Four chefs remain on Top Chef: Portland, including Jamie Tran, the executive chef and co-owner of The Black Sheep. After an emotional episode last week where Tran offered to leave the show to let Maria Mazon stay, Episode 12 brought highs and lows for Tran.
The contestants started with one final Quickfire Challenge using ingredients settlers on the Oregon Trail would have kept — think flour, lard, coffee, molasses, dried meats, and herbs. Tran says that as a kid, she’d eat walnuts fresh off the tree and that memory inspired her dish. Tran’s pan-seared salmon with a walnut pepper sauce won the challenge and an extra 30 minutes of cooking time in the Elimination Challenge.
She needed it.
Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena, Italy, talks to the contestants about his iconic dish, five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, which inspires the Elimination Challenge. The chefs head to Tilamook Creamery on the coast of Oregon to explore cheddar cheese, which will be the star of the dish. Tran says that she loves cheese, but really only uses it in her salads at The Black Sheep.
Tran made pan-seared sea bass with crispy cheddar, cheddar spaetzle, spiced cheese sauce, cheese broth box chop, and pickled cheese curds. Even though she had an extra 30 minutes, she spent time helping Dawn Burrell and Shota Nakajima plate their dishes. “I’m so close, but I’m not gonna change,” she tells Eater Vegas in a season where the contestants help each out a lot.
Tran was eliminated from the show. “I know a lot of people didn’t expect that,” she says after the episode aired. “I knew I was rushing and I had less time.”
But she says she’s proud of how well she performed on the show, making her way back on after winning Last Chance Kitchen mid-way through the season.
“After being eliminated, every episode was just a bonus episode for me,” she tells Eater Vegas. “Every challenge is an extra challenge for me to be honest. I handle each one better than I did before I was eliminated the first time around.”
She also says she was a lot more relaxed after being eliminated and coming back on the show. “I just don’t like people staring at me,” she says. “That’s why we never want to do a chef’s table or an open kitchen.”
Tran says she doesn’t regret being on Top Chef, and aside from the new friends she met — both contestants and staff behind the scenes — she learned to have more confidence in cooking competitions. “I used to like really hate competitions and I didn’t want to do them. I guess I did all right for my first competition.”
Top Chef: Portland airs on Thursdays on Bravo at 8 p.m. PDT.