Nick is completely surprised he didn’t get sent home last week. I’m surprised too. I thought after his cowardly performance that sent Stephanie home Tom would have cut him for coughing the wrong way. Not to mention this was his third straight week on the bottom.
|Who's it gonna be?|
Carlos is the outcast. Pretty much at this point everyone knows Carlos only does Mexican food. He doesn’t deviate from it at all. Everything is “something I used to make in Acapulco…” Shirley’s sick of it, Nick’s sick of it, and you know how I feel about it. Even Carlos knows it. He can feel the iciness in the house, how other chefs feel he doesn’t belong here. And finally we get the classic “I’m not here to make friends” quote. #Cliche’
No special guests this week. There are 4 stations set up for the chefs. Waiting for them are Gail, Padma, and Tom. Each with their own silver serving platter (the kind with the dome.) This looks seriously.
|What's in the platter??|
Shirley’s already won a car. If she keeps winning she can open up her own car rental agency.
This is going to be a two-part Quickfire. Gail and Tom and both devised a special challenge that reveals a little bit about themselves. Gail starts off by explaining that since she gets to eat a lot for her work, all she needs is one perfect bite. She lifts the dome and reveals a set of cocktail forks. Her challenge is for the chefs to make one bite that will fit on the fork. The top two dishes will move on and face Tom’s challenge. Bottom two gets to sit and watch.
Anthony Bourdain called. He wants his show idea back.
|Bubbie. How could you steal from me?|
The chefs have 20 minutes. One bite. Go.
Nick realizes one of the reasons he’s been on the bottom is that he over complicates and overthinks his dishes. Since there isn’t too much you can put on one cocktail fork, the challenge does him a favor and takes complication out of the equation. He’s going to do steak and potatoes.
One of the problems with this challenge is to fit everything on that tiny fork. The Chefs are using tweezers to place some of the small delicate garnishes. Must be the nerves. Because everyone’s hands are shaking and they barely keep the food on the fork.
Time flies by. Let’s see who won “The Taste.”
Nick - Beef Deckle with Aged Balsamic & Purple Potato Chips.
Shirley - Seared Flank Steak with Black Pepper Cherry & Crispy Onions.
Nina - Shrimp Escabeche with Potato Aioli & Pickled Shallots.
Everyone liked Carlos’ dish. Grilling the mango was a great idea. The bite started off sweet and finished with the acidic gastrique.
Shirley’s steak was cooked well, but since the whole thing fell apart when Gail picked it up, she’s probably not going to advance.
Without the handicap of over thinking, Nick comes through with his simple and well executed dish. Crispy potatoes are always a win.
Nina’s shrimp had a good texture and good heat. But it was a little too greasy for Gail.
The top dishes belong to the boys. Nina and Shirley gets to ride the bench for Tom’s challenge.
Ok. So Tom says even though he’s known for his steakhouse (Craft), he actually draws his inspiration from produce. He lifts up his dome (no pun intended) and we see an eggplant and a red pepper. Remember kids, those are Tom’s favorite veggies. Also don’t forget - Tom doesn’t like skin on his bell peppers!
|No skin on my pepper please.|
See - that’s the problem with this season. Most everyone is trying to show technique instead of making the most delicious food. I predict this will eventually catch up with Nick.
You know who doesn’t care about showcasing technique? Carlos. Dude is just going to make soup. Red bell pepper soup. Just throw the red peppers in the fryer, combined them with some stock and blend the hell out of it. No technique showboating here!
Carlos - Fried Red Bell Pepper Soup with Fennel, Basil & Onion.
Nick - Roasted Eggplant with Sesame Seed Sriracha Tahini & Chili Threads.
So one of them cut the eggplant like a scallop, made an eggplant tahini, and even finished with some aged vinegar. The other guy made soup. Guess who takes home the car?
Nick is pissed. He’s the only chef who hasn’t won a major prize. Shirley won cash and a car, Nina’s won cash, and now Carlos scores a car. Nick could conceivable go home empty handed. If that happens he’s only got himself to blame. Chefs who under-season over-complicated dishes usually don’t last, let alone win.
|Look. No technique!|
Last time the show went to Hawaii for the finale one of the cheftestants got booted for not actually cooking something (Sam Talbot made 2 raw preparations) so hopefully these chefs will know better! The probably won’t. At times it’s like these guys have never seen the show before.
It’s only fitting that before we leave New Orleans, the godfather of Crescent City joins us for the send off. The chef synonymous with New Orleans itself, Emeril Legasse!
|See. It's so easy even Michael Voltaggio can do it.|
For this challenge, the chefs are to gather up everything they’ve experienced in New Orleans in this past 14 weeks and put them into a dish. One dish that culminates all that is New Orleans. Easy peasy right?
They will cook at Emeril’s flagship restaurant tomorrow for the judges and super chefs Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini, and Douglas Keane.
|Would you want to serve bad food|
to this man? #NO
The winning dish will also have the honor to being featured at all of Emeril’s restaurants in New Orleans.
Tonight, the chefs will gets to dine at Emeril’s with Emeril cooking for them. As awesome as that sounds, it’s really Emeril overseeing his staff making some of the restaurant’s dishes for them. What really kicked ass was earlier this season when Emeril personally cooked a big pot of kale soup for the gang. That was a incredible moment.
And since taking the show to Hawaii ain’t cheap, we get to spend a few minutes with Carlos in his brand new Toyota Corolla and listen to him explain some of the features. Oh look! You can sync your phone! #whoopdeedoo
Shopping time. This week we head to the local supermarket instead of Whole Foods. Cuz you see, Whole Foods isn’t part of the New Orleans experience. Not today anyways.
|But it's not.|
Dinner time. Let’s go to Emeril’s.
The chefs arrive at a beautiful and packed dining room. No worries, they’re not with the common folks. Emeril’s set up a private “chef’s table” for them in the kitchen. Searching around I didn’t see an option to book the chef’s table for Emeril’s, so they did set this up just for them.
The first dish is Emeril’s famous BBQ Shrimp with Rosemary Biscuit. This baby’s been on the menu for 10 years. The rich sauce is luscious with just the perfect shade of brown, as Emeril calls it, “creole coffee.”
Nina immediately jumps on this idea. She was already contemplating making BBQ shrimp on her own, but now she’s going to take the inspiration and build on it.
Carlos says he’s going to make a seafood mousse, like a tamale. Wait. So after spending 14 weeks in New Orleans the impression this city left you is a freaking tamale?
Second Course. Angel hair pasta with crawfish, smoked mushrooms, local tomatoes and tarragon. Simple yet delicious.
Main Course. Grilled pork chops with tamarind glaze and sweet potatoes. And the dessert was sort of a sampler of a bunch of stuff.
Speaking of stuffed, the chefs roll on home. Inspired by tonight’s food.
I dunno. If you weren’t already inspired by Toby Gonzalez’s boucherie, John Besh’s old school home cooking, and Emeril’s big pot of kale and potato soup, you’re either dead on the inside, or you’re making tamales.
Time to cook. The gang returns to Emeril’s. This time they’re here on the other side of the pass.
Nick has learned his lesson and is now going to keep it simple. Um…not.
He’s making a dish with shrimp dumpling, confit of yellow fin tuna, charred cobia, and buttered bass. Yeah. And he’s trying to convince himself it’s just a simple dish with some sauce and fish. #Rolleyes
Here comes Emeril and Tom for the cook ’n chat.
Nina tells Emeril that his BBQ shrimp is her inspiration for tonight’s dish. She’s also making malfatti, little ball-shaped pasta with ricotta cheese and rosemary, in lieu of the rosemary biscuits. Emeril seems moved by this gesture.
Shirley making one of her seafood stocks again. A quick shot shows shrimps, clams, mussels all getting the sautée treatment before being deglazed and reduced. She’s also braising celery to be placed under her fish to create the feeling of a raft drifting down the bayou. How poetic.
Nick admits to the chefs that he’s had an up and down season. He says part of the problem is that he’s overthinking. He tells them tonight's dish is going to be simple. Yeah, go ahead and lie to them. Wait ’til they see how “simple” your dish with 10+ ingredients is.
Carlos drops the bombshell that he’s making a tamale. But he quickly adds that this tamale will not have any corn at all. The masa is going to be made entirely out of seafood. So it’s like a seafood mousse with some seafood inside. Tom seem relieved because he didn’t think the initial dish truly reflected New Orleans. Tom, haven’t you figured out that Carlos does not care?
Time’s up. Nina wants to plate everything right up to the wire. She doesn’t want the fish to be soggy or cold. However, she completely forgot to plate the pasta!
She is NOT happy. Having made very few mistakes the entire season and now this. A major component left off the plate.I wonder how the judges would react to this.
Nina - Speckled Trout with Baby Vegetables & Barbecue Sauce.
Right away Tom asks about the malfatti. See, that’s why they do the cook ’n chat. You can’t hide from your mistakes. Nina admits she forgot to plate it and is ashamed.
However, Tom and the rest of the table felt that the ricotta malfatti would have been a subtraction to the dish. So it was a rather fortuitous mistake on her part. Also, Tom says if the challenge was to take inspiration from New Orleans and put it on a plate, she did it. Phew.
Nick - Charred Cobia, Roasted Bass & Tuna Confit with Crispy Rice & Shrimp Consomme.
Everyone loves Nick’s shrimp broth and the fish was cooked really well. Got to give the man credit for three separate preparations of fish on one plate. Oh oh. Here comes the ‘ole problem with under seasoning. The consensus is that while the broth is flavorful, the fish needed more salt.
Note to chefs. These master chefs like their food heavily seasoned! You’d figure after decades of tasting food, they must develop some sort of resistance right?
Carlos - Steamed Seafood Tamal with Saffron Cream Sauce & Pickled Okra.
|New Orleans via Mexico.|
Emeril was skeptical of this concept. But apparently Carlos pulled it off. Douglas Keane was impressed with how inventive this dish is and how it fulfills the challenge. Tom wish Carlos served it in the banana leaf for the full tamale experience.
Shirley - Black Drum with Zhenjiang Vinegar Butter Sauce, Braised Celery & Mushrooms.
Home run. Everyone loves the fact that Shirley combines the “holy trinity” (bell pepper, onion, celery) with black asian vinegar. Fish cooked perfectly crispy. Boom.
Meanwhile, Nina’s kicking herself in the kitchen. She cannot believe her egregious mistake. However she has no idea that the judges thought the dish was fine as presented.
|The heart and soul of New Orleans food.|
Nina’s up first. She cop to her mistake but right away Tom tells her that dish didn’t need the ricotta cheese. It was simple but precise. Talk about a sigh of relief. She honestly thought that mistake was going to send her home.
Emeril loved Shirley’s dish. All the chefs loved that she used the trinity, and her sauce is a perfect compliment to the various combination of cultures that makes up New Orleans cuisine. Yeah, she’s probably going to Maui.
Nick’s dish is beautiful to look at and Tom liked the fact that each fish was cooked differently. However, the broth was so well seasoned that it made the fish taste bland. The consensus at the table was it needed more salt. Still, Gail says it was one of the best things from Nick this season.
Carlos’ tamale didn’t disappoint either. Everyone thought it was a clever way to reinterpret an age-old classic. Tom says the whole pieces of seafood inside might have broken up the lusciousness of the mousse. And Emeril asks why wasn’t it served with the banana leaf. With that said, it was a really well done dish.
There you go. Four solid dishes. Who gets to move on and who gets the cut?
In one of those cliched dramatic pauses, Padma tell Nina and Shirley that they….
… had the two best dishes and are headed to Maui.
And cue the tears. Jesus people. Shirley’s crying again. Maybe I’m just a cold hearted bastard because Gail’s getting chocked up and even Emeril’s getting misty. Shirley says she’s just happy that she “found herself.”
She certainly did. Because she’s the winner of this challenge and her dish will be featured in all of Emeril’s restaurants in New Orleans. What a great way to leave your mark in this city.
Since we’ve got one more commercial break left, Carlos and Nick gets to suffer through one last stew room agita.
So it comes down to this. Emeril says his tamale was lukewarm, which was why he asked about the banana leaf. Mean Girl Padma says Nick’s under seasoned fish is a violation of basic cooking 101.
Back in the stew room it’s pretty obvious who Nina and Shirley want in the finale. They’re openly telling Nick he should be the one going to Maui. It’s ok. Pretend Carlos isn’t there in the same room with you guys. #Rude
Adios Carlos. You’ve managed to hijack this season with your non-New Orleans related food and cliched back story. I hope Louis beats the hell out you in Last Chance Kitchen. #SorryNotSorry
So the connection to New Orleans ends here. I know I’m biased because I love this city so much. I was excited beyond belief when I heard Top Chef was going to be in New Orleans. One of my favorite shows about my favorite topic set in one of my favorite cities. I guess the expectations were too high and the whole thing was doomed for me from the start. Unlike Shirley’s dish, this season just didn’t capture the essence of the city. I know. I’ve got lots of feels.
Next week. On to Maui and what must be part 1 of 2 of the finale!
Who are you rooting for? And do you think it’ll be Carlos or Louis to emerge from LCK?
See you next week!!