Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 16: "Maui Wowie."

Friday, January 31, 2014

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 16: "Maui Wowie."

And then there were four. The big question right now is who’s the fourth?

Who will it be?
Just to catch you up, Carlos got booted last week and had to face Louis in Last Chance Kitchen. Louis has momentum on his side by setting a record and winning 8 straight. Here’s the twist. This LCK is set in Maui. Yup. Both guys are already there. Winner gets to move on and loser gets to sit and sulk in a hotel room staring out at paradise.

The other LCK twist is that Nick, Shirley, and Nina get to taste their food and have a vote in who gets to advance. It was them, Tom, Emeril each getting a vote and majority wins. And of course, that LCK ends with a cliff hanger. We have no idea who won.

The three chefs arrive at what appears to be a welcoming party for them at the beach in Maui complete with hula girls in grass skirts. And yes, everyone got lei'd. 

Padma introduces this week’s guest, Chef Sam Choy. 

You know how every week after introducing the guest judge they would always play a clip of one of the chefs making a comment about how awesome the judge is? Yeah no such clip this week. Do they not know who he is?

Frankly I had to look him up myself. Apparently he founded “Pacific Rim cuisine” and is good friends with Emeril. He owns a bunch of restaurants, has a James Beard award, and is generally considered one of the elders of Hawaiian culinary landscape. An “Island” version of Emeril, if you will.

The time has come to reveal who gets to join the party. Any guesses?

It’s Louis. Dude has been crushing opponents in Last Chance Kitchen and few weeks ago made what Tom said was the “best tasting dish” he’s had all season. So suddenly we have a new formidable opponent.

I’m glad it’s Louis. Knowing his pedigree of having worked for Chef Thomas Keller I would like to see what he can bring to the table. Also I’m damn sick of Mexican food.

As the saying goes, “There’s not a moment to lose.” Time for the Quickfire.

Such a thing exists.
Since we’re in Hawaii, this challenge is going to feature one of their most popular food products. This state consumes more of this product per capita than any other. It’s so popular, even the Hawaiian McDonalds and Burger King have menu items featuring this stuff. We’re of course, talking about Spam.

The chefs have 30 minutes to come up with a special way to highlight Spam. The judges want creativity on top of having a tasty dish. Obviously immunity is not up for discussion at this point. However since this is a product sponsored challenge, the winner will get 10 thousand bucks.


Louis is super confident. Apparently he’s done some research and figured out since they’re in Hawaii, Spam’s gonna be involved. Also because of the nature of Last Chance Kitchen, he’s basically won 8 Quickfires in a row. He’s used to the 30 minutes on the fly type of cooking. He’s making Spam mousse. Only since this is Top Chef, he’s calling it a torchon. I can’t imagine anything more disgusting sounding.

So many questions!
The crowds are getting on Louis’ nerves. They kept asking him inane questions about his dish and with only 30 minutes he really rather be cooking than playing Q&A. They’re getting on my nerves as well. Hey if you don’t know what a torchon is you should be allowed at a Top Chef event.

Nina decides to go with teriyaki Spam. I had no idea Spam came in different flavors. She’s going to make croquettes using bread fruit. She tells us that, since she grew up on a island she knows how to use these exotic ingredients. #WeGetItAlready

Shirley is making a deconstructed musubi. Musubi is basically spam sushi. Yup. You heard that correctly. A slab of grilled Spam on top of sushi rice and the wrapped with nori. It’s one of the most popular way of eating Spam in Hawaii. Shirley’s idea of creative is to basically making an “open faced” version. 
It's always heaven at 7 Eleven.

Nick’s making Spam bouillon with mushroom ragu. One of the judges’ biggest complain about him throughout the season has been under seasoning his food. He’s not going to have that problem this challenge. Spam itself is already a salt bomb, so no worries there! 

The production crew must have never thought someone would make a soup because while everyone else got to serve on nice white plates, Nick had to use plastic Tupperware containers.

Let’s see what these guys manage to do with Spam.

Shirley - Deconstructed Spam Musubi with Spam-Infused Rice, Nori & Cucumber Slaw.

Presentation is everything.
Louis - Spam Mousse with Garlic, Chives, Scallions, Snap Peas, Beech Mushrooms & Togarashi.

Nick - Spam Broth with Pancetta, Seaweed, Dried Shrimp, Clam Juice & Quail Egg.

Nina - Breadfruit & Teriyaki Spam Croquette with Sour Orange & Mango Slaw.

Chef Choy thought Nick’s Spam broth was a bit too salty, but the quail egg on top smoothed everything out. Tom agrees.

Nina’s sour slaw provided the acid to cut through the fried aspect of the dish. And Padma really likes the use of breadfruit.

Carlos’ mousse was creative alright, but not enough Spam flavor for Chef Choy. What the hell is Spam flavor?
Anyone who owns a cat knows what I'm talking about.

Shirley’s musubi was well…a musubi. Though tasty, not that creative.

The winner is Nick. Talk about creativity. Making a delicious Spam soup is hella outside the box. This is his first big ticket item win and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 10 thousand dollars for him. He’s totally excited but not distracted. He said he would trade the 10 grand for a spot in the finale in heartbeat. 

Speaking of which, here’s the final Elimination challenge before the finale.

Is "canoe crop" euphemism for boat full of naked dudes?
The judges explain that Hawaii is one of the most remote islands in the world and the natives had no choice but to be self sufficient. The first Polynesians brought with them on a canoe chickens, pigs, and 24 species of plants and fruits. These ingredients are known locally as “canoe crops.”

Their challenge is to make a dish using only “canoe crops.” (And apparently fish as well, even though fish was not mentioned.)
Here’s the shocker - only two chefs will be moving on to the finale. Yup. Double elimination.

An actual canoe rolls up with these “canoe crop” ingredients and the chefs run towards the shore to gather up what they need. Shirley takes a tumble along the way and almost got ran over by Louis. 

Nina is super confident. Having this challenge set in Maui with these ingredients is almost like having home court advantage for her. Because you see, she’s from an island. #DeadHorse

Nina, Louis, and Nick are all making fish. But Nina makes the mistake and starts portioning off Nick’s pink snapper instead of her own moonfish. So now she’s behind in her prep. Maybe she’s getting a little over confident?

With this limited amount of ingredients to work with, Shirley’s afraid everyone’s dish is going to taste the same. So now she’s glad that she chose pork instead of fish. Her dish will definitely stand out from the rest.

Prep day is over. They’ll have two hours tomorrow to finalize their dish before service. Time for some R & R.

The gang checks into their hotel suite with the swank view. Nick gets the room with the king sized bed, the girls took the room with two queen beds, and Carlos gets an office with a pull out bed. Guess the Last Chance Kitchen champion is still considered second class citizen.
Oh you knew this was coming.

Time for some filler material. The foursome goes for a hike and some introspective reflection time. I don’t understand what the big deal about Hawaii. It looks hot and damp there. Plus, I heard it’s expensive. #Grouch

Next day, it’s time to cook. They’ve got just two hours before service. Even though the event is held at Merriman’s restaurant, they are once again cooking outside. 

Just when everyone’s getting into a cooking rhythm, here comes Tom for the Cook ’n Chat.

Much like Nina, Shirley is also really confident. When Tom ask how would she feel if she fell short today and her answer was “I won’t fall short.” In fact, the girls believe they are the ones to beat. 

Both Louis and Nick are not nearly as sure. Nick even tried to play, ‘let’s make a deal’ by offering the 10 grand up for a spot in the finale. Tom says no.

Wrong guy. Wrong show. No deal.
Just before Tom leaves, he tells them the winning dish/chef of this challenge will also have a decided advantage going into the finale. Consider the ante upped.

As if on cue, it starts to rain. Everyone’s scrambling to cover their mise en place and fryers. And it’s not just rain. This being a tropical storm, it is also windy. Ever tried to grill something with open flames in the wind? Yeah, it’s hard to control your heat. 

Louis is worried because the fish he’s using (moonfish) is difficult to cook well, so the wind is giving him a level of difficulty he didn’t need. 

The flip side of a tropical storm is that as quickly as it comes, it ends just as quickly. So while it was a pain in the ass, the pain was short lived. Back to the regularly scheduled cooking.

Here comes the judges.

This weeks VIP includes Peter Merriman (of Merriman’s Kapulua) Emeril, and a pregnant Gail! I wonder if that’s one of the reasons no one is serving their fish raw? Or did they learn their Sam Talbot lesson?

Let’s eat.

Fish and Seaweed.
Louis - Grilled Opah (Moonfish) with Sweet Potato & Coconut Sauce.

According to Chef Merriman, Sam Choy was the one who promoted the use of this particular fish and made it popular. He thought Louis’ fish was cooked perfectly and Emeril thought the usage of canoe ingredients was well done. Remember the wind and the flames? Well it’s come back to bite him. Tom’s fish was underdone and Gail’s was over. Judges do not like inconsistency! 

Fish and Seaweed.
Nina - Grilled Opah with Taro Root & Coconut Puree.

Unlike Louis, Nina confit her fish before finishing it on the grill. So she didn’t have to cook the fish through purely by flame. Her fish came out perfectly cooking all around. Judges thought her sauce might have been a bit too spicy and may have over powered the fish.

Nick - Opakapaka (Pink Snapper) with Jalapeño & Crispy Chicken Skin.

Notice a pattern?
Nick might have hit a home run here. Chef Merriman thought the jalapeño was a bit much, he got shot down right away by Tom and the rest of the table. Ha. Seems like the judges are surprised that Nick came through with this dish. Padma say maybe Hawaii relaxed him into not overthinking and complicating dishes.

Shirley - Honey Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato & Tumeric Puree.

Tom thought the pork was beautifully braised, the puree was well done and the sauce was flavorful. The only problem is that it’s too sweet. The honey with the sweet potato was just a little too much. 

Look! Something different!
During the interlude Chef Choy explains the gaseous properties of the breadfruit. So here’s a #protip, take a few Beanos before having too much breadfruit. #BlueFlameAction

Service is over. It’s out of their hands now. Louis says he had hard day because those fish (opah) was hard to cook. Nina just looks at him. She didn’t have any problems cooking that fish. 

Nick says it’ll all come down to a small mistake here or there. Maybe Padma was right. There’s something very Zen about him. It seems almost like during the break (between the last episode and Maui) he went off to the mountains and meditated or something. 

Oh look who also make the trek to Maui! The Flat Screen of Doom! Welcome back buddy. We missed ya!

The trip must have tired the Flat Screen out. It wasn't so “doomy.” Tom basically says everyone had a strong dish and it all comes down to small mistakes.

Nick had strong dish. The only ding was possibly the jalapeño, but that complaint came from someone other than our judges so it carries little weight. The other three? Not so lucky.

Nina’s was slightly too spicy, Shirley’s too sweet, and Louis’ fish was inconsistent. 

Here comes Padma. They want to see all of them.

Having gotten a preview of what her complaint was, Shirley comes up with this ridiculous story of how she wanted to show them how sweet Maui made her feel. Yeah. In the immortal words of Elaine Benes,  “No one's gonna buy it, and you shouldn't be selling it.”

Louis’ fish wasn’t cooked consistently. Judges are paying him compliments for busting through Last Chance Kitchen the way he did but there’s no way he had one of the top two dishes. When someone tells you it was a “gutsy” effort, you’re probably going home.

Nina wanted to showcase the island flavors. The flavors she grew up with. Tom agrees. He says this is the kind of food they’ve expected from her. And since day one she’s been continuously cooking strong and exciting food. But not so fast, Padma jumps in and points out that it might have been too spicy. There goes the smile.

Nick is at peace with himself and it shows in his dish. Instead of keep trying to showcase his talents by coming up with over complicated dishes, he just took what was given and worked with it. It’s not to say he made simple food. Tom says there’s still a lot going on but everything made sense. He is quietly confident. No mention of the jalapeño.

Time for the judges to deliberate.

It’s pretty obviously who won this challenge and who’s going home. The question now is whether Shirley or Nina gets to move on. 

We know who Emeril’s lobbying for. Ever since the Vietnam episode where Shirley “found her voice” at the docks, her and Emeril have had this bond. Emeril tries to sell the rest of the judges on the deliciousness of Shirley’s pork while taking jabs at Nina’s too spicy fish.
C'mon. Shirley calls me "Uncle Emeril."

Meanwhile Tom is being objective. He emphasizes that it all comes down to the mistakes. He thinks Shirley’s mistake was the honey. It made the entire dish too one note. It needed a little more sourness or acidity to break up the sweetness.

It’s gonna be close.

You know, if someone told me even a few weeks ago that Nick is going to the finale I’d say they were crazy. But here we are. Nick wins the challenge and is the first one to advance. And he’ll get to have an advantage over whoever’s following suit.

Louis is crushed. It’s tough having won 8 challenges in a row only to show up empty handed. I think the nerves got to him because he had the same problem cooking fish with his challenge against Carlos. Great flavors bailed him there. But this time, against superior opponents he fell short. 

So who’s it gonna be. Shirley or Nina? It’s such a tough call because both have been killing it all season long. They had totally thought it would be Ladies Night at the finale until Nick decided to get his mind right and spoil the party. 

It goes to Nina. Shirley comes up short and in third place.

Look at it this way. Shirley have already won a moral victory. Through this competition she’s the only one who “found herself” and evolved into being more than just a “shadow chef.” She will undoubtedly be able to run her own kitchen/restaurant and be very successful at it. Not to mention the car and the cash that she won along the way. She’s going to be alright.

Since day one with them turtle meatballs Nina has made it clear that she’s a machine. Technically sound and bold with the flavors, she busts out amazing food week after week. She’s definitely earned the right to be in the finale. 

The table is set. The Island Terminator versus the Redemptive Hot Head. Who’s it gonna be?

Next week. Mano-a-Mano.
Although I can’t tell you who’s gonna win it all, I can tell you one thing - there will NOT some arena style mock Iron Chef type of B.S. finale. From the preview it looks like we’ll have one of those, ‘pick some team mates and make the “best meal ever” type of deal.’ 

How are you planning to watch the finale? 

One more week to go. Let’s do this!!

[Written by Mykl Wu]

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