We're back! Down to 7 cheftestants. They toast themselves in the Stew Room. Nina realizes being on the bottom is a reality check; and she doesn't want to be there anymore. Carrie said while she's sad Justin is gone, she's glad she doesn't have to compete against him.
Stephanie calls her boyfriend the next morning. She had hired him at one of "her" restaurants (umm, not actually your restaurant, Steph!), to work as a line cook. She had a crush on him, so she got herself scheduled to work the line with him every Saturday night and things progressed from there. He stuck with her last season when she got booted the first episode, so she wants to prove to him she can win it.
Meanwhile, Nicholas is still upset that Carlos lied to the judges, and pretty much says so in front of Carlos as they're buttoning up their TC chef coats.
The head back into to TC kitchen, which is crawling with crawfish. John Besh and Padma greet them, as does a crawfish who has his claws raised as if to fight the chefs.
The Quickfire Challenge is to make etouffée. They want their interpretation of the dish, with Padma telling them all that the word means "to smother" in French. The winner will get immunity, and they have 45 minutes.
It turns out that Stephanie is allergic to shellfish - she can eat any seafood *unless* it turns red in water. Carlos gets her her shellfish so she doesn't have to touch them. She has an epi-pen handy, and Carrie has told her she will stab her in the back (with the epi-pen!) should the need arise. Nicholas also tells her that if she needs him to taste her dish for seasoning, she should let him know.
Carlos has never heard of etouffée, so he's making a Mexican soup that usually uses shrimp, but he'll use the crawfish. Shirley is going with a Singaporean style etouffée, and Brian is going with Korean flavors.
Nina - Italian Style Etouffée with Pici Pasta & Tomato Crawfish Broth (both Besh and Padma like Nina's dish)
Carrie - Spanish-Style Etouffée with Crawfish Broth, Chickpeas & Almonds
Nicholas - Crawfish with Shrimp Mousse Stuffed in Napa Cabbage with Brandy & Corn
Shirley - Singapore Chili Crab Etouffée with Crawfish Stock, Cucumber & Egg (VERY much enjoyed by Besh)
Brian - Etouffée with Gochujang, Corn, Peppers, Crab Meat, Crawfish Andouille & Pasta
Carlos - Soup with Crawfish, Guajillos, Garlic, Corn, Potatoes & Crispy Chorizo. Padma asked Carlos "what are you smothering?" and he doesn't know what she means. She redefines what Etouffée means (literally, "to smother") and Carlos said "I put some crispy chorizo in there."
Stephanie - Crawfish Bisque with Parisian Gnocchi & Poached Crawfish
Bottom Dishes - Carrie, Nicholas, Stephanie, Carlos
Top Dishes - Brian, Nina, and Shirley
The winner is Shirley - thanks to her husband, since she perfected the dish for him.
For the Elimination Challenge, Louisiana Seafood is having a party at the River City Plaza at Mardi Gras World. The cheftestants are to provide the food. John Besh said that local chefs are inspired by the bounty of what the Gulf provides, and they often combine lots of different seafoods together. They are to create a dish highlighting at least two different seafoods. Padma tells them they will have 3 hours to cook on location before 1000 guests arrive. The shock on the cheftestants' faces is palpable! And then Padma says "I'm only kidding! It's only 200!" Both she and Besh laugh at their relief. But John Besh has a surprise for them - he's going to take them to his home on Bayou Liberty tonight and cook simple Louisiana food for them.
Gorgeous mansion he lives in; he prepares various appetizers and dishes for them - old school Louisiana food. He has the winner, Shirley, taste a dish to tell him what else is needed - just a little more salt, she says, so he adds a bit more salt from the salt pig!
Brian asks Besh's wife if she grew up in Louisiana as well, and she says that she and Besh grew up together - they knew each other from kindergarten.
Besh asks them what is the best part and worst part of Top Chef; Stephanie notes that this is her second shot at Top Chef. She said you win some, you lose some, but her pride in her cooking has continued to rise. Besh said that some of the best chefs perform the worst, because they bite off more than they can chew, and that was always his fault - you overthink it. He said as you grow, you learn to cook from your heart.
The next day, they head off to the challenge. Brian asks Carlos "You're doing crudo? Better have sharp knives." He said "Any time crudo is thick, it doesn't eat the same. You saw yesterday at John Besh's house, they were all consistent."
They arrive at Mardi Gras World and run to the seafood truck to choose what they're going to cook with. Some take amberjack and tuna, some take swordfish and shrimp, some take wahoo, some take oysters and tuna, some take oysters and flounder.
Nicholas doesn't like the brinyness of his buckets of pre-shucked oysters, so he finds a tray of fresh unshucked oysters and starts to open them. He knows it'll take a very long time to prep his food. Meanwhile, Carlos says he knows during Restaurant Wars, the slices of his fish wasn't well received, so he's going to go as thin as he can. He looks to be butchering the cutting of the crudo using his knife, and asks Nicholas if he has a sushi knife he could use. Nicholas said no, only the one he's using. Then in the camera confessional, Nicholas said "Seriously? If you want to do sushi, shouldn't you have a knife that is sharp enough to do that? Why do you have to borrow mine?" Carlos says in the confessional "Nicholas, stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about other people." IRONIC coming from Carlos.
Forty-five minutes to service, Carrie is pressed for time forming the fritters she's making, but she knows there's no safe area to hide anymore, so she has to pull it out. Meanwhile, Carlos asks Nicholas *again* if he can borrow his sushi knife. Nicholas is not super-thrilled with him asking, but he sees that Carlos is a bit behind so he cleans his sharp knife and hands it to Carlos, saying "this is very important to me - it was a wedding gift." Carlos' cuts seem to be going much better but he's still running out time. He thinks the only way to save time is to cut the portions in half, but he doesn't want to be sent home for serving too little fish.
The guests start to arrive and partake of the food, and then the judges arrive...Colicchio, Padma, John Besh and Hugh Acheson. Padma asks the other judges what the risk is for this competition - Besh said thinking about cooking for 200 people vs. figuring out the dish that would win. Tom C. said he'd rather fail in a big way vs. being stuck in the middle.
Stephanie has a long line, but she said when she figured out what dish she was going to make, she didn't think about plating. She's batch-frying her oysters a la minute so everyone had the same dish. The judges are looking at her line and realizing that she's backed up.
BRIAN - Grilled Swordfish, Shrimp & Sweet Onion Purée with Fennel Daikon Relish. Besh thinks he did a great job cooking the fish, with the bit of spice at the end, Tom C. also really likes his dish.
NICHOLAS - Oysters 3 Ways: Oyster Leek Soup, Oyster Champagne Emulsion, Oyster Green Apple Yogurt & Cured Amberjack. Hugh said it's technically sound, and tastes advanced, but both he and Padma say that it needs some acid.
CARRIE - Flounder Croquettes with Oyster Emulsion & Pickled Cucumbers. Tom C. asks her with beautiful whole fish, why did she purée it? She said she loves bacalao and loves fritters, so she had to go that way. As Tom walks away, she swears under hear breath and said she realizes that flounder is a delicate seafood and perhaps she didn't highlight the seafood well enough. Besh said the flavor is good, but Tom said he doesn't understand why she puréed the whole fish - you do that with scraps. Besh said the redeeming factor was the little salad on top. Tom said "Yeah, if we were doing the challenge for the Louisiana Cucumber Council, it would be great!" LOL
SHIRLEY - Tuna & Amberjack Ceviche with Aged Soy Sauce, Lime Dressing & Toasted Pecans (and Crispy Fried Shallots). Hugh liked the dish, bright flavors, and the pecans added a nice bite. Padma said she she also looked happy, and Hugh replied "Good food is cooked by happy people."
NINA - Marinated Wahoo with Salsa Verde, Tonnato Sauce & Pickled Vegetables. Besh loved the seared wahoo, Tom thinks the flavors are great.
CARLOS - Amberjack Ceviche with Rustic Peach & Shrimp Relish. Hugh thinks the fish was under-seasoned, and it needed a bit of acid. Meanwhile, Tom said the dish tasted good, but he thought the fish needed to be cut more thickly! LOL Besh thought the dish as a whole was good, but he didn't taste the fish.
STEPHANIE - Fried Louisiana Oysters with Tuna & Pickled Beech Mushrooms. Besh said the acid's good, Tom said the oyster is fresh, which is the toughest challenge. They both seemed to like the dish.
The judges do a bit of on-site discussion about how the chefs highlighted the Louisiana seafood, and Besh said the foods that were made spoke of the chefs and told them a story. Meanwhile, Nicholas walks over to Carlos' station and finds his special knife tucked back amongst the prep dishes. He pulls it out, and calls out to Carlos and said "Are you done?" Carlos puts his hands together as if praying and bows in thank you, and nods yes. Nicholas walks away. He said there's dried crusty pieces of fish stuck to the knife - Carlos didn't clean his knife. He said "if I go out of my way to let you borrow something you should sure as hell go out of your way to take care of my knife!" He's pissed off.
Nina asks "Did you get your knife back from Carlos?" Nicholas shakes his head and said it was just sitting out, crusted up with shit. Now it's all stained up. Nina says in the confessional "In the chef world, somebody's knife is very personal. It's an extension of you. I'd be pissed as well." Carlos comes over and says to Nicholas "You put away your knife, right?" Nicholas said "Yeah, I cleaned the shit out of it!" Carlos replies "I'm sorry - I can clean it for you!" Nicholas retorts "I've already cleaned it. I told you it was an important knife to me!" Carlos said in the confessional that he realizes he messed up; he didn't have time to clean up, yeah, it's his fault. But he's here to compete, and that's what he's going to do. Nicholas feels like he was taken advantage of and won't trust Carlos again.
In the in-between, Stephanie and Nina discuss how beautiful Padma is and that her hair is perfect. Stephanie said "I wear my hair in a ponytail every day, and I've been doing that for 28 years, and mine doesn't look that way!" They realize that Padma could hear Stephanie talk about her, as she just played with her hair. Stephanie said "Do you think we'd get in trouble if we just walked up to them and said 'Padma, your shorts look really great today; I love your shoes. You have a hair out of place. Please pack up your brush and go.'" :-)
They're in the Stew Room. The TV comes on, and Besh said they executed the use of the Louisiana seafood very well, but Tom said he would have liked to have seen more seafood on some dishes. Besh said he was surprised at how much raw seafood there was; they played that safe, ceviche card. But Padma thought Nina's was the most flavorful, and Besh was pleased she chose the wahoo. He also thought Shirley's ceviche dish was very good, as he could taste the different fish she used. Tom and Padma thought Brian's dish was excellent, and Hugh and Tom both liked Stephanie's perfect fried oyster. Besh said Carlos' shrimp, peaches, and habanero went well together; you just couldn't taste the fish. Tom said he watched Carlos slice the fish, and then watched him cut it in half. They ended up having a fruit salad with some fish in it. Tom thought Nicholas's concept was overthought with the champagne foam; Hugh said it was flat. Padma and Tom were surprised at Carrie's croquette. (I think we know how the bottom three are!)
Padma comes in and asks for Stephanie, Nina and Brian. They are the top group - and Nicholas is pissed. Padma notes that Stephanie seems relieved, and she is. Tom asked if she had thought about being in the land of fried oysters, and she said she hadn't thought it that far through when she conceived the dish. Besh said when he saw the fried oyster, he thought "really?" but that she pulled it off. Hugh said the salad element made the dish light.
Tom tells Brian that he could have had a bowl of the sauce and been happy. Besh thought it was gutsy to cook the fish a la minute for 200 people, and he pulled it off.
Nina wanted to highlight the seafood in the best way possible. Hugh said he liked the spicing on her dish, and appreciated her using the wahoo. Padma said the flavors were out of this world.
The winner, as announced by John Besh, is Stephanie! YAY! She looks to Nina with a big happy grin and says "I'm gonna puke!" She's very pleased that she did so well with this Besh challenge, as compared to her tomato challenge sorrows.
Nicholas, Carlos, and Carrie are sent in to hear the bad stuff. Carrie's croquette was perfectly crispy and crunchy, but when she did all the over-preparation to the fish, you no longer taste the inherent flavor of the fish, which was already subtle. Tom asks her if this was the best way to highlight the fish, and Carrie said she was trying to show technique as well. Tom said "This wasn't about technique; it was about highlighting seafood."
Carlos's peach and shrimp salsa was good, but the piece of fish was too small. Tom called it a peach dish, and not a fish challenge.
Nicholas had a good complexity to his dish, but to Hugh, it was a textural issue and an acid issue. Tom said the dish ate really soft. The apple was too small so the crunch was lost. Besh said the amberjack just appeared to be thrown in.
The judges deliberate. Hugh didn't like Carrie's sauce and didn't elevate the flounder. Carlos didn't highlight the amberjack or shrimp. Nicholas highlighted the oyster flavor, but the texture was his downfall.
They're back in front of the judges; whooshing camera shots; Tom reviews. Padma announces who's asked to PYKAG - it's Carrie. (Wow! I *really* thought it was going to be Carlos, considering how much he was highlighted in this episode!) Padma watches them walk away, and says she's going to miss Carrie in the kitchen. But Tom said she didn't highlight the seafood. (But then again - neither did Carlos! They got a a fruit salad, whereas at least Carrie's croquette was perfectly cooked! I'll be interested to read Hugh's blog on how this judging went - I still think it should have been Carlos to go home.)
The other chefs are disappointed to see her going. She heads off to Last Chance Kitchen.
Previews show Jacques Pepin in the kitchen with Padma, and it seems to be a French vs. Spanish competition.