So they arrive back at the TC house; Keriann notes in confessional that Aaron butted heads with almost everyone in the house, and it's a relief that he's now gone. Adam notes that even his Red Team lost the overall challenge, he was glad he beat Doug in his individual match-up. Adam says that Doug is one of the more dominant chefs, but he's also concerned about Gregory, Melissa, and Mei, and he says Katsuji is “a mess in a dress, but he's making delicious food.”
The next morning, Melissa is reading a package of notes from her girlfriend of little love notes. All of a sudden, Tiffani Faison shows up. She says there's something special planned for them, and takes them on an SUV drive. They arrive at a cranberry bog, part of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. Tiffani is there with Adrienne Mollor, a second generation cranberry grower. Adrienne explains that cranberries are grown on a low-lying bog outside of water, and at harvest time, they flood the bog with several feet of water. Tiffani says there are 6 million cranberries floating in the water. Adam asks if she counted them, and she says “I did!”
The chefs are going to harvest their cranberries. The first four chefs who fill their crates with cranberries get a huge advantage. The chefs get into their waders, and the contest starts. Adam's long legs help get him to the encircled cranberries. Kbut atie kicks ass and comes in first, then Adam, then Gregory and then Doug. Katsuji collapses on the ground, and Tiffani says “Can someone get the paddles for Katsuji?” :-)
They head back the TC Kitchen, where Padma and Tiffani greet them. Padma explains that cranberries pair really well with various dishes – they are to create dishes that highlight the bold taste of cranberries. The four quickest chefs, they'll have access to the high-end pantry with lots of great ingredients. The rest have access to a very sparse table of ingredients. The winner gets immunity in the next Elimination Challenge. They have 30 minutes to prepare their dishes, and they can use the ingredients in their pantries and whatever Ocean Spray cranberry ingredients are shown, as well as the cranberries they harvested. Cranberry borscht, steak tartare with skirt steak? Some of the dishes are are going to be interesting, to say the least.
ADAM: Bourbon Cranberry Barbeque Sauce-Glazed New York Strip with Mushroom Fricasée – Padma wishes there were triple the amount of cranberry sauce, and Tiffani wishes he was more joyful about his dish. Adam said he figured he'd be forthcoming about his first idea tanking, and Tiffani said “That's a rabbit hole, dude – don't do it!”
GREGORY: Arctic Char with Sweet & Sour Cranberry Sauce, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms & Pear – Tiffani said the fish is nicely cooked.
KERIANN: Carrot Soup with Cranberry & Crab – Keriann said she kept looking at the other table of ingredients and wished she had access to them, but made the best of what she could with the ingredients on the lesser table.
DOUG: Bourbon & Cranberry-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Brussels Sprouts & Cranberry Mustard – Tiffani said it tastes like fall in New England, and Padma agreed, saying “I really like your Brussels Sprouts.”
MELISSA: Fried Turkey Bite with Apple Butter, Cranberry Compote, Pecans & Fried Sage – Tiffani asked if anyone told Melissa that she likes anything fried. “Anything that flies can fry!”
KATIE: Cranberry Borscht with Creme Fraiche, Charred Brussels Sprout & Pancetta – Tiffani said it has a goulash quality to it.
KATSUJI: Steak Tartare with Chile de Arbol Mayonnaise, Fresh Cranberries & Cranberry Hot Sauce – Padma said “I'm assuming you hand cut this?” (as she picks through the tartare) and Katsuji replies “Yes.” And Padma and Tiffani walk away.
STACY: Curried Cauliflower Soup with Smoky Pepper-Cranberry Relish – Padma said that Stacy's cranberries have the least amount of sugar they've tasted and asks if it was a conscious decision – Stacy replies yes, it was.
MEI: Sweet & Sour Pork with Pickled Mustard Seeds & Apple Salad – Tiffani said it has the great Chinese-American craveable sweet & sour pork aspect to the dish, but it was a lot more elegant. Mei said she had no problem with the low-end pantry.
Tiffani said the worst dishes were from Katsuji, Adam and Stacy. (Stacy is pissed off at herself – she uses cranberries all the time, and she's tired of being on the bottom.)
The best dishes were from Doug, Katie, and Mei. The winner of the Quickfire is Katie! So she has immunity in the next Elimination Challenge.
Padma said the cranberries are out of the way – now it's time to serve the rest of the meal. They'll work as one group to create a traditional Thanksgiving feast at Plimoth Plantation. They won't see the pantry or cooking equipment until they arrive. And they'll only have access to native ingredients and what the colonists brought with them on the Mayflower. They'll have 2-1/2 hours to cook, and they'll serve a family-style meal in two separate groups. The chefs themselves can choose who is in what group. Chef Ken Oringer and descendants of the Wampanoag Tribe and Mayflower colonists will be part of the guests they will serve.
Back at the house, they talk about how they celebrated Thanksgiving – Doug's dad made pizza; Katsuji said Thanksgiving means being together and saying thank you. Mei said her family makes a big fat duck with sticky rice. Meanwhile, Stacy is feeling beat up, and Gregory notes that being on the bottom is starting to wear on her. Stacy misses her boyfriend, but she's used to it – he's a corporal in the Marines infantry division, and is deployed overseas. She gets to Skype with her boyfriend, and she starts to cry, and she tells him “Look at me – I'm being a girl! I'm crying!” But the talk helped her morale.
The next morning, they head out to Plimoth Plantation. They arrive to see their pantry – berries, various poultry, lobsters, various vegetables. They see a single fire pits, cast iron pots, and very rough cooking utensils.
First group – Katsuji, Melissa, Doug, and Stacy
Second group – Mei, Adam, Katie, Keriann, and Gregory
Lots of preparations, and some interesting mix of dishes. Tom Colicchio and Ken Oringer shows up to see how they're doing. Ken notes this is what cooking is all about – who needs immersion circulators when you can get amazing flavors over an open fire.
Keriann ends up switching from a rustic blueberry pie, which wasn't working out, to a venison using the blueberry filling for a sauce. Katsuji is having problems with the smoke from his cooking fire getting into his eyes.
The guests arrive, including Wampanoag tribe members and Mayflower colonist descendants. Will Gilson, chef/owner of Puritan Restaurant is one of the guests, as is Phillip Wynne, an educational specialist at the Plimoth Plantation, and the director of Plimoth Plantation. Gail and Tom are also there.
The chefs begin to plate their family-style dishes.
DOUG: Spit-Roasted Rabbit with Garlic, Ramps, Hazelnuts, Chestnuts & Radish – Carol Wynne from the Wampanoag tribe notes that the rabbit is delicious, but they always had the rabbit whole, and just tore off what they wanted. Gail asks if he was concerned about the amount of smoke, and Doug said he was, but feels he did it gently enough. Tom agrees, and said it paid off.
KATSUJI: Roasted Butternut Squash with Poached Lobster, Chestnuts & Ancho Chile Butter – Katsuji said that he wanted something with texture, and thought the lobster could be a good or bad idea. Tom said it was a good idea. Another Wampanoag tribe member said she likes the lobster, as their people used to use it as bait to catch other more desirable fish. Ken Oringer said “who would have thought that a Mexican, who cooks kosher, would turn a Wampanoag Indian into a lobster lover!”
STACY: Ramp-Smoked Clams with Butternut Squash, Lobster & Ramps – Tom said “Remember the other day when I said you need to dirty up your food? This is exactly what I meant – you're not afraid to go rustic and forget the tweezers.” Stacy said “I plated on the ground, sitting in the dirt.”
MELISSA: Roasted Parsnips, Green Beans & Zucchini with Ramp & Onion Vinaigrette – Gail asked why she wanted to do just a vegetable dish, and Melissa said she wanted to a nice vegetable dish that was executed well. Tom said the zucchini could have been cooked just a bit more, but it was very well done.
In the in-between, they discuss how they celebrated Thanksgiving – Gail's Canadian, and they have a Thanksgiving but it's not like the American Thanksgiving. It's now her favorite adopted holiday. Tom said they had the traditional Thanksgiving dinners, but since they are Italian, they started with a lasagna. Padma said “weren't you full after lasagna?” and Tom said “of course we were – but we still ate!”
The second group starts to cook, and Gregory's dish of goose doesn't seem to be going well. Doug helps him out with putting some of the goose back on the fire to cook more.
ADAM: Succotash with Beans, Corn, Summer Squash, Wilted Spinach and Spiced Goat Milk – Gail likes it and thinks the goat milk adds a nice earthiness. Several of the Wampanoags say “this is the succotash for me!” and that it's going to be on their Thanksgiving table.
KATIE: Blueberry Stuffing with Blue Cornmeal Cornbread & Sauteed Lobster – Gail said it looks wacky, but she keeps eating more of it, and Tom said it's a pretty interesting dish.
MEI: Duck Fat Roasted Cabbage with Trout Vinaigrette – Gail thought the vinaigrette was subtle and lovely.
GREGORY: Roasted Goose, Goose Confit with Green Beans & Gingered Onions – Ken Oringer asks if the confit was done to his liking and Gregory responded saying he would have liked it done a bit longer. Gail said it is toothsome, but Tom said he recognizes that it is a difficult dish to do, and it is pretty good.
KERIANN: Seared Venison Loin with Blueberry Compote & Buttered Hazelnuts – Ken was worried how a blueberry pie filling was going to be used as a compote for the venison, but it came out very well. A Wampanoag tribe member said venison and blueberries are both part of the tribe's diet, but he's never had them together, and he really liked it.
The guests leave, and the judges remain to deliberate. Ken Oringer said every dish had depth. Tom said that limiting the chefs makes them better off. Favorites were dishes from Mei, Doug, Katsuji, and Katie. The least favorites were from Melissa, Gregory, Keriann and Stacy.
Back at Judges Table in the Stew Room, Gregory knows he's on the chopping block. In confessional, Katsuji says “Gregory's the King of Top Chef – everyone loves Gregory! If he goes home tonight, it's going to be a game changer for everyone!” Padma arrives and calls them all into JT.
Doug, Katsuji and Mei are asked to remain – the rest move to the side. They had the favorite dishes of the day. Katsuji's dish was very appropriate to the challenge, and Tom said it had great intense flavor with just a few ingredients. Doug's rabbit was perfectly smoked, and Tom said there was never a boring bite. Gail tells Mei hers was a brilliant and unusual dish. Ken said it was pure comfort food.
Ken Oringer announces the winner – and it's Katsuji! (I really thought Doug was going to win.)
Stacy, Melissa and Gregory are called forward and told that while their dishes were delicious, they all had some flaws. Ken Oringer tells Gregory he had some cojones to pull out the goose. Gregory thought for tradition, it was important to get a bird on the table. Padma asks if he thought it was too much of a risk, and Gregory agrees 100% that it was a risk.
Ken asks Melissa if she could do something over, would she and she replies she was very happy with the dish. (Quizzical look from Tom at that statement.) Gail asks if she was concerned that it was so simple. Melissa said she didn't feel it needed to have a protein on the plate. Gail said it just seemed to fade into the background a bit.
Padma asks Stacy if she's feeling any pressure because she's from the Boston area and it's her hometown, and Stacy said she is feeling the pressure. Gail said there was a lot she likes about the dish, but there seemed to be something about the dish that gave an off flavor – a “dirtness”. Gail said “You kept saying you plated in the dirt, I kept thinking it hit some of the dirt.”
Padma announces that it's Stacy being asked to PYKAG. (I sort of thought that she would be the one leaving when they showed her emotions earlier in the episode.) And in her farewells to the other chefs, Mei lifts her up off the ground in a big bear hug, and Adam says to her “Boston it was it is, and you're a gem!” and Stacy replies “Eff the Yankees!” LOL
For next week, they show previews for several upcoming episodes, including Restaurant Wars, and guest judges Jacques Pepin, Andy Cohen, and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (GRONK!). It also tells us that the finale will be in Mexico!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ETA: I think the type of preview (showing many upcoming guest judges vs. just the site where they will be next week) means there's no new episode next Wednesday. I recall from past seasons, they take a break the night before Thanksgiving. For which I'm thankful. :-)