We're down to four in the TC Kitchen.
In the Stew Room, Nicholas is still baffled that he squeaked by for the third time in a row. Shirley says to him she respects what kind of chef he is, and says you can be an asshole, but she appreciates an asshole. He also freely acknowledges that he's an asshole.
Carlos gives the "I came here to cook food, not to make friends" schtick in the house the next morning. Shirley says Carlos is predictable and she thinks she can beat him in the finale.
When they arrive in the TC Kitchen, Padma is there with Gail and Tom. It's their last QF Challenge in New Orleans. Padma removes the cloche to reveal a key to a 2014 Toyota Corolla as the prize for this final QF win.
This is a 2-part Quickfire Challenge. Gail said all she wants is one perfect bite on a cocktail fork, including salty, sweet, a little sour, and just a bit of spice. Two of them will move on to Round 2. They have 20 minutes to create their perfect bite.
Nicholas knows that those who have been winning challenges are those that making dishes that are 3 or 4 ingredients, and he's making dishes with 7 or 8 ingredients, so he can't overthink this challenge. Both he and Shirley are going with steak, and Carlos and Nina are going with shrimp.
Nicholas asks Shirley if she turned up the oven or left it at 300°; she replies "sort of, but not really." Nicholas says "What do you you mean - you left it or you turned it up?" She said "I didn't turn it up; it's whatever it is!" He said "Don't get pissed, baby!" and she replies "You said it first!"
They are all having problems getting the ingredients they want to use on the small cocktail fork - Shirley says it's like playing Jenga.
Carlos - Grilled Mango with Shrimp & Chili Glaze.
Nicholas - Beef Deckle with Aged Balsamic & Purple Potato Chips.
Shirley - Tataki Style Flank Steak with Black Pepper Cherry & Crispy Onions. (When Gail picks up her fork, most everything but the steak falls off; Shirley whips out her chopsticks to pick up the ingredients and restack them.)
Nina - Shrimp Escabeche with Potato Aioli & Pickled Shallots.
Gail loved Carlos' flavors and Tom liked it starting sweet and finished with acid; Shirley's beef was cooked well, but wished it was tighter and Tom thought there was too much soy; Nicholas's deckle was cooked and seasoned well, Tom thought the crispy potato set it off nicely; Nina's shrimp was fantastic, but thought it ate a bit greasy, and Tom thought it was really successful.
The top 2 chefs in Gail's challenge of A Perfect Bite are Carlos and Nicholas. They'll be moving on to the next round to see who will win a car. Nina and Shirley move to stools to watch them.
Tom said he wants them to showcase a bell pepper or an eggplant - whoever gets to the table first gets their choice of vegetable. Carlos is aiming for the eggplant to make a marmalade. They have 20 minutes. Nicholas gets there first and grabs the eggplant; Shirley says "damn, that was fast!" Nicholas says in the confessional "Four-time varsity track; beat you up there, man!"
Nicholas notes highlighting vegetables is tough, he said he wants to do two different versions of eggplant to show versatility. Carlos is going with a soup. Nicholas says in the confessional that he thought Carlos was copping out by just doing a soup, "but we'll see what the judges say."
Carlos - Fried Red Bell Pepper Soup with Fennel, Basil & Onion.
Nicholas - Roasted Eggplant with Sesame Seed Sriracha, Tahini & Chili Threads.
Tom was hoping that Carlos would have featured the pepper in another way and not just pureed, but he thought the flavor of the soup was good; Gail loved the heat and thought it was a beautiful soup.
Tom thought Nicholas's eggplant could have been seasoned better; Gail loved how smooth and soft the eggplant was, and thought the tahini was delicious.
And Carlos wins the Corolla! He does a dance in the confessional and says "Nick, in your face!" Nicholas's confessional has him saying he's the only one who hasn't won a major thing - Shirley has won $10K and a car; Nina's won $10K, and Carlos just won the car. Nicholas gets a cup of sorrow.
Padma tells them that three chefs left standing will go onto the finale in Maui, Hawaii. She notes that each of them has experienced local cuisine and embraced those flavors in their own food. She welcomes Emeril, who has left his own mark on New Orleans. Emeril tells them that it's time to see what NOLA has done for them.
Padma tells them to take all the experiences, flavors and knowledge they've gotten in New Orleans and to create a dish that will leave their mark on the city. Emeril will host a dinner at which they'll serve their dishes, and has invited chefs who have left their mark on the culinary world: Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini, and Douglas Keane. Emeril tells them that the winning dish will be featured in all of his restaurants in New Orleans. And if they haven't already, it's "time to kick it up a notch." (Oy.) He also invites them to dinner that evening at Emeril's so he can personally cook for them.
They hop into the new Toyota Corolla that Carlos just won to shop for their ingredients. Nina's shopping for two dishes as she's not quite sure what she's going to make; Nicholas's dish is going to be thoughtful; Carlos is going to be making a seafood mousse tamale, and Shirley is going with a seafood dish.
They head to Emeril's and they have a chef's table in the middle of the kitchen. A BBQ shrimp dish with a Creole coffee sauce and a petite rosemary biscuit looks amazing! Nina wants to do her own take on this dish tomorrow in competition. Carlos explains what he's going to be making (the tamale). More food comes out, and it all looks amazing, and Nicholas toasts Emeril as a warm and gracious host.
The next morning, they're getting ready, and Carlos calls his family and tells his wife he won a car. They arrive at Emeril's restaurant, and start prep. Nina wants to be in the finale; Nicholas is going WAY overboard with the number of ingredients, and overthinking his dish. He knows he overthinks and underseasons, and Shirley notes that if one ingredient in Nicholas' dish doesn't work, his dish doesn't work. Carlos says his seafood tamale dish is very risky, but he thinks that's why his dish will stand out.
Emeril and Tom show up to discuss the chefs' dishes and discuss how they've developed in New Orleans. Nicholas says about Carlos's tamale dish "that's what Carlos does - he does Mexican! I don't know if Carlos has grown much at all."
The judges arrive - Gail, Tom, Padma, Emeril, Grant Achatz, Douglas Keane, and Andrew Carmellini. Tom notes that there are two times you don't want to go home: You don't want to be the first one out, and you don't want to be the last one eliminated before the finale. Padma says to Douglas "You know what that feels like, right?" (He was the winner of the most recent Top Chef Masters.) Douglas said you're tired, but you're amped up and you definitely want to make it to the finale.
Nina is finishing her dish, making sure that it's plated at the last minute. After the timer goes off, she realizes that an ingredient doesn't make it to the dish (the malfatti). She's pissed off at herself.
NINA - Speckled Trout with Baby Vegetables & Barbecue Sauce. Tom asks her what happened to the malfatti, and she admits that she forgot to put it on the plate. She's thoroughly embarrassed. Tom said that Nina had noted in the kitchen that she had talked about putting ricotta in the malfatti, and he said "this dish does not need ricotta!" Andrew says the dish has a New Orleans umami in it; Tom said the challenge was to take what you learned from New Orleans and work it into what the chef cooks - and she did it.
NICHOLAS - Charred Cobia, Roasted Bass & Tuna Confit with Crispy Rice & Shrimp Consommé. (Personal note - HOW is that "simple", as he told Tom and Emeril he was going to do?) Douglas loves the broth, and Andrew said the seafood was cooked perfectly. Grant said a few flakes of finishing salt would have been good for him - the fish was a little flat. Douglas said if you had the fish with the broth, it was good, but if you just went in with a fork and just grabbed the fish, it needed seasoning.
CARLOS - Steamed Seafood Tamal with Saffron Cream Sauce & Pickled Okra. Douglas said his concept embodied the challenge, Emeril said he was hesitant at first, but when he started eating it, it works.
SHIRLEY - Seared Black Drum with Zhenjiang Black Vinegar Butter Sauce, Braised Celery and Mushrooms. She tells them she wants to feel as if they can eat this in the West Lake of China or here in the Louisiana bayou. Grant likes the way she worked in the "holy trinity" - celery, peppers and onions - and that she called it right out when describing the dish. He also loves the sauce. Gail said having the celery under the fish seems very Chinese, and Grant notes that eating the celery in the sauce, you're immediately transported to that area of the world.
Back in the kitchen, Nina is still pissed off at forgetting the malnatti, which she said was to have elevated the dish. (It'll be interesting to see if it helped or hindered her by forgetting it!)
In the in-between, Nicholas said he practiced until 5:30 in the morning what he was going to say over and over again as he presented his dish. Carlos says his Spanglish comes out really well; and Shirley never realizes how nervous she gets when she's presenting her dishes. She said "I totally blacked out and have no idea what I said!" when presenting one dish earlier in the season.
At Judges Table, all four are brought in. :::Obligatory whooshing camera shots::: Padma asks Nina how her day went - Nina notes about forgetting the malfatti, and Tom said he didn't think it needed the ricotta cheese, and Gail said they loved that it was kept so simple. Tom said if she had left something off the plate that was important to the challenge, they'd have had a problem with that, but they judged it on the taste, and the taste was superb.
Emeril said Shirley's sauce was spectacular and he was impressed how she incorporated the trinity, and that the other judges commented on that. Tom said the fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce with its Chinese influence worked with the Creole, Spanish and French cultures of New Orleans.
Padma asks Nicholas to walk them through his dish, and Nicholas said he liked incorporating the fresh Gulf seafood. Tom said the dish was beautiful to look at, and the way he had properly cooked the fish, some more than others but all properly cook. When he took some of the broth, Tom said "Ahh, OK - he got it!" But then when he took some of the fish...it was underseasoned. Nicholas's face was incredulous at the fish being underseasoned and he quietly says "Oh, Jeezus!" Gail said she's come to know that his style is subtle and restrained, but it's focused and precise, and she thought this was the best dish she's had from him all season.
Padma asks about Carlos' tamale. He said it was inspired by all of the seafood in NOLA. Emeril asks his thoughts on not serving it in the banana leaf, and Carlos replied he was afraid that serving the banana leaf was not something you're supposed to be eating, so he pulled it out. Gail said she's amazed that after hundreds of years of traditional tamale cooking, Carlos was able to improve on it and come up with something different. She wished there was a bit more heat and more acid. Tom said the sauce had a lot of flavor, but the mousse was so nice, by mixing the seafood in with the mousse, it broke up the lushness of the mousse, but he did like the dish.
Padma tells Nina and Shirley - very dramatically and quietly and softly - that they are safe as they had their favorite dishes of the day. Shirley is very happy and starts to cry - she says "I'm really happy to find myself!", which brings a tear to Emeril's eye.
Padma says one of them will win tonight and one of their dishes will appear on all of Emeril's menus. Emeril tells them that the dish that really shone with incredible flavors was Shirley's! Woo hoo! She's jumping up and down and so excited for the win.
So it's between Nicholas and Carlos as to who is heading to LCK. They leave the JT, and now the judges have to deliberate. Gail said Carlos did a great job with NOLA flavors; Tom said technically it was well done, but he had a problem with the mousse and seafood together. Emeril said his was not so warm, which is why he asked him about the banana leaf - if served with that, it would have kept the steam in.
Tom said he thought Nicholas's dish, minus a few grains of salt, was as good as Nina's or Shirley's dishes. Padma stops him and says "Wait a minute. What does it mean that we're sitting here in the final challenge and we're *still* saying that Nicholas's dish needed a little salt - it's basic Cooking 101." Gail said it would have made his dish infinitely better.
In the Stew Room, Nicholas wonders how long it would take the judges to flip a coin - they obviously liked both dishes. Carlos says in the confessional "My dish - it was more creative than Nick's dish, so I feel very confident I will be in the finale." Hmm.....is that the Elves telling us who will be going home? Nicholas tells Nina he'll need her address to send her tacky Hawaiian shirts to wear. Nina said "You'll be there. I want you to be there." and Carlos glances up at Nina without saying anything.
Back at Judges Table, Tom does a quick review of both dishes, and then turns to Padma. She announces that it is Carlos who will be asked to PYKAG. She seems very pained to say that, and Tom says Carlos has one more chance in Last Chance Kitchen. As they walk out, Tom said that Nicholas just stepped it up a little bit more, and Emeril agreed.
Shirley and Nina are elated to have Nicholas be the third person going to Maui, and Carlos gets to cook against Louis in LCK. They'll be doing that in Maui.
Preview for Part 1 of the Finale shows them in Maui with a guest in a chef's coat (unrevealed behind a palm frond, but obviously whoever wins LCK, which, by the way, isn't revealed in the online Bravo video just posted!), and a Top Chef twist of a Double Elimination Challenge.
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