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'Top Chef' recap, 'Captain Vietnam'

HalloweenTom ColicchioTop Chef (tv program)

“I’m convinced that Emeril has a secret bedroom in this house, because he pops up when you least expect it.” 

Chef Nina shares this sentiment at the top of this week’s episode, as the chefs are relaxing after the most recent elimination. Sure enough, Chef Emeril strolls into the house with a stranger in tow. As the other cheftestants gather around to see what kind of pickle that they are in this week, Emeril introduces this week’s guest chef, Eddie Huang.

A quick sigh of relief is let out as we learn there will be no Quickfire Challenge this week. We are headed right into the Elimination Challenge.

The chefs are randomly split into three teams and learn that the theme is to embrace the strong Vietnamese culture in New Orleans and create a winning dish in this style. Emeril and Eddie take everyone on a cultural tasting tour of a few iconic Vietnamese establishments, including a bakery, shrimping docks and a noodle house, in order for the chefs to embrace as many of the flavors and techniques as possible before hitting the kitchen.

Many of the chefs admit their unfamiliarity with this cuisine, so you know the judges will have a field day later on.

Shirley, who is Chinese and confident in her ability to create an authentic dish, decides that the best course of action is to stuff her teammate, Patty, full to the gills at the noodle house so that she too will become a Vietnamese flavor expert. Hey Shirley, if you ever need to help someone learn the flavors of Ben & Jerry’s and force-feed them ice cream, call me!

Travis, whose boyfriend is Vietnamese, is a self-proclaimed Vietnamese authority. He is not shy about sharing how to cook, what flavors need to be incorporated and what dishes his team should make. Chef Bene and Shirley are open-minded and trust in his confidence, while Sara is less-than-impressed. She takes every opportunity she can to roll her eyes as Travis babbles on and on, even going so far as to return the coveted lemongrass back to the shelves while they are shopping for their ingredients.

Something about Sara has bugged me in previous episodes, but I am totally into her cut-throat attitude this week, including dubbing Travis as “Captain Vietnam."

As the three teams are cooking away with their $200 worth of ingredients from a premier Asian market in New Orleans, Tom Colicchio and Eddie visit the chefs in the kitchen. Eddie tells the teams, “Don’t let the Asian experts down, you have a nation on your back.”

At this point, the camera shifts to a one-on-one with Travis, where he calls Eddie a ”douche bag” and reminds us that Eddie is Vietnamese-Chinese and “only knows what he knows”. Oh, the gloves are off!  I’m sure that won’t come back to bite you later, Travis. You might as well crown yourself as Top Chef now.

The judges are treated to an array of dishes this week, including spring rolls, BBQ shrimp, lettuces wraps, pho and even a macaroon!

Overall, they are not impressed.  Tom even comments that after this tasting, he plans on going out for Vietnamese food because everything he tasted was such a tease – close to being authentic, but lacking in flavors.

Luckily, at least a few chefs are able to impress with their skills and ability to learn new flavors.  The red team, made up of Nina, Carrie, Shirley, Justin and Patty, are on top this week.  In the end, it was Shirley’s BBQ shrimp dish that wins the judges over. Her combination of traditional flavors with New Orleans spirit (aka butter) comcined with the ability to incorporate her own style to make her the winner.  She can rest easy for another week.

Any guesses who will be on the bottom this week? Hint: it might have something to do with the case of the missing lemongrass and a white guy from Colorado who claims to be the utmost expert on Vietnamese cuisine (he’s been there three times, guys!).

Hey, shocker! The green team is the judgess least favorite this week. Travis, Sara, Stephanie, Bene and Janine enter to face the wrath of the still-hungry judges. (I read earlier today that Padma goes up two dress sizes by the end of each season of Top Chef…poor thing. Meanwhile, I’ll be up two dress sizes by next week if I don’t hide the Halloween candy!)

The judges were completely perplexed by the shrimp dish created by Janine and Bene. The shrimp was tossed in a tomato sauce that was by far more Italian flavored than Vietnamese. Emeril wants to take it home and add some meatballs. Having never cooked this style of food before, both chefs followed suggestions from Travis and his supposed knowledge of the cuisine. He claims to have had this sauce three times in central Vietnam. Tom rebuts that you can have McDonald's in the middle of Paris, but that doesn’t make it French food.

After deliberating and the now-standard “swooshing” camera shots of the chefs (I swear, next week I am taking a Dramamine!), the judges ultimately send home the Aussie chef, Janine.  Looks like she will not be slipping another shrimp on the babrie! (Yeah, even I know that was a bad joke.)

In episode four we saw a lot of weaknesses. First, in the chef’s abilities to quickly learn a new style of cuisine. Secondly, in the chef’s abdominal strength, as proven in their impromptu “plank-off.” (P.S.: Shirley won that contest as well, which to her I say that I once came in fourth in a “plank-off,” so watch your back, girl!)

Lastly, we saw weakness in the judges' ability to dress. Seriously, what was up with Tom’s purple and hot-pink tablecloth of a shirt? And don’t get me started on Eddie’s lobster abomination. Was that a button-up shirt or one of the plastic bibs they give you at a seafood restaurant? I expect a lot more from the chefs and judges next week.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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HalloweenTom ColicchioTop Chef (tv program)
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