'Top Chef: New Orleans' Recap - Episode 3

Commander's Palace

courtesy of Bravo

This week on Top Chef we start in the stew room right after Jason has been knifed. Things look pretty tense and Patty is crying again, but at least we can talk about food now instead of surfer hair.

Before heading into the quickfire challenge, Louis actually gets to be featured a little bit and tells us that instead of being where he thought he would be in his career at 30, he decided to have a family. This leads me to believe that since we're hearing about him, he's either at the top or he's going home this round. There are still several chefs that we don't know much about, the ones that have been hanging out in the middle like Bene, Brian and Travis. Actually we do know something about Travis; he only dates Asians. That's it.

 

Quickfire

For this week's quickfire challenge we're introduced to Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine. She strikes me as being the Anna Wintour of the food world. Everyone is super intimidated. And just like in The Devil Wears Prada, she explains that there are food trends. Like the cerulean blue you see on the runway that eventually trickles down into the bargain bins at the department stores, the same thing happens in the restaurant industry. A trend will start in fine dining and work its way down to Applebee's, which at that point no respectable person is putting it on their menu anymore.

Dana introduces four food trends that she wishes would die already and she wants the chefs to remind her why they were a trend in the first place. They are asked to pick knives, which are labeled bacon, kale, smoked and egg.

Okay, so I get bacon. We are saturated with bacon in this country. You can get bacon anything these days. People are even knitting bacon scarves and probably going as bacon for Halloween, but I'm of the opinion that eggs never go out of style. How can they? Eggs are the new black. Padma takes issue with kale because she loves it and Dana says that she's tired of seeing kale chips and kale salad, to which she suggests, don't make kale chips or kale salad! Obviously someone is going to be stupid enough to do it.

Also, someone is going home as it is a "quickfire elimination.” Bummer.

In the top three are Nina with her scotch quail egg (the tiniest scotch egg in the world, as she put it) with potato and leek puree, Stephanie and her pasta with candied bacon and fried sweet potatoes, and Shirley with rice congee and shirred eggs. She describes shirred eggs as being "extremely soft and fluffy scrambled eggs.” It all looks and sounds amazing.

And in the bottom are Aaron and his fried kale, for being too salty, Louis for his trout that had no smoke flavor, and Bret for making a kale salad, which Dana Cowin told everyone not to do. I'm not so sure that Bret is the sharpest knife in the drawer.

In the end, Shirley wins for her eggs and snags immunity in the elimination challenge, and Aaron gets sent packing for his over-salted kale. And I go back to eating my kale chips because I guess I'm stuck in 2012 and not up on the new collard green chip trend of the 2013-2014 season.

 

Elimination Challenge

For this week’s elimination challenge Padma, Emeril and Dana Cowin tell the chefs that it will be all about Commander's Palace, which as we all know, is a legendary New Orleans fine dining restaurant. It's the place to which you take your parents for a nice dinner when they're in town. They also have a very affordable lunch menu and 25-cent martinis. I especially love that 25-cent martini part.

As we get shots of the famous blue and white building, the exposition fairies remind us that many a famous chef got their start here, most notably Chef Paul Prudhomme and Chef Emeril Lagasse. So if you aspire to ever have your own line of spice blends at supermarkets everywhere, Commander's Palace is where you want to be. And in all seriousness, I couldn't live without Emeril's turkey blend during the holidays and my dad has me send "Paul Prudhomme's Pizza & Pasta Magic" to him because he can't find it up north. So these guys are pretty great.

The challenge starts with the cheftestants enjoying a lovely dinner. Executive Chef Tory McPhail presents them with four courses. Justin (of La Petite Grocery) says he knows Chef Tory but they don't go out for coffee or anything. He mentions that the award he was up for last year (James Beard Best Chef: South), Chef Tory won. No sour grapes though. Or maybe a teeny tiny bit? I can't tell. Justin has a great poker face.

Anyways. Chef Tory explains that everyone will have to replicate the four dishes for their challenge and that they were each created by a renowned Commander's Palace chef, and also that the chefs themselves will be judging them on their skills. So no pressure or anything!

The dishes are Jamie Shannon's Shrimp and Tasso Henican, Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Skillet Seared Trout, Emeril's Veal Chop Tchoupitoulas. and Chef Tory's Strawberry Trio, with strawberry shortcake, strawberry cocktail and a beignet.

During preparation, the "blackened trout team" decide to divvy up components of the dish, with one prepping the crawfish, the other the vegetables, and Louis the blackened seasoning, even though he has no idea what to put in it. GENIUS.

Okay. So say you're a chef and you're going to be competing on Top Chef for $150,000 in New Orleans, and you don't know much about the city other than Zatarain's comes from there and there’s a guy on TV who says "BAM.” What are you going to learn before heading down south? Maybe what they typically season their food with, perhaps?

Louis might be another not-sharp knife in the drawer, guys.

Over at the dessert team they're freaking out because they have to make biscuits for the strawberry shortcake and baking requires exact measurements. Other stresses include Bret not having any room on the grill for his chops and Nina using the wrong plates. They’re Michael's plates, to be exact, and he decides to be kind of an ass about it, tossing her okra that she'd plated onto the table. I don't know about Michael. I want to like him because he's on the home team and all, but so far I'm not all that impressed.

At the dinner table are Chef Tory and all the judges including Dana Cowin; the owners of Commander's Palace, Ti Martin and Lally Brennan; and Paul Prudhomme. I think they allow Paul Prudhomme to say about three words during service.

It seems like it's a mixed bag for this challenge. The dish that most people had problems with was the blackened trout, mainly because everyone used Louis' bland spice mixture. Surprisingly, the dessert team fared the best, which is pretty rare on Top Chef as many a chef has been sent home for their lackluster desserts. Also surprising? Patty, who has been in the bottom for just about everything up to this point, had a perfectly cooked veal chop. You go, girl.

 

Judges' Table

Most of the criticism that the judges have is the under-seasoning of some of the dishes. I think what might be the single worst thing you can do if Tom Colicchio is judging you is not using enough salt. And he always seems utterly baffled and appalled whenever he's confronted with bland food. He's just like, YOU FOOLS and you know that if he was Darth Vadar, anyone who didn't use enough salt would be choked with The Force.

For the winners, Padma asks to see Stephanie, Nina and Justin. Stephanie is completely surprised that she is there. Poor girl, she's going to psych herself out if she's not careful. It seems like going home first during the Seattle season has stripped her of all her confidence.

The judges are impressed with Nina's perfectly cooked shrimp, Stephanie's strawberry shortcake and Justin's whole ensemble, with Justin for the win. Yay, home team!

For the bottom, Bret, Carlos and Louis have to endure the judges’ scorn. They are in trouble for under-seasoning and not tasting their food before sending it out. Also, Bret's chop didn't have the proper grill marks and no sear, and Bret is the one who gets to go home.

It's a little sad because Bret actually agrees with them and says that they made the right decision, which is a stark contrast to how Jason went out last week. I wish Bret the best because he seemed a little lost on the show, saying that the restaurant he was working at abruptly closed and he is in between jobs. I'm sure the national exposure will land him a new position, just as long as he never makes kale salad when someone tells him not to make kale salad.

Next week: Vietnamese food! Travis must be pretty excited.

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