Thursday, February 26, 2009

"With that attitude, you better be able to deliver."

Thursday, February 26, 2009
I'm appalled at my late posting for the last days of my beloved Top Chef! I promise to be better in my future recapping endeavors!

The competition has moved to New Orleans, and since a few months have passed (I’m not sure how many, or why this is always necessary on Top Chef), we have the obligatory airport arrivals and/or new hairdos. Fabio is sporting a fauxhawk, Carla’s hair is long and straight, and Stefan and Hosea have retained their shiny bald pates. I notice that Fabio is wearing a pink scarf, Stefan has apparently knocked back a few too many (it shows in his belly!), and Carla dances adorably to the tunes of the jazz band in the airport.

New Orleans is undoubtedly a cool place for the finale. Lots of history, interesting (and spicy!) food, and culture. The chefs’ first stop is a stunning Southern plantation, where Padma and Tom wait in front of three chef stations bedecked with red and white picnic tablecloths, accompanied by none other than the “King of Creole”, Emeril Lagasse. In case you’ve wondered why you’ve never seen Emeril before on Top Chef, that would be because the Food Network and/or Bravo will not allow such appearances. As Emeril no longer films new episodes for the Food Network, we can now be treated to his expertise. BAM!

The chefs are justifiably confused about the quickfire, because there are only three chef stations. Carla even worries that one of them will automatically be eliminated, on the spot. Do you see the cruelty that the chefs have come to expect from the producers?

They all breathe a sigh of relief when Padma informs them that they can “relax and enjoy some Southern hospitality”, instead of competing. This is the signal for the last three eliminated chefs to reappear. Leah, Jamie, and Jeff step out of the mansion’s front door, ready to try for one more chance at the finale. Leah is wearing more makeup than she has worn for the entire competition. Jamie looks great, with a fresh new ‘do and highlights. The producers inwardly lament that Dr. Chase refused to perform the quickfire shirtless.

Fabio and Hosea complain to the camera about the latest twist. While I find Hosea’s comments about Leah’s return to be puerile and slightly self-aggrandizing, I do understand the frustration felt by having to compete with one more chef. All of them have worked hard to achieve a spot in the finale, and it’s more than a little unfair to bring an eliminated chef back. Again, where was that generosity when my beloved Tre was eliminated? And Antonia? I had to look at Lisa’s sour mug for an entire finale last season when I could have been admiring Antonia’s delicious dishes!

Of course, I’m immediately pulling for Jamie-in my opinion, she is the most talented and deserving of the three. The chefs are tasked with creating a dish featuring crawfish, a traditional Creole ingredient. Emeril gazes at the chefs with a big smile on his face from the mansion’s second-floor porch while crawfish skitter around on the tables. Leah decides to make a gumbo (really? For the expert in gumbo, Emeril?), Dr. Chase makes crawfish and grits (despite having multiple personalities speaking in his mind), and Jamie opts for a griddled corn cake with poached eggs, andouille sausage, tasso hollandaise and crawfish. I’m already thinking she has it in the bag.

Despite her usage of the Holy Trinity (peppers, celery, and onion), Leah’s crawfish soup was not enough to please Emeril. Even though her dish incorporated unique aspects of Creole cooking, Jamie’s dish wasn’t quite spicy enough. Dr. Chase’s crawfish and grits, however, were right up Emeril’s alley! Thus, he is able to join Hosea, Fabio, Carla, and Stefan for a fighting chance for a coveted finale spot, with the provision that he has to WIN the elimination challenge. If he doesn’t, two chefs (including him) will be going home. No pressure at all, right?

The five chefs are left alone for the evening, to stew over what the elimination challenge could possibly be. Despite having gorgeous digs at the Hotel Monteleone, the special private dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico is quite somber. Carla, in particular, seems uncharacteristically serious. Hosea keeps insisting that he’s not worried about Stefan. Stefan keeps spouting off arrogant comments. The producers squeal in joy when Dr. Chase’s bare chest is revealed peeking out of his casually buttoned shirt.

The next day, the chefs are taken to a large warehouse, which is full of brightly colored Mardi Gras parade floats. Yes, a Mardi Gras challenge! Padma and Emeril share the details: the chefs will be catering the Orpheus Masquerade Ball, and they will have to create a cocktail and two dishes, one of which must be in the Creole/Cajun style. As an additional incentive, my new favorite car, the Toyota Venza, will serve as a prize for the winner of the challenge. I’ve been longing for Toyota to come out with a new station wagon-esque car, and of COURSE it would happen mere months after we purchased a brand new Camry.

Back to the challenge! After watching approximately 7 Toyota Venza commercials, we get back to the prep time. After checking out the impeccably stocked kitchen at Emeril’s Delmonico, the chefs get started on their menus:

Hosea: Duck, Andouille, and Chicken Gumbo
Pecan-Crusted Catfish with Tobasco Buerre Blanc
Hurricane with Grand Marnier and Rum

Carla: Oyster Stew
Shrimp and Andouille Beignet
Non-Alcoholic Cranberry Spritzer

Stefan: Duck and Rabbit Gumbo with Creamy Grits
Apple Beignet
Black Cherry and Rum Cocktail

Jeff: Fried Oyster with Sausage
Crawfish Pot de Crème
Cucumber Mojito

Fabio: Sausage and Rabbit Maque Choux with Grits
Crawfish and Crab Stew with Caserecci Pasta
Muffuletta Bread
Bell Pepper Martini

There was a lot of focus on the roux used for gumbo, which of course, archrivals Hosea and Stefan are both making. Hosea decides to spend the whole prep time concentrating on his perfect roux while Stefan took multiple smoke breaks and didn’t make his own sausage. Dr. Chase worried about making a winning dish, but he knows the area and flavors (of COURSE he does-was anyone else surprised by his knowledge?), so he’s confident. Carla just learned how to shuck an oyster five days ago, and she has to shuck 100 for her dish. Yikes. Fabio is, not surprisingly, bringing some Italian style to the dish, making his own pasta to accompany his crawfish and crab stew. He’s also making an extra dish, muffaletta bread. A bit worrisome. The editing went a bit overboard here, showcasing Stefan as an irresponsibly arrogant chef. It should have been a big clue, but I couldn’t help but hope that he’d finally get cut down a notch or two.

The chefs transport their dishes to the New Orleans Museum of Art, taking some time to get used to the pink and blue lighting. They have a few minutes to train their bartenders, and then it’s go time! Four masked individuals march down the elegant staircase, which we of course recognize as our judges: Tom, Padma, Emeril and the return of much-beloved Gail Simmons, who Carla is especially thrilled to see. I have to admit, I felt a burst of excitement watching the dramatic entrance-they all just looked great! Emeril took his mask very seriously, by the way.

Catering challenges are always really stressful on the show, but this one went off quite well. Not a single complaint from any of the native New Orleans-ians was shown, which is impressive considering they all probably had excellent palates. Making food to order can be quite dicey, but Hosea managed to do it with his catfish and Carla had an individual oyster shucked for each serving of stew. I would have dived right INTO that catfish, by the way. You know how I feel about crusted fish!

As for the judges’ opinions, Stefan’s grits were creamy and delicious, but his gumbo wasn’t as authentic as Hosea’s. Fabio did a good job in general, but his food just wasn’t a good, spicy representation of Creole food. Dr. Chase has an intelligent approach to his food, but that’s pretty much all the judges had to say about it (the reason behind this careful edit can be found here, in Tom’s blog). Carla hit an absolute homerun with her tasty oyster stew and perfectly New Orleans-inspired beignet.

Judges’ table was difficult for me to watch. Once it was determined that Jeff didn’t win, it was evident that the final decision would be between Stefan and Fabio. Stefan is probably the best technical chef of the group, and he certainly has had many wins throughout the season. However, as I’ve stressed before, the judges are to base their decision on the basis of each individual challenge, and not take into consideration past efforts. This is exactly why Carla managed to stay on for so long-she really came into her own later in the season. Needless to say, the judges determined that Fabio’s lack of spiciness was a greater sin than a lazy roux and bad attitude. I was crushed, to say the least, even though it’s nice to see all of the chefs put forth really strong dishes and I know that Fabio had a strong showing throughout the show. It’s just hard to stomach seeing a Fabio-less finale set against a backdrop of Stefan and Hosea bickering.

Recap for the official finale coming soon!

1 comment:

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