Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Gulf Shore Leave

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 15

Previously on Top Chef: The King of the Food Truck stopped by to remind the peasants who rules the roost, and to intimate that he knows more about Mexican food preparation than Mexicans. I can't wait for him to come tell me I'm making my great-great-grandmother's matzo ball soup incorrectly. Shirley eked out a Quickfire win and immunity. In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were tasked with creating a dish that represented a turning point in their career. Shirley picked up the double-win, while Brian found a new turning point in his career: The time that using boneless, skinless chicken breast got him chopped. Four chefs remain. Who will be eliminated tonight?

Quickfire. The chefs are met in the Kitchen by Padma, Tom, and Gail. We haven't had enough Gail this season. Immunity is finally not being offered any longer, but the winner does get a prize. It turns out to be another car, so if Shirley wins, she can practically start her own rental service. The Quickfire will be judged in two parts today. Gail explains that for the first part, the chefs are to make a single-bite dish (to be served on a cocktail fork) that incorporates something sweet, salty, spicy, and textured. Sounds tough. When the clock starts, the chefs immediately leap into hysterical prep. Nicholas tries to start some tiff with Shirley about the temperature the fryer is set to, but she has no time for his sack of bullshit.

When the dust settles, the judges go down the line. Carlos has grilled some mango and shrimp, and serves it with a spicy chili glaze. Sounds good. Nicholas serves beef deckle with balsamic vinegar and potato chips that are a vibrant shade of purple. There's also a cayenne yogurt. Shirley has flank steak with crispy onions and black pepper cherry. The cocktail fork is her undoing, and a good portion of the bite falls over before Gail can eat it. Nina serves shrimp escabeche with a potato aioli and pickled shallots. Only two of the four chefs will move on to the second round, and those two are... Nicholas and Carlos. Ooh, this is shaping up to be a little West Side Story kind of face-off. You know, without the murder.

In the second round, the finalists will cook something using bell pepper or eggplant. The trick is, one chef must use pepper, and one must use eggplant. So whoever gets to the ingredients first gets to select their veggie of choice. Nicholas smokes Carlos in the footrace, and snags the eggplant, much to Carlos' disappointment. I wouldn't be sad to get bell pepper; it's the most versatile vegetable I know. Anyhow, Nicholas winds up making roasted eggplant with sesame seeds, Sriracha, and chili threads. Maybe it's just because I'm obsessed with Sriracha right now, but that looks incredible. Carlos makes fried pepper soup with fennel, basil, and onion. As much as I am into Sriracha right now, that's how much I'm over fennel. Ease up, people. The winner of the challenge and the car is... Carlos! Nicholas takes a moment to sad-sack into the camera about how he's the only person left who hasn't won a prize. Sorry, man. Maybe you can take comfort in the fact that your career is getting a shortcut to fame by appearing on this show? Kthxbai.

Elimination Challenge. Emeril enters to explain that this will be the last challenge in New Orleans before the final three move on to the finale in Maui. A year ago on this exact date, I was kicking back on a Maui beach. I'll try to remember that as I trudge home through the six inches of predicted snow tonight. In order to say goodbye to the Big Easy in style, today's Elimination Challenge will be to create a dish that signifies the chefs' individual stamp on the city's cuisine. That's a bit vague, but I like the idea. Incorporating the city's style of cuisine into each chef's personal technique sounds challenging, but fascinating. Emeril and a bunch of Names will be hosting the final meal, and the winning chef will have their dish featured in all of Emeril's New Orleans restaurants. I can't decide if that's actually an impressive prize or not. I've been buying some of those Top Chef Healthy Choice meals (I'm trying to cut calories lately, and have to admit they're pretty tasty), and I remember that a lot of said meals were a prize for winning chefs. Except those chefs' names are nowhere on the packages. So while it'd be nice to have today's winner have their dish on several menus, it doesn't do the winner much good if the only name attached to it is Emeril's.

The only thing of note to happen during the shopping segment is that Nina buys enough ingredients to make two dishes. She's not sure what direction she'll be going in yet, and says she'll figure it out later. That night, the chefs sit in the kitchen at Emeril's restaurant while he pretends to direct service. Aw, that's not nice of me; I'm sure he still knows how to be a head chef. I just don't want us to pretend that's how he generally spends his days. The meal the chefs enjoy does look quite tasty. The next day, the chefs get started on their prep. Nina has decided to make little dumplings called malfatti to serve with her dish. Nicholas works on shrimp dumplings and butter-roasted bass. He pledges to not overcomplicate his dish this time. Shirley is braising some celery. Carlos has the most interesting idea, which is to make a tamale with seafood mousse instead of masa.

Plating. As the dishes go out to the dining room, Nina realizes that she has completely forgotten to put the malfatti on her plates. Ouch. This is not the time in the competition to be making mistakes like these. Fortunately for her, the judges still really enjoy her speckled trout with vegetables. Nicholas serves shrimp consommé with the shrimp dumplings, the bass, some charred cobia, and tuna confit with crispy rice. Not that any of that sounds bad (it actually sounds lovely), but remember that pledge a couple of minutes ago not to overcomplicate this thing? Apparently, Nicholas doesn't. Shirley has made seared black drum, with vinegar butter sauce, celery, and mushrooms. She has incorporated the New Orleans "holy trinity" (celery, onion, pepper) into her sauce, and the judges love it, saying it represents Chinese cuisine and New Orleans cuisine equally well. Carlos' seafood mousse tamale is served with saffron cream sauce and pickled okra. There is crab in the mousse, and shrimp and mussels on top. It sounds great to me, but the judges look very suspicious. They wonder why it wasn't served wrapped in a banana leaf to retain heat.

Judges' Table. All four chefs are called in. Nina is asked about the missing malfatti, and she explains that in the rush to get her dish ready for service, she simply forgot to get it on the plate. Normally, the judges would crawl up a contestant's ass for something like this, but Nina's dish was so great, they let it slide. I'm sensing a tiny bit of producer oversight here, because Nina doesn't get one-eighth the criticism someone else would, tasty dish or not. I'm not mad or anything, it's just...odd. Shirley's sauce completely bowled the judges over, and they can't find enough good things to say about it. Nicholas' dish was a big step up from what he's done lately, but he's still drawing some criticism for under-seasoning. Carlos' mousse was great, but the lack of a banana leaf meant the tamale was too cold. The winner of the challenge and the honor of having their idea co-opted by Emeril is... Shirley! See you in Maui, girl! Nina is also safe, so we're back to the West Side Story rivalry between Nicholas and Carlos. Who will survive to compete in Hawaii? Tom throws it over to Padma for the chop. Carlos. Please pack your knives and go. It seems like the correct choice, though it should be mentioned that Nicholas has staged more comebacks than Elvis by this point. He's disappointed, of course, but is looking forward to triumphing in Last Chance Kitchen. Speaking of which, we'll find out next week who will be returning for another shot at the title. It's time to bring this lumbering season down the home stretch. Au revoir, New Orleans!

Overall Grade: B


Storm said...

I laughed like a loon when Nick just booked it and snatched the eggplant. There was seriously about two feet between him and Carlos. If that track experience gave him anything, it was probably the ability to go from resting to sprinting in an instant.

Of course, I also rolled my eyes at him when he said "I'm going to keep it simple! It's just got eighty million ingredients instead of ninety."

Shirley's dish sounded amazing and I would eat that every day of my life if I could. Emeril was right to pick her as the winner. The second she said "Twist on the holy trinity", I called her as the win. She's possibly one of the best contestants in the show's history when it comes to blending her style with the parameters of the challenge.

Limecrete said...

She's possibly one of the best contestants in the show's history when it comes to blending her style with the parameters of the challenge.

Excellent point! That's probably one of the reasons I like her so much.