Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top Chef, Part One of the Finale!

Everyone shows up in New Orleans to cook for Emeril. Hmmm, I have my doubts. I'm not really that into it on many levels. Yes to the competition, but not a seafood gal. Not a Cajun gal. This will be about watching, not salivating.

How much time has elapsed? Enough time for Fabio and Carla to both get goofy (goofier in Carla’s case) hair. Hosea and Stefan’s hair both look the same—ha! Bald boys. Not much to change up. So they roll up to Houmas House plantation (see picture below). Emeril's out front with with Padma and Tom. Button bursting Emeril, the King of Creole. He seems so proud and happy to be hosting.

Quickfire time. The finalists get to relax and enjoy some southern hospitality as they won’t be competing. Out come Jamie, Jeff and Leah, the last three knife-packers. They don’t know what’s going on… they get a chance to get back in to the competition!

This doesn't impress the finalists. It's one more chef to have to compete with at the REAL finale. Says Hosea: “That’s not really the math I want right now.” Ah well, does any of that have to do with Leah being in the re-cook crew?

The three losers get a chance back in to the competition by making a crawfish dish that Emeril will say is "winning." Off they go! Jeff makes crawfish and grits with andouille sausage. Leah makes gumbo with andouille sausage. (Are we sensing a trend?) And Jamie makes corn cakes with poached eggs and greens and a crawfish cream sauce. I think there was andouille sausage in there somewhere. Her dish sounds like the one I'd have liked best. Emeril, not so much. He picks Jeff. This is the same Jeff who says about himself (in the third person, always a favorite of mine) "Jeff’s mind has a couple of different people talking in it," as he's talking about running crazy during the quickfire. Really? That's not really a sentence you want to say out loud. One would think.

But it's only kind of a win... Jeff has to take the elimination challenge completely, winner take all, to get into the finale.

So the cheftestants all go Delmonico’s for dinner. I'm a bit nervous for them. Is it too much to think that they could have something sprung on them while they’re at dinner? That might be mean, but I would love that… some all-night cooking session… but no, that would be too gritty. They all get safely through dinner and on to a good night's sleep.

The finale set up is catering for party of 100. Create two appetizers: a creole dish and another of your choice to feed the crowd, and a cocktail. Prep and cook for five hours. One hour to set up before the party. Emeril says, “Bring your technique.” I found that humorous, given his reputation. But there's more to gumbo than I thought.

The winner of challenge wins a car. Everyone is quite excited about this. Fabio’s car is a piece of “poo-op” (say that with an Italian accent); he has really grown on me with his funny little sayings. He really works the Italian angle.

The cooking prep gets to take place at Emeril's flagship restaurant, Delmonico’s, where they had dinner the night before. They get full access to the kitchen and ingredients. How fun! No excuses for not having the right cajun spices.

And then... they cook:
Hosea: Gumbo, pecan crusted catfish
Carla: Oyster stew, shrimp and andouille beignet
Stefan: Duck and rabit gumbo with grits, apple beignet
Jeff: Fried oyster with sausage and arugula, crawfish pots de crème
Fabio: Sausage and rabbit maque choux with grits, crawfish and crab stew with homemade pasta, muffuletta bread

Tom seems to have less of a poker face than usual as he's strolling the kitchen mid-prep. Some rolled eyes, some “yikes” looks. Not sure why he seems more this way, this year. Does he doubt the talent? Just getting tired of the whole thing?

The event takes place at the New Orleans Museum of Art and is a masquerade ball. The beauty of the moment: Gail is BACK!!! I didn't realize how much I would miss her until she went away! Carla also seemed overjoyed, actually yelped when she saw Gail. Yeah, Carla didn’t have a lot of love for the Toby. Me neither.

Emeril is a very giving judge. Mostly nice things to say at the party. Seems eager to please. Maybe he’ll save his criticism for the judge’s table? There was some really fun presentation of some of the dishes in clear bowls and little boxes. Together the clump of judges moves from one station to the next... some general comments...
Jeff: Favorite cocktail of the night. Pots de crème was good, great texture. Oyster dish was good, the flavor of New Orleans. Generally the judges loved his food.
Fabio: They thought he did a good job of doing creole with Italian touch. Didn’t like his cocktail. Wanted some heat from his pasta.
Stefan: Gumbo over grits. Good grits. Gumbo not so much. Beignet not so good. Too calm, not stressed at all, they weren’t impressed with that attitude.
Carla: Oyster stew was very good. Beignet was smokin’ hot, herbal note at end, could have eaten all night; Emeril thought it was OK to do in batches and folks got them fresh.
Hosea: Gail liked his roux. Emeril thought it was as good as any restaurant in town. Fish dish seemed like it could be complicated, but wasn’t.

Sounds to me from the first round of discussion that Stefan is going home. Wow, if Jeff wins, then Fabio is out too? There go the Europeans… and their confident strut. But Jeff has to be the overall winner to make that happen… will that happen? He'd have to beat out Carla and Hosea... And then, good lord, Carla wins again. Simplicity, temperature, balance, flavor, yet creative, so says Emeril. Sad to see Jeff go when his food was so good, and thought so highly of. He was never my favorite, but he did give it his all with this challenge, I felt.

Stefan is gone, I feel pretty sure. OMG it is Fabio! I am stunned. And sad. I would not have thought Stefan would make it through that judge's table… they must really like his food to put up with that attitude.

Now we are down to Hosea, Carla and Stefan. Not how I would have pictured it. At this point I am loathe to back Stefan, don't like Hosea, and well, maybe Carla will pull it off. That would be amazing. Amazing as in shocking and unbelievable.

Here's a great recap I enjoyed reading tonight. You'd think I'd get tired of this stuff. You'd be wrong. But, for the record, I don't read anyone else's recap until I've written my own. Don't know why, just seems more fair that way...

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed, as always. It says a lot about you that I love reading your "Top Chef" reviews even though I don't watch the show. :)

    Curious, what do you think of NBC's upcoming "The Chopping Block"? Yay or nay?


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