We're back! And we're in one of the best food cities in the United States. LONG overdue, IMO.
Let's get the cheftestants out of the way:
Aaron Cuschieri - Executive Chef, Slurping Turtle, Chicago, IL
Benedetto Bartolotta - Indulge by Bene, a catering and event planning company in New York City
Bret Pelaggi - originally from Boston, now in Miami, no restaurant noted
Brian Huskey - R&D Chef: Paiche, Picca, Mo-chica, Pasadena, CA
Carlos Gaytan - Executive Chef/Owner, Mexique, Chicago, IL
Carrie Mashaney - Chef de Cuisine, Aragona, Seattle, WA
Janine Booth - originally from Perth, Australia, now in NYC working on opening her own restaurant
Jason Cichonski - Chef/Owner, Ela Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA
Justin Devillier - Chef/Owner, La Petit Grocery, New Orleans, LA
Louis Maldonado - Executive Chef, Spoonbar and Pizzando, Healdsburg, CA
Michael Sichel - Executive Chef, Galatoire's Restaurant, New Orleans, LA
Nicholas Elmi - originally from MA, now in Philadelphia, PA and ready to open Laurel.
Nina Compton - Chef de Cuisine, Scarpetta Miami, Fontainebleu hotel, Miami, FL
Patricia Vega - Sous Chef, David Burke Fishtail, NYC, NY
Ramon Bojorquez - Sous Chef, Nine-Ten, La Jolla, CA
Sara Johannes - Executive Chef, Shoyu, MSP Airport, Minneapolis, MN
Shirley Chung - born and raised in Beijing, China, now in CA, no current restaurant (but has worked for Batali, Keller and Andres)
Stephanie Cmar - Sous Chef, No. 9 Park, Boston, MA
Travis Masar - originally from Colorado; no current restaurant
And we're off! Chefs arrive by various conveyances at a gorgeous mansion. Jason C. is "Philadelphia's "sexiest chef". Janine isn't a dumb blonde. Bene is hoping he's the first Top Chef gay chef. Shirley notes there are 19 beds. Carlos was just recently awarded a Michelin star.
Tom and Padma show up at the house. Pamda asks, "Nervous?" Someone says "I want to cry; I want to pee!" Tom asks if they're ready to cook, and says he wants them to tap into the local influence.
Padma notes there will be no Quickfire - they're going right into the Elimination Challenge. They will be cooking in the middle of the Louisiana swamp, using a local delicacy. Tom starts throwing beads, and the proteins are alligator, frog legs and turtle. Two hours to shop and prep today; two hours to prep and finish in the swap. The Dinner Lab, an exclusive dining society, has invited 100 guests. They will be handing out beads to those chefs with their favorite dishes. The 3 chefs with the most will be eligible for the win; 3 with the least will be on the block to be kicked off.
The two that competed in Padma's Picks (Michael and Justin) will have immunity, since they've already competed to get into the TC competition. Padma gives them info on local shops to source their food before going to Whole Foods. They all head off in one Toyota or another.
Some go to Perino's Seafood, some go to A&S Seafood, some go to Today's Ketch Seafood. Then all show up at WF to finish shopping, and then back to the TC kitchen to prep. Someone cuts themselves, someone adds mushrooms to Carlos' pot of butter by accident, there's a huge fire over the sauté pan of another. Jason has to clean 20 lbs. of frogs legs in 2 hours. Time moves quicky, and Janina gets noted as being gorgeous cooking in shorts and sandals. (Sandals and sharp knives don't go well together!)
Tom enters the kitchen, and soon after he arrives, Jason cuts himself. He talks with Sara for a bit, and asks her why she came on the show. She said she was hiding behind her previous employer - it was Wolfgang Puck, and she's expecting to run into him here on TC. Tom said she won't run into him tonight. She said "No, you're bad enough!" Tom notices that Carrie is avoiding him, but he eventually catches up with her. She gets through the convo with him, but she's very nervous.
They wrap up and head out for the night. The next morning, up and at 'em and there's a welcome basket in the kitchen at the mansion. Emeril shows up with beignets. He recognizes Stephanie Cmar, saying he's glad she's back (He was the judge who booted her from last season before they even got into the TC kitchen!). They head out to the swamp. Brian notices there's no kitchen. All of the tables and burners are in a pile - they have to build their own kitchen workplaces and cooking space.
Patty wanted to stuff her 'gator with andouille sausage, but she realizes it won't be enough for 100 people, so she changes her plan to make a gumbo-flavored pan sauce and is starting from scratch. Nina thinks her curry is too spicy, so she makes a chutney to counteract the spice. The judges arrives with the diners on a pontoon boat - Padma, Tom, Emeril, and Curtis Stone are the judges.
BENE - Turtle Croquette w/Cauliflower Puree and Shiitake Mushrooms
NINA - Curried Turtle Meatball, Chayote Slaw & Chutney with Raisins
JANINA - Bacon & Alligator Confit with Tomato Jam & Lemon Frisee
AARON- Pickled Eggplant with Turtle Confit & Turtle Ragout with Tagliatelle Pasta
SHIRLEY - Turtle Soup with Goji Berry & Chinese Broth
CARRIE - Poached Frog Legs with Oyster Emulsion & Cold Zucchini Salad
CARLOS - Alligator Rillette with Fennel & Pickled Red Onion Relish
MICHAEL - Fried Alligator with Sauce Piquant & Slaw
SARA - General Gao's-Style Deep Fried Alligator with Smoked Chilis, Sweet & Sour Sauce & Pickled Vegetables
RAMON - Braised Turtle with Thai Dashi
PATTY - Cajun Style Alligator with Yuca Puree
JASON - Frog Leg Croquette with Roasted Eggplant, Fennel Salad & Pickled Cherry Puree
STEPHANIE - Frog Leg Butter Confit with Spinach & Watercress Puree
The show the diners handing out the beads, and Nina is overloaded with them. They're back in the Stew Room, and all of a sudden, a TV comes on - the cheftestants get to watch the judges debate their dishes! Padma notes that Nina's, Sara's and Carrie's dishes were the most liked by the diners, and dishes from Shirley and Janina were also well received. The bottom dishes were from Aaron, Patty, Carlos, Ramon, and Bene.
Padma comes in and asks to see Nina, Carrie and Sara. They have the top 3 dishes. The winner is announced by Curtis - and it's Nina! Padma asks them to send back Patty, Aaron and Ramon. (Carlos and Bene squeak through.) ::::Wooshing camera on all three bottom chefs:::
Aaron realizes that his pasta was inappropriate for a swamp party. He wasn't thinking about cooking in the swamp, and Tom says he HAS to think about stuff like that! Emeril said he was expecting lemongrass and chili flavors in Ramon's dashi, and it wasn't there - it was like water. Ramon said he was worried about cooling down the dashi the day before, and he said he added ice to his original base. Shocked face from Tom says it all. Padma asks Patty to explain her dish - it was supposed to be a roulade, but she broke it up, and said at the end, it was just pounded out alligator meat. Tom said if she was a home cook and it was served to him, he would have been happy. But looking at the competition, it paled in comparison to other dishes being served.
They go back to Jury Room, and Patty's crying. Someone asks "Would you like to have a glass of wine?" and she exclaims "Oh sure!" The judges debate the dishes. Aaron didn't execute, but Tom didn't think it was as bad as the other dishes. Patty's dish had a mistake, and Tom said she seemed lost. Emeril said about Ramon's dish "How do you ice a dashi? It's not a cocktail!"
They're back in front of the judges :::whooshing camera shots::: Padma asks Ramon to pack his knives. But there IS a Last Chance Kitchen, so he still has a chance.
Previews for the upcoing shows - I see Hubert Keller, lots of drinking, David Chang, Leah Chase, New Orleans jazz, Lea Michele from Glee, John Besh, Jacques Pepin, and some drama. It's going to be a great season!