked me to represent my mom, I’d make imperial spring rolls or braised pork belly,” she tells Eater Vegas in an interview after the episode aired. She landed in the middle of the pack, although host Padma Lakshmi said her dish had a kick to it. “Mama likes to kick my ass, too, so that’s for you, mama,” Tran says on the show.
The Elimination Challenge separated the contestants into two teams to cook dishes for 50 during a drive-in movie night. Each of six dishes needed to represent a film genre, with Tran landing on the yellow team with Gabriel Pascuzzi, Sara Hauman, Nelson German, and Chris Viaud, who won immunity in the Quickfire Challenge, making a dish that represented comedy.
“I don’t like team challenges,” Tran says on the show. “If anybody’s a little bit more stronger minded, it’s gonna be hard. I just know like Gabriel rubs people the wrong way.”
Tran says she came up with her dish, sticky chicken wings with a fish sauce glaze, last. “I didn’t want to do another chicken wing because I’d done it on another challenge, but I just wanted to make it easier for the group because time’s running out,” she says on the show. “Chicken’s always a funny thing with the rubber chicken and all that stuff.”
Tran wanted to go with a dish from White Castle instead.
Tran says she normally likes to fry chicken for seven minutes to get a perfect crunch on it that stays crunchy even with sauce on it. “But my team suggests that we should fry it less and since this is a team challenge, I went with the team.”
That decision came back to bite Tran. “I’m used to getting such bold bright flavors from you and that did not happen today,” Lakshmi says at the Judges’ Table. Instead, she delivered a literal rubber chicken. She ended up packing her knives and leaving.
“Ultimately, I am my own person. I realized, during and after, I should have just do what I wanted to do instead of just trying to be a team player,” Tran tells Eater Vegas.
Her loss sent her to Last Chance Kitchen, the online show where eliminated contestants try to get back on Top Chef through cooking challenges. Tran faced off with Kiki Louya in a chicken challenge using liver, skin, feet, oysters, and thighs for a perfectly composed dish made in 25 minutes. She made a chicken curry with a liver spread on a baguette, ultimately winning the challenge that Tran says felt more laid back.
“I definitely learned from that experience and I just want to show that I’m able to cook better than that,” she says on the show.
Next week, two contestants are eliminated from Top Chef, and both face Tran in Last Chance Kitchen. The winner gets back on Top Chef.
Top Chef: Portland airs on Thursdays on Bravo at 8 p.m. PDT.