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'Top Chef' recap, 'Piggin' Out'

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It’s getting hot in here!

Something that we would definitely expect from being in the South is some heat. For this QuickFire Challenge, the chefs are tasked with creating and bottling their own hot sauce in 45 minutes.

This challenge proves particularly difficult, because there is nothing for the chefs to hide behind.  In a normal challenge, maybe their risotto is a disaster, but at least their filet is impeccable. Not with this challenge.

Padma is joined by Grammy-winning musician Dr. John to taste the sauces simply on a toothpick. Dr. John is looking for something that’s “gotta have some hip tang."

The chefs take many directions, from pure South to Caribbean to Mexican.

Dr. John is not loving Nicholas’ smoked apricot hot sauce, Carrie’s Trinidadian pepper sauce or Nina’s Caribbean habanero sauce. Yes, you read that correctly, Nina is not a favorite. I’ll give you a minute to gather yourself.

The favorites come from Brian and his jalapeno, lime and Yuzu sauce; Justin’s hot pepper with anchovy; and Carlos’ mango and passion fruit hot sauce.

In the end, Brian has the best hot sauce and wins himself immunity for the second week in a row.  Looks like Nina may have some competition.

Let’s jump -- or roll -- right into the Elimination Challenge. A giant pig -- like, a 300-pound, "Biggest Loser" contestant giant -- is wheeled into the kitchen. The chefs discover that they will be participating in a New Orleans tradition called a “Boucherie.”

A boucherie is a community butchering of an animal to process the different cuts of meat, like sausage, ham and chops. The chefs begin to divvy up the pig and plan their dishes. I have some friends who want to split a cow, so now I can share some great recipes with them. Who knew that was even a thing?

To help the chefs get a better feeling for the event, they are joined by Cajun chefs John Link and Toby Rodriguez, who will also help judge the dishes. The chefs will have five hours to cook at Bayou Barn for 250 guests. Everyone will be serving their own dish, but must make sure that all parts of the pig are used.

After they successfully butcher their little piggy (and by little I still mean giant!), they head off to Whole Foods for the rest of their ingredients.  Upon returning to the house, they walk in to find Toby and Donald in the kitchen cooking dinner for them, to help them get a real feel for the boucherie.

While eating and chatting, we learn that both Carlos and Justin plan to prepare tacos the next day. A Taco Off!  Nina jokes that she is making tacos too – good thing she isn’t, since we all know at this point that she’d win.

At the Bayou Barn the next morning, the chefs are not only dealing with a giant pig, but a pretty big 'gator, too. Stephanie spots an alligator beyond a fence while they are cooking.  Hmm, maybe I am using the turn “fence” a little loosely. It was more like a few pieces of bamboo between chefs and certain death. Good thing alligators hate the smell of delicious cooking pork, right?

Time to “pig out!” The judges join the chefs to try all of their creations, and are loving it.  Each dish seems to be better than the next and they agree that judging will be extremely difficult this week.

Seriously, how do you get this gig? “Hey, we are going to need you to taste a bunch of delicious food; think you can handle that? Will that work for you?” Umm, yes. I am for hire, "Top Chef" producers.

The guests, as well as the judges, have certainly scored at this event. The chefs are knocking their dishes out of the ballpark.

Brian, who has immunity, creates a porchetta-with-mushroom dish. Sara makes a pork dim sum. Justin’s take on tacos is with wood-roasted pork and salsa verde.

Carlos, the other half of “taco wars,” makes a chorizo. Shirey’s is a guest favorite. She makes a dumpling, but is also the only chef to make “cracklings” (aka pork rinds) – a boucherie staple.

Louis uses the pork leg and combines it with onions and popcorn. Stephanie, who survived her near-gator attack, creates braised pork belly and vegetables. This is the closest thing to a bacon dish of the bunch. How do you have an entire pork challenge without some bacon?

Travis makes a ramen. Carrie serves up crispy trotters. Nicholas worked on a tete de cochon, which sounds fancy and delish, but in reality looks like cat food and is from a pig’s head.  This was the only dish that was not a part of my virtual smorgasbord. Lastly, Nina, who also used the pig’s head, creates a ragu and roasted corn dish.

Back at the Judges' table, there were some difficult decisions to make. The judges all agree that they truly enjoyed the food from Bayou Barn and will have to get really nit-picky with their choices.

Padma asks to first see Nina, Shirley and Carlos. They impressed the judge’s with their dishes and are on top this week. In the end, Carlos “takes home the bacon” and wins not only this week’s Elimination Challenge, but the Taco War between him and Justin.

Next, the judge’s ask to see Justin, Louis and Stephanie. Tom makes a point of telling the chefs that all of their dishes were delicious, so it will come down to the small things.

Ultimately, Louis and his pork-and-popcorn combination are not enough to piggyback into another week.  Please back your knives and go.

This episode made me so hungry – and if it wasn’t so late in the evening, I would have been calling for delivery. One of my notes literally reads: “I need some pork, ASAP.” But today’s a new day -- and a perfect time for some bacon.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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