We're down to 6 cheftestants. Jacques Pepin shows up tonight.
We start off with them back at the house. Carlos doesn't think he'll make it to the finale, but he's glad he's still there. They head out to the TC kitchen, and see Padma and Jacques Pepin there. The Quickfire Challenge has to do with technique. Each will get to prepare Chef Pepin's favorite dish: Dover Sole with Artichokes and Asparagus. He'll show them how to make it, and they will then have 35 minutes to prepare their own version. The winner will have immunity.
They gather round to watch Jacques Pepin prepare the dish. He also makes his own cherry tomatoes by wringing the tomato flesh into a small tightly packed "tomato" by tightening the flesh in a cloth, and he makes a butter rose. He sets them off on their 35 minutes, and pours himself a glass of wine.
Shirley and Nick are both classically trained in French cooking. Shirley thinks the competition is between the two of them. Nick explains that he was the EC of a fine dining French restaurant, and when new management bought out the restaurant, everyone was offered their job back except for Nick. He had to leave and find his own gig, so he's been cooking pissed off for the last year. (Perhaps that's why he's been so pissed off throughout Top Chef!) Carlos never went to cooking school, so his technique is less refined than others. Stephanie is having difficulty pulling off the skin from the sole filet.
Nick, Shirley and Nina start to cook, and Nick's surprised that some haven't yet started cooking. Carlos is way behind as he's still fileting his fish. Unfortunately, Nina never turned on the burner under her skillet, so she's now short on time to cook her fish. Brian doesn't have all of his components ready either.
Carlos - His dish isn't complete (no tomatoes).
Shirley - she completes her dish; Jacques seems impressed.
Brian - his dish isn't complete. (He had no sauce.)
Nina - her dish seemed complete.
Stephanie - her dish seems complete as well.
Nicholas - his dish is complete, except for the butter rose. But Jacques liked the tarragon in the dish.
Bottom group - Brian, Stephanie, Carlos
Top group - Shirley, Nicholas
The winner is Nicholas. And he has immunity for the Elimination Challenge. Padma explains that at different times, both the French and Spanish have had control of the Louisiana Territory, and both cultures have enormous influence on the cuisine in the area. This time, they're fighting for control of Top Chef Territory. She welcomes two chefs, each with two Michelin stars: Julian Serrano (EC of Aria Resort & Casino) and Dominique Crenn (Chef/Owner, Atelier Crenn).
They'll work in two teams, and each team will prepare a five course meal in the Spanish or French style. Five ingredients that are quintessential in both cuisines are to be highlighted: olives, almonds, mussels, chicken, and chocolate. The team with the best overall meal will win the challenge.
They draw knives for their teams:
French Food - Shirley, Nicholas, and Stephanie
Spanish Food - Carlos, Brian, and Nina
All three on the Spanish team don't cook Spanish food, so Nina's worried. Jacques tells them the two chefs will be their coaches all day today. Tomorrow, they'll cook at Revolution Restaurant, where the chef/owner and his partner will join the judges.
The teams speak with their coaches. Dominique is suggesting they go avante garde old-school with their dishes (new school-old school?), encouraging them not to go heavy on protein since they'll have 5 courses. Julian explains that Spanish food is simple, and he encourages them to focus on that, keeping it old school.
They head out to Whole Foods to shop. Dominique is running around around enjoying the shopping, while Julian seems a bit lost in WF, as Brian said he thinks Chef Julian thought it would be like a farmer's market.
They get back into the TC kitchen and start preparing. The French Team seems to be working smoothly, whereas the Spanish Team seems to be learning on the job. Chef Julian shows them the type of precise cuts on the vegetables, and is micro-managing every last little detail.
Stephanie seems to be the most out of place in her group, but she manages to hold her own, at least during prep.
The next morning, Stephanie expresses her concern over the corn silk nests, and Carlos calls home to speak with his daughter. They then head out to Revolution Restaurant to finish their prep and cooking. Both Shirley and Stephanie seem to be leaning on Nicholas for taste assistance. Nina is concerned her team's first course is too simple.
The judges arrive at the restaurant and are joined by Chef Dominique, Chef Julian, and the chef/owners of the restaurant, John Folse and Rick Tramonto. Emeril and Jacques Pepin also join the table.
(French) - Shirley: Snapper Ceviche with Dehydrated Olives & Ice Cream. Enjoyed by Dominique, Chef Folse, but Tom C. didn't like the ice cream and fish together. Emeril loved the quality of the olive oil - Dominique tells everyone it was a Spanish olive oil that she used. Tom laughingly says "Cheating!"
(Spanish) - Nina: Ensaladilla Rusa with Green Olives, Gulf Shrimp & Potatoes. Jacques loved it, saying it was soulful and comfort food for him; Emeril said the potatoes were perfectly cooked, and he thought Nina did a great job.
(French) - Stephanie: Picked & Poached Mussels, Crustacean Jus & Tomate. Tom C. said there's serious old school cooking going on, but there are also modern twists. John Folse had some grit in his mussels, but Tom thought the flavor was great.
(Spanish) - Nina: Ajo Blanco with Almonds, Crab & Cherries. Emeril said he could eat another bowl, but Dominique thought the crab was lost, but Julian said it had great balance.
(French) - Shirley & Stephanie: Chicken Liver Mousse with Roasted Chicken Bouillon and Roasted Maitake Mushrooms. Dominique and Jacques were amazed by the dish, with John Folse nodding his head, but Julian didn't like the softer mousse, although he liked the broth.
(Spanish) - Carlos: Mejillones a la Romesco with Crispy Leeks. Julian thought the romesco was well combined with the mussels, but John Folse thought the dish, while good, was one note. Tom C. said the dish was about the sauce.
(French) - Nicholas: Cornish Game Hen & Spiced Chocolate with Corn Silk Nest (focus is on the chocolate) (Note: Stephanie didn't want to put the nest on the plate back in the kitchen, but since it was Nicholas' dish, she couldn't tell him to remove it from the plate). Julian was surprised at this course, saying to Dominique "You like that? You're kidding me! My God!" Dominique noticed he wasn't trying the dish, and said she thinks she has hurt some feelings, and said "You have to eat this!" to Chef Julian.
Meanwhile, Tom C. and Emeril are laughing at Chef Julian's reaction and refusal to eat the dish. He replied "For this particular dish, we're talking about the new cooking. This dish doesn't make any sense. The chocolate overpowers, and the chicken is tough. I'm sorry, but this is exactly what I don't like about the new cooking." Dominique says "We can like or not like a dish, but I think it's important to embrace what everyone is doing here, and not be so one dimensional."
John Folse said the thought process was there, but the execution fell flat. Tom C. said "it's good that Nicholas has immunity, as this (holding up the corn silk nest) is what you pull out of the drain after the shower - when I had hair!"
(Spanish) - Brian & Carlos: Pollo con Arroz (Chicken & Saffron Rice). Julian said the flavor is fantastic, but Dominique said she thought it was safe, and her chicken was dry. Julian said the chicken was super moist. Padma's chicken was beautifully done.
(French) - Nicholas: Marcona Almond Flan, Plum & Dark Cocoa. (focus on almond). Dominique said it's not as clean-flavored as it could have been. Tom said the flavor and texture is nice, but the actual custard of the flan is not as good.
(Spanish) - Brian: Flan de Chocolate & Strawberries. Emeril thought the flan was too sweet, and Chef Julian agreed.
Padma states that both team made great courses, but which team did better as a whole? John Folse said it comes down to two dishes for him - the gazpacho and chicken liver mousse. Tom C. said if everyone was asked which dish was their favorite, most would said the consomme was their favorite, and the chocolate chicken was the least favorite....and those two dishes were from the same team. Emeril said he has to go with Spain. Tom C. said he'd just prefer they arm wrestle and get it over with. :-)
We're back in the kitchen, and Nina said there was a lot of what-ifs. Padma comes in asking to see the Spanish Team. They served the judges' overall favorite meal. Nina thought her dish would send her home, but she had to step back and realize that that's why it's classic - it's simple. Her ajo blanco was subtle, elegant, and classic as well, per Jacques. Brian and Carlos' chicken dish - Emeril and Jacques like that Carlos put in a wedge of lemon with the chicken to pop the whole dish. They all agree that the chocolate flan was out of the 1960s, but Chef Julian was set on his old style.
The winner of the Elimination Challenge is Nina!
The French Team is asked to go into Judges Table. Since Nicholas has immunity, Shirley or Stephanie will be going home. :-(
Shirley states that Chef Dominique pushed for the ice cream, and Emeril said he wasn't so sure about the ice cream, but what she did to represent the olives was very well executed, and Tom agreed. Emeril also tells Stephanie that the mussel dish was well executed, even though Stephanie never would have thought of it, and thought the dish was "out there." Shirley's consomme was very classic and excellent. Nicholas said his chicken and chocolate dish was out of his comfort zone. Tom asked "But did you like the dish?" He replied "I liked the sauce - it had a bit of heat to it, it was bitter, it had a lot of madeira..." But Padma said they didn't get any of that, it was straight chocolate. Tom C. tells him that it was the least favored dish of the night....but it's only going to get worse, as the dessert equally bad. Jacques said the dessert's texture was granulated, and it didn't work.
Tom said that Shirley and Stephanie are in a tough position, as the judges just got done telling them how much they liked their dishes, but they are the only two choices the judges have. Jacques said cooking is a team effort, and he asks Nicholas "Do you think your team should be penalized for you, or do you think you should resign?" (WOW! WTG, Jacques!) Nicholas replies he thought he did well enough yesterday to earn immunity today. Both Shirley and Stephanie look disappointed. Tom C. says "Part of the game." They are excused while judges deliberate.
Nicholas explains in the kitchen that he is the reason they are on the bottom, and explains what Jacques had told him. Stephanie says in a camera aside that if she had had immunity, she would have given it up. She considers Nicholas a friend, but she can't even look at him right now.
Back at Judges Table, Emeril if immunity wasn't in play, Nicholas wouldn't be going home. Jacques said the crudo wasn't in par with the other dishes. The mussels made by Stephanie, and the sauce were very good. The next dish with the consomme and mushrooms were done by Shirley, and the mousse was done by Stephanie. But Padma and Emeril both say that the mousse was the best bite they had had all day.
Shirley says in her confessional that it sucks that Nicholas had the worst dish, and he won't take his chance in LCK. After their decision is made, Tom is still hoping Nicholas comes out to JT and falls on his sword.
Tom reviews the dishes, pretty much telling Nicholas he has the worst dishes, but with immunity, not all is fair in love and war. Nicholas remains silent. So it's Stephanie who is going home. DAMN!!! She begins to break down and walks out, as does Shirley. Nicholas says nothing and leaves. Tom said he won immunity fair and square, he deserved it, it's part of the game. But I think all four judges were disappointed he didn't step up.
Stephanie notes she had a good role model in Top Chef in Kristen Kish the previous season. She lost in Restaurant Wars and came back and won the whole thing.
The previews for next week don't look good for the Quickfire, it doesn't look good in the Elimination Challenge, with Nicholas and Carlos going at it again.
As a personal aside, I truly don't believe Nicholas deserves to be in the finale. There's Nina, Brian, and Shirley - get rid of Carlos and Nicholas, have either Louis or Stephanie come back from LCK, and let the four of them battle it out. I'm DONE with Nicholas and Carlos.