Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 12: "Mississippi Mudbugs."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 12: "Mississippi Mudbugs."


No mas!!!
That’s what happens when you have to cook for 500 college students under duress. The 7 remaining chefs huddled around the table, drinking wine to calm them. 

Nina had a tough time. This odds-on favorite was in the bottom alongside Justin, who had a tougher time and got sent home for bland shrimp salad. You know who didn’t have a tough time? Carrie. Because of immunity, she boiled some broccoli and called it a day.

We’re about 3 weeks away from the finale and we’re running out of cannon fodder. 

Speaking of fodder, next morning we get a little alone time with Stephanie on the phone with her boyfriend. Note to Top Chef producers. Invest in a better way to mic phone conversations. Because I can’t understand a GD word what her boyfriend is saying. The only thing I got out of that was Stephanie hired someone she had a crush on and manipulated the work schedule so she can spend time with him. I don’t know about you but I consider that sexual harassment. Yes, I’m such a romantic.
I can't hear a word you're saying.

Speaking of romance, there’s none left between Nick and Carlos. Nick is still pissed about “oven-gate,” where Carlos lied to the judges that Nick stole his oven. Tension is just little high.

Quickfire time.

We welcome back a familiar face. New Orleans restaurant icon and patron saint of beautiful hairdos everywhere - John Besh! At this point, John Besh really needs no other introductions. If you need it, here’s a refresher

This week’s Quickfire involves one of the most popular ingredients in “Cajun” cooking. Depends on where you’re from, you might call them crayfish, crawfish, or as this week’s title suggests, mudbugs. I just call them delicious. One of the most popular things to do in Louisiana is to throw a crawfish boil. Just throw a bunch of these suckers in a giant pot along with some Andouille sausage, cobs of corn, onions, potatoes and boil. Boom - instant party. Oh, don’t forget the beer. 
I know Kung Fu. (Not goona help)
However, since this is a cooking competition we need to step it up a bit. So the chefs will create that other quintessential crawfish dish, the classic étouffée. 

Étouffée literally means, “to smother.” So a classic étouffée is pretty much a rustic stew, where the flavor is slowly drawn out and “smothers” the plate. Typically, étouffée is served over rice. However, unlike what Padma suggests, “smothering” doesn’t mean the gravy has to envelope rice or any other carbs. It just needs to be “cooked down.” #fact

The chefs will have 45 minutes, winner gets immunity.

I’m actually surprised that immunity is still up for grabs. Especially with Carrie and her immunity broccoli debacle from the last challenge. But oh well, here we go.

Carlos on EVERY challenge.
Wait. What is this? Stephanie is allergic to shellfish? And not just any shellfish. She’s allergic to shellfish that turns red when cooked. She’s got her gloves on and her epi pen ready to go. Only problem is she won’t be able to taste her own food, so her buddy Nick will be her taster. Yeah. Good luck with that.

Wait. Now what? Carlos has NEVER heard of étouffée before? 

Once again I’m baffled. Seriously, if you knew you’re headed to New Orleans for a food competition, wouldn’t you at least Google the words, “New Orleans, food?” Guess not. He’s going to make a shrimp stew that he used to make in Acapulco and just sub out the shrimp with crawfish. I swear, Carlos should have held out for Top Chef Acapulco, because he sure ain't prepared for Top Chef New Orleans. 
Seriously. First result off Google.

Nina’s making pasta (again), Shirley is doing something Asiany (again), and Brian is doing something Korean (again) so there’s that. Good to see some range on these potential “top” chefs. #Sarcasm. 

Time’s up. Let’s see how these guys interpret étouffée.

NOT an étouffée
Nina - Italian Style Étouffée with Pici Pasta & Tomato Crawfish Broth.

Carrie - Spanish Style Étouffée with Crawfish Broth, Chickpeas & Almonds.

Nick - Crawfish with Shrimp Mousse Stuffed in Napa Cabbage with Brandy & Corn.

Shirley - Singapore Chili Crab Étouffée with Crawfish Stock, Cucumber & Egg.

Brian - Étouffée with Gochujang, Corn, Peppers, Crab Meat, Crawfish, Andouille & Pasta.

NOT an étouffée
Carlos - Soup with Crawfish, Guajillos, Garlic, Corn, Potatoes & Crispy Chorizo.

Stephanie - Crawfish Bisque with Parisian Gnocchi & Poached Crawfish.

Those who end up on the bottom pretty much decided to make something other than an étouffée. Carlos and Stephanie basically just made soup. Nick went off the reservation and made some sorta corn/shrimp/crawfish cabbage roll. And Carrie just didn’t execute. There was too much wine in her dish and she didn’t cook off the alcohol. You’d think “drunken étouffée” would be a good thing. Guess not.

Étouffée (Yes. I made it.)
On the flip side, we’ve got Brian’s flavorful Gochuijan sauce, Nina’s impressive hand rolled pasta, and Shirley’s velvety crawfish broth. All of them managed to “cook down” and exact the flavors, which is the most important part of an étouffée.

The winner and immunity goes to Shirley. Who’s been on a roll lately winning either immunity or elimination challenges for the past few weeks. She’s officially just as dangerous as Nina.

Elimination Challenge.

The Gulf Coast is known for its bountiful seafood. To celebrate, Louisiana Seafood is throwing a party at Mardi Gras World and they want the good chefs from Top Chef to provide the food. The challenge is to create a dish highlighting two separate seafood items in one dish. Padma then tells them that they will have three hours to cook on location for ONE THOUSAND GUESTS!

Talk about shellshocked. These guys barely survived serving 500 college kids with cafeteria food. Now they’re supposed to double that amount and kick it up with high-end seafood? 

Guess what. Padma was only kidding. I guess she wanted to see if any of these chefs would just flat out commit seppuku? #Evil

So they only have to cook for 200 people. See, now that doesn’t sound too bad right? 

To make up for that evil prank (I guess), John Besh invites the chefs over to his house for dinner, where he will cook them a feast of simple Louisiana country food. 

Wow. Can you even imagine hanging out with John Besh at his home, just chilling over some Sazeracs and watch him cook for you? Talk about a cook’s dream. Damn.

Ok. So the John Besh Estate is exactly what you would expect it to be, a 5,000 square-foot Creole cottage-style house on a 10-acre Bayou Liberty estate in Slidell, LA. A fountain out front, a pool in the back, a boardwalk through the bayou surrounded by live oak trees. The kitchen was renovated in 2011, and it’s big enough to both accommodate family gatherings and to shoot a television cooking show. 
Hey Girl. You hungry?

The gang shows up and sure enough, Chef Besh passes around what looks like Sazeracs to everyone and starts cooking. I gotta say, the food he’s busting out looks tastier and more comforting than anything I’ve seen so far this season. As a chef, to have lasted this far and earned a seat at that table is winning in itself. Anything else is gravy.

Food aside, Chef Besh offers some gems of advice. He says that some of the best chefs perform worst in competitions like this because they always feel the need to do too much. As one gets older and more mature they’ll learn restraint, confidence, and how to cook from the heart. However, like he adds later, “easier said than done.”

Um. Can John Besh just go ahead and adopt me already? 

Next day. Time to cook.

The gang arrives at Mardi Gras World and waiting for them is a truck full of seafood. There’s everything from tuna and amberjack to oysters and shrimps. Talk about a bounty of seafood. 
Um...somebody call the health department.

Almost everyone’s doing crudo. I guess in a way it’s the easiest preparation. What better way to highlight seafood than minimal manipulation? All you need is a sharp knife, the correct accompaniment of flavors and some acid to brighten the whole dish up and viola - crudo! 

There’s the rub. You see, Carlos isn’t exactly / doesn’t have the sharpest knife around. So he’s totally tearing the fish apart. Since he’s been dinged for this mistake once before he goes into desperate mode. Mister No-Short-Term-Memory here asks his buddy Nick if he can borrow Nick’s sushi knife. Um… remember “oven-gate?” Because Nick does.

When Nick says no, this is Carlos’ reaction: “Nicolas, stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about other people.”
You. Are. Kidding. Me.

One day you’re going to call him a thief in front of the judges and next day you wanna borrow his knife? And when he says no (because he’s actually using it) you’re going to accuse him of being selfish? 

Moving on.

Carrie is going the complete opposite direction. She’s going to make flounder fritters with an oyster emulsion. That is taking a big risk. Instead of showcasing the fish itself, she’s turning the fish into mush and then frying it. Guess she wants to showcase some technique. That would be peachy if this was a techniques challenge. It is not.

What is this?! In a “fool me once, shame on you” moment, Nick caves and decides to let Carlos use his sushi knife. Nick being the affable man that he is, forgot that this is a competition and you can’t afford to be too affable in this type of situation. Just ask Ed Masterson. #ObscureWyattEarpReference

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Brian’s has been stepping up big time lately. After finishing in the top 3 consistently in the past few challenges, Brian the only one who’s actually cooking his fish. He’s doing a grilled swordfish with a shrimp sauce. I suspect he’ll win points for thinking outside the box alone.
Best eyebrows since Clark Gable. (Google it, kids.)

Time for service. 

John Besh stays as the guest judge of the week, and we have Hugh Acheson as the rotating judge of the week. It’s Padma and the boys.

Before tasting, the judges brought up a great point about these challenges. Too often, these chefs immediately think about how to make a dish for 200 people. They should think about how to make the “winning dish” and then figure out how to serve that 200 times. Keep that in mind when you’re cooking for a bunch of people. Always focus on making the best dish vs. making something easy for a big party. #Protip - and that’s from Tom Colicchio and John Besh! 

With that said, let’s see who subscribed to that philosophy.

Brian - Grilled Swordfish, Shrimp & Sweet Onion Puree with Fennel Daikon Relish.

Home run. Both Tom and John like the fact that he cooked the fish. The fish was perfectly done and the heat at the end gave it a kick. Looking good.

"Somebody spit in my food." (H/T Dave Grohl)
Nick - Oyster Leek Soup, Champagne Emulsion, Green Apple Yogurt & Cured Amberjack.

Nick advertised this as “Oyster Three Ways.” You know, it’s never a good idea to do things “three ways” (in food anyways) and judges will always ding you for trying that. Also, his dish needed more acid. 

Side note here. How many times have you heard that on Top Chef? It’s like every dish’s downfall! Note to self: Always give your dish (especially seafood) a hit of lemon or better yet, yuzu to finish. #Protip.

Oh and avoid saying, "this needs a hit of acid" when you’re dining out with friends. It comes across REALLY pretentious and makes you one of “those” people. #MoarProtip 

That's a flounder. Talk about the opposite of highlighting.
Carrie - Flounder Croquettes with Oyster Emulsion & Pickled Cucumbers.

Here we go. Right off the bat Tom asks Carrie why she decided to take a beautiful whole fish and turn it into a croquette. Even though John thought it tasted fine, Tom still can’t understand the rationale behind this dish. Outlook murky for Carrie. #womp

Shirley - Tuna & Amberjack Ceviche with Aged Soy Sauce, Lime Dressing & Toasted Pecans.

So she made Asian tuna tartare. Pecans for the crunch. #yawn #immunity

Nina - Marinated Wahoo with Salsa Verde, Tonnato Sauce & Pickled Vegetables.

Justo would be very upset.
As usual, Nina brings it with her attention to detail and perfect execution. Pairing Tonnato sauce (tuna/olive oil/capers blitzed) with another fish is a brilliant idea. Both Tom and John liked it.

Carlos - Amberjack Ceviche with Rustic Peach and Shrimp Relish.

Fish was cut way too thin. Spicy peach relish over powered the fish. Hugh thought it was under seasoned and also - needed acid.

Stephanie - Fried Louisiana Oysters with Tuna & Pickled Beech Mushrooms.

Every dish could use a little more...
“The oyster’s crisp. That’s half the battle,” says Tom. There you go. To consistently serve crispy fried oysters a-la-minute for 200 people is a feat. Plus, she’s got the right amount of acid. Heh.

Seafood festival is over! Seems like most everyone did a decent job. With zero room for error, it’ll be interesting to see who is in the bottom.

Oh oh. Here we go. What did Shakespeare say? “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” Yeah. Remember that knife Carlos borrowed? Nick told Carlos that it was a special knife - a wedding gift - and to take good care of it. Well after butchering all that fish Carlos just left it sitting there, caked with dried bits of fish. Needless to say Nick wasn’t too happy about that. See: “fool you twice,” shame on you Nick.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.
During the interlude, Stephanie and Nina have an epiphany: Padma is beautiful. Stephanie says she’s been wearing and perfecting her ponytail every day for 28 years and it does not look anything like Padma’s. Um yeah. Genetics is a bitch.

Flat Screen of Doom.

As expected, the general consensus was too much ceviche. Most everyone played it too safe. With that said both Nina and Shirley’s raw items were at least flavorful and well executed. Other top dishes were Stephanie’s perfectly fried oyster and Brian’s swordfish.

Forget Top Chef. I just wanna look like her.
The winner this week? Stephanie’s crispy oyster! When done correctly, nothing beats a perfectly fried oyster. Crunchy on the outside and creamy brininess on the inside. Too bad there was no sponsor for this week’s challenge. No sponsor = no money. That makeover will have to wait. 

Not so successful were Nick’s overly complicated and yet flat “oysters three ways,” Carlos’ too thin crudo, and Carrie’s fish ball. 

Nick’s dish came across too soft and one dimensioned. Despite the various techniques displayed, the dish had no texture and it lacked acid to bright the whole thing up.

That girl you'd want to avoid at parties.
Carlos’ peach and shrimp relish was good, but the fish was cut way too thin and the flavor got lost. In a challenge to highlight the seafood, Carlos’ was more of a peach dish rather than a fish dish.

However, Carrie committed the real offense. She took a beautiful piece of fish and turned it into mush. Tom says it could have been anything in that croquette. She did exactly what you didn’t want to do in this challenge. Instead of highlighting the seafood, she basically masked it. And with that crucial error, she gets the boot. 

Shhh. I'll be back for an All Star Appearance.
Yup. I’m just as shocked as she is. This was her first time on the bottom and it will be her last. Just goes to show at this stage of the game there’s really no room for error. Funnily enough, Carrie said herself there’s “no more room to hide.” Despite a strong beginning, I guess she’s just been hiding all this time. Frankly I think she was partly sent home for last week boiled broccoli debacle. I mean, c’mon.

So long Carrie! Everyone loved you. I’m sure you’ll get called back for one of these All Star editions!!

Couple more weeks 'till the finale! Who do you think will make it?

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next week!

{Written by Mykl Wu}

No comments:

Post a Comment