Nick is sick. He is probably sick and tired of nonsequitur challenges that are sponsor driven rather than embracing the city of New Orleans. Or maybe he just had some soured Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
|How I feel about this season.|
Nope. He’s got strep throat and is contagious for 24 hours. He’s forced to sit out the Quickfire challenge, and if he doesn’t recover in time, he will have to forfeit the competition. Unlike real life, where cooks calling in sick is unheard of, Nick cannot compete today.
The rest of the gang enters Top Chef Kitchen and finds Padma next to Kermit Ruffins, one of the most colorful and beloved musicians of New Orleans. Kermit is the essence of New Orleans jazz: joy and happiness. He also founded the jazz quintet, The Barbecue Swingers, and he often cooks barbecue for guests at their shows. Ever feel bummed out? Put on one of his albums, pour yourself a sazerac and get happy.
Unfortunately, as unprepared as this season’s cheftestants are about New Orleans food, they are equally clueless about New Orleans culture. Walking in, Sara actually said, “Oh there’s musical instruments!”
Seriously. Maybe to get ready for a season in New Orleans, god forbid you research a little bit about the city’s jazz culture or at the very least watch a few episodes of Treme? #FacePalm
|Most of you have no idea who I am...|
With Kermit in the house, obviously this challenge will involve music. Improvisation is a key skill to have both cooking in the kitchen and playing jazz on stage. I’ve often told people that cooking is improv. You have to constantly adjust to how your ingredients respond, much like jazz musicians must adjust to their fellow band mates.
This week’s Quickfire is kind of like a game of cooking musical chairs. The chefs will start at one station and rotate when Kermit starts to play his trumpet. When the music stops, they’ll resume cooking at the station in front of them. No one knows how many rounds, or how long Kermit will play each round.
30 minutes total Quickfire length. Winner gets immunity. Let’s party.
The first song is “Treme Second Line (Blow da Whistle),” a Kermit classic. The chefs awkwardly “dance” their way around the stations. Some of them timidly wave their “jazz hands” around. Two minutes later, the music stops and it’s time to figure out who’s got what.
Even though chances are they won’t end up where they started, everyone is putting their best foot forward and pushing 100%. Sara’s searing duck breast, Justin’s stuffing baby quails, and Nina’s butchering fish. Moments later, the music starts again.
While Kermit plays “Drop Me Off in New Orleans,” the chefs once again awkwardly scurry around the station. I think at one point Stephanie’s doing the “robot?”
|Wave it like you just don't care...|
What the chefs are annoyed by is the literal “time” spent on moving around while Kermit plays. What is normally a 30 minute challenge is now 30 minus however long Kermit decides to play.
Music stops. The chefs now openly asks each other what their original plan was, so they can decide either to stay the course or go another way. For the most part people are playing along and trying to make a go of it. All except for Brian.
Dude has no idea what to do. Realizing he’s probably not going to end up here in the end, he’s just gonna randomly sauté some vegetables. Slacker.
Here we go again. Probably due to time/editing, Kermit plays the same song very briefly. The chefs find themselves back where they first started.
Funny in just a few minutes, they find their original station/vision has gone off into a completely different direction. As usual, people like Patty and Brian made things that are completely not useful.
|I'm crying on the inside.|
Others, like Nina and Justin actually return to a well-managed station. Both feel confident that if they stayed put, the finished product will be a tasty one. But of course…
Another quick rotation and Louis find himself in the aftermath of Brian’s BS efforts. Nothing is done, and basically there’s bupkis to present. Meanwhile Justin learns the real meaning of “improv” when he had to throw away Patty’s gross goopy couscous salad.
“Thanks everybody, for f*%king me over with this gross salad,” he says, annoyed.
Time’s up. Let’s see who took advantage of other people’s hard work and who got screwed.
Marinated Tofu Salad with Crispy Bacon & Cucumbers.
|All the sadness.|
Rosemary Okra, Rendered Pork Fat, Confit Potatoes with Frog Legs & Queso Fresco.
Asian Inspired Steak & Potatoes with Soy Reduction.
Trout with Cabbage & Pepper Slaw & Deep Fried Cannellini Beans.
Duck & Mussels with Flavors of Asia.
Pork Chops, Tamarind Sauce, Shaved Red Onions, Mint & Jalapeño.
Liver with Serrano Chilies, Celery Salad & Coconut Curry Mustard Sauce.
Braised Chicken & Clams with Red Bean Sauce, Green Apple & Red Onion Slaw.
|Ok I was wrong. More sadness.|
Pan Seared Redfish with Cucumber Slaw, Red Beans & Butter Sauce.
Shrimp Boil & Herb Salad with Parsley, Ponzu & Olive Oil.
On the bottom. We’ve got the two “victims” of this challenge. Justin’s behind the 8-Ball because he landed in front of the tofu station. Not to mention, he had to throw most of the previous cooks’ efforts away because it was terrible. Also Louis, who inherited the mess of a frog leg station that slacker Brian left him
Apparently the Karma Police took the day off because the top dishes belonged to Brian, who spent more effort dancing instead of cooking, and Patty, who pretty much sunk Justin’s chance of winning by making bad couscous to go with tofu. The winner - Brian, who at least acknowledged and thanked ‘everyone else’ who worked on the dish.
|Yeah. We know where you put it.|
Instead of a lesson in improvisation, we got a lesson on how to ride peoples’ coat tails. Oh well, best laid plans right?
Elimination Challenge Time.
This week, the chefs will group together and prepare a cohesive potluck style dinner for Kermit and his musician friends. So basically, it’s another team challenge. The difference is they get to pick their own team.
Wait a minute. Now this is a new one. Patty has NEVER heard of the term potluck before? The lack of basic knowledge with this season’s chefs is beyond comprehension. Potluck??
Since Nick is out sick, the team with only 3 chefs will either take him if he’s better, or have to compete without him. Call it punishment for being sucky and not being able to find a fourth person to join your team. Or we can be honest and just call them the kids who didn’t get picked. I’ll give you 3 guess on who those cooks are, but you’ll probably get it on the first try.
Patty, Brian, Travis. Yup. The bottom of the barrel. Poor Nick. I don’t know which is worse. Having to go home for strep or getting sent home cooking with these yahoos.
They’ll have 2 hours to cook at the Top Chef kitchen and 30 minutes to finish their dishes at Kermit’s Speakeasy. Tonight, they get the privilege to have one of the greatest experience in New Orleans - Thursday Night at Vaughan’s with Kermit Ruffins.
Kermit’s been doing this Thursday night gig at Vaughan’s since the early 90’s and it was one of those “must do’s” in New Orleans. Sadly, he recently decided it was time to end that gig and focus on other ventures. So these chefs should feel very grateful to have seen one of his shows there.
The Green Team consists of Carrie, Nina, Stephanie, and Carlos. Easily the strongest team. Nina aside, Sara and Carlos both have had good showings so far. They’re focusing on an Italian theme, complete with dessert.
The Blue Team’s got Shirley, Louis, Justin, Sara. Justin aside, this is obviously the “B” team. Shirley as usual, would not shut up. Justin’s rethinking why he’s on this team.
And we have the Gray Team. Um yeah. The leader and best chef of this team is home sick, giving directions to the rest over the phone. Despite Nick’s strict directions, Travis buys fish without smelling it. On paper, all four of them should have their bags packed and ready to go. Odd are not in their favor.
After shopping, the gang get ready for tonight’s party at Vaughan’s. Of course, Sara does what she does best, no not cooking, she gets her hair nice and big. It’s her speciality. Nick is still recovering so he’s left literally alone playing solitaire.
Vaughan’s is one of those quintessential no-nonsense divey bars located in the Bywater area of New Orleans. Up until recently, Kermit literally packed the house every Thursday night. If you show up early enough you might get to taste his famous barbecued turkey necks and red beans and rice. Tonight, the chefs gets to experience the magic.
Unfortunately, we only get a very quick look at Vaughan’s. As per this season, the producers glosses over yet another iconic New Orleans experience.
|Best. Time. Ever.|
Next morning, Nick is cleared to cook, and off to the Top Chef kitchen they go.
However, since he missed the first day he now feels the need to over compensate. Actually, he probably didn’t trust the Three Stooges and decided to do everything himself. Hell, I wouldn’t trust Patty enough to cook Thanksgiving Dinner, let alone an elimination challenge on Top Chef.
You know who else I wouldn’t trust? Brian. Brian sees that Nick is taking on too much but hell, does doesn’t care. He says because he’s got immunity he’s “not too worried about it.” This is the worse kind of person to have in the kitchen. One of the best compliments chefs give one another is “I would go to war with this guy.” Frankly, I wouldn’t want this guy on my Pictionary team, let alone cooking.
|I'm telling you. Last season was much better.|
Almost time to eat. Guests and a local who’s who of musicians start to arrive. This week we have Gail, Padma, Tom, and Sue Zemanick, executive chef of Gautreau’s and Top Chef Masters contestant. Sue has multiple James Beard Award nominations and is regarded as one of the best Chefs in the country.
Kermit says he was the king of potluck. It was common knowledge that he used to cook before and in-between sets of his shows, giving out free food for his fans. Apparently the city stopped him from doing that because they “were having too much fun.” As someone who’ve been to one of this shows, I can concur that if there can be such a thing as “too much fun,” it would be at one of Kermit’s shows.
Here comes the food.
|Protip. Don't serve Tom okra.|
Justin - Hominy Grits with Brown Shrimp, Roasted Okra, Fava Beans & Smoked Bacon.
Louis - Grilled & Pickled Vegetables with Crispy Sunflower Seeds & Mustard Vinaigrette.
Shirley & Sara - Glazed Beef with Charred Onions, Melon Pickles & Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette.
Blue teams gets good feedback all around. The highlight is Louis’ pickled and grilled veggies. Many guests, including Tom, says they’ve never had that combination before. The glazed beef was tender, grits are full of butter, looks like they’re going to be ok. I’m surprised they served Tom okra! It’s one of his least favorite things to eat!
Meanwhile the Gray team is struggling in the kitchen. The fish was portioned too thin, and in the last second Patty forgot to throw on the chili threads for the watermelon salad. Leaving off a component is a big no-no.
|Watermelon and Cheese.|
Brian & Travis - Togarashi Fried Chicken with Bee Pollen & Ponzu.
Patty - Tomato Watermelon Salad, Szechuan Pepper & Goat Cheese Espuma.
Nick - Barramundi & Red Drum Fricassee with Zucchini, Truffle & Yuzu Kosho.
Travis & Brian - Caramel Glazed BBQ Ribs, Dehydrated Potatoes & Peanut Gremolata.
As expected. Gray team kinda tanked. Although the fried chicken was crunchy and tasty, everything else had problems. The rub on the ribs tasted burnt. The fish was bland and overcooked. The watermelon salad lacked eat. Tom says if you’re going to do a savory watermelon salad, you need some spice or else it’s just sweet. #Protip.
Stephanie - Fried Baby Artichoke, Preserved Lemon & Anchovy Aioli.
Nina - Semolina Gnocchetti with Sausage.
Carrie & Carlos - Summer Tiramisu with Nectarines, Pistachio & Cheese.
Green Team knocked it out of the park. #Protip for future Top Chef contestants. Tom Colicchio likes artichokes. Especially if you prepare them correctly and don’t EVER use the tinned stuff. Yes he can taste the difference.
Nina’s just coasting at this point. And by coasting I mean she can see that she’s taken a look around and there’s no need to be daring and risky. She’s made this gnocchi before, so hell, why not just do what works! Even though Tom notes she’s done this before, it’s still tasty and judges still like it.
|Last week I was sad. Now I'm just angry.|
However, it’s not obvious to the chefs. Back in the stew room, every one is nervous. Sara says, “I’ve learned to feel like sh&t all the time until they tell me not too.” Yeah, guess that mean she’s been feeling that way for a LONG time now.
Usually everyone can get a good sense during the Flat Screen of Doom preview. Today the judges are being kinda vague. While it’s obvious who had the best dish, it’s hard to tell who might be in the bottom.
There were obvious complaints about Nick’s overcooked fish and Patty’s bland watermelon salad, but judges also didn’t like Carrie’s dessert and some thought Shirley’s beef was too tough.
Here comes Padma. The Gray team is summoned.
People are confused. Awkward applause ensues.
There’s a term in boxing called “rope-a-dope.” The Gray team is about to find out what that means.
Walking in, you can tell by the judges faces that this isn’t going to end well.
|Tears of relief.|
Even though Nick was responsible for a lot of the work on the Gray team, it was finally Patty’s time to go. Frankly, it was overdue. And of course, cue the tears.
The Green team gets called in. Despite being called in last, they can tell from the Gray team’s faces and Patty’s tears that they’re going to be ok.
Kudos all across the board. Given the fact that Nina’s already made gnocchi once before, the win goes to Stephanie and her crispy artichokes. Plus, you know how much effort goes into prepping artichoke? Well deserved win. Not to mention, she knew who Kermit was, extra credit.
The gang gives the weeping Patty a supportive round of applause and a warm goodbye. It’s like watching a little sister who finally, as Tom puts it, “ran out of luck.” As much as I knocked on her you can tell she’s a good cook who just need more time and confidence to become an leader in the kitchen. Bye Patty, next time audition for that other Bravo show, Battle of the Top Sous Chef, where I’m sure you’ll do better!
Next week. Another New Orleans Jazz Icon, Doctor John!