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'Top Chef' recap, Giving it the College Try

Dining and DrinkingCookingLouisiana State UniversityLate Night with Jimmy Fallon (tv program)

Grab your books and your pencils ... oh, wait it’s 2013. Grab your laptop, tablet and phone. We’re going back to college.

But before heading back to campus, it’s time for a QuickFire Challenge.  The cheftestants are joined by Padma and Questlove of The Roots and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" to announce this week’s test. A NOLA drumline (how fitting) enters the kitchen playing and carrying a rack filled with all kinds of poultry drumsticks. See what they did there?

The chefs will each have 30 minutes to create a dish using any of the different kind of drumsticks. It’s on a first-come; first serve basis so the chefs must rush to get the ingredients they want, oh and the winner gets immunity on the next Elimination Challenge.  

Padma and Questlove taste all of the “drum solos” that the chefs have prepared this week. The dishes range from Squab legs with a fig mostarda, a grilled turkey leg to chicken drumettes.

The judges were not impressed by Nicholas’ twice-fried quail, Carlos’ fried goose leg (complete with bone shards that Padma ate) or with Justin’s chicken drumettes. No surprise there that the judges didn’t enjoy the bonus bone pieces in Carlos’ dish. He was literally hacking at that thing with a knife…don’t get on Carlos’ bad side.

The tops dishes in the challenge came from Nina and her jerk Guinea hen, Carrie’s squab legs and Brian’s chicken leg soup. Overall the judge’s loves Carrie’s drum beat the best and she just won herself some immunity.

Now we finally head back to school. The judges discover that fort this week’s Elimination Challenge they will be heading to Louisiana State University's campus to prepare a meal in a dining hall for 500 kids during a freshman orientation.  The chefs will only be able to use the ingredients and equipment already available in the dining hall. Two bonuses! One; the winning chef will be driving home in a new 2013 Toyota Rav-4! Two; all the chefs get to spend the night in a college dorm. Ahh, there is nothing like that drab, cold brick 8 x10 living space. 

Before the frenzy in the kitchen begins, a couple LSU students take the chefs on a campus tour. Here the students share that LSU is the only campus that houses an actual tiger! Tom pops out at this point to say they will be cooking tiger meat! No, just kidding … but they really do have a tiger on campus.  He lives safely behind a fence where no chefs can get at him. 

The next morning the chefs head to the dining hall to prepare their dishes.  They check out all of the cooking spaces and come up with their game plan of who should cook where. The stations range from typical flat-top grills to a giant pizza oven.  This is the nicest dining hall I have ever seen. These kids are lucky! I remember how cool it was to go to a certain dining hall on my campus because it had a waffle maker that imprinted our school mascot on it. (Go Boilers!)

The judges arrive to taste all the upscale college dorm food the chefs have prepared.  A slightly more upscale way for the kids to gain their freshman 15.  Tom mentions that the food looks like “perfect cafeteria food … in a good way!”

The school dishes this week include roasted pork and bacon grits from Nicholas. Brian prepares a shrimp cake with chipotle aioli. His line in the cafeteria has a nice long line. Shirley is serving up a roast beef dish. One student remarks that it is the “best thing he’s ever put in his mouth." Nina went with a traditional buttermilk fried chicken.

Carrie made a broccoli salad. Needless to say, her station was basically empty the whole time. “It’s not my fault the college students are stupid and don't want to eat their broccoli!” she said. Actually, you’re the stupid one who made college kids broccoli. You know all they want it pizza.

Stephanie made a tomato soup with grilled cheese. Not very creative, but she has immunity. Justin made a marinated shrimp dish and Carlos prepared a tilapia with Mexican coleslaw. He was all over the place with which cooking station he needed and called out Nicholas for supposedly stealing his oven. Also his service was super slow. Tom says he could have graduated by the time he got served.

Back at the Judges Table, it’s time to see who made the grade. The judges first ask to see Brian, Shirley and Carlos.   

These chefs have prepared the favorite dishes of the night. Even though Carlos’ service was incredibly slow, the judges really enjoyed his flavors.  They also commended Shirley for embracing the pizza oven and not viewing it only as that.  In the end, it was Shirley and her “best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth” roast beef dish that won her the challenge and a brand-new Toyota RAV-4.

Next, the judges ask to see Stephanie, Nina and Justin. Nina had a watery corn puree that some students did not even get served.  The Judges noted that those kids were lucky. Stephanie made the mistakes of using cottage cheese in her grilled cheese which the judge’s referred to as very “curdy”.  Not a very appetizing word. Justin’s shrimp was very consistent – in being bland. 

This week’s failing grade goes to Justin, as Padma delivers the now classic "Top Chef" parting gift, "Please pack your knives and go." He gave it the old “college try," but it was not enough. Next time, use the Cliff’s notes.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Dining and DrinkingCookingLouisiana State UniversityLate Night with Jimmy Fallon (tv program)
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