Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 2 "Rebuilding New Orleans."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 2 "Rebuilding New Orleans."

There’s no crying in cooking. Especially when it’s Top Chef.

It’s embarrassing enough having to stand in front of Chefs’ Table, pleading for your culinary life. What you don’t want is to return to the stew room and show your fellow cooks that you’re weak. Picking up right where last week’s episode left off, Patty Vega is  failing to hold back her tears as she returns to the stew room to be consoled by her fellow chefs.

“Did you feel like the right person went home?” Bret Pelaggi asks.

Way to kick the girl when she’s down. 

Where there's gumbo, there's a celebration.
With the tears still streaming down Patty’s face, in walks Padma. There are only a few reasons why a judge would come into the stew room after a challenge. It’s either Tom coming to tell you how disappointed he is, or it’s Padma with another challenge.

Hey remember how you haven’t had a Quickfire challenge yet? Well here you go.

It’s gumbo time.

Originated in Louisiana in the 18th century, gumbo is one of the most popular and revered foods in New Orleans. Like Michael Sichel says, “Being a chef in New Orleans, you don’t have gumbo on your menu you’re’re going out of business.”

However, to properly prepare a gumbo takes time. So this will be the longest Quickfire ever. The chefs are to head home and start their gumbo tonight, and they’ll have 15 minutes tomorrow to finish it in the Top Chef Kitchen.

Oh yeah, and they’ll be serving their gumbo to guest judge and local legend, Leah Chase

That’s right. After a long and intense day of working with ingredients you’re not familiar with in a setting you’re not comfortable in, you now need to create one of the most iconic New Orleans dishes for literally the Queen of Creole Cuisine herself. Good luck.

Winner of this Quickfire gets well deserved immunity.

Here we go. I totally called it. Judging by last’s week showing of all the chefs who knew they were going to New Orleans and yet didn’t learn to cook with gators/frogs/turtles, I knew there’ll be at least one yahoo who’d say this:

“I have never made gumbo before…”Aaron Cuschieri confessed.

Really?!? At some point before the competition someone must have given you a hint on what city you’re going to right? Unless it’s a blindfold kidnapping situation there is no excuse on why a chef this season wouldn’t practice making gumbos, boudins, po’boys. That alone should be grounds for dismissal.

The chefs head back to cook. As big as their townhouse looked, 18 people cooking under one roof that’s not fit for professional use is a challenge in itself. Everyone gets a crock pot. Enjoy.

With gumbo being such a personal dish, each chef is asked to incorporate part of their personal history or heritage into the stew. Hey! What a perfect way to introduce some back history for our cheftestants!

Did you know (Blitz edition):

-Carries Mashaney is from Iowa but her husband’s from Trinidad? 

-Jason Cichonski ‘s restaurant is named after his mom, who passed away when he was 3 years old?

-Michael Sichel is a cancer survivor, but we’re not told what kind.

Yeah. All semi interesting. The only interesting thing is that despite being the chef of Galatoire’s and having (self-proclaimed) 10 years of experience cooking gumbo, Michael Sichel dumped his first batch and decided to do something different at 1:30 am.

Next morning our blurry eyed chefs cradle their crock pots into the Top Chef kitchen. Prepared to serve Leah Chase their personal gumbo.
Nothing sexy about this mess.

Let’s start with the least favorites.

Jason’s Polish-inspired gumbo with beets and potatoes came up short. Leah thought it would have been better if it was more of a borscht. To which he responds, “Bullsh%t! I know that dish tasted good.”

This guy. So basically people usually think you’re a douche until you throw down some skills in the kitchen and then if they still think you’re a douche you’ll just curse at them? Such disrespect to one of the legendary chefs of this region. Son, she was making gumbo probably even before your dad was born. Sheesh. Talk about grounds for dismissal.

Michael’s drunken chicken gumbo was a failure. He found a chicken and a six pack of beer at 1:30 in the morning and decided that was the way to go. I suspect it wasn’t the chicken who was drunk.

Mr. President, this Jason kid's got an attitude problem.
Surprise surprise. Patty’s plantain-filled mofongo inspired gumbo went nowhere. Once again the critique was basically “Good idea, poorly executed.” It’s the second challenge and already this sounds like her own personal broken record.

On the good side…

Aaron’s hot and sour Asian style gumbo with the crispy prawns fried whole was a hit. You know what’s even a bigger hit? Having Padma asking with no expression whatsoever, “So you want me to put the whole head in my mouth?”  You Top Chef aficionados will remember that Padma said almost the exact same thing last season during the episode of “Chefs at Sea.” Oh Padma. You cheeky girl you.

Winner: Heartland meets Caribbean.
Carrie’s Iowan-Trinidadian gumbo with coconut, green mango & corn crumble also landed on top. It reminded Leah of one of her “Holy Thursday” gumbo z'herbes. High praise indeed.

Shirley’s braised pork belly with Mexican rice gumbo get a nod. Once again, pork belly when done correctly can usually carry you to the top. 

Winner of the Quickfire? Carrie with her coconut and mango gumbo. I guess if your dish can remind the judge of one of her own then you’re probably going to win. Immunity for her.

Local boy and James Beard nominee Justin Devillier looks disappointed for not even being named top three. I would be too if I was from NOLA and failed to win this one. You only get so many local challenge advantages!

No time to breath. Let’s start the Elimination Challenge.

The guest judge for this week? Susan Spicer, another member of New Orleans’ culinary royalty. She’s the owner of Bayona, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the city. The HBO show “Treme” features a character, Janette Desautel that’s loosely based on her. 

The first team challenge. Always interesting to see how each chef’s personality and leadership plays out during these collaborations. 

Food trucks are all the rage nowadays and New Orleans is no exception. With a smaller menu and low overhead, food trucks are the best way for up-and-coming chefs to show off their skills without too much risk. 

Today, they will divide into 4 teams and serve lunch to the volunteers of Habitat for Humanity, one of the great organizations that is helping New Orleans and surrounding areas to rebuild. Since Katrina hit, Habitat has help built or rehabbed 557 homes. If anyone deserves a nice lunch, it’s them.

Yellow Team:
Aaron, Carlos, Travis, Carrie & Brian

The Yellow team is going with a taco truck. Gonna give them credit for originality! #Sarcasm Along with tacos, they’ll have ceviche and Carrie is going to make fresh dough for empanadas. Talk about ambitious.

Blue Team:
Jason, Patty, Nicholas & Bret

They made a bandana just for her?
This team’s got problem written all over it already. You have the buddy dynamic between Jason and Bret (both are from Philly) versus the inferiority complex duo of Patty (who’s always on the bottom) and Bret (an out of work cook.)  So you tell me whose ideas are gonna fly here? They’re going with a surfer theme partly because Jason looks like a surfer. I’m shocked they didn’t just puree some beet juice and go with the True Blood theme. 

Green Team:
Louis, Sara, Shirley & Stephanie

With items like shawarma, lentils and chickpeas , Green Team is headed for a Mediterranean theme with a smile. More specifically Louis’ smile. Frankly I had no idea who Louis is. Up until now unless you’ve gained some notoriety through food or personality, you’re a mystery to us. However, Louis does have a nice smile. So there’s that.

Red Team:
Justin, Bene, Janine, Michael & Nina

Miami meets the deep south. On paper this team looks strong. You have Nina who won the first challenge, Justin the James Beard nominee, Michael who beat cancer and of course Janine who is pretty. Oh wait. There’s also Bene who’s doing his best Alan Arkin impression of the forgotten man. Yeah nobody’s listening to him or his suggestions. 

The two locals who lost the gumbo challenge.
Time to cook. They’ve got 2 hours to prep before service.

Most of the teams are humming and cooking away. Everyone’s getting along and working together. Perhaps it’s still early in the season where everyone’s real personalities aren’t out yet. However, in any kitchen there are natural hierarchies that develop and you can tell right away who are the alpha and who are the betas.

Nicolas on the Blue Team is giving directions to Patty and Bret so they won’t “over-think” the dish. Read: “Follow my direction you minions.”  Meanwhile, they’ve decided that since Jason is the pretty one who looks like a surfer he should stand outside, expedite and chat people up. Because of that Jason is pre-making all of his salmon hand rolls ahead of time. 

She got more screen time than most chefs!
Over on the Red Team invisible man Bene, with no headlining dish of his own, has been delegated to an assistant. They say if you don’t know who the sucker is at the poker table, chances are you’re it. Well, the good news is Bene knows he’s the sucker. 

The focus shifts back on what is really important here. The continuous effort to rebuild the city of New Orleans. Throughout the episode we see how each local chef was affected by Hurricane Katrina. Susan Spicer, Leah Chase, Michael Sichel, and Justin Devilllier all lost their homes or restaurants in some capacity. Even at the time of filming, Gail Simmons says there are still 50,000 houses that needs to be rebuilt. All the more reasons to feed the volunteers some good food so they can keep on working right?

Time to check out the food.

Yellow Team 

(Travis & Brian)
Dorado & Shrimp Ceviche with Tomato

Crispy shrimps' head.
(Carrie & Aaron)
Beef & Pork Curry Empanadas with Watercress and Mango

(Carlos & Aaron)
Tilapia Tacos with Chipotle Aioli & Cabbage

Blue Team

Salmon Hand Roll with Quinoa, Honey Mustard Miso & Cucumber.

Grilled Shrimp with Melon-Sungold Salad & Crushed Wasabi Peas

You're not going to win Top Chef with tuna sliders.
Coconut Ceviche with Read Snapper & Bay Scallops

Tuna Slider with Crispy Pancetta, Avocado & Tomato

Red Team

Green Gazpacho with Pickled Shrimp

Lobster & Crab Fritters withe Corn Puree & Bacon Jam

(Nina & Bene)
Jerk Chicken Sandwich with Mango & Crispy Plantains
Lots of green foods today.

Ricotta with Burnt Honey, Stone Fruit & Toasted Coconut

Green Team

Crispy Chickpeas with Watercress & Radish Salad

Tuna Burger with Sprouts, Avocado & Watermelon Rind Pickles

Spicy Grilled Lamb Salad with Cucumber & Asian Pear
Little Bo Peep's looking for you...

Service is over and everyone’s pretty confident. Bret (Blue Team) even commented that he felt good because the other team ran out of a bunch of stuff and his team didn’t. Yeah, think about that for a bit. 

The important thing is that hard working ladies and gentleman out there got a good meal from somebody. And the rebuilding of New Orleans will “Keep on keepin’ on.”

Time for the Flat Screen of Judgement. This season in their new and improved stew room, the chefs will get a preview of who might have done well and who faltered. Everyone gets to watch. Some gets to gloat, others agonize.

The Yellow and Green team both scored high. Both team’s dishes made sense, their theme’s cohesive, and most importantly it was well executed. 

This is when being "flaky" is a good thing.
On the flip side are the Blue and Red teams. At this level, the smallest thing can put you in the bottom. Each team’s dishes had either poorly thought out concept, or made choices that resulted in a bad dish.

The Yellow team gets called to the winner’s circle. The secret to their success? Working together. You can see that each dish took collaborate effort between two members to make. That’s team unity and the key in a challenge like this. However there can be only one winner. And that person is Carrie. The fact that she used a wine bottle as a rolling pin to make empanada dough on the spot in the truck pushes her over the edge. Despite having immunity, she didn’t let up. With two straight wins and an appearance in the winning group every time so far, she’s establishes herself as a front runner.

The losing team is the Blue Team. Although we’re not even at November yet, it might as well be Festivus. Because Tom has a lot of problem with you people.

You might as well have served me okra!
Where do we begin? Nicolas’ wasabi garnish made no sense, Bret’s ceviche was under seasoned and not cold enough, Jason’s hand roll was mushy, and Patty’s tuna slider had the misfortune of a bad tomato which ruined the whole dish.

Jason explains that he knew a mistake was made, but he premade the rolls so he can stand out front and chat people up. When Jason is pressed to explain why he sacrificed his dish just so he can interact...Bret pulls a deft move of this young season.

Knowingly or not, he “no-looked” Jason under the bus. Bret tells the judges that the reason Jason made his hand roll ahead of time was since it was a “surf” truck and he looked like a surfer, it was only fitting that he was “the host.” That little inception right there drove the stake through Jason’s heart. (Hey it’s probably last time I get to use a True Blood reference.) 

Good luck with Last Chance Kitchen True Blood!
At this point though I think even Patty is resigned to get sent home. She’s been on the bottom every single challenge. There’s no more fight in her. Meanwhile, Jason is literally pouting. Alas, that pretty blond hair and surfer good looks can’t save him now. If there’s anything Tom cannot stand (aside from skin on his red peppers and the slimy taste of okra) is a bad attitude with misplaced priorities. What the sexiest chef in Philadelphia seems to have forgotten is that in the kitchen, “It better to taste good than to look good.”

Good luck in Last Chance Kitchen, Jason. Here’s $10 bucks that Patty is right behind you.

Next week. Commander’s Palace and Paul Prudhomme. Kids, do yourself a favor and click on the links to familiarize yourself with these two legendary names. Then, unlike most of the chefs this season, you'll have done some research on the legendary food city of New Orleans.

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