Back at the TC house, Doug's very glad he won the Super Fans' competition; George gets some props for getting back into the competition, and Gregory's ready to take him down. Six chefs remain in the competition.
The next morning, Doug goes in to wake up Katsuji, saying he's the weirdest person in the house, but he likes him the most, and says they'll probably be friends for life. They head to the TC Kitchen, and Katsuji says “Who's that guy with Padma? That guy is huge. Huge! Did I say huge? He's HUGE!” Who else but Rob Gronkowski! Gregory says he's a Redskins fan, but he hates the Patriots and here is one of their star players. Padma asks to call him Rob, and says Gronk can call her honey. Gronk says he's Polish, and he loves his Polish sausage. That's the Quickfire Challenge for today.
Padma tells them they have one hour to create their own from-scratch sausage, and then make a dish from it. Padma says to Gronk “I have a feeling you eat a lot” and he replies “Yes, I eat a lot. And I eat a big sausage.” After a few beats, Padma replies “Me too!” Whoops! Gronk says “Honey, stop embarrassing me!” GEEZ – could Padma flirt any more? ;-)
Katsuji pulls out the liquid nitrogen to cool down the sausage meats so the fat doesn't break. He says it helps to grind and emulsify the meats together. Melissa is definitely having problems with her grind (whereas Katsuji's looked pretty good). Doug says the toughest part is ensuring the sausage is stuffed properly so it doesn't look like a used condom. (Lovely visual, Doug!) George is having major problems – the casings are ripping, so he goes sausage patty. Melissa finally gets her baby sausages on the grill. Doug said he'll be bummed if a baby sausage or a sausage patty wins.
DOUG – Beer-Braised Pork Sausage with Onions & Mustard – Gronk said it would be a good pre-game meal.
MELISSA – Wild Boar & Pork Sausage with Lentils, Cucumber, Fennel & Pickled Red Onion – Gronk likes it fancy with the leaf (and he picks up some fennel fronds). Goofball!
MEI – Pork Sausage with Ginger, Garlic, Fish Sauce, Avocado, Coconut Puree and Yuzu Aioli – Gronk said it's a good sauce.
KATSUJI – Brisket & Pork Sausage with Habaneros, Cumin, Coriander, Ginger & Saffron Rice – comfort food.
GREGORY – Pork & Boar Sausage with Kaffir Lime, Chilies, Lemongrass, Garlic, Cucmber & Carrot Salad – Gronk said as he chewed it, it got spicier and spicier.
GEORGE – Pork & Veal Sausage Patty with Sunny-Side Up Egg & Potato Hash – after George finishes describing the dish, he says he's a huge football fan, but then says “I do have to say I'm not a fan of yours!” Padma and Gronk both say “Whoa!” When Gronk asks George who he likes, and George said the Redskins, Gronk said “Hey, I have to be real too! We beat your team when we played them two years ago!” And oops – George realizes after the fact that considering Gronk is the one judging the food, maybe it wasn't a good idea to potentially piss him off. Like, DUH, George!
Gronk's worst dishes were from Melissa and Gregory. The favorites were Doug's and George's. The favorite dish was George's dish! (Which now makes Doug pissed off for winning with a sausage patty.) Gronk said breakfast is his favorite meal, and that was a great breakfast sandwich. George replies that he'll buy Gronk's jersey tomorrow. LOL
For the Elimination Challenge, they're browsing through “best sellers.” Padma welcomes Chef Tony Maws of Craigie on Main, who wheels in a bookcase fill with books with author's names. Padma lists the authors who called New England home. The writers will serve as inspirations for their dishes – they are to create a dish inspired by a New England literary work – it can be a novel, a short story, a poem. Tony Maws says the diners must be able to visualize the story on the plate – either by presentation, cooking techniques, textures, or flavors. They'll have 3 hours to prep and cook at Steel & Rye Restaurant. The dining room will be filled with notable authors and literature buffs.
Gregory – Edgar Allan Poe
Katsuji – Stephen King
George – Dr. Seuss
Mei – Henry David Thoreau
Melissa – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Doug – ends up with Emily Dickinson
Padma asks if Doug knows any of her poems, and he shakes his head no. All he knows she's a depressed chick poet from the 1800s. They have a bit of time to “study up” before they go shopping. Mei is going vegetarian, since Thoreau was into nature. Gregory is going with “The Raven”; Katsuji is going with “Carrie” and Gregory asks if he's going to splatter the diners with blood. Doug will go romantic with “Bring me a sunset in a cup”). George is going with the classic “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” from Seuss.
The next morning, the chefs head to Steel & Rye to start prep and cooking. Tom Colicchio and Maws come in to see how the chefs are doing and ask who their authors were. Mei has learned a lot of style of plating from working with Michael Voltaggio. Melissa is going to try and plate seasons on her plate with Nathaniel Hawthorne as her author.
The diners arrive, as do the judges. Francis Lam and Gail Simmons join Tom, Padma, and Tony Maws at Judges Table.
GREGORY (“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe) – Seared Beef Tenderloin, Grilled Hen, Parsnip Puree, Beets & Crispy Nori – the hen is the raven, the beets represent the blood and love, the mache represents the last bit of hope (and there was more). Tom said every bit of the dish has a purpose for the story he was telling, and Gail said she was concerned that all the meaning would mean the taste of the dish would feel forced, but it all tasted good, and the nori tied everything together. Tony's meat was a bit more cooked than it could be. He notes that in a restaurant, cooking well for four out of five people isn't good enough. Diners thought the dish was a bit of a stretch for the story.
GEORGE (“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” by Dr. Seuss) – Calamari, Mussels, Clams, Pan-Seared Branzino, Purple Potatoes & Red Peppers – Frances says the dish tastes beautiful, but it was a little buttoned-up. While Gail said it tastes great, it was a “little tight”, and she wanted him to open up. Tom said it wasn't Dr. Seussy enough.
MEI (“Walden, by Henry David Thoreau) – Roasted Vegetables, Charred Onion Soil, Tom Kha Snow, Radish & Carrot Top Vinaigrette – Tom asks if it was a snowy night on Walden Pond, and Mei replies that in springtime, he would watch the snow and pond melt. Gail said there's potential for the soil and snow to be a lot of technique but not a lot of flavor, but they both work very well together in a subtle way. Tom said if you put this dish on a menu in a restaurant and said “This is Roasted Spring Vegetables on Walden Pond, you could get away with that” - he liked it a lot (as did the diners).
MELISSA (“The Blithedale Romance” by Nathaniel Hawthorne) – Seared Halibut, Spring Vegetables, Morels, Charred Baby Corn, Asparagus, Peas & Mushroom Broth – She describes a major theme in the book is the seasons, so the mushroom broth represents the fall overcoming the spring. Tom said it's a pretty plate, but why did she char the corn? Melissa said it's part of the dark side of the autumn. Frances said they all each other by the end of the book, and Tom replies “Well, they may all hate themselves, but I would like this for a really long time.” He says she talked about having some light spring flavors and finishing with some dark flavors, and she nailed it. Tony said it's hard to roast halibut and keep it moist, but she did a great job, and the vegetables are the star of the dish, but not overwhelming the fish.
Prior to Katsuji's dish coming out, Gail says she hopes he goes big, and Katsuji says he hopes the judges get it.
KATSUJI (“Carrie” by Stephen King) – – Katsuji starts to say who the dish was inspired by.....and draws a blank. He said he FORGOT who it was inspired by!
In the in-between, Doug said if a book was to be written by him, it would be called “Wrestling Tigers”, because it's all about overcoming odds. Katsuji says a book written about him would be called “The Curious Case of Katsuji Tanabe by a Mexican Kosher Restaurant Catholic Immigrant in a New Country.” It would be able sex, drugs, rock & roll.” Ummm...OK! LOL
Back to Katsuji's dish – Padma reminds him it was Stephen King, and he then remembers. Fabada with White Beans, Chorizo, Jamon Serrano, Short Rib, Veal Osso Buco, Red Beet Puree & Hot Sauce – The mother is the beef short rib, and the daughter is the veal osso buco, the beet puree is the pork blood poured all over Carrie at the prom, and the chili sauce was the anger within Carrie. Tom said “Congratulations – you've made probably the most unappetizing looking dish I've ever eaten in my life!” Katsuji replies “I don't know if that's good or bad!” Gail likes the discordance in the dish because it was a horrifying story, although she wished the sauces were thinner. Padma notes after Katsuji left the table that based on the challenge, Katsuji interpreted the challenge perfectly. Tony Maws says he nailed it.
DOUG (he went with the phrase “Sunset in a Cup” by Emily Dickinson) – Grilled Carrot Bisque with Grilled Carrots, Orange, Cumin Vinaigrette, Radish & Dandelion – Padma said it's delicious. Frances appreciates that you get a good carrot flavor; Gail said there's a depth of flavor and out of all of the dishes, the flavor really pops. Tom said he got married on Martha's Vineyard, and there's a beach in Menemsha that you go to to watch the sunset, and when it does, everyone applauds. He paused, and said “I would applaud this dish. It's not showing off; it's about taking a few humble things and making it delicious.”
After Doug leaves, Padma doesn't have any idea who to send home. Gail said the challenge will be picking a winner. The best dishes were from Mei, Doug, and Melissa. George's dish can be taken away, because he had immunity, but while it tasted good, everyone was underwhelmed by his presentation. Tony said Katsuji's presentation was great, but the mess on the plate was a mess to eat. Gregory's dish didn't visually say anything about Poe.
Padma comes in (BTW, her dress is gorgeous!), and asks to speak to all of them. Tom said that in the past, some of the chefs have been all over the place with their food, but this was all really really good. Tom thought the challenge was hard, and everyone really told the story they needed to tell.
Padma tells Mei, Melissa, and Doug that they had the three favorite dishes. Doug said he was originally skeptical with getting Emily Dickinson and interpreting her poems into a dish, but once he focused on the carrot, he began to have fun. Gail asks Mei if she was worried about doing a strictly vegetarian dish, and she was but was very pleased with her dish. Melissa felt very inspired by the challenge.
Tony Maws announces the winner – the dish that he says was the closest to a flawless dish that he's had in a really long time – and the winner is Mei! She said being on the bottom on the last challenge, it feels good to be the best of the best dishes that have been made in the season so far.
Padma says that because the food was so good, it made the next decision more difficult. Gregory's inspiration wasn't visible on the plate. Gail loved Katsuji's idea, but it felt it was pulled in a lot of ways and he was conflicted with the dish. Tom told Katsuji that the sauce was too thick.
Padma asks Katsuji to PYKAG. Tom tells him that his interpretation was as good as anyone else's, but the dish just didn't hold up. He also reminds Katsuji that he has a chance to get back into the competition via LCK.
Previews for the next episode shows Emerson College students and Andy Cohen, and they're only able to cook using the ingredients the students have in some bags. Then they're to be inspired by Julia Child.
PLEASE NOTE: We've got a two-week holiday break from our lessons, class. Our studies at Top Chef University will resume on January 7, 2015. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, or whatever else you do or don't celebrate. And have a very happy and safe New Year's Eve and a quick recovery on New Year's Day! :-)