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'Top Chef' recap, 'Like Mama Made'

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Have you gathered yourself after last week’s Restaurant Wars? Good, then let’s jump right in.

This week’s QuickFire challenge was certainly one I could get behind. The chefs had 15 minutes to create a dish that incorporated Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Mmm, delicious, sweet, wonderful coffee … oh, sorry caught myself daydreaming for a second. The winner also scores $10,000 — not too shabby! I am hoping there will be $10,000 at the bottom of my coffee cup this morning.

Padma was joined by Top Chef Master and noted French chef, Hubert Keller. The pair tasted a variety of java-infused dishes including salmon with coffee roasted mushrooms, a coffee custard, macadamia sponge cake and sweet potato and goat cheese coffee crepe with bacon coffee jam. I swear I didn’t make that last one up, even though it sounds basically like all of my favorite foods rolled into one dish. 

Hubert noted that he was not getting any of the coffee flavors in Brian’s risotto dish. He was also not a fan of Nicholas’ salmon and hazelnut coffee mushrooms.

The girls were on a caffeine high. The judges enjoyed dishes by Shirley, Carrie and Stephanie.  The overall favorite was Shirley's coffee-crusted tenderloin. She commented that she was excited to buy an air conditioner with the prize money. Treat yo’ self, Shirley.

This week the chefs are joined by actor and New Orleans native, Anthony Mackie. Anthony talks about how he travels so much for his career, but loves to come back home and eat comfort foods with his family. This was the inspiration for the Elimination Challenge: Create a dish that is inspired by the flavors and food that the chefs eat when they are at home.

The cheftestants head off to Whole Foods where they have $275 to spend, then two hours to cook a dish that will share a little piece of home with the judges. When they return to the house, they are greeted with a wonderful smell. They find Emeril cooking dinner in the kitchen. (Not a bad thing to come home to.) Emeril shares a dish his mother would make, Caldo Verde, as they discuss game plans for tomorrow.

The following day, the chefs head off to Dooky Chase, Anthony’s favorite restaurant to visit when he is back in the Big Easy. They have one hour to complete their dishes and serve them to the judges, who are also joined again by NOLA chef Leah Chase and some of her family.

Dinner is served and the first round of dishes come from Carlos, Brian and Travis. Carlos made a cochinita pibil with black beans. Emeril was a fan of the pork in the dish and Leah really enjoyed the heat. 

Brian shared a Korean BBQ New York strip and and Asian potato salad, his take on meat and potatoes.  The judges all liked the dish, but Tom really missed the charcoal flavor you expect with a steak. Sadly, there was no grill at Dooky Chase. Lastly Travis prepared a traditional biscuits and gravy dish with a sour plum jam. Anthony really loved the idea of adding a jam to the dish, but everyone agreed that the biscuit was raw. “If you’re going to serve biscuits at this table, it’s gotta be spot-on,” said Emeril.

The second group of chefs served up a range of dishes from pasta to shellfish. Nicholas created a ricotta gnudi with pancetta and peas. It is his daughter’s favorite dish and he tears up A LOT when describing it.  (In fact, while writing this review I got the following suggestion from a Facebook friend: “for your Top Chef recap - too many tears from dudes. just saying.”) The judges loved it though, and Anthony says, “I wish I was his daughter!”  

Shirley made Beijing noodles that everyone enjoyed and Stephanie shared mussels with picked peppers. Tom is a big fan of this combination.

The last group of chefs is made up of Justin, Carrie and Nina. Carrie dished up a creamed asparagus with a poached egg and toast. Hubert says, “I could go to town on this!” 

Nina prepared a curried chicken dish that was a “taste of the islands." Most of the judges enjoyed it, but both Padma and Leah said they wish there was rice in the dish instead of avocado. 

Lastly, Justin – who is also a hometown guy – made a Louisiana rice with chicken thigh gravy. The judges all agreed that they would have enjoyed more gravy on the dish and it was a bit dry.

As the chefs all wait in the Stew Room, the judges try to pick apart this week’s dishes and it proves to be a difficult task. They were served so many wonderful things that it will come down to nitty-gritty elements in each dish.

Padma asks to first see Nicholas, Stephanie and Carlos. Padma prefaces to the chefs how difficult their choices were this week. Luckily for this group – they are on top. In the end, Nicholas and his tear-seasoned gnudi dish won him another week of competing in the kitchen.

Next, the judges ask to see Travis, Brian and Justin.

Brian gets “grilled” by the judges for his steaks lack of grill flavor. They also discover Travis was unhappy with his biscuits from the start. Justin gets a bit defensive over his dish when he was asked why he would make something he usually craves, but typically does not make himself.

The judge’s final decision came down to some not-so-chilled butter. Travis’ raw biscuits caused him to pack his knives and go.

Travis leaves us all with some words of wisdom for the week: “That’s alright. You live and die by the biscuit.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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