First, the links to the organizational top tens, with comments, 2013 impact guys, and sleepers.
So Sheldon thinks Stefan was the front-runner until he was eliminated, but I have a hard time thinking Sheldon or anyone really believed that. Brooke has been cleaning up, especially with Kristen gone, and there’s no way the other chefs in the house haven’t noticed that. As the group arrives in Juneau – the only US state capital with no roads leading in/out of town, and the only one to border another country – Sheldon says he should put extra underwear on to “keep the package nice and warm.” Somehow this is less creepy coming from Sheldon than it did from Stefan. Still creepy, just less creepy. Slightly.
* Quickfire: Sean Brock of Husk is in the house! The chefs must cook at Tracy’s King Crab Shack, “Juneau’s #1 culinary destination” according to Padma, who doesn’t strike me as standard crab-shack clientele. The challenge is to create a dish highlighting Alaskan crab. Brock loves it with a little bit of lemon and dipped in butter. He says that’s too boring for Top Chef, but he’s right – good crab needs very little help to taste great. It’s the candy of the animal protein world.
* Lizzie makes a crab frittata with cherry tomato, garlic oil, and fried capers (drained, not soaked, so it came out very briny). I also feel like that’s a little 1970s brunchy for Top Chef. Brooke does a crab toast, trying to be as delicate as possible with the flavor of the meat, and serves it with a compound butter made from dungeness crab and the Alaskan king crab shells. She tops it with a sweet corn and leek salad for what was easily the best-looking of the four dishes. Josh butter-poaches his crab and serves it with bacon and succotash, saying his food is similar to Sean Brock’s. Along those lines, I think my writing is similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. Sheldon makes “miso” with crab innards and two kinds of crab, then uses pine needles to smoke his asparagus. I didn’t realize this was possible, since you can’t smoke using pine wood (or any other softwood) because of resins that can turn toxic when burned.
* Lizzie’s frittata was overcooked and the capers overpowered the crab. Josh served succotash to “a succotash snob,” his bacon overpowered the crab, and the butter sauce broke, after Josh said he thought he had this “in the bag.” Sheldon’s was simple and interesting, per Sean, between the faux-miso and the pine needle-smoking. Brooke’s looked too easy, and Sean says he didn’t want to like it, but it was flat-out delicious. Sheldon wins thanks to his ingenuity and use of the whole crab, grabbing a $5K prize but no immunity.
* Elimination challenge: Cook a dish with salmon and sourdough for guests at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. Why wasn’t I told about this tradition sooner? /moves to Juneau
* The chefs each get a large tub of a 31-year-old sourdough starter. This reminds me of Gus toting around his ten-year-old sourdough biscuit starter in Lonesome Dove and hating when he has to leave it behind. The chefs make their bread doughs the night before, working them by hand, which is probably bizarre for them since they would all have large Hobart stand mixers in their restaurant kitchens for making large batches. The real problem here, though, is that if you screw this up, there’s no recovery the next morning.
* Looks like they’re doing a warm rise in the kitchen rather than a cold rise overnight in the fridge, which produces more flavor. Or they’re doing two rises and the editing faked me out. It’s not that hard to do that to me.
* Sheldon’s self-description “I’m just a kid that plays the ukulele, came from a small town in Hawaii, started out as a dishwasher.” Also, Scott Brown drives a truck.
* The chefs get their salmon straight off the boat, packed in ice, still intact, with king, sockeye, and chum, at the very least, all available. Given the chefs’ tendency to cook salmon medium-rare if not rare, I’m a little concerned about the anisakis simplex parasite, which loves salmon and can cause some pretty nasty GI reactions as well as triggering anaphylaxis in some people. Other than that, it’s great.
* Sheldon decides to make pea soup for the first time ever even though it’s not his style – why do that? Why take this risk on a dish that, if executed perfectly, will still just be pea soup?
* Josh’s wife is already dilated while he’s working in the kitchen. My wife would have castrated me if I’d tried to travel when she was 8 months pregnant, let alone 9, which she never reached anyway since my daughter came five weeks early. Seriously, though, go home.
* The color of this salmon is absolutely insane – if you like fish, especially cooking it, you’ve got to be going insane with jealousy as you watch this. Lizzie, meanwhile, is doing a beet glaze, which is all about color, not flavor, so she’s going to take this gorgeous red fish and dye it magenta.
* Tom questions Brooke’s decision to poach the fish to order. Searing and holding really risks overcooking it though, and poaching can be quick if you can hold the liquid’s temp. I get this, plus Brooke executes almost every time out. Mostly Tom just likes to freak the front-runners out, I think.
* And we’re at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. There are bears in the trees. Bears. In the trees. Why is no one concerned about this? Have they never heard of Timothy Treadwell?
* Hugh is back! And Sean sticks around for the elimination challenge, so why is Gail here with four serious chefs (those two, Tom, and Emeril) in the house? (That’s rhetorical, people. I know the answer – both answers, really.)
* To the dishes, starting with Brooke, who does a lightly poached sockeye in seafood broth with mustard-seed caviar and grilled dill sourdough. The broth is really nice with a good amount of acid, although Hugh says the mustard seeds looked weird when they broke down. She nailed the bread, with the dill tying in to the salmon. This reminds me of a place that used to be in central Arlington, Massachusetts, called Blue Plate Express, that did an unbelievable rosemary flatbread, grilled to order. I’ve never had anything quite like it – thicker than a fresh pita, but still clearly a flatbread.
* Sheldon makes a green tea and chive sourdough, then uses both chum and sockeye in his pea soup, which has a king crab, shrimp, and salmon bone base. Padma doesn’t like the green tea and chive together, and Emeril says the bread didn’t have any salt. Everyone says the salmon is too smoky. Sean is offended to see Sheldon mishandle (or manhandle?) the fish with his tongs. He likes the soup, but Hugh thought it was too thick, saying it reminded him of baby food: “Good baby, healthy baby, well-flavored baby.” Hugh, baby food doesn’t actually have babies in it. Some locals are acting like chum is an inferior fish and can’t believe Sheldon used it. Isn’t that the trend now, though – using less-glorified species that are more plentiful or sustainable, just like using the whole animal instead of just certain portions? That’s very much Sheldon’s ethic too.
* Emeril says when Katrina was coming, his chef brought the sourdough home, took it when he evacuated, fed it, and had it ready when they reopened three months later. That’s dedication.
* Josh does a roasted garlic and sourdough soup, sockeye salmon, and black olive croutons. The salmon is well cooked, the soup has a ton of flavor, but the two don’t go together very well, with the garlic overpowering the salmon. I’m just shocked that he didn’t serve it in a bowl made of bacon.
* Lizzie figures that with everyone else doing some kind of soup, she should do something not-soup, instead making sliders on sourdough rolls, with citrus- and beet-glazed salmon sliders with poppy seed butter and red onion and cucumber pickles. The bread is a clear winner, with huge marks from all judges and the locals, but the fish was bland.
* As the judges walk off, apparently into the forest to go foraging, a woman shouts, “Bye Emeril! I love you!” I can just assume they edited out what was hollered at Padma.
* The judging – Lizzie gets big praise for the roll’s crust and for hand-rolling them, and even for nicely cooked salmon, but it just wasn’t seasoned. She writes her own death warrant when she says she didn’t taste it all together, just tasting the components by themselves. I also thought she might have had too much roll vs filling, although if the filling wasn’t seasoned it wouldn’t have mattered. I love fish, but it needs salt just like every other protein does. Sheldon’s bread was just so-so, and the salmon was too smoky, but the fact that he used an ingredient (chum) that the locals typically feed to their dogs may have been his saving grace, even with too much smokiness in the fish itself. They rave about Brooke’s broth more than anything else in her dish. Sean was “crazy about that bread.” Yeast-raised flatbreads are awesome, really. Josh gets big praise from Emeril for bread soup and his use of garlic (shocker); Hugh says the salmon was awesome, but it got lost under the garlic. So Josh executed but the concept wasn’t there. This all seems pretty straightforward so far – Brooke is clearly going to win, and Lizzie or Sheldon will go home.
* Winner, both with judges and “nearly all the locals” the judges spoke with, is Brooke. Green Mountain Coffee is sending her and a guest to Costa Rica. This is her fourth elimination win and sixth win overall. She and Kristen have combined to win (or, in one case, share the crown) eight of the 13 elimination challenges. Besides those two, only Sheldon has multiple elimination wins (2).
* Now the interesting part, the debate over who goes home. Josh had “a balance issue” (per Tom), Lizzie’s was too bland (Tom) and too simple (Sean), while Sheldon didn’t do a great job with either of the key ingredients (Padma). In this discussion, Sheldon comes out the worst, with talk of bitterness in the fish.
* Lizzie ends up eliminated after all. Padma sounds upset as she tells Lizzie to hit the road. Lizzie cooked the least ambitious dish, and then she didn’t taste it, which had to offend the sensibilities of the chefs on the panel. We had a chance for an all-female final with her, Brooke, Kristen, but it wasn’t meant to be.
* Last Chance Kitchen: Both chefs make fish stews. Lizzie’s dish was so good Tom said she would have won the elimination challenge with it, but Kristen wins anyway, of course. Tom took just one bite of Kristen’s and seemed to be laughing to himself over how complex it was. Maybe Lizzie ran into a buzzsaw. I wonder if she’ll win the Save-a-chef contest against CJ now; she’s certainly more likeable and fared better in the main competition.
* New ranking: Kristen, Brooke, Sheldon, Josh. The only elimination that would surprise me next week would be Brooke. Josh seems weaker than Sheldon, but Sheldon’s had execution issues in the last two elimination challenges. Anything other than Kristen vs. Brooke in the finale would be a disappointment, though.