Michael Sichel is gone. No more annoying and phony terms of endearment like “boo boo” and “babycakes.” Nina is happy.
Lea Michele is gone. No more self-aggrandizing and phony culinary terms like “needs more acid” and “party in my mouth.” I am happy.
|If you think he's handsome now...|
After the non-sequitur guest appearance last week, it’s a relief to see John Besh, one of champions of the New Orleans food world to be this week’s guest judge. Time to bring the focus back to the region. Did you know that he was a former marine who was in Operation Desert Storm?
Before the challenge is announced, the chefs were told to pack their bags. It’s time for an overnight trip. It’s also time for an impromptu Toyota product tie-in.
|Check him out back then.|
The gang drives a hour north of New Orleans to Covey Rise Farms, a 50 acre farm that supplies restaurants and their local CSA/Produce club. When a restaurant claims the (all too cliched) term “farm-to-table,” they’re talking about a place like this.
Chef Besh tells everyone that one of the farm’s specialty are their creole tomatoes. These tomatoes are only grown in the southern parts of Louisiana. They are large, meaty, thin-skinned and juicy. Their Quickfire Challenge is to compose a dish highlighting these tomatoes in 20 minutes.
Paddy’s complaining that these Quickfires are getting shorter and shorter. I remember one season when the chefs had only 10 minutes to make a breakfast dish - with one hand! Quit your bitching.
The winner of the challenge will have immunity.
Here we go.
Here’s why this season has been kinda meh. If I were to tell you that Brian Huskey is making a “toad-in-the-hole,” using a big piece of tomato instead of bread you’d probably say, “who?”
You know what Tom Colicchio would say? You got it. You’re not going to win Top Chef by sticking an egg in the middle of a tomato. And that’s also why eventually Brian Huskey is going to join the likes of Eliza Gavin, Whitney Otakawa, and Tracey Bloom. #RedShirts.
Everyone’s getting on Bene for this challenge. His past two attempts at tomatoes both landed him on the bottom. So the chances of him winning this challenge? Yeah.
Nina’s making a chilled watermelon tomato soup. That’s what cooks refer to as “pushing.” To make a chilled soup in Louisiana summer heat in 20 minutes is ambitious to say the least, but she’s “pushing” herself to do something more than throw a freaking egg in the middle of a tomato.
Stephanie, who claim she studied John Besh’s book prior to the season, goes with sliced tomatoes with cubes of watermelons, avocados, and crumbles of feta cheese. That’s literally something anyone can just throw together. Mean while, over at Masterchef Junior, 10 year olds are whipping up Beef Wellingtons.
Here are the dishes from chefs with skills and imagination.
Carlos - Olive Oil Poached Tomato with Red Onions, Cilantro & Basil.
Nina - Chilled Watermelon Tomato Soup with Jalapeno, Fresh Basil & Shaved Zucchini.
|Maybe we should be on Top Chef.|
Louis - Tomato Seed Bouillon, Marinated Tomato, Watermelon Cucumber & Zucchini.
The winner - Nina’s chilled soup. Not that she needs it, but she’ll have immunity for this week. With the slight hiccup last week when Michael pulled her down to the bottom, Nina has been favored since the first challenge. Regardless of where she finishes, I suspect we’ll remember her name after this season’s over.
There’s that term again. Since they’re at a farm, they’ll be doing the whole “bring the farm to the table” business. They’ll have 90 minutes to showcase all the beautiful local produce. And oh yeah, every dish will have to have PHILADELPHIA CREAM CHEESE!!
|Told you this was a bad idea!!|
Right. Because nothing says freshness and farm to table like commercialized processed food.
Look. I understand a show needs sponsors. But it’s ridiculous to use this particular sponsor on this particular challenge. Isn’t the the whole point is to use local products? Isn’t the whole “farm to table” movement to source from small, nearby purveyors? So you guys go ahead and feature something that LITERALLY has the name of a city that is 1,200 miles away?!?!
Philadelphia Cream Cheese says they source their milk from local farms and it goes from their creameries to their fridge is just 6 days. I also did check their ingredients list and everything in there does check out with the good people of Label Watch. So I guess as commercialized products go they’re not too bad. But wouldn’t it make sense to feature something like Creole Cream Cheese, something that is native to the region and could use the help to boost publicity?
Wanna hear something even more shocking? Beloved John Besh, champion of all things New Orleans, serves a Creole Cream Cheese Red Velvet ice cream at one of his restaurants, Soda Shop.
Guess he figured it’s not his show. But still, it’s this kind of BS that turns people away.
The cheftestants will be serving the judges and some of the executive chefs from John Besh’s restaurants. Each will be responsible for either an app, entree, or desert. Dishes will be served family style. Everyone gets to draw knives to see which course they’ll serve, and along with immunity, Nina gets to pick first. She picks apps. Smart choice because it’s basically a one/two bite dish. No need to worry about protein/veg/starch composition.
Since this is a sponsored challenge, winner gets 10 grand.
After the knife pick for dishes, the chefs get a night off and relax at the Covey Rise Lodge, part of the whole Covey Rise Sportman’s Retreat. It’s got a pool, a fire pit, you know - outdoorsy stuff: Drink a beer, make some s’mores, nature walk. Hm. I wonder if they have wifi. #ProbNot
|I would have looked great in a bikini.|
Hey there’s a pool so that means bikini shots! Nope. I can hear the primal screams of the producers now with both eye-candy cheftestants Jason Cichonski and Janine Booth being eliminated. No T&A here, we get one shot of Stephanie hanging out with a beer in her tank top. Sigh.
Nina, Travis and Bene have formed a tight little group. They’re bonding and making s’mores. Nina says that Bene is a happy person and when you’re happy you make happy food. Notice she didn’t say “good” food. If I were Bene I’d ask Nina for some cooking tips. Because he’s making s’mores over open fire with his bare hands. I’m no Top Chef but I’m pretty sure you’ll burn yourself doing that.
Next day the chefs arrive at John Besh’s restaurant, La Provence. Right away everyone’s squeezed into the walk-in fridge, battling for ingredients. Since the *ahem* focus is on local and seasonal, there’s a limited amount of what’s available. Products are on a first come first serve basis. No need to fight for the cream cheese. They’ll have plenty of that.
|I never have a problem getting my hair done in time!|
With only 90 minutes, people are scrambling around. Somehow Sara finds the time to bitch about her lack of success thus. She says she’s tired on being in the middle of the pack - and that’s being generous to say the least. If she paid as much attention to her food as her hairdo, she’s have already won this thing.
Louis (yes, another name I don’t really recognize) utters one of those cliched competition phrases, “If it works it’s great, if not I’m screwed.” He’s making some sort of graham cracker bread pudding surprise with blueberries.
Speaking of surprise. Surprise! Bene didn’t see the ingredients he had hoped for so now he doesn’t know what to do. I wonder what he was hoping to find? Ready-made po’boys from Parkway Deli? He’s going to be super creative and cook chicken.
|Bene. You're doing it wrong.|
Justin’s in a odd spot. Much like the Commander’s Palace challenge, he knows some of these chefs that will be in attendance. Hell, as a James Beard award nominee, he could probably be one of the chefs working for John Besh. Extra pressure for sure.
Instead of Tom Colicchio, it’s John Besh who does the cook ‘n chat. John is much less intimidating than Tom. It’s not that John’s any less of a chef, you can just tell his style of mentoring is much more nurturing. It’s like being motivated not out of fear but out of not wanting to let him down.
Tavis’ mom has a crush on John Besh. Of course! John Besh is a handsome man! I’m sure if he was Asian Travis would be fighting his mom for John Besh.
|Beacon of Positivity.|
Sara’s running out of time. She’s having problem stuffing her lamb loins (no pun intended) so now her lamb doesn’t have enough time to cook. She says she just needs to stay positive to make it work. Yeah, because you know, she’s been the most positive person in the kitchen thus far. She’s just glad what she has the plate isn’t disgusting. That’s the positivity!
Time for the appetizers.
Patty - Snapper Crudo with Cream Cheese Vinaigrette.
Brian - Summer Squash & Zucchini Tagliatelle with Poached Oysters & Emulsified Cream Cheese.
Carlos - Poached Beets & Pickled Carrots with Peach, Habanero & Cream Cheese Sauce.
Nina - Crispy Zucchini Blossoms with Eggplant & Cream Cheese Puree.
Sara - Island Spiced Lamb Chop Stuffed with Cream Cheese & Curry Powder.
|Finally. Something delicious.|
The stand outs here were Carlos and Nina. Carlos manages to bring his Mexican background into every dish. There’s always some sort of chillies or cilantro to accent that unique flavor. And Nina’s just being Nina. Smokey eggplant puree with the tangy cream cheese stuffed in a crispy zucchini flower. Crispy and savory in one bite.
Not surprisingly, Sara’s lamb was severely undercooked. Her dish was clearly the bottom of this group.
Back in the kitchen, the next group is finishing up the entrees. Bene’s in a bit of a trouble. (I feel like I write that every week.) He feels the vegetable are underdone, so he throws it back on the stove and covered it with some tin foil. The result is mushy, steamed vegetables. He says, “It’s not my best work.” I feel like he says that every week.
Here are the entrees.
|That lamb is not quite silenced...|
Bene - Roasted Chicken Breast Filled with Caramelized Onions & Tarragon Cream Cheese.
Carrie - Vinegar Braised Chicken in Cream Cheese Sauce with Chilled Cucumber.
Justin - Roasted Duck Breast with Eggplant Vinaigrette, Chanterelle Mushrooms & Corn Puree.
Travis - Seared Lamb Chops with Moroccan Succotash & Cream Cheese Aioli.
The judges concur with Bene. Just not Bene’s food. When Tom Colicchio says, “Steamed potatoes with paprika on them, it’s just like ‘what are we doing here?’” You know you’re in trouble.
John Besh’s being nice. He thought Travis’ lamb stood out. Tom disagrees. “Let’s put it this way. If any of these guys here made dish like this for you or one of your restaurants they wouldn’t be at this table!”
The only stand out here was Justin’s duck. This is were being local comes in handy. Justin knew that aside from vegetables, Covey Rise also has Chappapella Farm nearby and they raise free range, happily treated ducks. His seared duck breast with mushrooms could be the best dish on the day. No one can really taste the cream cheese in the sauce. Perhaps that’s his secret!
Tom tells this story of back in the day when his moms rolls up colored breads with cream cheese and pimento olives and serves them at her dinner parties. I love it when Tom tells childhood stories. It’s the only time I’m not deathly afraid of him.
|Tell me again why we're doing a cream cheese episode?|
Lastly, the desert group puts on the finishing touches.
Stephanie’s having a tough week. After serving the simplest of dishes to John Besh, now her “desert” isn’t work out at all. She tried to combine cream cheese with whipped cream and it’s just not mixing. So basically she’s serving a pile of goop.
The sweet stuff:
Louis - Graham Cracker with Blackberries & Cream Cheese Mousse.
Nick - Funnel Cake & Carrot Cake with Peach Flavored Ice Cream.
Shirley - “Philadelphia” Steamed Egg Custard with Macerated Blueberries.
Stephanie - Cream Cheese, Peach & Cherry Mousse with Cream Cheese Short Dough.
Everyone is wondering what happened with Stephanie’s “mousse.” One guest chef said it was “broken” on many different levels. Even Tom says there’s gotta be a story behind this. Not good.
Nick was the big winner in the desert round. His funnel cake was a great combination with the carrot cake mousse. Being from Philly, glad to see he knows how to incorporate the ingredient! However, no one at the table mentioned it.
Overall, the guests and judges were not impressed. Usually chefs love to cook for other chefs. It’s one of those unsaid things where you did your best work simply because you know that they will understand and appreciate your efforts more than the average guy. However, today most the cheftestants folded under pressure. Once again, it feels like some these guys are cooking to get by rather cooking to win.
Back in the Stew Room. The Flat Screen of Doom flickers on.
|This season so far.|
Padma’s disappointed. John Besh is disappointed. We’re all disappointed. But what did you expect when they’re forced to use freaking Philadelphia cream cheese in every dish? But that’s no excuse. Some of these cooks are just weak.
The few highlights were Nick’s funnel cake, Justin’s duck, and Nina’s blossoms. Time and time again Nina’s among the top dishes. Sara is intimidated and resentful. There’s that positivity again.
The winner to no one’s surprise is Nina. If this keeps up we’ll just call the show “Cooking with Nina Compton!”
On the bottom we have some familiar faces. Bene, Sara, and Travis are called to face the music. Somehow Stephanie was spared. Perhaps because it was a dessert course? Hard to imagine she survived service a goopy mess.
|Welcome to the club, Bene.|
As Tom puts it so eloquently, the loser “went from farm to table and took a detour to the cafeteria.” Bene and his steamed vegetables gets the cut. He joins Mohammed, Jugdish, Sidney and Clayton in a lonely corner of the Omega house. Enjoy the punch and cookies!
Next week is going to be awesome. To prepare for it, go fix yourself a sazerac and set your Pandora station to Kermit Ruffins!
Please follow me on twitter @ChezWu!