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'Top Chef' recap, 'Commander's Palace'

Casi Dow

For The Baltimore Sun

8:52 AM EDT, October 17, 2013

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This week's episode jumped right into this week’s Quickfire Challenge, but with a twist.

Padma announces that this will be an elimination QF and that one of them will be on the next flight outta New Orleans in the next few minutes.

The cheftestants are joined by Food and Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin for the QF Challenge. They have to tackle some current food trends that she is sick of and prove to her that they deserve to be on the specials menu at your favorite corner bistro.

The chefs pull their knives to find either “smoked foods,” “putting an egg on top," “kale” or “bacon” as their trendy food challenge. Yeah, don’t you just hate it when you are gazing over a menu and it’s filled with too many bacon choices? No? Me neither.

Dana’s favorite dishes are filled with eggs and bacon and came from Nina, Stephanie and Shirley. In the end, Shirley’s rice congee with shirred egg wins her not only the Quickfire challenge this week, but also immunity. Shirley notes that she felt pretty good about her dish this week because she noticed that when Padma really likes something, she will pick up the dish and eat some more. So, Padma and I have that in common. That, and devastating beauty.

Brett, Aaron and Louis cook the least-favorite trendy dishes. Let me just clue you in -- one of their offerings was kale juice. Gee, big surprise that you’re on the bottom. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve jumped on board the kale train a few times. It’s hard not to when you work across the street from Whole Foods. But kale juice?

Aaron’s over-dressed kale sends him packing in this first elimination Quickfire. One chef down, one to go! Now, moving on to the Elimination Challenge...

The chefs learn that they will not only have the privilege of dining in the most coveted of all New Orleans' restaurants, Commander’s Palace, they will also have to precisely re-create the iconic dishes that they are eating. Oh, and to increase the pressure another notch, they will be serving these dishes to some of the original creators and legends of Cajun cuisine, Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Fun bonus; when I looked up how to spell “Paul Prudhomme,” I realized I have a packet of seasoning with his face on it. So, I am practically a Cajun cuisine legend myself, since we obviously use the same ingredients.

The first dish that Michael, Travis, Nina and Bene attempt is a shrimp and tasso henican.  This dish consists of wild Louisiana white shrimp stuffed with spicy cajun ham, crystal hot sauce beurre blanc, pickled okra and five pepper jelly. Yes, I did have to look that up, too.

The second course is prepared by Janine, Nicholas, Louis and Carlos. They re-created a black skillet-seared trout. The team takes an unconventional approach and does all of their prep work together, then are responsible for their individual plates. They all share the same Louis-created spice mixture, which fails them all in the long run. (This is why you should stick to spice mixtures with famous chef’s faces on them.)

The main course is veal chop tchoupitoulas (don’t ask me how to pronounce that, I had to pause my DVR to see how to spell this one!). This dish, an original by chef Emeril, is a melody of veal over goat cheese and stone-ground grits with buttered spring asparagus, fire roasted tomatoes and Commander’s classic green peppercorn demi-glace. Shirley, Bret, Patty and Brain have to re-create this masterpiece.

Dessert is a delicious Louisiana strawberry trio consisting of a shortcake, a cocktail and a famous ‘Nawlins beignet. The desserts are prepared by Sara, Carrie, Justin and Stephanie. I am on board with this course. We also are subjected to a little TMI from Dana. Apparently she is a self-proclaimed whipped cream whore.

At the Judge’s Table, Tom, Hugh, Emeril and Padma review all the dishes. All of the mistakes of the night came from the chefs making poor choices. The nervousness, from not only having to re-create a dish to perfection, but also having to serve it to the original chefs, proved too much for the cheftestants this week. Their techniques and common sense failed them. Many of the dishes were under-seasoned, food wasn’t tasted before it was served and there was a severe lack of time management.

Padma asks to see Stephanie, Justin and Nina. These three came out on top tonight. Though Nina’s presentation was less than desirable, the chef still loved the flavors in her dish. Stephanie created an awesome biscuit that even has the Commander’s Palace executive chef asking for her resume. But Justin takes home the gold this week with his near-perfect re-creations.

For the least favorites of the week and the second elimination of the night, the Judges ask to see Louis, Carlos and Brett. (No Patty this week!)  The judges were less-than-impressed by Carlos' and Louis’ blackened fish. Remember, they shared the same bland seasoning and never tasted their dishes.

Bret, who cooked Emeril’s famous veal chop, was not aggressive enough in the kitchen to secure himself ample space on the grill to properly cook the chops. Hugh jokes that his chop was steamed. Tom agrees, noting that it was overcooked and lacked the crucial searing of a good chop. In the end, those mistakes send Bret packing. Please pack your knives and go.

This episode of "Top Chef" moved really quickly, almost as quickly as those over-dramatic wooshy camera pans that focus in on each chef’s face during the elimination. Were those there last week?

This hour-long episode flew by, which leads me to two conclusions. 1) I should start running on a treadmill during "Top Chef." 2) Season 11 is picking up and we are in for another great season.