Top Chef: New Orleans Recap
By David Mumpower
January 14, 2014
Previously on Top Chef, Stephanie finally impressed her celebrity crush, John Besh. She also earned entrance into his house and mentally did some slight re-arranging of the furniture, bought new drapes and remodeled the kitchen. Mr. Besh’s wife should sleep with one eye open.
Carrie’s experience during the episode was less positive. After being the most consistent chef for the body of the season, Carrie struggled with a dish during the Louisiana State cooking challenge. Then, she failed to highlight the local fish products during a fish challenge. The lingering memory of her prior dish in combination with her struggles on the current one caused Carrie to be voted out of the competition. Then, Louis won again in Last Chance Kitchen, and so Carrie went from being a strong contender to being eliminated in a single episode. With such a similarly talented group of chefs remaining, such surprises may become the norm from here.
Tonight’s episode begins with another reminder that Nick and Carlos are fighting. The latest eruption in their passive/aggressive feud involved Nick’s knife. The Philadelphian grudgingly allowed his Mexican counterpart to borrow the ultra-sharp blade in order to complete his sushi dish on time. Nick firmly stated that the cutlery had sentimental value as a former wedding present. Carlos promised to treat it well. At the end of the episode, Nick found the fish encrusted knife, and bemoaned its unclean state. This moment of selfishness on Carlos’ part caused me to appreciate that Top Chef IS long overdue for a knife fight. I mean, every player shows up armed for combat.
With so few remaining contestants in the winner’s bracket, there is not a lot to discuss beyond the Nick/Carlos bro-feud. Stephanie and Nick discuss whether or not there will be immunity at the Quickfire challenge, and Stephanie savors her victory in the John Besh’s Second Wife challenge. Then, the editing cuts to world famous French chef Jacques Pépin in the Top Chef kitchen. Already, the Quickfire is ready to begin.
Today’s competition is straightforward but deviously difficult. Pépin prepares his “all-time favorite dish”, dover sole with artichokes and asparagus. The remaining half dozen cheftestants are expected to replicate his food. The one who is closest in technique and quality will earn immunity during the Elimination challenge. That aspect is an unexpected wrinkle. Immunity is usually off the table at this stage of the season so the stakes for the Quickfire challenge are exponentially higher than normal.
The players watch humbly as they are honored with the greatest cooking lesson of their lives. At the age of 78, Pépin has lost none of his cooking skills. He operates with an easy confidence. Stephanie, unofficial narrator of season 11, describes his performance as “literally effortless." As always, she has summarized the spectacle perfectly. The highlight of the preparation, at least for me, is when he needs only moments to shape butter shavings into a “butter rose." There is a three minute video of this on YouTube that doesn’t look any better. Pépin crafts his rose in less than five seconds. He then suggests wryly (but honestly) that the contestants can “now charge 30 bucks for it”. Chefs do not get world famous by cooking skill alone.