So we're back at it after a three week break. The remaining chefs are Mei, Gregory, George, Melissa and Doug. Doug is bummed that his buddy, Katsuji, is gone. Gregory is disappointed in himself that he's not won as much as he thought he should have, and knows he's got some tough competition.
The next morning, they're up and at 'em early. They're off to the Top Chef Kitchen, and Padma greets them with Andy Cohen, along with his college roommate, Dave Ansel – as Andy put it, “the straight version of me!” He asks the chefs who is going to win – they all raise their hands, but Doug is slow to do so. Andy then asks which judge they're most intimidated by – and they all say Tom Colicchio.
Padma finally turns to the Quickfire Challenge, and said everyone who went to college had a particular food that everyone relied upon – Ramen. They are tasked on creating their own spin on Ramen. In come five students from Emerson College who raided their dorm rooms and brought whatever food they could find to be the only pantry the chefs will have access to.
Gregory picks Ellen
Mei picks Ashley
Melissa – Erin
Doug chooses Tim, and George gets Andrew.
There is no immunity, but the winner gets $5,000. Andy and Dave said they both love cheese and fresh vegetables. They have 30 minutes. As they pull out the dorm room ingredients, Mei gets some sushi and old egg rolls and miso soup; Melissa gets lots of cheese, Doug gets chef salad and a half jar of salsa that looks pretty bad, Gregory gets old pizza and some bacon, and George has chili, corn, and what looks to be Spam.
DOUG – Ramen with Coconut Pineapple Water Broth, Ham, Egg & Grilled Tofu – Padma slurps her ramen noodles, and gets a sideways look from Andy who says “Sweetie!” in admonishment at her slurping. Andy says “Some might argue that you would have to be high to put these ingredients together!”
GREGORY – Ramen with Bacon & Pizza Broth, String Cheese, Edamame & Dorito Crunch – when Gregory started to explain the broth, Andy's head snaps up and said “ExCUSE ME?” in amazement. Andy said “he's speaking our language!”
GEORGE – Ramen Chili with Hot Dog, Chicken Wing & Crispy Spam – Andy said it's rather Spaghetti-O-esque (and also notices the amount of gel in George's hair). Dave notices the hint of hot dog, and Padma said “I love a hint of hot dog.” Dave replies “But just a hint!” And George said “That's what she said!”
MELISSA – Mac & Cheese Ramen Carbonara with Roast Chicken & Frito Crumb Topping – Andy said “Cheesy and crunchy!”
MEI – Ramen with Spicy Tomato Miso Sauce, Sushi Shrimp & Nori – Andy notices there's not much of a broth, and Mei said “No...it's more of a sauce.”
Andy and Dave thought they did pretty well. In the least favorite group, it was Mei and Doug. The favorites were from George, Gregory, and Melissa. The winner is Melissa's Ramen Carbonara!
Padma asks them to go back to the Stew Room, as she's got a surprise. There's a remote for them to “Press Play” to start up a video on the big screen. Who's on the screen but Julia Child blowing a duck call, and Jacques Pepin walks in to help Julia make duck. They watch the entire video, and then in walks Padma with Jacques Pepin. Padma has Julia's cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and Jacques has a bottle of wine and glasses.
Their challenge is to take inspiration from Julia's cooking style and create a dish that is a tribute to Julia Child. They'll have 3 hours to prep and cook, and tomorrow, they'll have an additional hour to finish the dishes on location at the Herb Lyceum. They will get some time with Jacques Pepin to ask questions. He opens the wine, and starts talking about Julia and her likes and dislikes. Later, they head off to Whole Foods to shop for ingredients. In the voice over, Melissa said her first job was at the Getty Museum, and she helped make Julia Child's birthday cake. George is going with Veal Osso Buco, Gregory's making Coq au Vin; Doug's going to roast whole lobes of foie gras. (Does WF sell foie gras?)
They head back to the Top Chef Kitchen to start prep. Melissa is going to braise short ribs and stick to classic French techniques, and Mei's making Duck a L'Orange, but she's not going completely classic and will be using 5-spice. She has been in France and staged at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. She's very confident that this is the challenge she can win. Tom and Jacques walk through the kitchen to see what they're all working on.
The next morning, everyone seems nervous with this challenge. They head to the Herb Lyceum and Gregory is the first to cook. He realizes that the final seasonings he added last night have strengthened in the sauce, and he finds it a bit acidic, so he adds more broth. Mei joins him in the kitchen and starts preparing her duck.
The guests arrive to sit down at the table – Padma, Tom, Jacques, Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine, Hugh Acheson, Joanna Chang, Boston pastry chef, Barbara Lynch, Mary Dumont, executive chef at Harvest, and Alex Prudhomme, author and great nephew of Julia Child.
GREGORY – Coq au Vin with Glazed Carrots, Fava Beans & Snap Peas – Jacques said he would have separated the carrots and peas from the dish to show they are not part of the dish, but he said it was very good, and seasoned very well. Tom said to the other judges after Gregory walks away “When you want more of something, that's a good thing!”
MEI – Duck L'Orange with Turnip Puree, Orange Puree & Glazed Vegetables – Padma asks how her dish differs from Julia's, and Mei notes that she used 5-spice. Tom said the dish took a lot of license – she cooked in the spirit but used a more modern style. He said the duck is nicely cooked, and Jacques likes the duck's skin.
In a small break between service, Tom relates how he came to know Julia. She was brought to Mondrian, where he was chef, for a birthday dinner. Tom said it was August 13th, and he told Julia his birthday was in a couple of days. Julia said her's was the 15th – the same day as Tom's. Ever since that first dinner, Julia showed up at his restaurants on their birthday.
GEORGE – Braised Veal with Pomme Puree, Morels, & Glazed Carrots & Asparagus – Dana likes that the ingredients were cooked separately, so they retain their own flavors, but then were brought together. Jacques said all the tastes came together well. Tom thought the meat to be slightly under-seasoned, and notes it could be cooked 20 minutes longer.
MELISSA – Red-Wine Braised Short Rib with Brown Butter Polenta & Jardiniere – Hugh asked about the deep charring; Melissa replies that she did a heavy sear and glazed it in the oven. Tom is picking up a bitterness in the sauce, and Dana thought her short rib was a bit dry. After she walks away, Tom notes that the over-searing essentially doesn't allow the meat to absorb any moisture.
DOUG – Roasted Foie Gras with Roasted Peaches, Sweet & Sour Onions & Hazelnuts – his dish was served family style, so they all reach for their own ingredients. Tom asked how it was roasted, and Doug replies he seared it and put it in the oven for 20 minutes. Tom said it was over-seared and under cooked. It needed to be cooked slower and it needed to rest. Joanna said her end piece was well cooked, and Alex said the flavor profile was very good.
The judges discuss the dishes. All in all, they were pleased. Jacques liked Gregory's Coq au Vin, and Alex notes that her Duck a L'Orange was more of a personal statement, and Hugh said it was modern, but had a good sense of a traditional dish. Jacques said George's veal could have been braised more. Dana thought Melissa's short ribs were too dry, although the vegetables were divine. Mary Dumont was very hopeful for Doug's foie, but it wasn't executed the way he hoped for.
Time for Judges Table back in the TC Kitchen. Tom reviews the dishes and said overall the dishes were good, but a few techniques and flaws were made.
Gregory and Mei have the two favorite dishes. Tom asks Gregory why his classically prepared dish should win over Mei, who put her own spin on dish. Gregory said paying tribute to Julia Child means recreating a dish that she made is the highest form of homage. When Mei was asked the same question, she said she felt that paying homage to Julia is also to put some of yourself into the dish. Jacques announces the winner – and it is Mei! Jacques said she transcended a bit by putting herself into the dish.
As for George, Melissa, and Doug – Tom said that the garnishes were all done perfectly, but the proteins were all off. All of the meats were undercooked. Padma asks George how he's feeling. He knew 3 hours was pushing it for a braise, but he wanted to do it. He said he took the meat out, strained the braising liquid, and put the meat back in. Both Jacques and Tom said the meat doesn't absorb more liquid – it dries out.
Melissa said she would have possibly chosen a different protein. Hugh asked if she was happy with the sear, and she knows that some pieces were too seared. Padma asked Doug to walk through the process of his dish. Doug said he botched the cooking of the foie, and didn't let it rest long enough. Tom asks Doug if he knew it was undercooked when he put it out – Doug thought the middle was undercooked. Hugh said the exterior was all charred and the interior “didn't work out.”
Padma asks Doug to PYKAG. You can hear a break in her voice when she does ask him to leave. Tom reminds him he has one more shot to get back in via Last Chance Kitchen.
Previews show family members coming in to help them out and the winner will go directly to the final round.