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'Top Chef: New Orleans' Recap - Episode 8

New Orleans legend Dr. John joins the "Top Chef" gang.

Dr. John and Padma Lakshmi

courtesy of Bravo

So I've learned this week that "selfie" is the word of the year according to Oxford Dictionaries, but I'd like to argue instead for "hip-tang,” which according to Dr. John is:

If it has flavor-nocity of the highest order and it has tang-nocity that it mixes in ... killer sauce! Hit it, then quit it.

In the latest episode of "Top Chef," we're introduced to a few other new words, but before I get too ahead of myself here, I just want to say that when I write these recaps, I've usually watched the episode a few times to pick up on everything. I could only watch the end of this particular episode once, however, and if I'm ever catching a "Top Chef" marathon over the holidays (because what are holidays without marathons?), and this episode comes on, I'm turning the channel to a different marathon before I have to watch the final verdict again. It was brutal.

But let's start from the beginning. As the cheftestants are chatting in the stew room after the previous challenge, we learn that Patty, who was knifed last week, had only been cooking for three years. That's actually pretty amazing. In a few years she's going to be kickin' it. Sara then laments about how much it sucks being in the middle or on the bottom all the damn time and she's worried that she's a "gooch.” Now, I had never heard of this term before so I naturally Googled it for a definition... I won't be sharing it here because no one needs to see that. Though I will say that without a doubt, Sara is not a gooch. Not even close.

The next morning, the chefs walk into the "Top Chef" kitchens to find New Orleans legend Dr. John standing with Padma in all his Dr. John regalia; a feathery fedora, cane, beads, red pin-stripe suit and snakeskin shoes. They announce that for this weeks Quickfire they won't be making a dish, but a sauce found all over the world, and pretty much used on everything in the south. Hot sauce. And Dr. John loves hot sauce.

On a side note, while reading about Dr. John, I learned that he was the inspiration for Dr. Teeth from The Muppets! I did not know that, but duh! Of course he is.

Quickfire Challenge

Dr. John starts off by saying that he "knows y'all are gonna do a hip maneuver.” Most chefs seem excited about it. Dr. John says that it needs to have "hip-tang" and Brian is like, huh? Acid content? Nope, it means flavor-nocity and tang-nocity, both technical terms here in New Orleans.

For this week’s very important poll by Bravo conducted at the bottom of the screen, they ask how hard do the viewers think the hot sauce challenge is on a scale of 1 to 10. I think a better question would be "Who's easier to understand, Dr. John or Mountain Man from 'Duck Dynasty’?"

The chefs have 45 minutes to prepare and bottle their hot sauce (which seems like a crazy short amount of time) and the winner gets immunity. Immediately Brian and Carlos look like they have a handle on this because one is a head saucier and the other is Mexican and therefore knows all about things made out of chiles. The ones who don't look so sure are Stephanie who has never made hot sauce and Nick who explains that he had his first ulcer at the age of 20 and that during his twenties he was a very nervous person, so he doesn't use a lot of hot sauce. Sucks.

While critiquing the sauces that the cheftestants present (complete with adorable custom bottles with their names on them), Dr. John says a few things in his own hip-tang language and Padma translates.

For his least favorites, Dr. John cites Nick and his "sweet and sour maneuver,” but it looks like he was cool with it seeing as he's anti-hot sauce because of the holes in his stomach. Carrie is next in the least-liked category because it was "Trinidad-ily over the edge hot,” and Carrie is pretty shocked about it. And last we have Nina's "flaming over the top" Caribbean sauce for being too flaming.

Dr. John's favorites are Brian's jalapeno-based for being "verily hip,” Justin's anchovy combo, and Carlos's mango and habanero sauce. And for the second week in a row, Brian wins the Quickfire and immunity. Dr. John then says he's going to go put some of the winning sauce on something I can't quite make out (I think he said frog head?) immediate-ably.


Elimination Challenge

After the Quickfire, it's time for "Padma's Puns" and it's a doozy this week; she says that "It's time to pig out!" and in rolls a 300-pound hog that's been recently gutted. Carting the poor pig in is Toby Rodriguez, boucherie expert from Cajun Country, and Chef Donald Link of famed New Orleans restaurants such as Herbsaint and Cochon.

We're then treated to an explanation of what a "boucherie" is, which is a gathering where a whole hog is butchered and celebrated. Every part of the pig is used in some way either day of or preserved for later. I actually tried to find an official definition by googling it but kept getting rerouted to "butcher", except for Urban Dictionary which describes a boucherie as:

Cajun term for a party distinguished by consumption of mass quantities of food, beer, soft drinks and hard liquor (as opposed to "soft liquor" like Southern Comfort which the women will drink in their part of the boucherie). The behavior at boucheries is generally inebriate but friendly, because the cars parked outside boucheries are generally full of guns, which tend to make most civilized people really polite. 

Not sure what to make of that, but it looks like the cheftestants will be butchering a pig and making things with pork.

They'll have five hours to cook their own boucherie for 250 guests at Bayou Barn. Each chef will be responsible for one dish but they will all have to use the whole hog.

The chefs then get to butchering and I kind of have to walk out of the room for this while they talk about who gets the head, who gets the back, belly, etc. Once they start cutting, you can even hear the cracking noises when they get the head off, and this is precisely why I went to art school instead of culinary school, folks. I have no illusions about where my food comes from, but whenever I've tried to learn how to butcher something, I just can't. A friend of mine was trying to show me how to clean a beef heart the other day and I nearly broke out in hives. I'm lame sauce, what can I say.

As they break down the pig, the chefs start thinking about what they're going to do. Nina wants to use the head because of its velvety meat for a ragu and Justin wants to try his hand at some Mexican food this go around. He seems like he wants to push the envelope a little and not just do Louisiana food like everyone expects. Louis wants to do pork leg and popcorn, which he seems excited about and Travis is making ramen with the back bones. He decides to use store-bought noodles, which seems logical for this kind of challenge with time constraints and where you're catering to so many people in the hot Louisiana sun.

Bright and early the next day, everyone heads to the Bayou Barn over by Jean Lafitte National Park on the West Bank. There are all sorts of contraptions, grills and smokers for everyone to choose from. Justin starts building a fire for his pork breasts under one of the grills and it looks like a few people start cooking on it, which he does not appreciate. At all. We actually start seeing some people go off on each other like in a real kitchen. When Justin doesn't take other people using his grill very well, Nina tells him to go do something that I won't mention on this rather PG blog. Justin doesn't seem like he's very happy for the duration of the episode.

Over at Stephanie's station, while not being freaked out by the alligators behind what looks to be a chicken wire fence, she's busy making a pork brodo (fancy-speak for broth), and over at Louis's station, he's making popcorn. He also talks about how when he's at home, he works a lot and isn't too social so he was worried that he'd make no friends. However, he says he's made more friends here in a few weeks than he has in his whole life. And as soon as he said that, I knew he was doomed. Producers just don't let you say sentimental stuff like that on camera and then let you stay on the show.

As the people start lining up for the "Top Chef" boucherie, the judges start making the rounds. We have Tom Colicchio, guest judge Donald Link, Hugh Acheson, who we haven't seen since he was dressed up like Prince Charming for the Halloween episode, and finally, Padma, who I have to mention, is wearing a denim jumpsuit.

First we have Brian and his Porchetta and Oyster Mushrooms, which Padma and Donald seem to love and Sara's Pork Dim Sum, which is also a hit.

Next up is Justin's Wood-Roasted Pork Breast Taco with Pork Liver Salsa Verde. I can honestly say that I've never had liver in my salsa verde before. Donald Link seems to think it's a bit dry and needs to be cooked with more fat. Also doing Mexican is Carlos with his Posole Verde and Fried Chorizo Tacos. Carlos actually calls them "Taquitos" which are a little different and I'm not sure Bravo gets these descriptions right sometimes. Anyway, it looks divine and everyone loves it.

Shirley then presents her Day After Chinese New Year Pork Dumplings, which are inspired from her own family's version of a boucherie celebration, and it's noted by some of the guests that this is the only dish to feature "cracklins" or fried pork skins. They seem a bit miffed that only one person has decided to do this because it ain't a boucherie without cracklins!

Next is Louis's Pork Leg with Spring Onions, Melted Corn and Popcorn and some of the guests even note to Tom and Hugh that this was the best dish, but Tom ain't having it. They think that while the pork is delicious, the other components are confusing. They also don't care too much for Stephanie's Pork Brodo with Braised Pork Belly, although they love the brodo (it's broth), it's just the pork belly is lacking in flavor.

They then roll over to Travis and his Pork Ramen and Hugh asks him if he made his own noodles and Travis has to say no. Although I'm sure if he'd said yes, Hugh would have then wondered if he ground up his own flour for the noodles.

And the final presenters are Nick's Tete de Cochon, Carrie's Crispy Trotters, and Nina's Pig's Head Ragu, which the judges love.


Judges’ Table

Over the stew room web cam, Tom states that it was the most enjoyable food all-around that he's had on 11 seasons of "Top Chef.” All the cheftestants are like, "WHAT?" and they start doing double and triple takes and practically slapping themselves to make sure they're not dreaming. The judges' favorites are the dishes by Shirley, Nina, Brian and Carlos; the judges are impressed that Carlos made his own chorizo.

Then they start going into the problematic ones and Justin's name gets mentioned for his meat being dry. Justin does not appreciate this at all. When he starts defending himself, there are several bleeps involved. Louis is also one of the least favorites because his corn was too sweet and they didn't understand the popcorn, although it's noted that people kept going back to his station for popcorn. Whatever.


Carlos's Posole and Taquito

Padma calls in Shirley, Carlos and Nina, and Donald Link gives Carlos his first major win for his posole. He's ecstatic. I'm ecstatic for him because it's about time he won something. The dude has a Michelin Star for heaven's sake. And posole is like, one of the best things ever and I'm wondering where in the world I can get some good posole in New Orleans because my mom (who's from New Mexico) can make some damn fine posole and now I really want some.

The losers are up next, who were not really losers at all as it's pointed out that all the dishes were great, it's just that the judges had to nitpick because everyone did such an amazing job. They call in Louis, Stephanie and Justin and I'm just going to rip the Band-Aid here and say that Louis ended up going home because of the popcorn in his dish. To me it seems like it was a toss up between him and Stephanie as to who was going home, as Stephanie had flavorless pork belly, but for some reason, Donald really hated that popcorn and it looks like that's what tipped the balance. I know the judges didn't understand the popcorn, but I don't understand the popcorn hate. Popcorn haters gonna hate, I guess.

This was a tough episode because I really liked Louis. I've kidded about how the show kept him around for his dazzling smile, but that's just me being a smart ass. In the past few episodes, he seemed to be opening up more to the cameras and was starting to reveal as a super-cool guy and was doing a lot better in challenges because he didn't seem as nervous. It was sad to see him go as he was hitting his stride. Good luck in "Last Chance Kitchen," Louis!

And on a shallow note, look who responded to my tweet!

Sigh, that smile!

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