Today’s Klawchat was a bit short, but I’ll do a big one on the 30th when my top 100 prospects package is up.
Right after last episode’s elimination, the remaining chefs are in the kitchen, Shirley crying on Nina’s shoulder, Nick looking hollow. Nina says to the two of them that they “should be proud” because their chef-leader, Dominique Crenn, planned an ambitious menu. Nick’s response was telling: “Cause I sent Stephanie home, I should be proud of that?” We would have been far better served seeing that scene in the previous episode – and Nick especially would have benefited, as there would have been a lot less speculation about him tanking the challenge on purpose.
* Quickfire: Roy Choi, the “king of the food truck,” is back. He’s the genius behind the Korean taco craze. Also, emphasis on “craze,” as Choi is a little nuts. The challenge is for the chefs to create their own takes on a po’ boy sandwich, as Choi did with tacos, and they have just 20 minutes to do it. For reasons no one can quite understand, the winner gets immunity again. I’m glad we’ve learned from last week’s mistakes.
* Is it just me or are there more obvious product placements in this episode than before? Dunkin Donuts, Morton Salt, and Reynolds parchment paper all get loving close-ups in the first ten minutes. I guess it beats subliminal placements.
* So each chef is doing something related to where s/he grew up. Nick’s is a New England version, with fried shrimp, mayo, sriracha, fennel, and pancetta. This sounds a lot like a New Orleans fried shrimp po’boy, just with different toppings. Not that that’s a bad thing; I just don’t see it winning a challenge.
* Shirley does a Chinese po’boy, with sauteed catfish and what I think is a mirin-ginger-garlic-black vinegar-soy glaze and a cabbage slaw. (I wasn’t clear if all of those ingredients were in the glaze.)
* Nina goes Caribbean, with a deep-fried mahi po’boy with a mojo aioli and pickled onions. I have no idea why you’d deep-fry mahi mahi. That is a gorgeous fish just grilled with salt, pepper, and some citrus juice. Frying just hides it.
* Brian goes Korean, with an Asian lobster po’ boy with gojuchang aioli, yuzu, and pickled napa. Can you really pickle something in under 20 minutes? At that point, isn’t it just marinated?
* Carlos goes Mexican with an al pastor (pork) po’boy with chile guajillo, pineapple, onion, and garlic.
* Choi hammers them. I didn’t see this coming at all, but he says “y’all fucked this shit up,” that they cooked without soul and didn’t take advantage of the giant blank canvas. Carlos’ al pastor lacked flavor. Nick’s was too salty and wasn’t balanced. Brian’s didn’t taste of gojuchiang. Nina’s didn’t pop for him. Choi liked Shirley’s, praising the pickled veg, the catfish, and the hints of black vinegar, but says it “didn’t represent her as a Chinese chef.” I don’t know what that means. Anyway, she wins Least Prize and gets immunity.
* Elimination challenge: Who’s the big winner her tonight in the kitchen? Oh, it’s Jon Favreau. He’s working on a film called “Chef” about a chef who has lost his culinary “voice,” so he opens up a food truck and goes cross-country with his son. The challenge is to reate a dish representing a turning point in the chef’s career that led him/her to discover his/her own culinary voice.
* Brian reveals that before turning his life around, he had a problem with alcohol and eventually had a DUI and spent 24 hours in jail. Twenty-four hours for putting the lives of everyone else on the roads with him at risk, as well as anyone else who might have been in his car. That seems fair.
* Why are they hiding Gail’s pregnancy? Are they concerned about messing up the storyline? Also, Gail had her baby last week and named her … Dahlia. That’s a lovely name, except it immediately evokes the nickname for one of the most notorious unsolved murders in U.S. history, so maybe she could have picked another flower?
* And why are they captioning Shirley when she’s talking? If you can’t understand her, you’re not trying. Eric Ripert was harder to grasp and I don’t remember him getting the dang-furriner treatment.
* Nina says Nick overthinks everything and has a short fuse. Hard to argue with either point there.
* Nick’s being dickish in the kitchen, yelling at Carlos (but really at everyone, even the imaginary chefs in his head), “do not move my pots, do not fucking move my pots, do you understand me?” They’re not your children, Nick. They can tell you to fuck off. I kind of wish Carlos would, at this point; he shouldn’t have to take that from Nick.
* Nina was planning to make agnolotti, a delicate filled pasta, but as she rolls her pasta out it’s breaking and sticking in the rollers because the kitchen is so hot. She switches to fettuccine, which is fine, but why not try to chill the dough as you work? I have flexible ice packs that I can unroll and lay under a half-sheet pan to create a quick-cooling surface for doughs that are getting too soft on the counter. Roll, chill on the pan, roll again. It’s a little unwieldy but it works, since the gap between “too warm” and “just right” is very small.
* Brian, the drunk-driving genius, is shown spraying the open grill with what I assume is cooking spray, causing flare-ups. This is also incredibly stupid, as spraying a combustible aerosolized product over an open flame creates a temporary flamethrower. It can’t directly make the can explode, as the pressure in the can prevents the flame from getting into its contents, but it can also melt any plastic parts, and if you get too close to the flame or drop the can, then it can and probably will burst. So, you know, try an oiled paper towel instead, Lavoisier.
* Carlos is making pork belly, searing it first and then braising it. I don’t quite know the dish he’s making, but I would think you’d want to sear it afterwards, no? (EDIT: See the comments for more on this; I understand the point of the initial sear, but that presumes you’re using the same vessel, which I don’t think Carlos did.)
* Nick wants to toast some quinoa, so he puts it on a sheet pan in what he thinks is a 275 degree oven. However, you can see that the oven’s dial is all the way at the maximum mark on the right-hand side, and a subsequent close-up confirms that it’s at 500 degrees. Needless to say, people like white quinoa and red quinoa but blackened quinoa is not yet a thing.
* Shirley can’t believe Brian used boneless skinless chicken breasts. Neither can I. They have so little flavor of their own that you have to marinate them for hours to get any flavor at all in there – preferably cut up into cubes – or slice them into cutlets for breading and frying. Otherwise, they’re like plain tofu with better texture.
* They’re cooking and serving at Cafe Reconcile, opened in 2000 as a program to teach at-risk kids the basics of cooking and food service. Emeril’s foundation is involved, so he’s one of the judges. Almost 2000 students have graduated from there. A few work for Emeril now. The kids are the servers for the challenge, and they’ll also get to taste the dishes.
* Shirley is up first – she does seared snapper in a crustacean broth with silken tofu and napa cabbage. Everyone loves it. The fish is cooked perfectly with a perfectly crispy skin. She used leek and fennel, which is also the filling in the bacon-wrapped stuffed trout recipe in Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South. I made that recipe the other day, using bronzino instead of trout, and other than using bacon that was sliced too thickly to cook fully (my error) the results were amazing.
* Nina’s dish is fettuccine with charred calamari, pine nut gremolata, and crab meat. Again, raves all around. The woman can clearly make pasta. And this isn’t her usual tropical/Caribbean flavor palette.
* Brian makes a chicken anticucho, a Peruvian dish of grilled, skewered meat (usually beef), that he serves with twice-cooked potatoes, feta, and a walnut pesto. Emeril’s twice-cooked potato is still raw inside, and Tom loses his mind over Brian using boneless, skinless, flavorless chicken breasts. Seriously – if you know how to break down a chicken, buy the whole bird. You’ll pay marginally more than you would for the breasts alone, and you get the remaining parts, the skin, the bones (for stock), the liver, and, if you’re into that kind of thing, the heart and kidneys too.
* Carlos makes his braised pork belly with a sweet potato puree and a chipotle tamarind glaze. It was one of the first dishes he put on the menu when he opened his own restaurant, and this might be the most praise he’s gotten for a dish all season. Emeril says you can taste every element, and Tom says they all have a purpose. I need a report from one of you who’s been to his restaurant.
* Nick’s concept was to showcase carrots in a slew of different ways, something he did at his previous job when they switched to a tasting-menu format. He builds it around a seared hunk of yellow-fin tuna, serving it with several preparations of carrot and some fennel pollen dust. He told them about the missing quinoa, which may have been a tactical error (don’t tell them what’s missing, let them figure it out themselves). The sauces and oils are good, but the whole plate is underseasoned, especially the fish, and of course there’s no texture contrast on the plate. The kids liked the other four dishes, but they don’t like Nick’s at all, one calling it “not nasty … but too gooey.”
* Judges’ table: All five chefs go in, to see five judges all crammed behind the judges’ table. If they all roll over, will one fall out? Also, Gail looks very good when pregnant. Not that you’d know she was from watching the show.
* They don’t specifically say who’s up and down, but the top three were Nina, Shirley, and Carlos, and all three got universal praise. Nick’s lack of texture and lack of cohesion on the dish put him in the bottom two, while Brian’s protein choice, raw potato, and overall heaviness put him there.
* Winner: Shirley, aka Girl On Fire. Carlos was very slightly behind, and Nina was also safe. That’s Shirley’s third elimination win, matching Nina, and her fourth Quickfire win, one more than Brian (who also won one as part of a team of six).
* Tom, right before one of the two remaining chefs gets the axe, says, “one of you will have to reconcile with…” something I couldn’t hear because I was groaning at the awful pun. For shame, Colicchio.
* Brian is eliminated. I would guess Nick survived because his dish was more ambitious, although the judges don’t explain their reasoning. On the other hand, I’m a little surprised there was no holdover from last week, where the judges might have used Nick’s dish, the worst of that episode, and his refusal to surrender immunity as deciding variables.
* LCK: This should have been the tater tot challenge, but instead it’s the skin-and-bones battle, with chicken, duck, and pork available (no meat, just the skin and bones). Neither uses duck skin, which shocked me, as that would be my first choice to cook or to eat. Louis roasts his vegetables under pork skin, serves it with crispy chicken skin and a warm poached egg yolk, and nabs what Tom calls the best thing he’s eaten all season, so Brian loses despite cooking a pretty good dish himself.
* Rankings: Shirley, Louis, Nina, Nick, Carlos. Louis’ comeback has been impressive, but what’s clear now is, befitting a former Thomas Keller protegé, the man can really cook him some vegetables.