Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 13: "Qui Si a Challenge."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 13: "Qui Si a Challenge."

Two words:

Jacque. Pépin.

Now we’re cooking with fire. 

Jacque Pépin is one of the most beloved chef around. Nope. I’m not exaggerating. The man was a personal chef to three French heads of states, won multiple James Beard Awards, and wrote the book on French cooking technique. If this was Star Wars, Jacque would be Yoda.

Let’s put it this way. Even Carlos, who apparently knowing nothing ever, knows who Jacque Pépin is. I mean, Carlos follows him on Facebook!! #Shocking

Carlos Gaytan. Social Media guru.
Needless to say, today’s Quickfire challenge will be all about technique. The chefs will have to recreate one of Jacque’s all time favorite dishes, Dover Sole with Artichoke and Asparagus. 

But wait - how do the cheftestants know how to make this particular dish?

No worries. Chef Pépin is going to show you exactly how it’s done. 

The gang gathers around while Jacque puts on an effortless display of trimming artichokes, julienning shallots, skinning the Dover sole, and making cherry tomatoes. Oh did I mention he carves a rose out of butter? Yeah. No big deal. 

A rose by any other name and you can't charge them $30.
Ok. Now they’ve got 35 minutes to replicate this dish. Winner gets immunity. Bonne chance.

Right off the bat, Nick and Shirley have the upper hand. Nick is classically trained and graduated form the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). Shirley tells us she cooks strictly classical French cuisine, so this should be easy peasy for her. 

Huh? Last time I checked, everything Shirley cooked this season has been aggressively old school Asian flavors. Now she tells us she “strictly” cook French food? If that’s the case then just her the freaking title right now because that’s some range. Damn.

Um. You're missing a few items.
The kitchen is quiet. Everyone’s got their heads down, concentrating on getting everything just right. The perfect cut, the perfect filet, perfect everything. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in just 35 minutes. No messing around today.

Luckily the Dover sole doesn’t take too long to cook. So it’s all about getting you mis en place ready to be fired up.

Sure enough, those who didn’t have classical training or aren’t used to this type of cooking are suffering. Carlos, Brian, and Stephanie are all way behind. 

Time’s up. This is going to be embarrassing for some people.

You want technique? I'll show you the
five-point-palm-exploding heart technique!
In fact, the only people with presentable plates are Nick and Shirley. Even Nina’s plate looked terrible. Meanwhile Carlos and Brian couldn’t even finish making the damn dish. Can you imagine serving Jacque Pépin something that resembles a Jackson Pollack painting?

Nick and his CIA degree prevails. He just edged out Shirley for the win and more importantly, the immunity. Shirley is NOT happy.

Immunity at any stage is huge. But with just a few more weeks to go, this couldn’t have come at the better time especially no one knows if there’s going to be another chance for immunity.

Elimination Challenge.

People of America!
Don't forget about me!
As this week’s title suggests, this week is all about French versus Spanish. Padma tells us at times both the French and the Spanish ruled over Louisiana, and both have greatly influenced the area’s cuisine. This week, the chefs will divide up into two teams and each will represent one of the countries. To help them get their bearing straight are two 2 Michelin star chefs and masters of their country’s cuisine. Julian Serrano and Dominque Crenn.

Julian Serrano was an ambassador of Spanish cuisine and has been making tapas way before our beloved Jose Andres even set foot in the U.S. He was also one of the revolutionary chefs that brought fine dining to Las Vegas, opening Picasso at the Bellaggio and his namesake at Aria Hotel and Resorts. 

Dominique Crenn is the chef and owner of Atelier Crenn. She has cooked all over the world, made culinary history by becoming the first female executive chef in Indonesia and is the first female chef to have won 2 Michelin stars in the U.S.  Oh and she’s a super bad ass and irresistibly charming in a La Femme Nikita kinda way. Basically, I’m we’re all crushing on her right now.
Total crush...and kinda scared of her.

The challenge. Under the guidance of the two master chefs, each team will create a 5 course tasting menu reflecting the cuisine of either French or Spanish cuisine. The caveat. Both teams must use and highlight 5 ingredients that are found in both cuisines: 

Olives. Almond. Mussels. Chicken. Chocolate.

Wait a minute. Chicken? What country doesn’t using chicken as a stable? I digress.

As the knife block will have it, Nick, Shirley, and Stephanie are on the French team, while Carlos, Nina, and Brian are Spanish.

Seems fitting enough. The two French trained chefs are on one team and Carlos, whose Mexican cuisine relates much closer to that of Spain is on the other side. 
See what I mean?

So basically, they have today to menu plan, shop, and cook with the master chef, where he or she will show them how to make some of these dishes. Tomorrow, the cheftestants recreate the menu without their mentors for the judges. The team with the overall best dishes wins. Someone from the losing team will be going home.

From the menu planning we learn that Chef Crenn isn’t exactly old school. She’s using terms like “nest,” and “veil,” and basically confusing the hell out of Stephanie. The odd thing is Stephanie cooks at No.9 Park in Boston and they serve very refined French cuisine. So she should have some understanding of modern culinary techniques. 
Stephanie, show us how you really feel.

On the other hand, Chef Serrano is the definition of old school. He wants the team to focus on simplicity and flavor, something that the chefs can succeed in replicating tomorrow and not invent something new. He’s also very particular in what he wants the team to do. Basically do exactly what he says. Yeah. No talks of nests and veils here.

Two very different schools of thought here. And not in just philosophy either, they two master chefs are also night and day when it comes to shopping. Chef Crenn is running around with the minions, gathering ingredients left and right. While Chef Serrano kinda strolls around, sampling things and is basically taking his time and enjoying the moment. We’re on a time limit here chef!

Old School.
Back at the kitchen. The two master chefs are leading their teams in preparing the dishes. This is where you understand why these guys are masters. Chef Serrano is showing his team precisely how he wants things done. Like a true teacher, he’ll show the other chefs how to do everything first before letting them take the reins. Even to the point of cutting the potatoes and olives for them first so they know exactly what it looks like. 

Chef Crenn is taking more of the Socratic method. She’s collaborating, discussing, and tasting alongside her team. Both Nick and Shirley are following along great. Exchanging suggestions back and forth, having a great time. Stephanie is lost. She has no clue what the hell is going on.  She’s just gonna go in the corner and make bread crumbs. #SadTrombone

Too many tears and not enough liquid nitrogen this season.
Day’s over. Everyone had a great time. It’s all smiles now. We’ll see what happens for it for reals tomorrow.

Back at the pad, while Stephanie continues to openly discuss how lost she is, Carlos take some time to call his daughter. There must be something about talking to family when you’re in a competition like this. Because almost everybody gets misty. Carlos is no exception. He’s gets choked up talking to his daughter and start crying. You know who never cried on Top Chef? Michael Voltaggio. Because Top Chefs don’t cry.

Tears? What is that. A new ingredient?
Time to cook. The chefs have one hour to finish up before serving the judges and their respective master chefs. Also at the table this week Jacque Pépin, Emeril, Chef Rick Tramonto and restauranteur John Folse from Restaurant R’Evolution.

What a terrible name for a restaurant. 

Well, terrible name aside, that’s where the chefs are cooking today. Nina is getting nervous because it just hit her that she’s serving potato salad with olives. Yup. It’s as simple as it sounds. Potatoes. Carrots. Shrimps. Olives. 

Hey what’s this. Liquid nitrogen? 13 episodes in and we’re finally busting out the nitro! However, Shirley doesn’t look too comfortable with that canister. Somebody call Richard Blais for a tutorial.

The hour flies by and it’s time for service.

For some reason Nick and Carlos are the ones out front, introducing the dishes. This makes them appear to be captains.

First Course.

(French Team)
Shirley - Snapper Ceviche with Dehydrated Olives & Ice Cream.

Aha! Now I know why Carlos is out here. Dude busts out “buenas noches” and a cheesy introduction about “going on a journey through the eyes of our chefs” in Spanish. 

Even Nick lets out an exasperated, “Oh come on!” in protest. Ha.

Um yeah. You know that there are people at this table who doesn’t speak Spanish right?

(Spanish Team)
Nina - Ensaladilla Rusa with Green Olives, Gulf Shrimp & Potatoes.

Jacque asks if he should eat the snapper with the ice cream, to which Tom said, “Don’t you always eat your ice cream with your fish?” Ha. 

Tom liked the fish. Tom also liked the ice cream. Together - not so much. 
Week 13. We're making potato salads. #TopChef?

Obviously Chef Crenn liked this dish. It was her idea to begin with. John Folse the restauranteur also liked it. But I don’t trust his taste level, someone with good taste wouldn’t pick such a terrible name for his restaurant.

Now the potato salad. Right away you knew that Jacque Pépin was going to like this dish. I think I’ve seen him cook potato salad on them PBS cooking shows a bunch of times. This is totally right in his wheelhouse. 

Chef Serrano says sometimes the simple thing is the more difficult thing to do. How true. With just four ingredients everything has to be cooked and seasoned perfectly. Apparently Nina accomplished that.

Point Serrano.

Second Course 

Anything you can do I can do better.
(French Team)
Stephanie - Pickled and Poached Mussels, Crustacean Jus & Tomate.

(Spanish Team)
Nina - Ajo Blanco with Almonds, Crab & Cherries.

Ok people. Ajo blanco is basically a cold white garlic and almond soup. It’s easy to make, hard to master. Seems like Nina did another great job. Emeril could eat another bowl.

Dominique Crenn needs her own show. She keeps trying to rattle Chef Serrano In this tongue in cheek competition between their two teams. She kept praising her team’s dishes while nitpicking the Spanish dishes. To which Cher Serrano calmly disagrees.

This course is too close to call, onward.

Third Course

Everyone's favorite dish.
(Spanish Team)
Carlos - Mejillones A La Romesco with Crispy Leeks

(French Team)
Shirley and Stephanie - Chicken Liver Mousse with Roasted Chicken Bouillon

Everyone seems to like the French dish of mousse with the consommé. Everyone except for Cher Serrano of course. He thought the mousse was too soft. Your move, Crenn.

Carlos’ mussels were good too. Even though most thought it was more about the romesco sauce instead of the mussels themselves.

Yum. Tumbleweeds. 
Another close call.

The gang’s finishing up the fourth course. What the?? Nick is making game hen with CHOCOLATE?! Ok I’m all for modern twists but chocolate with chicken?! #Skeptic

On top of that he’s making a nest out of corn silk. I don’t know about you but I’ve had corn silk stuck in my teeth before and that stuff is not edible. Apparently Nick thinks deep frying them will make them dissolve when eaten? Nope. Shirley tried one and she said nope. Stephanie tried to persuade Nick to….and shutdown before she can even finish her sentence. All we can make out is her mumbling “it’s my ass.” #Foreshadow

Fourth Course

I. Can't. Even.
(Spanish Team)
Brian and Carlos - Pollo Con Arroz: Chicken & Saffron Rice

(French Team)
Nick - Cornish Game Hen & Spiced Chocolate with Corn Silk Nest

Right off the bat Chef Crenn says the dish is too safe and the chicken is too dry. Once again, Chef Serrano disagrees and basically tells Chef Crenn he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Mean Girl Padma says chicken is beautifully done. Of course she’s going to disagree with the other beautiful lady at the table. Point Serrano.

Ok. Now let’s talk about this chocolate game hen dish. First off, Chef Serrano just stared at the for a while. He wasn’t even going to touch it. He kept asking Chef Crenn “You like that? You’re kidding me.” He adds that this is what’s wrong with “new cooking” and that this dish made no sense to him. Ha.

That being said, all Chef Crenn says in support is, “It’s progressive!” Oy.

The onslaught continues.

Tom picks up the corn silk next and says, “This is like what you pull out of the drain after you take a shower. When I had hair! I don’t have hair. When I was losing my hair this what it looked like!”

Game. Set. Match. Serrano.

If Tom is doing this to your food, it's time to go home.
Last Course

(Spanish Team)
Brian - Flan De Chocolate & Strawberries

(French Team)
Nick - Almond Flan, Plum & Dark Cocoa

Nick is screwing the pooch. Even Chef Crenn is saying that his flan isn’t quiet up to par and could be taken to the next level. Yeah, good thing Nick has immunity. #MoreForeshadowing

Brian made the most basic of chocolate flan. And it was too sweet. Chef Serrano agrees. 
So that's what happened to Tom's hair.

Meh. It’s dessert and we’ve already called the match. So let’s move on.

So it comes down to which team did better as a whole. That’s the parameters. Not who had the best dish or who had the worst dish. They’re judged as a team and someone from the losing team will go home.

The problem here is that everyone’s favorite dish (the consommé) and least favorite dish (the chocolate chicken) are on the same team. So how do you go about deciding? 

Tom suggests that they just let Chef Crenn and Chef Serrano arm wrestle and duke it out. Um Chef Crenn will definitely win that one. Hell, she can probably kick everyone at the table’s ass. Ok, maybe not Tom. Because Tom Colicchio boxes 3 days a week. #Badass

The gang stays at the restaurant which name I refuse to type again so there is no flat screen of doom this week. 

Padma simply walks in and asks to see - The Spanish team.

Still slightly afraid...
Yeah. Pretty much called it. Though not edgy, the Spanish team executed their traditional yet flavorful cuisine perfectly and simply outperformed the French team as a whole. And when your targeted audience this week are old school chefs like Jacque Pépin and Emeril, of course the homey, comforting, traditional food is going to prevail. 

Nina wins with her potato salad. Yup. Old school indeed.

Here’s the thing. This season has been one massing cooking challenge after another. The focus has been on cooking for lots of people. Finally we get a high end type tasting menu challenge, and the show brings in two outside master chefs to dictate the menu? 

"So long! We're outta here!"
Because this really wasn’t about Spanish versus French, this was almost more about Chef Crenn's modernist style versus Chef Serrano traditional style. I wonder what would have happened if the cheftestants were left to their own devices and created a menu by themselves? Surely they wouldn’t have stretched so far out of their comfort zone to create things like corn silk nests and pairing chocolate with game hen.

The French team has a problem. See, they’re in this position mainly because of Chef Crenn and Nick. As much as everyone was loving her yesterday, that love must be gone now. She pushed for these avant garde dishes and Nick poorly executed his. However, Chef Crenn isn’t accountable and Nick has immunity so he gets to stay. That leaves Shirley and Stephanie, who actually made some good dishes, holding the bag.

This week's challenge idea, AND that dish.
Everyone’s favorite dish is actually Shirley’s consommé, which she used traditional old school techniques to accomplish. See the irony?

Time to talk about the chocolate chicken. Remember a few weeks back when I named Carrie’s boiled broccoli with yogurt “The Saddest Dish in Top Chef History?” Well we have a new winner.

This was clearly one of the biggest flops ever on Top Chef. The judges are just blasting away. While Nick was trying to dodge around whether or not he thought it was a good dish, Chef Pépin straight up asks, “Would you go and serve that if you had a restaurant, you sit down, give it to your mother and say ‘this is really good?’”

My fellow chefs. Let that be the question you ask yourself before sending every plate out to your guests. If the answer is no, then you know what to do. #Pépin’sProtip
But wait. We’re not done just yet.

Jacque follows up by asking question of the night, “Cooking is a team effort. Do you think that your team should be penalized for you? Or do you think you should resign?”


I’m sure during the conference between the judges Jacque was shocked to hear about this immunity business. Can’t you just imagine him with his awesome French accent saying, “What is this nonsense immunity? How come the person who made this chocolate chicken does not get sent home and preferably sent back to cooking school?” #OldSchool

And the beauty of the moment is, no one says a word. They just left Nick standing there. Hanging. Waiting for what he’s going to say.
You think facing Tom Colicchio after making a bad dish is terrifying enough. It’s got to be every cook’s (especially French trained) nightmare to be standing in front of Jacque freaking Pépin, with him asking you if YOU think you should resign. And after he already brought your mom into this. #Shudder

“I thought I did well enough yesterday to earn immunity today, Chef.”

Stephanie look befuddled.

Shirley has no idea how to feel.
It ain't show-friends. It's show-business.

Jacque gives a disapproving nod of disappointment and look towards Tom, who also nods and declares, (throw hands up) “part of the game.” 

Uncomfortable silence.

They’re dismissed. 

In an aside, both Shirley and Stephanie says that if they were in Nick’s shoes, they’d totally resign. Stephanie is so disgusted she can’t even look at him.

The judges comes to a tough decision, albeit according to Jacque, “an unsatisfying one.”

Unexpectedly, Tom says he still hopes Nick comes back out and falls on his sword. 

It’s tough to say what one “would” do in this situation. However, it’s not tough to say what one “should” do. Nick should absolutely fall on his sword and step off. First of all, there is still Last Chance Kitchen, so he can redeem himself. Second and most importantly, it’s about character. And regardless of whether or not he wins Top Chef, from this moment on his character has been forever damaged. And damaged with the likes of Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, and Jacque Pépin. They will always remember Nick as the cook who didn’t own up to his mistakes, put himself before other cooks, as a man without a code.

Yeah this is a cooking competition yada yada yada. But this is also his reputation in the culinary universe. His actions (or lack there of) at this moment speaks more about him than any title or amounts of money he might win.

Sadly Stephanie gets the cut for one of her better dishes this season. She’s crushed. There’s no sticking around for “thank you for this opportunity” farewells or hugs. She just walked away. 

Shirley’s in tears. She reaches out to Stephanie and shoots Nick a parting “how could you” look as she too exits the room.

The whole time Nick just stood there. His hand covering his face. Partly of shame and perhaps partly to prevent himself from opening his mouth and do the right thing. 

Just to give everybody some closure, Tom say Nick won immunity fair and square and this is part of the game. However we all know no one at that table will ever look at Nick the same way again. Sure it’s all part of the game, but in the immortal words of one Omar Little...

Thanks for stopping by. See you next week!

[Written by Mykl Wu]


  1. I was particularly disappointed in Nick not resigning since he is the one who keeps going on and on about integrity. Apparently it applies to everyone else and not him.

  2. Exactly. Now even if he wins this whole thing he'll still have that asterisk next to him name. Plus, poor Stephanie. Thanks so much for reading!!