Top Chef: Soul(ess) Cooking in New Orleans

by moderndomestic on February 20, 2009

As moderndomestic had mentioned in her last Top Chef recap I’ve been asked to step in to “save the day” and take the blogging reigns for a post.  I’m not quite sure why she would request Elpis and Justice, who is usually busy writing about public health issues, but I’ll enjoy my power trip.  

Top Chef has been miraculously transplanted to New Orleans!  The guest judge is Emeril Lagasse!  The chefs are back and looking well rested.  I think the producers required each of the contestants to get a new haircut to emphasize the how much time has passed.  Modern’s boyfriend Fabio is sporting an miniature mohawk.  I’ll have to ask her how she feels about the new look.

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

The Quick Fire Challenge will take place on the grounds of the lovely Houmas House, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and, ahh, as Fabio so eloquently put, trees with “stuff hanging all over.”  As the camera pans to the quick fire area there is something missing… a fourth table!  What’s this??  Will there be teams?  Will there be a duel to the death?  Will Stefan be heckling from the sidelines??

No no, in a Project Runway style tactic, to honor the rebirth of New Orleans three old contestants will be brought back to compete to get back into the competition.  Jamie, Leah, and Jeff (wtf?) are competing in the Quick Fire Challenge.  I quickly write off Jeff, and assume this will be a battle between Team Rainbow and Team, ah, Slumpy.

Jamie is back- I’m so excited!  Her perfect opportunity to redeem herself.  I can see it now.  Jamie will win, she’ll be amazing, she’ll be in the top three, it will be a close race between her and Stefan… but, oh wait they have to cook first.

The chefs have one hour to create a dish that incorporates crawfish.  

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Leah produces a nice crawfish soup with andouille and sausage.  She’s never made a gumbo before, but her product looks pretty nice.  I’d say it’s a bit heavy on the broth.  Personally I don’t like to drink a think soup in hot weather.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me.  The judges thought otherwise.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me. The judges thought otherwise.

I assume Jeff is going to make three things poorly.  However it seems like he realized something during his time at home- on Top Chef it’s best to do just one thing well, or if you’re Stefan- three amazing things and a mango lollipop.  He makes crawfish with grits with andouille and beer.   This sort of grossed me out.  There wasn’t much variation in texture and looked like a big mush meal to me.       

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back?  I hope so!

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back? I hope so!

Jamie gets down to business and makes corncake, greens, poached Egg with andouille and crawfish cream sauce.  This seems much more creative than Leah’s interpretation, so mentally crown Jamie the winner during yet another uncomfortably long commercial break.  

The judging begins.  Jamie should…. wait.  Apparently Emeril didn’t watch the tapes.  He should know that Jeff sucks.  I don’t know how he made it so far in the show.  He consistently made mediocre/bad food, messed up other people’s good food, and, and, and Emeril names him the winner!?  Wait!  That was Jamie’s spot!  Nooooooo!  Jeff triumphantly accepts his copy of chef Lagasse book Emeril at the Grill.  

The chefs are invited to Emeril’s DelMonico and will retire for the evening at Hotel Monteleone. 

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

Before the competition begins, the contestants run through why they’re here.  Fabio is looking to win the money and help his sick mother in Italy, Hosea just wants to win, Carla is motivated by her family’s love… and Stefan tells us that this isn’t a “butt (or back? speak clearly!!) rubbing contest- there will be a slaughtering.”  Okay.

Carla, I gotta give it to you Carla.  I’ve never believed in you.  I’m a convert.  You cook good food, you cook it with compassion, and you’re just sweet.  I don’t think Stefan would think twice about spitting in your Finnish fish if he felt like it would either make the food taste better or he had a vendetta.  I don’t trust you- Finn.

The challenge is unveiled.  The chefs will be cooking for a masquerade party hosted by the Krewe of Orpheus at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The chefs must make two dishes (one inspired by traditional Creole cooking) and a cocktail.  Winner gets a car (I shall not say the name just to spite shameless product placement!)  Fabio hopes to win because his car “is a piece of poo.”  Jeff needs to win in order to stay in the competition (stipulation of the quick fire).  

The chefs dash off to Emeril’s kitchen and begin their work.  Hosea decides to make a gumbo as his traditional Creole food.  He’s acting like a true Top Chef by putting a lot of time and effort into making a proper roux.  Roux is a combination of oil and flour, that is slowly cooked.  A good gumbo has a well developed roux.    

Jeff has also embraces the Top Chef spirit by making his own sausage.  I’m too mad at Jeff to care. 

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Fabio decides to add an Italian twist to his food.  He’s busy making pasta and bread from scratch.  Oh boy Fabio, this might not be such a good idea.  Creole cooking is already a fusion of so many cultures, fuse it any more and there will be fission- and physicists can’t even do that.

Carla has decided to make an oyster stew.  Although she shucked her first oyster last week, she’s decided to shuck 100 for one of the most important challenges.  Carla, you may have just shucked yourself out of the running, and no, the boys aren’t going to chip in for one second.

The producers have edited Stefan into a real jerk this episode.  He’s behaving much like the hare he’s stewing by playing with sausages, going out to smoke, and creatively dragging his feet.  I don’t know if you learn about Aesop’s Fables in Finland, Stefan, but screwing around in the final leg of the race is a real no no.  The other chefs are equally annoyed.

It’s time to set up for the party.  The chefs go to their respective stations.  Hosea managed to forget a whisk, Carla laments about no one offering to help with the shucking, Stefan is out smoking with his bar tender, and Jeff is wringing his hands.

The party begins and the judges are mysteriously wearing black masks.  They remove them to reveal that the judges are…. Padama, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and Emeril Lagasse… why were they wearing masks??  That wasn’t a surprise!  Fabio mentions that the masquerade theme reminds him of an old po–adult film.  Padma is looking quite foxy in her gown.  I have a feeling Wonk would agree.  

Hosea took the challenge seriously.  His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea took the challenge seriously. His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea made duck, andouille and chicken gumbo, pecan crusted catfish, and a hurricane with Grand Marnier.  The slow cooked roux seems to have paid off.  Emeril loves the gumbo, although Stefan disagrees.  The judges are also pleased the catfish isn’t dry.  Cooking it on the spot helped with that.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

Jeff made fried oyster with sausage, crawfish with pot de creme, and a cucumber mojito.  Jeff surprised me again.  The judges felt he made “smart choices” with his crawfish, and were pleased with his homemade sausage.  The cucumber mojito was also a big hit and scored him some extra points.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

Fabio’s table offered grits with sausage and rabbit, crawfish and crab stew with pasta, and a bell pepper martini.  The reviews here were mixed.  I think Padma has a little crush on Fabio.  While Emeril and Tom Colicchio picked his dishes apart, Padma defended his honor.  The pasta was nice, but needed heat and the flavors weren’t layered.  The martini smelled good, but tasted too sweet for the judges’ liking.  

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

Although Carla’s table didn’t have booze (Carla doesn’t drink) her guests seemed to be having the best time.  The judges were thrilled with her food.  She made and oyster stew, shrimp and andouille beignet, and a non-alcoholic cranberry spritzer.  The food was “smokin’ hot,” the oysters were perfect, and the judges appreciated the care she put into it.  I was glad Carla’s philosophy of cooking with compassion was given another chance.  In a previous episode when she sent out runny ice cream “with love” the judges ripped her apart.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

Stefan served the guests and the judges with a smirk on his face. Duck and rabbit gumbo with grits, an apple beignet, and a black cherry rum cocktail were on his menu.  The judges were not impressed.  The gumbo wasn’t bad… but they concluded his food wasn’t worth a return trip- not even for the dessert.  Tom was even less impressed by Stefan’s cockiness both in the kitchen and at the party.  In short, Stefan’s food lacked soul.  

The elimination meeting is tense.  If Jeff wins, then two of the finalists go home.  If Jeff loses, one of the chefs must pack their knives.  I liked the new attitude Emeril brought to the judging table.   He is a chef that not only cooks, but is also playing a role in the recovery of New Orleans. I felt like he was less about gimmicky remarks and took a holistic view of both the food and the chef.

The chefs are brought out for elimination.  Jeff is praised for his good effort, but is still sent home.  Stefan and Fabio are in the bottom two.  Stefan produced not only mediocre food, but also brought a bad attitude.  Fabio just missed the mark with his menu.  In the end it is Fabio who is sent home.

But who wins?  Carla!  Carla is just thrilled.  Not only is she closer to winning, but she also gets to take home a new car- nice!  Emeril’s words to describe her food were “balance, flavor, simplicity, temperature, yet creative.”  I think Carla really does represent what it means to be a Top Chef.  She has the foundation of a loving family, has excellent technique, the maturity to fuse food traditions properly, and sincerely loves cooking for others.  For now Team Europe has gone the way of Team Rainbow.  Good thing Bravo didn’t spring on the tee-shirts for that one!  

Next week, moderndomestic will be back to recap.  Who will be Top Chef!  Who??

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

{ 1 trackback }

Top Chef Finale: Top Chef Jumps the Shark in Horrific Season Two Flashback « ModernDomestic
February 27, 2009 at 10:57 am

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: