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Showing posts with label Anthony Bourdain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anthony Bourdain. Show all posts

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 15: "Leaving New Orleans."

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?
The remain four know the end is nigh and start to size each other up. Who’ll be the one left behind before the finale?

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??
Padma tells them this is their last Quickfire in New Orleans. As per usual, the finale will take place at some exotic locale. And finally, immunity is off the table. However, the winner gets a brand new car!

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?
Frankly he can have it. That show is terrible. It’s like the food version of The Voice. Bah. #SellOut

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.”

Now that's a mouth full.
Carlos - Grilled Mango with Shrimp & Chili Glaze.

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. 
Steak and potatoes always win.

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.
First come, first serve. Who ever get to the table gets first choice. Speed racer Nick comes through. Then he casually humble brags about being on varsity track. He’s going to (you guessed it) do the eggplant two ways. One is a puree of eggplants with sesame and the other, a  roasted eggplant cut in shape of a scallop. He wants to show some technique and versatility.

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!
Look. Technique!

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!
Time for elimination. Padma tells them that only 3 of them will get to go the finale…in Maui, Hawaii! 

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.
Everyone’s happy to see Emeril. He’s that comforting figure on the show. You just feel like if Emeril’s around everything is going to be ok.

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
Grant Achatz is a multiple James Beard Award winner and the owner of Alinea, one of the best restaurants in the world. Andrew Carmellini is a multiple James Beard Award winner and the owner of the Dutch, a popular restaurant in NYC. Dougass Keane is a James Beard Award winner and won Top Chef Masters. Talk about an intimidating table.

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.
And since this the last episode in New Orleans, we get a lot of “reflection” moments. Flashbacks of guest judges, challenges, and basically recycled footage. Ah let’s all reminisce on how great this season could have been. #toosoon

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.
New Orleans on a plate.

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?

Here comes the judges and the mega chefs. Tom says there are two times you don’t want to get sent home. You don’t want to be the very first guy to get booted, and you don’t want to get sent home right before the finale. Cuz you know, all the other times are ok.

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's idea of simple.

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.
Um. You’re serving Tom Colicchio okra? Brave man. Note: Tom does NOT like okra, sea cucumbers and grated mountain yams. #Protip

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.
Dinner’s over. This is going to be a tough decision. We go straight to judge’s table.

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?
I. Can't. Even.

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. 
Stew room.

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

Remember this?
Well, they get their wish. Carlos, who in all honesty made a freaking tamale in a challenge to capture the essence and influence of New Orleans, gets sent packing. Tom nicely consoles hime by letting him know that there’s still Last Chance Kitchen and he still has a shot. Yup, Last Chance Kitchen, where I’m sure he’ll make yet another Mexican dish. #yawn.

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!!

{Written by Mykl Wu}

Friday, December 13, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 10: "Like Mama Made."

Now that you’ve brought mama into this. I guess this time it’s personal.

Um. There's something on my forehead.
Sara’s gone. Now there’s more room in the bathroom for everyone else to get ready. 

Justin’s super relieved. He knows he barely survived Restaurant Wars. Had Sara not been so unpleasant and annoyed Padma, we’d still have a crowded bathroom.

Travis is feeling pretty good about himself right now. After a really strong showing at the restaurant manager position, he feel like he’s finally part of the gang. Um, last time I checked this was called Top Chef and not Top Restaurant Manager. 

Ugh. If I have to listen to Travis talking about his sexuality I’m going to scream. Because you know what? It has nothing to do with anything! 

Bourdain once said, “Male, female, gay, straight, legal, illegal, country of origin—who cares? You can either cook an omelet or you can’t. You can either cook five hundred omelets in three hours—like you said you could, and like the job requires—or you can’t. There’s no lying in the kitchen.”

Shut up and cook. Oh wait. I don't even cook anymore.
Speaking of which. Time to get back to the kitchen.

Standing next to Padma is owner/chef of the French restaurant Fleur-De-Lys in San Francisco, Hubert Keller! Chef Keller is a James Beard Award winner and a Top Chef Masters Alum. I’m guessing culinary chops aside, he’s here because of the connection between the name of his restaurant and the iconic New Orleans symbol.

By the way, aside from being a bad ass chef, Hubert Keller can be seen spinning records and dropping needles from time to time. He’d been known to guest deejay at various food events in San Francisco and Las Vegas. Talk about the world’s most interesting man! 

You know what brand is always associated with New Orleans and Top Chef caliber food? Dunkin Donuts! Um..ok. Not really. But since we’ve already had Philadelphia Cream Cheese on, so what the hell. Let’s just do this.

The world's most interesting shirt.
At least coffee is widely used in cooking and it does provide a unique flavor profile so there are culinary elements to this challenge. Chefs will have 30 minutes to create a dish featuring Bostonians’ favorite coffee, Dunkin Donuts. (Really. I used to live there and they swear by this stuff. I can’t even...)

Since this is a sponsored challenge, winner gets immunity AND ten thousand dollars. See, selling out has its perks. 

Stephanie says that everything she owns is “old and kinda sad looking and broken.” You know what? I actually felt kinda bad for her. 

Mad scramble time.

Carrie is going to make dessert. I thought that sort of missed the point. Anyone can make a coffee-flavored dessert, the trick is to pair with something savory. Oh well, Carlos is making dessert too. At least he’s doing that “cooking a sponge cake via microwave” thingy so that’s pretty impressive. For some of you who haven’t seen that before check it out here.

Shirley’s using beef. Now that’s smart. Coffee always pairs well with red meat. Somehow it manages to bring out the beefy flavor of steaks. If she wins, Shirley’s going to buy an air conditioner because she claims it gets to be about 150 degrees in Las Vegas. For 10 grand, that air conditioner better come with a set of wheels and a small engine.

Brian is making risotto. Coffee risotto. Has the dude never watched the show before? Talk about pushing your luck. Guess he also like to walk under ladders, open umbrellas indoors, and watch nondescript old VHS videotapes with the word “copy” on it. Doesn’t he know risotto is cursed? Ah. Brian is confident because he’s won back-to-back Quickfires so he says he’s gotta “put his balls out there...let it swing.” Ew. Congrats. You’ve just replaced Travis as the creepy guy on the show.

Times up. Let’s see how they did.

Travis - Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, Coffee Ponzu, & Coffee Roasted Eringi Mushrooms.

Dude pretty much sliced up raw salmon and mixed some coffee with ponzu and called it a day. We get it! You only make Asian stuff! Oy.
That's just not right.

Carrie - Coffee Custard with Candied Coffee Beans & Cocoa Nibs.

This is how you play the game. Carrie didn’t have time to make crepes, so she changed it to a simple custard with NO mention of the omitted crepes. #Protip.

Brian - Coffee Risotto with Andouille Sausage & Sugar Snap Peas.

You don’t need to be a gourmand to realize this combination sounds disgusting. You know what’s even more disgusting? Having the person who just cooked your food show you how sweaty he is. #NoThanks

Carlos - Coffee & Macadamia Sponge Cake with Mascarpone Coffee Sauce.

Sounds like a winner here. But it is a dessert. It’s kinda like cheating.

Nick - Roasted Sockeye Salmon with Hazelnut Coffee Caramel & Hon-Shimeji Mushrooms.

This one's at least cooked.
Where are all these exotic mushrooms coming from?? As part of his ‘presentation’ Nick pours the foamy chocolate sauce on top of the salmon right in front of the judges. 

Shirley - Coffee Crusted Tenderloin with Garlic Puree & Coffee Brown Butter Sauce.

Just in case they forgot Shirley feels the need to remind everyone that she’s Asian and that apparently Asians drink coffee with a lot of cream? Speaking as an Asian person, I have no idea what she’s talking about.

Stephanie - Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Crepe with Ham & Bacon Coffee Jam.

Ham AND Bacon. Guess there’s no such thing as too much pork product in a dish. Sweet and salty, plus some coffee, it could be delicious. Also, she’s poor. #LetHerWin

You guys, I want a makeover!
The fails are Brian and Nick. No surprise on Brian’s dish. But Nick, who won Restaurant Wars last week, delivered a bomb. Chef Keller found his paste “unpleasant.” #Womp.

Carrie’s custard, Shirley’s tenderloin, and Stephanie’s Crepes are amongst the favorites. Alas, Stephanie will have to continue to look like a bum, as Shirley takes home the immunity and the 10 grand for her Asian influenced coffee rubbed tenderloin. I still have no idea what being Asian as anything to do with that dish. But hey, it’s gonna be ice cold at Casa Shirley this summer!

Elimination Challenge time.

Padma tells everyone that for this challenge, “Going home is a good thing.” 

In walks New Orleans native actor Anthony Mackie. Anthony is probably best known for his role on the Oscar winning film, The Hurt Locker. He also recently hung out with Tom Colicchio on Tom’s fishing show on the Reserve Channel via YouTube, 'On the Hook.' 
No need for a makeover here!

For Anthony, this is a homecoming. And the food he craves most when he returns to New Orleans is from Dooky Chase. For the cheftestants, this challenge will be a culinary homecoming as well. They will have to draw inspiration from home and create something they crave whenever they’re home. 

They will have $275 and 2 hours to cook in the Top Chef kitchen. The next day they make the pilgrimage to Dooky Chase, where they will cook for the judges and Leah Chase. Leah appeared earlier this season and judged the gumbo Quickfire. Cooking homey comforting food for Leah Chase? They’ll have their work cut out for them.

If any challenge is about cooking from your heart, this would be it. 

Because of the nature of the challenge, this is the perfect time to work in everyone’s back story. 

We learn that Justin used to hunt and eat squirrels. He’s making rice and gravy and substituting chicken thighs for squirrels. I don’t care what you really crave when you go home, because serving rice and gravy to Leah Chase is like serving blanquette de veau to Paul Bocuse. Go ahead and Google that. I’ll wait.
Hunting squirrels?! (I know he's a chipmonk, people)

Carrie’s reminiscing driving around and foraging wild asparagus with her mom. Her dish is creamed asparagus with egg on toast. Hey, no knocking the simplicity in this challenge. It’s all about simple, homey foods!

Speaking of simple dishes, Travis is going with straight biscuits and gravy. Yup, that’s it. Biscuits and gravy. Somehow I can’t help wonder what someone like Michael Voltaggio would come up with. You know no matter that would be it’d be some kinda amazing, “air quote,” biscuits and gravy dish. Sigh. I’d give all the gravy for a Voltaggio on this season.

In case you missed it, and I don’t know how you could have, Nina’s from an tropical island. And that means curry and spices. Thank you Nina. Wait, now where is Shirley from again? 

Right...she’s from that foreign exotic land in the Far East. Some call it the Central Kingdom, others call it Land of Our Creditors. For Shirley, it’s simply China. So for this challenge, she’s going to out of her comfort zone like she always has and making something called Jajanmyeon. It’s basically a Chinese version of pasta bolognese. Whatever it is, you can bet Tom wouldn’t known how to pronounce it.

Adorable alert! Nick is making his daughter’s favorite dish, “gnudie.” He’s actually making gnocchi, but his daughter calls them “gnudie” because it reminds her of bath time when she has to get nudie. Ok I don’t have kids and I don’t know the rules - so all this talk of nude babies is making me uncomfortable.
Put some clothe on kid!

Stephanie’s home craving is a big bowl of mussels? I’m calling foul right now because who the hell’s family’s go-to dish is a bowl of mussels? She says that since her family didn’t cook, that’s what she made for peeps and thus it’s what she associates with going home. Guess I’ll buy into that. Plus, mussels are cheap and we all know about her financial situation…

Carlos is making something called cochinita pibil. It’s a pork shank stew with black beans and homemade tortillas. Yeah it’s pretty much sounds like everything Carlos’ ever made. Whatever. 

Brian has previously told us he’s from a wealthy family. So naturally his home craving meal is freaking grilled New York Strip. Tom looked amused. While everyone else is making humble food like rice and beans and biscuits and gravy, dude over here grew up eating steak. Maybe he can buy Stephanie some new clothes.

Big pot of love right there!
First day of cooking is done. The gang returns home to a delicious smell from the kitchen. Surprise! The Grand Poobah of New Orleans, Emeril Lagasse, decides to share his homecoming comfort meal with the chefs. He made a big pot of caldo verde. A simple Portuguese soup of onion, celery, kale, and love. That’s right. Love!

There was no need for this scene. There’s no product tie-in, no forced back story, no scripted drama, just one mentor chef wanting to feed his fellow flock who’s been working all day something warm and comforting - just like what Emeril’s mom did for him back in the day. That my friends, is love. #Respect

You can tell the chefs appreciate it too. While Emeril’s chatting them up and asking about tomorrow’s dishes, everyone’s heads are down in their bowls, tucked in, feeling the love. 

After a long day’s cooking to come home to a simple and delicious bowl of soup with crusty baguettes and pats of butter, I’m telling you right now that is a lot of chefs’ dream of a last meal.
Can't talk. Too busy eating.

You know how when you’re little and got into a fight at school, you always manage to not cry and keep your brave face on until you get home. And the tears fly the moment you see mom? Yeah that’s what happening here. Everyone is tired, worn out, and now coming home to “Uncle” Emeril’s comforting soup, tears start to fly.

Brian tells us about his dad’s massive stroke and how he feels guilty for not having around been there enough for him. Since then his dad doesn’t talk much anymore, that opportunity might be lost. Somebody grab the tissue box. While you’re at it, pass me one too.

No doubt inspired by the soup and crusty bread experience, the gang talks about their hypothetical death row meals. Nic says bread and butter (see, he can die happy now) and Justin says caviar, champagne, and tacos. The atmosphere is loose and seems like for the evening, everyone forgets they’re in a competition.

The next morning, it’s Nick’s turn. He feels guilty missing a lot of his daughter’s first year. The first steps, first words, basically he missed everything because he was working so much. Eyes starts well up. Somebody pass him the tissue box.

I’d say there’s no crying in Top Chef again, for the umpteenth time, but apparently that doesn’t apply to this season. So let’s just get to the food while we can before people get emotional again.
Here you go Brian!

Dooky Chase.

This legendary restaurant has been visited by numerous presidents and dignitaries. What started out as merely a bathroom and sandwich shop became a meeting place of entertainment, music, and civil rights in New Orleans. One pays homage to Dooky Chase when one’s in town. That’s an order.

The chefs will have 1 hour to finish their dish. A lot can go wrong in an hour.

For example. Brian discovers that there are no grills of any kind at Dooky Chase. So his original plan of making Korean-style strip steak with a sugar marinade for the crust is out the window. Hard to get caramelization without a proper grill. He’s going to have pan grill the steaks. Outlook hazy.

Travis’ biscuits are not turning out the way his test biscuit did yesterday. See, the kitchen at Dooky Chase is just a little be warmer than the Top Chef kitchen. And if you ever made biscuits you’ll know that the success of a biscuit relies on the temperature of your butter. Warm, soft butter = terrible biscuits. So while the outside appears okay, the inside of the biscuit is raw. The only thing he can do is to slice them in half and cover the mistake with gravy. Trouble ahead.

The judges are here. Time to eat.
See. George Bush cares about Dooky Chase.
Just not the rest of New Orleans.

Leah tells the table about how she ended up in the kitchen. When she first married her husband, Edgar Dooky Chase, Jr., she came to be a waitress. But soon she stepped into the kitchen to show everyone a bit of her influences and background, and in the kitchen she stayed. Now she is known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine. 

Since we’re all in the sharing mood, Anthony Mackie tells us that growing up his family only had gumbo twice a year, a cheap one and a “good” one. See, the good gumbo can cost upwards to $250 a pot, so they only had that once a year. The other one had the little shrimps, no crabs, and chicken wings. That one only cost $50. I gotta say, Anthony Mackie is one charming and well-spoken man. #ManCrush

First up. Carlos, Brian, and Travis.

Looks like everything Carlos ever made.
Carlos - Cochinita Pibil with Black Beans, Orange Pico De Gallo & Corn Tortilla.

Brian - Korean BBQ New York Strip with Potato Salad.

Travis - Biscuits with Maple Sage Sausage Gravy & Sour Plum Jam.

Everyone loves the flavor of Travis’ gravy, but as suspected, the biscuit is raw. Not even the delicious gravy can hide that fact. Emeril puts it perfectly when he said, “If you’re gonna serve biscuit at this table, it better be spot on man.”

Little puglet! More tissues please!
As usual, Carlos’ made something rich, balanced, and super delicious. He just keeps bringing his style of elevated Mexican food every round. 

Brian’s lack of a charcoal grill, or any grill for that matter, is hurting him. It’s hard to sell the judges on a Korean BBQ flavor without the char that’s usually associated with it. That and it’s too sweet.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen Nick is still emotional. He’s missing his family. Ok, I know the whole “no crying in Top Chef” thingy is out the window, but who the hell cries in the middle of service? Wait. It doesn’t just stop there, Nick is actually getting choked up while explaining his dish to the judges!

If you're getting this look from Padma...#WIN
Nick - Ricotta Gnudi with Pancetta, Peas, Lemon & Parmesan.

Shirley - Beijing Noodles, Fermented Bean & Pork Sauce with Pickled Radish.

Stephanie - Mussels with Spicy Pickled Peppers & Tomatoes.

Well, tears or not, Nick’s love for his family shows through in this dish. Padma loves the soft and pillowy gnudi, and everyone loves the crispy pancetta that provides some texture.

Shirley's dish is also spot on. Usually this dish comes with julienned cucumber to provide some crunch and balance against the highly seasoned fermented bean paste, here she used pickled radishes. Smart move.

Stephanie’s mussels are perfectly cooked. The surprise here is the pickled peppers in broth. Tom says he’s never had that combination before. And if you can surprise Tom (in a good way,) then you’re looking pretty good.

Last round.
Say! I would eat them anywhere! Need ham though.

Justin - Louisiana Rice with Chicken Thigh Gravy, Pickled Mirliton & Jalapeño.

Carrie - Creamed Asparagus over Toast & Poached Egg.

Nina - Curried Chicken with Fried Bakes

You can never gone wrong putting an perfectly cooked egg on top of something. It’s almost like bacon. As long as the yolk’s still warm and running, it’ll make everything tastes good. That’s what Carrie’s done here. The yolk mixes with the asparagus cream and turns the toasted bread into that perfect consistency of soft and crunchiness. It was a table pleaser.

Nina’s Nina. It’s now a foregone conclusion that her dish is good. However, I get the feeling she’s starting to be strategic about her dishes and is now coasting. Don’t expect her to take many chances.

Oh oh. Mean Girl Padma's here.
How quickly she can turn on you!
Justin is serving a traditional southern Louisiana dish to a table of folks who grew up eating southern Louisiana food. If that chicken and gravy isn’t perfect, he’ll get dinged for it. Guess what? It’s good, but not perfect. He’s gonna get dinged.

Dinner’s over. I gotta say this was the one episode so far where the judges pretty much enjoyed every dish. There were no egregious mistakes. It’s going to be hard for the judges.

During the interlude Tom and Anthony brought up potted meat. Apparently during their fishing expedition Anthony tried to get Tom to eat the “delicacy” and Tom say NOPE. He refuses to eat something that the law says it must declare “mechanically separated meat.” C’mon Tom! It’s like industrial pate, almost like charcuterie! 

Freddie Kruger called.
Back in the stew room, everyone feels really confident about their performance today. Brian says it’s going to be hard getting sent home this week because the challenge was so personal. They really put a piece of themselves out there.

That’s why the Flat Screen of Doom has been replace by the Flat Screen of Love. The judges loved everything. Each dish was brought up and someone had something positive to say. I love episodes like this where Tom is proud of the chefs and their dishes. Too often when the dishes suck Tom is embarrassed and have to talk about how hard the challenge is. Not today. Kudos all around.

However, there can only be one winner. This week, the emotional gnudi prevails. One of the best compliments Emeril can give a dish is when he says he can feel the love. It’s so funny how my personal perception of Emeril has evolved. He’s gone from that showy television chef who yells “Bam!” while throwing raw spices over everything, to the gentle Gandalf-ian Master Chef he is today. So much love.

Oh why not. Everyone else is doing it.
Now for the bad news. Someone is going home for putting their fondest home food memory out there.

Travis, Brian, and Justin all get called to the bad side of judges’ table. Travis for his raw biscuits, Brian for his uncharred steaks, and Justin for dried out chicken. All three dishes were good, but this was the wrong week to not be perfect.

One last tissue for you.
In the end, Travis just can’t hide from raw biscuits. You know, all season long he declared his expertise in cooking Asian food. And every week he would manage to draw Asian influences into his dish. The one week where he made something as “American” as biscuits and gravy, he gets sent home. That’s what I call irony. Maybe he should have made Asian biscuits. *rimshot*

So long Travis! 

Next week, the gang takes a field trip to LSU. Geaux Tigers!

Written by Mykl Wu 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 8: "Piggin' Out."

I don't think you know what a "gooch" means.
Sara thinks she’s a gooch. Don’t google that, or do. Either way, I won’t talk about it on here.

Her interpretation of a “gooch” is that she’s bad luck. Because every team she’s been involved in has been mediocre or on the bottom. Um. Maybe the real reason is you’re not a good cook and you pay more attention to your hairdo than your food? Wait. She doesn’t like being on the bottom. Ah. I’ll just leave that one alone.

Wait. Someone just said that Patty, who was kicked off last week, has only been cooking for three years?? C’mon producers, what’s the vetting process here? I swear instead of finding the absolute top contestants, some of these people are literally cast as fodder. #RedShirts
Ensign Patty.

Quickfire time.

Standing next to Padma is none other than New Orleans’ musical icon, Dr. John! 

Talk about having lived a full and fascinating life! During the early days, Dr. John sold drugs, ran a whorehouse, and was been in and out of jail. That’s all before he became a six-time Grammy winner and an inductee to the Rock and Roll hall of fame.

I’m sure some day there will be movies made about him.

What’s this? Someone on the show knows who Dr. John is? Brian recognizes the good Dr. from his recent collaboration with The Black Keys. Of course. He’s also wondering why Dr. John is here. Um. He’s only one of the most famous people from New Orleans?? #FacePalm.

This week’s Quickfire challenge? Make hot sauce.

When Dr. John speak and we need subtitles. You know why? Because he’s just that cool. Us mortals aren’t cool enough to understand him on our own.

Kids. Couple of words to learn this week. 

The man's so cool he's got his own language.
Let’s start with “hip-tang.” What does that mean? According to Dr. John, it has to have a “flavor-nicity of the highest order” mixed in with “tang-a-nicity” to make a killer sauce. 

“Hit it. Can’t quit it,” he preaches.


Who wouldn’t want eat something with a little “hip-tang?” Assignment of the week. Use the phrase “hip-tang” at your workplace as much as you can. Instant promotion!

45 minutes. Winner gets immunity. Go.

This is an interesting challenge. Every culture has their own hot sauce. And it’s not, ‘make a dish that does well with hot sauce.’ It’s just the sauce. Like Nina said, “Nowhere to hide.”

Not Hip.
Carlos is pretty psyched. Since he works with hot peppers often, he feels confident about presenting the proper amount of flavor and heat. A lot of other chefs are combining tropical fruits with their peppers. Meanwhile, Justin is adding fermented anchovies. See, that’s super smart. Fermented anchovy means instant umami. And that’s “flavor-nicity” right there!

Although there are no apparently sponsors for this challenge, all of the empty bottles look a lot like they’re from “Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce.” Hopefully the local company, Bruce Foods, got some $$ out of it.

Time’s up.
No Tang.

Both Padma and Dr. John have some accompaniment in front of them so they’re not tasting the sauce as -s. Padma goes with plain white crackers. Dr. John appears to be chasing hot sauce with some cajun rice.

Lesson from this Quickfire. Don’t make hot sauces that are TOO hot. It will bombard the taster’s pallet with too much heat. Balance is key.

Both Sara and Nina’s hot sauces are too hot. They fell to the bottom alongside Nick’s sweet and sour concoction. Don’t blame the guy though. He had his first ulcer at age twenty. So he probably avoided dealing with spicy food. With that said, god knows why he decided to become a chef. Talk about an ulcer-inducing career. Oy.

Now let’s see who’s got the “hip-tang.”

Brian’s green jalapeño with lime and yuzu, Justin’s umami driven anchovy, and Carlos’ habanero mango hot sauce are all pretty “hip.” But there can be only one. And that’s Brian’s hot sauce. He was smart to use jalapeño. It provides just enough heat while the yuzu added the “tang” factor. He gets immunity again. Hope this isn’t a team challenge, cuz whoever is on his team should expect minimal effort.

Elimination Challenge.

In walks another New Orleans icon, Donald Link, wheeling in a whole ginormous pig. Donald Link is the owner of Herb Saint, Cochon, and Cochon Butcher. He was one of the first chefs to return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, cooking and providing free meals for everyone who needed it. Much like John Besh, Chef Link kept his restaurant group in New Orleans to provide jobs and awesome food to the local people. He’s a true champion of all things New Orleans.

The piggy who went to the market...
Alongside Donald is local artist/butcher/chef, Toby Rodriguez. If you’re a Tony Bourdain fan, you might have see Toby in an episode of No Reservations where Toby took Tony to a small hole in the wall and they feasted on stuffed turkey wings and okra smothered shrimps and crabs. Oh and he threw Tony a REAL boucherie. 

A boucherie is a cajun tradition where a community would come together to slaughter and prepare an whole pig. Since there were no refrigeration back then, the community would break down into groups and every part of the pig would be used and preserved. Some would make ham, other would make boudins. The important thing is that every part is cooked and used. 

This is what happens when you get eliminated. (j/k)
Today’s challenge. As a team, break down this 300 lbs hog and throw their own boucherie. Tomorrow they’ll have 5 hours to cook. Though each chef will be responsible for their own dish, as a team they must use every part of the pig.

As a demo of what kind of dishes are served at a boucherie, Toby and his chefs will make some traditional dishes for the cheftestants tonight. Wow. What a treat! This dinner alone is worth surviving 8 episodes in!

The chefs gather around the hog and start divvying up who gets what. Right away Sara tries to be leader and suggests a “cohesive” menu - only to be immediately shut down by Justin who thinks they need a more “diverse” menu so not everyone’s doing the same thing. #womp.

It’s already a mess. These guys can’t even work as a team to decide who gets what, let alone butcher and portion out this damn thing. So it comes down to experience. Apparently both Justin and Nick have butchered over 10 whole hogs before so they get to take the lead. Usually at this point someone confesses to have “never done this before.” Apparently either they’ve learned to lie, or finally too embarrassed to admit to it at this point.

Good ole Sara’s playing armchair butcher, questioning every move. Nobody likes her. 

Finally, the animal is broken down and portioned off. Surprise! Carlos is guess it, tacos! You know, just in case you forget where he’s from. Then comes the actual surprise, Justin, the local chef is also going to make tacos. That’s really smart because you know, regardless of expectation, this still is a New Orleans themed season. So maybe you want to use your local experience and appeal to the crowd. 

Travis is making ramen, with store bought noodles. Brian, with the immunity asks, “like spaghetti?” Haha. Nice dig. #EyeRoll #ItsNotRamen
Real Cajun food.

With shopping done, the chefs comes home to find Toby and his team have taken over the house’s kitchen. They’re making some of the most amazing looking dishes we’ve seen on this show so far. Smoked tasso wrapped in goat cheese, backbone stew, boudins, all look super delicious. Let’s just cancel the rest of the season and give the Top Chef title to Toby. This food looks by far better than anything the cheftestants made this season. 

Next morning, it’s time to cook. Let’s head off to The Bayou Barn.

Sara is bitching about this being an outdoor cooking challenge. Hey it’s a boucherie! What did you expect? Cooking demo complete with swap-outs at William Sonoma? Psst.

The Bayou Barn is an outdoor catering/events facility. That means they’ve got lots of nifty outdoor cooking gadgets. A standing smoker, giant charcoal grills, and a “china box” are all ready to go. 
Top Chef

“A minute and forty seven guys!!” shouts Brian the immunity calmly while drinking some iced-tea. Not so fast. There’s actually an hour and forty seven minutes left to go. Yeah. We can tell he’s taking this week seriously.

Every week someone decides to make something they’ve never made before. Even though Stephanie’s got arguably the easiest ingredient, pork belly, she decides to go off the reservation. She’s going to make a pork “brodo” (soup) with crispy pork skin. Good luck. Making something for the first time always works out well on Top Chef.

I'm gonna start a fire!
Louis the Loner tells us he’s not very social and basically has no friends. However, he’s made more friends these few weeks than he has in years. This is making him all warm and fuzzy and he would love to stay longer. That my friends is what the editors call “foreshadowing.” Chances are Louis is in trouble. That and he’s making freaking popcorn. 

Apparently there’s also a boucherie tradition in China. Because Shirley remembers going to grandma’s house where they did the same thing, breaking down and sharing a whole pig. She’s going to make dumplings. 

Oh oh. Looks like Justin’s going to burn the whole damn place down. His open fire grill is getting a little out of control and with cooking pork breast, low and slow is usually the key. Scorching is usually not the recommended cooking technique. He might be on the hot seat. Get it? Heh.

Time’s up. Here what these guys came up with.

Brian - Porchetta with Oyster Mushrooms.

Yup. Dude has immunity and really wanted to go outside his comfort zone. So he make a pork belly roll with some sautéed mushrooms. Way to go out on a limb dude.

However, even Brian can’t screw this up. Donald Link said this would be something he’d make if he was in this challenge. 

Tom and Hugh Acheson tried to cut in line. Got totally shut down. Ha.

Not exactly Boucherie food.
Sara - Pork Dim Sum with Crab & Shrimp Har Gow (dumpling).

So apparently Sara still thinks her expertise is Asian food. However, seems like she decided to focus on the food this week. Both Tom and Hugh thought it was pretty good. Good thing. I’m tired of her bitching about how bad she is.

Justin - Wood Roasted Pork Breast Taco with Pork Liver Salsa Verde.

I’m not sure where Justin got his taco technique from. Usually the proteins in tacos are cut into small, bite sized pieces so it’s easier to eat. But Justin decides to serve the pork breast in slices. Not a smart move. Oh oh. Perhaps it was the flames, but Donald Link thought the pork was dry. 
Boucherie via Mexico.

Carlos - Pozole Verde with Fried Chorizo Tacos.

Now that’s a smart move. Serve a hearty stew with a size of crispy crunchy taco. You don’t find a land war in Asia, and you don’t try to out cook tacos with a Mexican! Carlos shows Justin how to properly cook/serve a taco. 

Shirley - Jiaozi Dumpling with Pork, Grilled Kidney & Crispy Pork Fat Salad.

Jiaozi dumplings are essentially Chinese raviolis. They’re savory and always boiled in water. To serve them with something crispy like cracklings is the perfect play on texture. Soft meaty pillows of meat alongside crispy strips of pork skin. We might have a winner here. 

Louis - Slow Grilled Pork Leg with Spring Onions, Shitake Mushrooms, Melted Corn and Popcorn.

Some whispers to Tom that this is the “best one.” Tom totally disagrees. Hugh found it confusing. Melted corn served with popcorn. I guess calling it “avant garde” would be putting it nicely.

Stephanie - Pork Brodo with Braised Pork Belly & Summer Vegetable Pickle.

Stephanie is not confident about her dish. On paper this dish sounds delicious. However, neither Donald or Padma liked it. Congrats Steph. You just screwed up one of the winningest ingredients on Top Chef.

Travis - Cajun Style Pork Ramen with Pork Bone Broth & Collard Greens.
David Chang would CUT you for this.

Earlier Travis tried to sell this dish as “Asian-Cajun.” To which Donald Link mockingly said, “Ca-sian.” Immediately Hugh asks if the noodles were handmade. Nope. And of course Hugh then shares sarcastically with Tom on the “difficulty” of making ramen noodles. Tom rolls his eyes in disdain. 

Carrie - Crispy Trotters with Snap Peas & Pickled Onions.

Crispy trotters is one of those super delicious things that most people won’t eat because of what it is (pigs feet). You’re missing out. Think of it as the best tasting chicken nuggets ever. Only it’s pork. Crispy on the outside and warm and tasty on the inside. Tom and Hugh agrees that this is going to be a tough one to judge because there are so many good dishes.

It's head, but Tete sounds better.
Nick - Tete De Cochon (pig’s head) with Summer Beans, Lemongrass Vinaigrette & Wheat Berries.

Dude deserves props for pulling off this dish where it take a lot of work. He had to cook down the head, take the meat off, and roll the whole thing into a torchon. Though Donald Link thought it was super heavy, Nick balanced it out with the bright and crunchy veggies.

Nina - Braised Pig’s Head Ragu, Roasted Corn & Mustard Greens.

Though Nina had told Tom earlier that she wasn’t going to use heat, a last minute tasting caused her to reconsider. She add some cayenne peppers at the end to give the dish some pop. Good decision because both Tom and Hugh really liked the dish.

"I'm hopeful this season will get better!"
During the interlude Stephanie tells us what a nervous wreck she is. Nobody cares.

Back in the stew room. The flat screen of doom beckons.

What?! Tom just said that this was the best food he’s had in 11 seasons. The chefs in the stew room can’t believe it, the other judges probably don’t believe it, I certainly don’t believe it. 

The judges all like Shirley’s dumplings, Carlos’ pozole, and even Brian’s porchetta. On the flip side, Justin’s dry taco, Louis’ bizarre popcorn dish, Travis’ poor excuse of ramen, and Stephanie, who couldn’t bring flavor into braised pork belly. 

In a game of “one-upmanship” in front of the Judges, Shirley tells the judges that she and her mom used to travel three days to grandma’s house to make those dumplings.
The thrill of victory.
Carlos says people used to ride the bus for four hours just to have his mom’s pozole. Nina’s dad kicked the British out of Saint Lucia. 

The winner? Carlos with his comforting pozole with the chorizo tacos. Tom tells all three of them to keep cooking like this. Looks like Carlos is starting to find his stride. 

Time for the axis of bad food.

Justin, Louis, and Stephanie are called in. 

Sassy Hip-Tang.
Justin is defiant. He’s surprised that he’s here. Padma, being the pretty “mean girl” she is, immediate strikes back by telling him that his pork was “very bland and very dry.” This is an escalation from her earlier statement, “Justin’s meat was a little dry when we had it…”

Don’t be petulant with Padma or she’ll cut ya! #Protip

Tom quickly steps in and tells Justin that ALL the food was good and his portion of Justin’s meat was well cooked. So maybe this was just an issue of consistency. Ha.

Agony of defeat.
Stephanie’s problem is that her dish tastes unfinished. Tom needed more texture, more flavor, more something. At this level of competition any little mistake could sent you packing. Or better yet, serve the judges some popcorn.

Louis with his overly sweet, nonsensical popcorn dish gets the cut. He just tried to be too “cute” with this challenge. When Donald Link says he “hates” something on your plate, you know it’s time to go. So long Louis. Even though you worked for Thomas Keller, the only thing I’ll remember about you is that Thomas Keller is a great chef. 

Judging by the reaction of the stew room, I think people thought hoped it was going to be Stephanie. No worries folks. Her time will be up soon.