Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 11: "Back to School."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 11: "Back to School."

8 Chefs left.

Top Chefs: Michael Voltaggio. Richard Blais. Stephanie Cmar.
Travis got the boot last week and the only person who cares is Nina. Frankly Captain "I only like Asians (food)" should have gone home when he made an Italian dish during the Vietnam challenge. 

Looking around the room, it’s going to be tough to predict who’s going home next. Each one is a good tough chef in their own right, well except for Brian and Stephanie. Can you imagine either one of them leading a band of cooks on the line into war? Yeah, me neither. 

Speaking of leading a band, this week’s Quickfire guest judge is non other than Amhir “Questlove” Thompson!

Questlove is the drummer and one of the founding members of The Roots. They’ve won multiple Grammys and are the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Me and the occasional Justin Timberlake is the
only reason to watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Before you ask, “Wait. Is this a Lea Michelle-type of celebrity nonsense mucking up yet another episode?” Nope. Ever the true Renaissance man, Questlove appreciates all things creative in life. Not only is he musically gifted, he has also published a book, produced Broadway plays, and got into a fried chicken battle with my daily inspiration and personal hero, David Chang.

In April of 2012 Questlove challenged David Chang to a fried chicken showdown on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” The long-term ripple effect resulted in Questlove opening his own fried chicken joint, Hybrid. Unfortunately, he also found out the hard way how tough the restaurant biz is. Hybrid was short-lived and closed in November of 2013. Still, the man knows a thing or two about food. You know the famous sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, from the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi?” Yeah dude’s been there three times in one calendar year. Now that’s a gourmand!
Spoiler alert. Chang wins.

Since fried chicken got Questlove into this, this week’s “Q” challenge is - drumsticks!

The chefs must choose between an array of different types of drumsticks ranging from duck, quail, turkey, squab, and of course chicken. 30 minutes. Winner gets immunity.

This is one of those “first come first serve” type a deal, so time for a good ole fashioned scrum. Everyone charges the table to grab their preferred protein. With 30 minutes, you kinda don’t want to end up with something like turkey, which takes forever to cook. 

During the melee Shirley kinda got knocked to the floor, and Nick being the nice guy that he is, decides to help her up instead of grabbing the duck legs. No good deed goes unpunished. Shirley ends up taking the duck and Nick ends up with quail. He is not happy about that. 

To improvise, Nick is using a frog legs recipe and making 'lollipops' with the little quail legs. Note to self: don’t ever cook quail legs because those things look impossible to prep. Dude busts out scissors to scrape what little meat there is to one side so it looks like a lollipop.

Cooking is a contact sport.
Surprise! Nina’s doing jerk flavoring. As much as she’s favored to win this thing, I wish she would do more than presenting “island” flavors. This is Top Chef, not Top Island Chef. Am I being too tough on her? #SorryNotSorry

Brian is making chicken soup. Look at that, some actual creativity from the man. He’s going to add some crispy crackling on top to give the dish some texture. I’m actually surprised and kinda impressed. Hey. I can give credit were credit’s due.

Here we go. Let’s see what they came up with.

Carrie - Squab Legs Marinated in Thyme, Juniper & Cocoa Powder with Fig Mostrada.

Questlove, “I’m not mad at this at all.”

Duck a l'orange.
See, Q’s another one of those “so cool he’s got his own language” peeps. We’re talking “hip-tang” territory here people! For you square kids out there, what Mr. Questlove is saying is that he liked this dish.

Brian - Chicken Soup, Chicken Skin Crackling with Parsley & Thai Basil.

Shirley - Crispy Duck Leg with Szechuan Chili Salt & Mint.

Nina - Jerked Guinea Hen Charred with Juniper Berries & Scotch Bonnet Peppers.

Stephanie - Fried & Grilled Turkey Leg with Sriracha & Sour Cream Buttermilk Dressing.

Can you spot the mistake?
Nick - Twice Fried Quail Legs with Sesame Sauce Rolled in Gomaiso.

The funny thing is, I kept typing quail EGGS because well, that’s what I usually think of when I say quail. Lo and behold, the graphics department was thinking the same thing. The chyron reads, “Twice Fried Quail Eggs.”

Justin - Chicken Drumettes with Smoked Aioli, Herb Salad & Sorghum Vinaigrette.

Carlos - Fried Goose Leg with Cranberries & Apple Salad.

What did Questlove think of their efforts?

On the bottom - Carlos, Justin, and Nick. Carlos’ had some shards of bone situation, which automatically landed him there. Nick’s was too salty, and Justin could have been more creative. Ironically during cooking Justin was trying to be creative and elevate simple drumettes. Guess smoked aioli is nothing more than burnt mayo.
Questlove's hair is THIS big!

Amongst the favorites are Nina, Carrie, and Brian’s. Questlove liked the spiciness of Nina’s jerked hen, the creativity of Brian’s soup, and Carrie’s perfectly cooked squab. However, if Questlove’s going to drop a cool phrase reacting to your dish? You’re probably going to win.

Carrie’s squabbies win the Quickfire. She gets the much coveted immunity. Much coveted because this week’s Elimination challenge is a doozy. 

This week, the chefs head to Louisiana State University to serve lunch for 500 freshmen during orientation week - cafeteria style.

Yup. That is a helluva challenge. I don’t care how talented a chef you are at your own restaurant doing a 100+ covers a night, cooking for 500 people in this setting is a different kind of beast. Everything from prepping, cooking, and even equipment will be different. So Carrie is super stoked to have immunity.
Cook for 500 People??

A challenge like this deserves a big prize. So the winner gets a new car! Series sponsor Toyota is kicking in a Rav 4 for the winner of this one. 

Tonight, the chefs get to relive their college days and stay overnight in the dorms. Hey, why wasn’t this episode titled “Dorm Daze?” 

Off to LSU we go!

During the car ride Brian tells us about his drunken college days and how he gruesomely cut open his arm during a party. Shirley doesn’t care, Nina doesn’t care, I found it mildly amusing because I had a similar experience in college but yeah, nobody cares. And LSU being about an hour away from New Orleans, poor peeps had to suffer through the car ride.

The gang finally arrives at LSU and is greeted by two of the peppiest freshmen guides ever. These two are straight out of central casting. They’re blonde, bubbly, and full of energy. They’re like Leslie Knope on Barbie crack.

They introduced the gang to LSU’s mascot, Mike the Tiger. LSU is the only school in the US that hosts a live tiger. You know what would have been a great twist on the elimination challenge? Loser gets in the cage with Mike. I’d bet we’d get more creative dishes!
Delta Delta Delta, can I help ya help ya help ya?

Aww. Justin never went to college so he doesn’t understand the “college experience.” Let me put it to you this way Justin. You work hard at the things you love (electives), half ass it on the things you don’t (requirements), and party hard afterwards. Rinse. Repeat. Sound familiar? 

Ok time to get down to business.

First thing is to figure out who’s doing what. There are eight different stations and everyone has gotta work together and decide who’s on what station.

This is no time to be meek. At this point of the competition you gotta step up and do your thing. The margin for error is nil. Everyone’s calling dibs on the ingredients and equipment they need. It’s funny how even at this level it’s the ole 3rd grade playground  “I called it” system that settles things.

I know it's a different context. Work with me here people!
However, what if there’s a playground bully in the midst? What if someone just plain out demand a certain thing regardless of who “called it” first?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Carlos the passive-aggressive bully.

 Early on Shirley called dibs for the “plancha,” or the big flat top grill. It’s basically what you see at diners where they cook everything from burgers to cheesesteaks. She wants to do something like a beef fried rice, which is smart because you can quickly and continuously make big batches to serve 500 people. 

But here comes Carlos who basically demands the plancha to grill his fish. He says there’s no other way he can properly prepare the fish so he deserves to use it. Mind you, he picked the fish, so it wasn’t like he didn’t have a choice. For some reason Shirley relents and gives in! For the record I would have told Carlos to go kick a can. Go find another protein to cook you SOB. 
Bad Carlos!

In a way, Carlos “Jedi mind tricked” Shirley. He did that arguing by remaining silent technique. Try it next time you need to persuade someone to do something. For example, “Hey can I have that last beer?” When the other person says no, just keep standing here and maintain eye contact like you’re still asking the question. But don’t say anything, just stare at them. More often enough the other person will be so uncomfortable they’ll eventually say yes just to end awkwardness of the silence. You're welcome. #ProTip.

Back to the kitchen. Shirley now ends up at the pizza oven station, which nobody wanted for some reason. You’re cooking for college kids people! Just bust out some flat bread pizza deal and you’ll coast through! Well, Shirley decides to use the pizza oven to make roast beef and pair it charred tomato relish. 
But I need it...waaaaah.

Justin doesn’t believe in cooking down to people. Instead of something hearty and fun, he decides to go with a high-end dish of gulf shrimp with chilled asparagus and garlic puree. Hm. I guess Justin was right all along. He really doesn’t understand the college experience. 

Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Now we’re talking. Stephanie’s got the right idea but she’s making pimento cheese by using shredded mozzarella and cottage cheese. Um, that’s disgusting. Plus, how the hell is cottage cheese going to melt? 

I like Carrie. I really do. And I know she’s only doing this because she’s got immunity. But in an “all time low” moment in Top Chef, Carrie is making (wait for it…) 

Apropos on so many levels this episode.

Yeah. That’s all I have to say about that. 

Time for service. Here comes a sea of impressionable young pallets. Luckily, their opinions don’t really matter. What, did you expect Bravo production team to sort through 500 opinion cards? 

Brian’s shrimp cakes looks like the most pedestrian of dishes. Basically a breaded and fried patty of shrimp and misc fillings held together by mayo. But you know what? The college kids love them. The line for his station is so long you’d think he’s serving beer with them cakes.

Can I use you oven now? Waaaah.
On the flipside, there’s Carrie’s station. #Tumbleweeds

Remember Carlos and his “Jedi mind trick?” Yeah, now he’s trying that schtick again only this time he ran into a buzz saw in the form of Nick. Carlos had planned to start his fish on the grill then finish the cooking in the oven. However, the oven belongs to Nick and Nick ain’t budging. 

“Well, I need the oven to warm my plates,” Nick says, coldly. 

Ha! Dude could care less about your fish because he wants warm plates. Now that’s how you tell someone to go pound sand. Now that’s someone who can lead his fellow cooks into battle. Kudos.

Here comes the judges. Joining Padma and Tom this week is Emeril and the ever vivacious Gail Simmons. Did you know Gail is actually Canadian and graduated from McGill University in Montreal? #Facts

The judges spilt up to sample the foods. Boys to one side, girls the other.

Here we go.

Shirley - Roast Beef with Potato Puree & Fire Roasted Tomato Relish.

Dude didn't bother to trip the stems. #FacePalm
Nina - Fried Chicken with Sweet Corn Puree & Pickled Onions.

Brian - Shrimp Cake & Spinach with Chipotle Aioli.

Everybody likes the shrimp cake. Gail like that there were actual big chunks of shrimps so it’s not like some mushy mystery “seafood” cake. Meanwhile, Shirley’s roast beef is also a crowd pleaser. One student actually said it was the best thing he’s ever put in his mouth. C’mon producers, we couldn’t get Padma to say that? 

Nick - Roasted Pork, Parmesan Grits & Bacon Brown Sugar Gravy.

Carrie - Broccoli Salad with Herbed Yogurt Sauce and Pita Bread.

Literally the saddest dish in the history of Top Chef.
Justin - Marinated Gulf Shrimp, Cauliflower, Asparagus & Garlic Puree.

Oh oh. Justin’s in trouble. As expected, college student could care less for high-end food. Not as expected, Gail found the dish bland and not flavorful. Could be trouble. And everybody pretty much thought Carrie phoned it in this week.

Stephanie - Spicy Tomato Soup with Pimento Cheese Sandwich.

Carlos - Seared Tilapia with Chile Ancho & Mexican Coleslaw.

Turncoat moment of the week. While Tom and Emeril heckled Carlos for having to wait too long for their food, Carlos had the nerve to tell them that Nick stole HIS oven! Nina overhears this and is appalled. Meanwhile the Tom and Emeril could care less. You know why? Because there are no excuses in the kitchen! 
This was a very close second. 

All the whiny nonsense aside, judges actually liked the fish. Emeril thought it had a good amount of heat from the chili, and Tom thought it was done well despite the oven business. And while Stephanie’s soup was good, the mistake came when she served the sandwich partially IN the soup, which resulted in soggy grilled cheese. Not good.

Overall, another bland showing up all the chefs. I understand this was more of a time management / volume challenge, but nothing these guys are putting out are inspiring. Watching Top Chef used to make me want to jump into the kitchen and create similar themed challenges for myself. Now it makes me want to drink. #Bored

Speaking of drinking, that’s what the chefs are doing in the stew room. There are a lot of empty bottle of wine on the table. It’s been a tough day for everyone. But it’s about to get tougher for Carlos. 

Nick brings up the whole Oven-Gate situation and Carlos starts scrambling for a retort. He has none. Meanwhile the room now turns on Carlos. See, there’s a code in the kitchen. You don’t lie, steal, or backstab a fellow cook. Carlos broke that code, and as much as he tried to weasel out of it with a haphazard apology, no one is buying it. 

Luckily for him, the Flat Screen of Doom flickers on and all the attention now turns toward the judges’ feedback.

“Considering the amount of portions the chefs have to make, I think some of them did a pretty good job,” says Tom. Talk about a lukewarm reaction to the challenge. Well, let’s see who the “some of them” are.

Brian’s croquettes, Shirley’s roast beef, and Carlos’ fish are the judges’ favorites. However, when the most exciting thing they can come during the discussion is the spinach salad on top of Brian’s shrimp cake, you know there’s a problem with everyone's performance overall. 

On the bottom, we’ve got Stephanie’s messy soup and sandwich, Justin’s bland shrimp, and (surprise!) Nina’s fried chicken. 
Pretty much sums it up.

Her chicken wasn’t properly fried and she ran out of corn puree during service. Judges don’t like in consistency. On top of that she plated her semi-crispy chicken with corn mush and pickled veggies, making the whole thing soggy. A rare misstep for her. But don’t worry, there’s no way they’re sending her home for this.

Slam on the evening was (deservedly) on Carrie. Tom said if it wasn’t for immunity she’s probably go home. It is wasn’t for immunity she definitely wouldn’t have put up that poor excuse of a dish.

When it’s all said and done, Shirley wins for being able to cook everything perfectly with a damn pizza oven. She goes home with a new Toyota Rav 4. Yup. At this point of the season the winning dish is basically steak and potatoes. 

But who gets the boot? It comes down to Stephanie’s soggy grilled cheese and Justin’s bland shrimp. Frankly my money was on Stephanie. She's just been on the bottom so many times and there’s no way anyone could mistake her for a Top anything let alone chef. 
I'm so ashamed to be a Top Chef fan that I've taken on a disguise

But alas, you just can’t serve a bland dish to Tom Colicchio. Boiled shrimp with asparagus and liquefied garlic just isn’t going to cut it. The last chef representing New Orleans goes home. All the accolades, the James Beard nominations, in the end Justin goes home for glorified shrimp salad. Sigh.

In a way this result personifies this season. There was so much anticipation and so much expectation from all things New Orleans and yet so far it’s been underwhelming and at times, bland. 

Cya Justin! No worries. La Petite Grocery is still on my list next time I’m in New Orleans!

Next week - the crack between Nick and Carlos becomes a canyon. Expect drama.

[Written by Mykl Wu]

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