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'Top Chef: New Orleans' Recap - Episode 12

John Besh returns!

Courtesy of Bravo

After a little break for Christmas, “Top Chef” returns on New Year's Day with an episode dedicated to Louisiana seafood and the return of New Orleans chef, John Besh. For me, it's a sad way to start out the year as Carrie got sent home, who I totally thought would be at least in the top three, with how many challenges she won in the beginning. But all of these chefs here at the top are great and it's coming down to the little mistakes that will get someone sent home. It's very much anyone's game.

For the Quickfire, Padma announces that it's "crawfish season" and if this episode was shot in late summer it certainly was not crawfish season, yet the “Top Chef” gods supplied the kitchen with plenty of "mudbugs" for the étouffée dishes the chefs were tasked with. Some of them took what the word "étouffée" means (smothered) and created a lovely dish, others were confused or thought too hard. And this goes with what I said in earlier episodes about these guys not knowing what gumbo is or how to make it, or not knowing what goes in creole seasoning... How do you compete on "Top Chef: New Orleans" and not study crawfish? Or étouffée? And there is no real way to take something like étouffée and elevate it or deconstruct it into something sophisticated or cosmopolitan because these dishes are in essence rustic, earthy, comforting and already perfect. The best stuff happens when you don't think too hard.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs were told to use two different kinds of Louisiana seafood in a dish for a festival at Mardi Gras World. As the judges pointed out, there were several ceviches, so it was probably the fact that Stephanie fried her oysters that made her stand out and win the competition.

And since it's a new year and there are not quite so many chefs to talk about anymore, I'm going to do things a little different and highlight each chef's dish individually.

At first I was worried about Stephanie because in the beginning we see her on the phone with her very cute boyfriend, and this sort of thing is usually the “Top Chef” kiss of death. This week it proved to be a fake out, because she ended up winning the whole thing. For the étouffée challenge, she made more of a bisque and couldn't actually taste it because she's allergic to shellfish, but girlfriend turned it around with her Fried Oysters with Tuna and Pickled Mushrooms. She's also easily the funniest person on the show, joking around with Nina about how Padma had a stray hair sticking out of her ponytail so perhaps she should "pack her brush and go.” That whole exchange was priceless. I love her.

She was on top with her Italian Style Étouffée With Pici Pasta and Tomato Crawfish Broth for the Quickfire challenge and for her Marinated Wahoo With Salsa Verde, Tonnato Sauce, and Pickled Vegetables in the elimination challenge, but never nabbed the No. 1 spot.

He was kind of quiet this episode, making what looked like pretty amazing food, while not drawing a ton of attention to himself, which is good because it'll keep him in the game. For the Quickfire he made a scrumptious looking Étouffée With Gochujang, Corn, Peppers, Crab Meat, Crawfish, Andouille, and Pasta and for the elimination challenge, he was one of the few that actually cooked his seafood for his Grilled Swordfish, Shrimp, and Sweet Onion Puree with Fennel Daikon Relish.

Carlos was totally confused for the étouffée challenge and completely choked. When Padma asked him how his dish was an étouffée, he looked like a deer in headlights as he tried to explain what his thought process was. And then for his seafood dish he seemed to do better but Tom had a huge problem with the portion sizes of his fish. Not enough. Too much peach to ceviche ratio. There was also some drama involving Carlos using Nick's knife because Nick was still sore over the whole ovengate issue from the LSU challenge, which I'm sure we all collectively forget because it was over a damn oven. Anyways, Carlos forgot to clean Nick's knife. He was upset.

Nick continues his major sadface with two dishes in the bottom and a dirty knife. His Crawfish with Shrimp Mousse Stuffed in Napa Cabbage With Brandy and Corn for the étouffée challenge was pretty much the definition of "overthinking" and his Oyster Leek Soup, Champagne Emulsion, Green Apple Yogurt, and Cured Amberjack didn't impress too much. Also, he let Carlos borrow his knife; pointless drama ensued.

She wins the week's Quickfire challenge with her Singapore Chili Crab Étouffée with Crawfish Stock, Cucumber and Egg that she makes for her husband, so it's probably something that she's perfected and is from the heart. She also impressed with her Tuna and Amberjack Ceviche With Aged Soy Sauce, Lime Dressing, and Toasted Pecans. Shirley is probably my first pick to win the whole thing with Nina a close second.

And then there was Carrie. I'm so sad. She was one of the few who looked like she made étouffée with her Spanish Style Étouffée With Crawfish Broth, Chickpeas, and Almonds, but the judges didn't care for her Flounder Croquettes. They said that the delicate flavor of the fish got lost in the fritter, and since the challenge was to showcase the seafood itself, she had to go.

All in all, I thought the episode was one of the more boring ones, though it was cool to see John Besh's amazing house and awesome kitchen, in addition to his awesome hair. Hopefully the Carlos-as-villain thing dies down because I'm not really buying into it. I understand that knives are sacred to chefs, but something tells me that Nick was looking for things to be offended by. I hope they can put ovengate and knifegate behind them.

Next week: Legendary chef Jaques Pepin stops by!


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