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'Top Chef: New Orleans' Recap - Episode 15

The cheftestants spend their last episode in New Orleans.

Well folks, here we are at the last episode in New Orleans since the finale will take place in Maui, so we must bid adieu to our most worthy cheftestants who have battled for the title of "Top Chef" in our food-centric city.

In the first few episodes, I had a feeling that Shirley and Nina would definitely be in the top three along with Carrie, but she was knifed a few weeks ago in a seafood challenge. Instead, Nick narrowly beat out Carlos for a spot at the top by reining in his need to over-complicate every element he puts on a plate of food. I have mixed feelings about it because I was always kind of rooting for Carlos in the whole weird, made-up feud between him and Nick, but I don't think it's going to matter too much because I'm pretty sure that either Shirley or Nina has this in the bag. They have more than proved that they are the two best chefs on the show.

For the “Quickfire Challenge,” there is a two-parter with Gail giving out the first part and Tom giving out the second. For the first part, the chefs are given cocktail forks and told to construct the perfect bite of food, which is to be a little salty, a little sweet, a little sour and a little spicy. Carlos and Nick are able to win the first round and Shirley and Nina are left looking shocked that the two guys actually beat them at something.

For the second part, Nick and Carlos advance on to make a dish highlighting two of Tom's favorite vegetables, a pepper and an eggplant. Nick uses his special brand of complicated technique on the eggplant and Carlos makes a red pepper soup. Nick doesn't seem to think that Carlos' soup is refined enough, but the creator of this challenge was Tom Colicchio who over and over has stated that keeping things simple with the best ingredients is the way to go, as long as you season it properly.

Predictably, Carlos won with his simple and well-seasoned red pepper soup and ended up winning a Toyota Corolla and Nick opines that he's never won anything big like $10,000 or cars like the others have. It's here that I really noticed how sad the guy is. Except for those few moments when he cracks a smile or jokes around, he really does look like he's on the verge of tears most of the time. It seems like he went through some professional upheavals back home before he went on the show, so I'm sure that weighs heavily on him, but he really does seem as if he's got a rain cloud that he constantly carries over himself.

For the elimination challenge, Tom, Padma and Gail say they will be leaving a mark on New Orleans and give the reins to Emeril Lagasse who has been incredibly successful at taking the flavors of the city and making them his own. He tells the chefs that that's what they'll be doing for their last challenge here, to showcase who they are as chefs while using the flavors of New Orleans. Emeril also announces that he'll be making dinner for them at his flagship restaurant, Emeril's, and that the winning dish from the Elimination Challenge will be put on the menu at all three of his New Orleans restaurants.

For the dishes, Nina makes Speckled Trout with Baby Vegetables and Barbecue Sauce, which the judges love even though she forgot to put a garnish that she'd made on the plate at the end. I don't think she would have even mentioned it if Tom hadn't asked her where it was, but to her relief it ended up not mattering as everyone decided that it was perfect without it.

Next up is Shirley who makes a fish and vinegar dish inspired by her Chinese roots that uses the holy trinity of New Orleans cooking, which is celery, onion, and bell pepper, much like the French mirepoix, but they use carrots instead of peppers. The judges love it, especially her broth.

Nick then serves his Charred Cobia, Roasted Bass, and Tuna Confit with Crispy Rice and Shrimp Consomme, which he says is one of his more simpler dishes, which is pretty funny as there are three different kinds of fish on the plate using three different preparations. The judges are fans except they think it could have been seasoned a little better.

And last up is Carlos with his Steamed Seafood Tamal with Saffron Cream Sauce and Pickled Okra. The judges really seem to like this too, but wonder why he didn't serve it in the banana leaf that he cooked it in to keep it warm, which makes sense. There are banana trees all over New Orleans and they are a familiar sight to everyone who lives here. It wouldn't have been "not-New Orleans" if he'd have left in in there.

The judges like all four dishes but they send Nina and Shirley on to the finale in Hawaii, first giving Shirley the win as well as having her dish served at Emeril's restaurants here in New Orleans. She's so excited that she cries and then Emeril is so excited that she's excited and he cries a little bit and it's so cute.

In the end, the one who has to leave us is Carlos and they send Nick on through to the finale. I don't know, hopefully he'll cheer up a little more now that he's in the top three.

In the exit interview, Carlos says that he's planning on coming back by winning “Last Chance Kitchen,” but Louis has been winning for weeks and weeks while setting a record so I'm kind of hoping that Louis ends up with the last spot. It would be a shame to beat all of those people only to lose to Carlos right before being put back into the competition.

And now I'll be off to Emeril's to try that winning dish!

Next week: In Hawaii we get to see who comes back from “Last Chance Kitchen” only to witness a double elimination as the top four becomes two. And unless one of the guys gets incredibly lucky, I'd bet on Shirley and Nina being the last ones standing.


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