Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 4: "Captain Vietnam."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 4: "Captain Vietnam."

After last week’s grueling Commander’s Palace challenge...

Louis is still shellshocked that he didn’t get sent home for under seasoning his entire team’s dish. Carlos, you know they only sent Bret home because his dish was a personal offense to Emeril right? 

Wait. They make phones that fold in half?
Mornings are meant for phone calls home. And either the show’s budget got seriously slashed or they’re not allowed to have smartphone for whatever reason because Nick is calling home on a flip phone. Wait. Is that a Motorola Razor?? Nick met his wife in Atlantic City, and got engaged 6 months later. C’mon Nick, if you’re going to tell us you met your wife at a city predominately known for casinos and strip clubs, we’re gonna need a little more details here. Then we see a picture of him with his family, and his New England Patriots’ jersey. Nick! Are you crazy? You do know they throw snowballs at Santa in Philly right?

Here comes Emeril and this week’s guest judge, Eddie Huang. Eddie Huang’s kinda like an Asian Bourdain-lite with an “urban” flair. He hopped on the pork bun gravy train and opened up BaoHaus in NYC, literally right around the corner from Momofuku Saam bar - the Grand Poobah of pork puns. After that he wrote a book, appears on various travel/eating shows, and is a darling to those who enjoys his “street” personality. Eddie Huang is someone who would use the word “swagger” a lot. Even Emeril gets into character, throwing up a little “gang-signesque” salute as they walk in. 

1991 Ice Cube called. He wants his style back.
The chefs gather around to find out that there will be no Quickfire today. That’s not necessarily good news, since that also means no immunity will be given out. Eddie drops some knowledge and tells us a large population of Vietnamese people came to New Orleans during the ‘70s and got into the shrimping industry. And with that, Vietnamese cuisine is now a big part of New Orleans’ food culture. 

For their Elimination Challenge, the chefs are divided into teams to create a Vietnamese menu. And because of the intimate connection between the Vietnamese population in New Orleans and the shrimp industry, one of the dishes must feature shrimp. 

Ok people. Prepare yourself for the pervy Travis Masar Asian Experience. *Shudder*

Law and Order: SVU.
For those of you who don’t remember, Travis Masar has an Asian fetish. He cooks Asian, eats Asian, and probably also cooks and eats Asians. So because of that, he is the self-proclaimed “expert” of all things Asian. While Eddie and Emeril are explaining this challenge, Travis is sitting there nodding and smiling like a pedophile leering at a playground. 

“I’ve been to Vietnam, and not just been to Vietnam…” Travis tells us, as the editors chose to pick this spot to show us a picture of Travis and his Vietnamese boyfriend. *Double Shudder*

As per every episode now. We’ll have at least ONE chef who’s never tried or had any sort of experience with the week’s theme. Say hello to Carlos! Carlos says he’s never eaten Vietnamese food in his life, his LIFE! And it’s not just him, Bene, who cooks and lives in New York City also confesses that he knows “zero” about it. Seriously, how are you people chefs?? Any self-respecting chef must have had a hangover at some point and that means a giant bowl of pho. Pho cures hangovers! #ProTip

"Stockholm Syndrome"
Just for the sake of dunderheads like them, Emeril and Eddie take the chefs out for a crash course on Vietnamese food. They’re going to spend the day sampling food from bakeries, get a tour with the shrimpers, and slurp down some pho. Now that’s a tour I’d like to be on!

Get your pimp-slapping backhand ready, cuz here comes egregious statement number one of the day from Travis, “No offense to Eddie or Emeril, but I can probably give them a crash course on Vietnam.” *slap*

Speaking of pimp, instead of the usual Toyota tie-in transportation, the gang gets on a limo party bus. This things got a TV, champagne flutes, and some fruit/veggie snacks. A chef’s eating tour is probably the most wholesome purpose ever for this bus because I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an optional for a “pole.” See, that’s how Eddie Huang likes to roll.
I wouldn't shine that black light in here...

On the bus Michael Sichel points out Dong Phuong Bakery and tries to bond with Emeril  over how great the famous bakery is. It’s actually the first stop on the tour. Nina finds Michael and his schtick super fake and compares him to Pamela Anderson’s breasts. 

Now this is how I know Nina is a force to be reckoned with in this competition. Obviously she’s been so busy cooking in the past 10 years that the only pop culture reference she can come up with hasn’t been relevant since Bill Clinton was in office. 

The chefs samples various buns, pastries, and desserts from the bakery and yuk it up with Eddie and Emeril. Stephanie tells us this was one of her best experiences ever. I’m sure it was, but it sure didn’t translate on television. Hey, at least some of them can now say they’ve been to a Vietnamese bakery.

I find you very creepy.
Back on the bus the Green Team is going over their menu. Travis wants to use romaine lettuce for a wrap when Sara flat out says, “They (Vietnamese cooks) would never use romaine…” When Travis tries to rebut by claiming that’s how they do it in Denver, Sara just condescendingly shakes her head ‘no.’ Awkward.

Stop number two, shrimp docks.

It’s always good for cooks and chefs to tour places like this. It’s important to know where your food comes from and how much hard work goes into sourcing them. It makes you respect your ingredients and makes you put some love into preparing it. The additional benefit of this particular trip though, is to get cooking tips from the people who grew up catching and eating shrimp.

Shirley wisely plays the “hey we’re all Asian” card and chats up some shrimpers’ wives. Apparently the New Orleans locals use butter when grilling the shrimp even though butter isn’t known to be in Vietnamese cuisine. You know what, I don’t care what part of the world you’re from, you cannot go wrong using butter. You know what Julia Child says, “With enough butter, anything is good.”

Janine tell us she knows a little bit about Vietnamese food because um, she worked in a Thai restaurant and spend four months in Thailand! Yeah. Ok. I understand Asian flavors sometimes cross over and all, but that’s like saying you know Spanish food because you spent sometime in Italy. Because, you know, European flavors and all. 
Why yes, I always wear strappy red tops in the kitchen.

Here comes Travis again, telling the team about a traditional central Vietnamese dish consists of spicy tomato sauce served with shrimp. Right. Because tomatoes are so abundant and traditional to Vietnam? Janine is skeptical. Stephanie and Bene are skeptical. We’re all skeptical. *Side note: Upon research I found out they actually do use tomatoes in Central Vietnam cooking.*

Carlos is very nervous since, before today, the man’s never even tasted Vietnam food before. And obviously he’s going on about it on the bus. It gets to the point where Nick basically tells him to make a damn soup and stop talking. Ah. Such support in the air.

Last stop, Kim Anh’s Noodle House. Pho time! 

You're going to need a LOT more beers.
The chefs basically feast on everything from the noodles with grilled meat, to the refreshing summer rolls, to the warm and comforting pho. All the while Travis seems have taken over the hosting role, and basically proceed to give his own version of a crash course.

Sara’s kinda over it, “Ok. You know what? We get it. If he’s going to be Captain Vietnam he better bring it. *Chuckles* We’ll see after we’re done tomorrow.” 

The gang raises their beers for a group “cheers” only to be interrupted by Captain Travis, as if he just can’t help himself, telling everyone that cheers, “in Vietnamese is ‘vo’” 

Shopping time. They’re at Hong Kong Food Market. Eddie tells everyone that this is the “premiere Asian supermarket and whatever they need, it’s gonna be here.”

No Travis. Not like that you perv.

I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to showcase my hair.
Meanwhile, Sara’s strong personality is taking over the Green team. She’s ordering people around and basically dictating the shopping exercise. Things are put into the cart and taken out of the cart. Always great to work with someone who says, “I don’t mean to be a bitch but I know what I’m doing...” *Slowly backing away*

Time to cook. The chefs arrive at Tan Dinh Vietnamese Bistro to prepare for service. 
The Red team’s (Justin, Nina, Shirley, Patty, Carrie) philosophy is not just focusing on traditional Vietnamese cuisine, they want to tell the story of Vietnamese people in New Orleans. Seems like a smart direction, although the next time anyone says, “classic with a twist” I’m going to scratch my eyes out. I think that’s right up there with “Go big or go home.” Ugh.

Green team’s (Bene, Janine, Sara, Captain, Stephanie) going traditional. Armed with their Captain’s intimate knowledge of Vietnam and its people, they are super confident. 

This is my exact chance of winning Top Chef.
You can have all the confidence in the world but you’re not gonna make tasty Vietnamese without lemongrass. And they can’t find their lemongrass. Apparently somewhere between the store and the restaurant, the lemongrass got lost in transportation. 

They’re scrambling around, trying to find this lemongrass to no avail. Meanwhile Justin (who’s on the Orange team) tell us that he bought way too much lemongrass and had the Green team just asked, he would have given them some. 

Isn’t that what Mr. White said about Jane, Jesse’s girlfriend ODing? “Had she asked for my help I would have helped her. But she didn’t so I watched her die.” Yes I dropped a Breaking Bad reference. You’re welcome.

Here comes Emeril and Eddie for the cook ‘n chat. 

Hey I'm Asian how come you don't like me?
Right away Eddie wants to know how Bene is making this tomato sauce “Vietnamese” and offered this advice, “If you need a little more Vietnamese I’m sure one of the owners will put their foot in it for you.” Ah and that’s the razor sharp wit Eddie Huang brings to the table.

Speaking of wit or lack there of, Travis tells Eddie and Emeril that he’s making a lemongrass pork sausage however, they “lost the lemongrass in ‘translation.’” 

Yes. I stole the lemongrass.
Smart move Sherlock. Not only did you admit to screwing up you’ve also botched the reference. Even Eddie is wondering how the hell do you lose something “in translation?”  And not surprisingly, Mr. Huang bust his chops a lil bit, “Vietnamese food with no lemongrass. (pause) This is the expert on Vietnamese food.”

And here comes egregious statement number two, courtesy the Captain himself, “Eddie is Taiwanese Chinese. He only knows a little bit of what he knows. Sorry Eddie, you’re kind of a douche bag.” *slap*

You know, there have been times when cheftestants disagreed with judges in the past, but this marks the first time someone called the guest judge a “douche bag.” Isn’t that grounds for immediate dismissal??

Do I look like a douchebag to you? Wait. Don't answer that.
Right about now everyone involved in Travis’ central Vietnamese tomato dish is second guessing themselves. Janine mistimed her shrimp so she threw the crispy shrimp back into the fryer to make sure they hot. And then she coats them said tomato sauce. What happens when you put liquid over something crispy? Yeah, it’s like what happens when you pour milk over cereal, after a bit it gets soggy. 

Justin the good samaritan is quietly watching this train wreck of a dish and not saying anything. “It’s a Napoleon quote, ‘Brilliance is winning, but also not telling your opponent they’re losing…” Um. Who knew Napoleon was so NOT eloquent? 

Actually, the quote Justin was trying to summon is “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.” Um yeah Justin, stick to cooking buddy.

This weeks judges are Tom, Padma, Emeril, and Eddie. Gail’s here for tasting and comic relief.

Time for service.

Pho. Pronounce as you wish.
Orange Team (Nick, Michael, Carlos, Brian, Louis)

Black Pepper Fried Squid with Cabbage & Peanuts.

Gulf Shrimp & Pork Belly Spring Roll.

Fish Head Soup with Pineapple, Tomato & Tamarind.

Beef Broth Pho with Raw Eye Round & Ox Tail.

This team’s effort was summarized perfectly by Tom, “I love Vietnamese food, after I’m done here I want to go out for it tonight. Because this is not doing it for me.” 

The squid is lacking in fish sauce, the fish head soup is too sweet, the pho’s lacking in aromatics. The only saving grace for the team was the spring roll. Congrats people, you’re on Top Chef and what’s saving you are spring rolls. 

Red Team (Justin, Nina, Shirley, Patty, Carrie)

Nina & Carrie
Raw Beef Salad with Pickled Vegetables

Vietnamese BBQ Shrimp with Creole Spice Butter

Beef Pho with Rice Noodles & Lettuce

Lemon Custard with Caramelized Banh Mi.

Overall the Red teams dishes were a big step up from the previous team’s offerings. Justin’s pho was “light years” ahead of Louis.” Also Shirley’s BBQ shrimp with butter, authenticity aside, scored super high marks. See, don’t ever doubt Julia Child.

Green Team (Bene, Janine, Sara, Captain, Stephanie)

Vietnam via Italy.
Grilled Pork Sausage Lettuce Wraps with Pineapple Shrimp Paste

Sara & Stephanie
“Dim Sum Duo” Oxtail Rice Wrap with Pork & Shrimp Wrap.

Bene & Janine
Fresh Gulf Shrimp with Ginger Vietnamese Tomato Sauce.

Coconut Macaroon with Vietnamese Coffee Flavors.

To no one’s surprise, the Green team fails. That happens when you claim to be the expert and can’t deliver. The judges are going to judge you on a curve. To Travis’ credit his dish was passable. The sausage, lemongrass issue aside, delivered that pate-esque texture and flavor, though the shrimp paste was too strong. Thankfully, his mistake is our gain because the overpowering sauce lead to this wonderful exchange.

Gail: “It’s completely shrimp paste heavy. It just smacks you in the face.”

Padma: “But I was happy to be smacked in the face by something.”

Gail: “Nice. That’s how you like it…”

Eddie: *Gleeful laughter*

Me: *Gleeful laughter*

Oh Padma you saucy wench. I hope this sexual double entendre becomes a weekly tradition. And if you’re playing the Top Chef Padma Sexual Reference drinking game at home, this would be the time to chug.

Padma! You're making me blush...
The real downfall though, is that ill-fated tomato shrimp dish. The problem wasn’t actually with the tomatoes, it’s that the shrimp were poorly cooked and the entire dish poorly executed. Things are not looking good for the Green Team.

During the interlude, the chefs amuse themselves in the stew room by having a planking contest. In a Survivor-style endurance race, the person who can hold the planking position the longest wins. Shirley outlasts them all. In the editing business this is what we would call “foreshadowing.” Surely you’re not surprised. Ok ok, I won’t call you Shirley.

Planking contest over, the chefs agonizes in the stew room. Here comes the Flat Screen of Judgement. Nina says every time that TV comes on she wishes it was an episode of Seinfeld. See, another late ‘90s pop culture reference. Guess she won’t get that earlier Breaking Bad bit.

Out the three teams, it’s clear that the Red Team came out on top. Shirley’s BBQ shrimp was perfectly cooked and Justin’s pho was pretty unbelievable considering he only had two hours to develop the flavor. 

Later - blanket party.
Meanwhile the Green Team’s getting blasted. Everything from greasy mushy rice, to unbalanced flavor in the sausage, to an epic fail of a tomato shrimp dish. Travis disagrees. It’s your typical “the judges just don’t get it” response. You know what Capt’n, that’s why they’re the judges and you’re you.

In case you missed the aforementioned foreshowing above, the winner was clearly Shirley. By spending time and chatting with the shrimpers’ wives, she clearly captured the great combination of Vietnamese and creole flavors. See also: butter. 

Note to Bravo editors. Please get rid of the swish pans. They’re about as up-to-date as Nina’s pop culture references.

I have a question: "Why is Travis so creepy?"
And…here comes the tears. What’s with the crying this season? Sara breaks down in front of the judges partly because she knew that they could have done so much better. Yeah, coulda would shoulda - didn’t.

Sigh. Let’s talk about this tomato debacle some more shall we. Travis defends it by stating that he’s had this dish in Vietnam, three times. To which Tom retorts by saying there might be McDonald’s in Paris but that doesn’t make it Parisienne. Well played Tom, as always.

The Walking Dead. Sundays on AMC.
*Sidebar here* I did some research and Travis is actually not wrong. There are quite a few tomato based dishes that are served in Central Vietnam. So he’s not delusional or anything. But of all the dishes to try and showcase Vietnamese cuisine, this was a bad decision. Poor Bene and Janine are left holding the proverbial bag on this one. 

“I really sympathize with Bene and Janine because it’s almost like you saw an UFO and then told them to draw it.” This is why Eddie Huang so successful. That’s the perfect description of what went down here. Bravo Eddie.

With that said, Bene overcooked the actual tomato sauce and you do not want to serve Tom Colicchio bad gravy. And Janine made the mistake by throwing the shrimp back into the fryer. Like Eddie says, you don’t see “twice cooked shrimps” on any menu. 

I think I have pink eye. But that I mean I'm the worst ever.
With the way this episode played out, Travis really should be the one sent home. From his blind cockiness about the cuisine to the terrible conception of the menu, when the ship goes down - which it most definitely did - then the Captain has to be the one to blame. Alas, the bad guy never seems to be the one punished. It’s a difficult choice. Will it be Bene who put out as Emeril calls it, “Mama Bologne” sauce? Or Sara for serving mushy broken rice? In the end, “put the shrimp on the Barbie” one too many times blondie gets the boot. One by one the eye candies gets sent packing. 

The reaction in the stew room (and the producers’ room) is an overwhelming “NO!!!” Being pretty aside, she was definitely one of the more well-liked chefs. So sad faces all around. So long Janine. I’ll most definitely miss your charming personality and not clips of you cooking in short shorts and halter tops, not one bit. Ok that’s a lie. It won’t be same without you. 

Thanks for stopping by! We'll see you next week!

As always, go follow me on twitter @ChezWu

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