Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

Super Bowl Food Statistics: Are You Hungry for Some Football?

Like your football statistics? Here’s a little something to chew on! Super Bowl Sunday is fast approaching and many are hoping their Super Bowl Party scores a touchdown. You know the beer will be flowing and there is no better way to soak up that ale than adding chips and dip and some wings to the mix.
As the second most food-influenced day in the U.S. (Thanksgiving is #1), companies like Hass AvocadoFoster Farms and Budweiser make a killing on the mass indulgence of wings, beer and chips & dip. Here are the top Super Bowl Food Consumption Statistics for Super Bowl XLVIII:

Approximately 1.25 billion wings will be devoured during Super Bowl XLVIII, as fans watch the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos battle it out for the Lombardi Trophy.  That’s a 20 million-wing increase compared to last year and more than a 100% increase from 2010.

The Hass Avocado Board estimates that avocado consumption over Super Bowl weekend(Feb. 1-2) will best 104 million pounds (approx. 208 million avocados). That’s more than a 30% increase over the 2013 game.

An estimate of 50 million cases of beer is sold every year on the day of Super Bowl Sunday. Roughly $1 billion was spent on beer in the two weeks surrounding last year’s Super Bowl at grocery and convenience stores, according to Nielson. That figure doesn’t even cover sales from restaurants, bars, hotels and the stadium itself.

How many potatoes will it take to make up the 11.2 million pounds of potato chips that will be eaten in front of the teli during the big game? Think that’s a scary question? Then let’s not address the calorie count and grams of fat that accompany that statistic.

Super Bowl Sunday is the highest sales day for pizzeria proprietors. Dominos expects to sell 11 million “pieces” of pizza, while Pizza Hut predicts a selling a mere 16 million slices of pizza during game time.

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 16: "Maui Wowie."

And then there were four. The big question right now is who’s the fourth?

Who will it be?
Just to catch you up, Carlos got booted last week and had to face Louis in Last Chance Kitchen. Louis has momentum on his side by setting a record and winning 8 straight. Here’s the twist. This LCK is set in Maui. Yup. Both guys are already there. Winner gets to move on and loser gets to sit and sulk in a hotel room staring out at paradise.

The other LCK twist is that Nick, Shirley, and Nina get to taste their food and have a vote in who gets to advance. It was them, Tom, Emeril each getting a vote and majority wins. And of course, that LCK ends with a cliff hanger. We have no idea who won.

The three chefs arrive at what appears to be a welcoming party for them at the beach in Maui complete with hula girls in grass skirts. And yes, everyone got lei'd. 

Padma introduces this week’s guest, Chef Sam Choy. 

You know how every week after introducing the guest judge they would always play a clip of one of the chefs making a comment about how awesome the judge is? Yeah no such clip this week. Do they not know who he is?

Frankly I had to look him up myself. Apparently he founded “Pacific Rim cuisine” and is good friends with Emeril. He owns a bunch of restaurants, has a James Beard award, and is generally considered one of the elders of Hawaiian culinary landscape. An “Island” version of Emeril, if you will.

The time has come to reveal who gets to join the party. Any guesses?

It’s Louis. Dude has been crushing opponents in Last Chance Kitchen and few weeks ago made what Tom said was the “best tasting dish” he’s had all season. So suddenly we have a new formidable opponent.

I’m glad it’s Louis. Knowing his pedigree of having worked for Chef Thomas Keller I would like to see what he can bring to the table. Also I’m damn sick of Mexican food.

As the saying goes, “There’s not a moment to lose.” Time for the Quickfire.

Such a thing exists.
Since we’re in Hawaii, this challenge is going to feature one of their most popular food products. This state consumes more of this product per capita than any other. It’s so popular, even the Hawaiian McDonalds and Burger King have menu items featuring this stuff. We’re of course, talking about Spam.

The chefs have 30 minutes to come up with a special way to highlight Spam. The judges want creativity on top of having a tasty dish. Obviously immunity is not up for discussion at this point. However since this is a product sponsored challenge, the winner will get 10 thousand bucks.


Louis is super confident. Apparently he’s done some research and figured out since they’re in Hawaii, Spam’s gonna be involved. Also because of the nature of Last Chance Kitchen, he’s basically won 8 Quickfires in a row. He’s used to the 30 minutes on the fly type of cooking. He’s making Spam mousse. Only since this is Top Chef, he’s calling it a torchon. I can’t imagine anything more disgusting sounding.

So many questions!
The crowds are getting on Louis’ nerves. They kept asking him inane questions about his dish and with only 30 minutes he really rather be cooking than playing Q&A. They’re getting on my nerves as well. Hey if you don’t know what a torchon is you should be allowed at a Top Chef event.

Nina decides to go with teriyaki Spam. I had no idea Spam came in different flavors. She’s going to make croquettes using bread fruit. She tells us that, since she grew up on a island she knows how to use these exotic ingredients. #WeGetItAlready

Shirley is making a deconstructed musubi. Musubi is basically spam sushi. Yup. You heard that correctly. A slab of grilled Spam on top of sushi rice and the wrapped with nori. It’s one of the most popular way of eating Spam in Hawaii. Shirley’s idea of creative is to basically making an “open faced” version. 
It's always heaven at 7 Eleven.

Nick’s making Spam bouillon with mushroom ragu. One of the judges’ biggest complain about him throughout the season has been under seasoning his food. He’s not going to have that problem this challenge. Spam itself is already a salt bomb, so no worries there! 

The production crew must have never thought someone would make a soup because while everyone else got to serve on nice white plates, Nick had to use plastic Tupperware containers.

Let’s see what these guys manage to do with Spam.

Shirley - Deconstructed Spam Musubi with Spam-Infused Rice, Nori & Cucumber Slaw.

Presentation is everything.
Louis - Spam Mousse with Garlic, Chives, Scallions, Snap Peas, Beech Mushrooms & Togarashi.

Nick - Spam Broth with Pancetta, Seaweed, Dried Shrimp, Clam Juice & Quail Egg.

Nina - Breadfruit & Teriyaki Spam Croquette with Sour Orange & Mango Slaw.

Chef Choy thought Nick’s Spam broth was a bit too salty, but the quail egg on top smoothed everything out. Tom agrees.

Nina’s sour slaw provided the acid to cut through the fried aspect of the dish. And Padma really likes the use of breadfruit.

Carlos’ mousse was creative alright, but not enough Spam flavor for Chef Choy. What the hell is Spam flavor?
Anyone who owns a cat knows what I'm talking about.

Shirley’s musubi was well…a musubi. Though tasty, not that creative.

The winner is Nick. Talk about creativity. Making a delicious Spam soup is hella outside the box. This is his first big ticket item win and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 10 thousand dollars for him. He’s totally excited but not distracted. He said he would trade the 10 grand for a spot in the finale in heartbeat. 

Speaking of which, here’s the final Elimination challenge before the finale.

Is "canoe crop" euphemism for boat full of naked dudes?
The judges explain that Hawaii is one of the most remote islands in the world and the natives had no choice but to be self sufficient. The first Polynesians brought with them on a canoe chickens, pigs, and 24 species of plants and fruits. These ingredients are known locally as “canoe crops.”

Their challenge is to make a dish using only “canoe crops.” (And apparently fish as well, even though fish was not mentioned.)
Here’s the shocker - only two chefs will be moving on to the finale. Yup. Double elimination.

An actual canoe rolls up with these “canoe crop” ingredients and the chefs run towards the shore to gather up what they need. Shirley takes a tumble along the way and almost got ran over by Louis. 

Nina is super confident. Having this challenge set in Maui with these ingredients is almost like having home court advantage for her. Because you see, she’s from an island. #DeadHorse

Nina, Louis, and Nick are all making fish. But Nina makes the mistake and starts portioning off Nick’s pink snapper instead of her own moonfish. So now she’s behind in her prep. Maybe she’s getting a little over confident?

With this limited amount of ingredients to work with, Shirley’s afraid everyone’s dish is going to taste the same. So now she’s glad that she chose pork instead of fish. Her dish will definitely stand out from the rest.

Prep day is over. They’ll have two hours tomorrow to finalize their dish before service. Time for some R & R.

The gang checks into their hotel suite with the swank view. Nick gets the room with the king sized bed, the girls took the room with two queen beds, and Carlos gets an office with a pull out bed. Guess the Last Chance Kitchen champion is still considered second class citizen.
Oh you knew this was coming.

Time for some filler material. The foursome goes for a hike and some introspective reflection time. I don’t understand what the big deal about Hawaii. It looks hot and damp there. Plus, I heard it’s expensive. #Grouch

Next day, it’s time to cook. They’ve got just two hours before service. Even though the event is held at Merriman’s restaurant, they are once again cooking outside. 

Just when everyone’s getting into a cooking rhythm, here comes Tom for the Cook ’n Chat.

Much like Nina, Shirley is also really confident. When Tom ask how would she feel if she fell short today and her answer was “I won’t fall short.” In fact, the girls believe they are the ones to beat. 

Both Louis and Nick are not nearly as sure. Nick even tried to play, ‘let’s make a deal’ by offering the 10 grand up for a spot in the finale. Tom says no.

Wrong guy. Wrong show. No deal.
Just before Tom leaves, he tells them the winning dish/chef of this challenge will also have a decided advantage going into the finale. Consider the ante upped.

As if on cue, it starts to rain. Everyone’s scrambling to cover their mise en place and fryers. And it’s not just rain. This being a tropical storm, it is also windy. Ever tried to grill something with open flames in the wind? Yeah, it’s hard to control your heat. 

Louis is worried because the fish he’s using (moonfish) is difficult to cook well, so the wind is giving him a level of difficulty he didn’t need. 

The flip side of a tropical storm is that as quickly as it comes, it ends just as quickly. So while it was a pain in the ass, the pain was short lived. Back to the regularly scheduled cooking.

Here comes the judges.

This weeks VIP includes Peter Merriman (of Merriman’s Kapulua) Emeril, and a pregnant Gail! I wonder if that’s one of the reasons no one is serving their fish raw? Or did they learn their Sam Talbot lesson?

Let’s eat.

Fish and Seaweed.
Louis - Grilled Opah (Moonfish) with Sweet Potato & Coconut Sauce.

According to Chef Merriman, Sam Choy was the one who promoted the use of this particular fish and made it popular. He thought Louis’ fish was cooked perfectly and Emeril thought the usage of canoe ingredients was well done. Remember the wind and the flames? Well it’s come back to bite him. Tom’s fish was underdone and Gail’s was over. Judges do not like inconsistency! 

Fish and Seaweed.
Nina - Grilled Opah with Taro Root & Coconut Puree.

Unlike Louis, Nina confit her fish before finishing it on the grill. So she didn’t have to cook the fish through purely by flame. Her fish came out perfectly cooking all around. Judges thought her sauce might have been a bit too spicy and may have over powered the fish.

Nick - Opakapaka (Pink Snapper) with Jalapeño & Crispy Chicken Skin.

Notice a pattern?
Nick might have hit a home run here. Chef Merriman thought the jalapeño was a bit much, he got shot down right away by Tom and the rest of the table. Ha. Seems like the judges are surprised that Nick came through with this dish. Padma say maybe Hawaii relaxed him into not overthinking and complicating dishes.

Shirley - Honey Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato & Tumeric Puree.

Tom thought the pork was beautifully braised, the puree was well done and the sauce was flavorful. The only problem is that it’s too sweet. The honey with the sweet potato was just a little too much. 

Look! Something different!
During the interlude Chef Choy explains the gaseous properties of the breadfruit. So here’s a #protip, take a few Beanos before having too much breadfruit. #BlueFlameAction

Service is over. It’s out of their hands now. Louis says he had hard day because those fish (opah) was hard to cook. Nina just looks at him. She didn’t have any problems cooking that fish. 

Nick says it’ll all come down to a small mistake here or there. Maybe Padma was right. There’s something very Zen about him. It seems almost like during the break (between the last episode and Maui) he went off to the mountains and meditated or something. 

Oh look who also make the trek to Maui! The Flat Screen of Doom! Welcome back buddy. We missed ya!

The trip must have tired the Flat Screen out. It wasn't so “doomy.” Tom basically says everyone had a strong dish and it all comes down to small mistakes.

Nick had strong dish. The only ding was possibly the jalapeño, but that complaint came from someone other than our judges so it carries little weight. The other three? Not so lucky.

Nina’s was slightly too spicy, Shirley’s too sweet, and Louis’ fish was inconsistent. 

Here comes Padma. They want to see all of them.

Having gotten a preview of what her complaint was, Shirley comes up with this ridiculous story of how she wanted to show them how sweet Maui made her feel. Yeah. In the immortal words of Elaine Benes,  “No one's gonna buy it, and you shouldn't be selling it.”

Louis’ fish wasn’t cooked consistently. Judges are paying him compliments for busting through Last Chance Kitchen the way he did but there’s no way he had one of the top two dishes. When someone tells you it was a “gutsy” effort, you’re probably going home.

Nina wanted to showcase the island flavors. The flavors she grew up with. Tom agrees. He says this is the kind of food they’ve expected from her. And since day one she’s been continuously cooking strong and exciting food. But not so fast, Padma jumps in and points out that it might have been too spicy. There goes the smile.

Nick is at peace with himself and it shows in his dish. Instead of keep trying to showcase his talents by coming up with over complicated dishes, he just took what was given and worked with it. It’s not to say he made simple food. Tom says there’s still a lot going on but everything made sense. He is quietly confident. No mention of the jalapeño.

Time for the judges to deliberate.

It’s pretty obviously who won this challenge and who’s going home. The question now is whether Shirley or Nina gets to move on. 

We know who Emeril’s lobbying for. Ever since the Vietnam episode where Shirley “found her voice” at the docks, her and Emeril have had this bond. Emeril tries to sell the rest of the judges on the deliciousness of Shirley’s pork while taking jabs at Nina’s too spicy fish.
C'mon. Shirley calls me "Uncle Emeril."

Meanwhile Tom is being objective. He emphasizes that it all comes down to the mistakes. He thinks Shirley’s mistake was the honey. It made the entire dish too one note. It needed a little more sourness or acidity to break up the sweetness.

It’s gonna be close.

You know, if someone told me even a few weeks ago that Nick is going to the finale I’d say they were crazy. But here we are. Nick wins the challenge and is the first one to advance. And he’ll get to have an advantage over whoever’s following suit.

Louis is crushed. It’s tough having won 8 challenges in a row only to show up empty handed. I think the nerves got to him because he had the same problem cooking fish with his challenge against Carlos. Great flavors bailed him there. But this time, against superior opponents he fell short. 

So who’s it gonna be. Shirley or Nina? It’s such a tough call because both have been killing it all season long. They had totally thought it would be Ladies Night at the finale until Nick decided to get his mind right and spoil the party. 

It goes to Nina. Shirley comes up short and in third place.

Look at it this way. Shirley have already won a moral victory. Through this competition she’s the only one who “found herself” and evolved into being more than just a “shadow chef.” She will undoubtedly be able to run her own kitchen/restaurant and be very successful at it. Not to mention the car and the cash that she won along the way. She’s going to be alright.

Since day one with them turtle meatballs Nina has made it clear that she’s a machine. Technically sound and bold with the flavors, she busts out amazing food week after week. She’s definitely earned the right to be in the finale. 

The table is set. The Island Terminator versus the Redemptive Hot Head. Who’s it gonna be?

Next week. Mano-a-Mano.
Although I can’t tell you who’s gonna win it all, I can tell you one thing - there will NOT some arena style mock Iron Chef type of B.S. finale. From the preview it looks like we’ll have one of those, ‘pick some team mates and make the “best meal ever” type of deal.’ 

How are you planning to watch the finale? 

One more week to go. Let’s do this!!

[Written by Mykl Wu]

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 15: "Leaving New Orleans."

Nick is completely surprised he didn’t get sent home last week. I’m surprised too. I thought after his cowardly performance that sent Stephanie home Tom would have cut him for coughing the wrong way. Not to mention this was his third straight week on the bottom.

Who's it gonna be?
The remain four know the end is nigh and start to size each other up. Who’ll be the one left behind before the finale?

Carlos is the outcast. Pretty much at this point everyone knows Carlos only does Mexican food. He doesn’t deviate from it at all. Everything is “something I used to make in Acapulco…” Shirley’s sick of it, Nick’s sick of it, and you know how I feel about it. Even Carlos knows it. He can feel the iciness in the house, how other chefs feel he doesn’t belong here. And finally we get the classic “I’m not here to make friends” quote. #Cliche’


No special guests this week. There are 4 stations set up for the chefs. Waiting for them are Gail, Padma, and Tom. Each with their own silver serving platter (the kind with the dome.) This looks seriously.

What's in the platter??
Padma tells them this is their last Quickfire in New Orleans. As per usual, the finale will take place at some exotic locale. And finally, immunity is off the table. However, the winner gets a brand new car!

Shirley’s already won a car. If she keeps winning she can open up her own car rental agency.

This is going to be a two-part Quickfire. Gail and Tom and both devised a special challenge that reveals a little bit about themselves. Gail starts off by explaining that since she gets to eat a lot for her work, all she needs is one perfect bite. She lifts the dome and reveals a set of cocktail forks. Her challenge is for the chefs to make one bite that will fit on the fork. The top two dishes will move on and face Tom’s challenge. Bottom two gets to sit and watch. 

Anthony Bourdain called. He wants his show idea back. 

Bubbie. How could you steal from me?
Frankly he can have it. That show is terrible. It’s like the food version of The Voice. Bah. #SellOut

The chefs have 20 minutes. One bite. Go.

Nick realizes one of the reasons he’s been on the bottom is that he over complicates and overthinks his dishes. Since there isn’t too much you can put on one cocktail fork, the challenge does him a favor and takes complication out of the equation. He’s going to do steak and potatoes.

One of the problems with this challenge is to fit everything on that tiny fork. The Chefs are using tweezers to place some of the small delicate garnishes. Must be the nerves. Because everyone’s hands are shaking and they barely keep the food on the fork.

Time flies by. Let’s see who won “The Taste.”

Now that's a mouth full.
Carlos - Grilled Mango with Shrimp & Chili Glaze.

Nick - Beef Deckle with Aged Balsamic & Purple Potato Chips.

Shirley - Seared Flank Steak with Black Pepper Cherry & Crispy Onions.

Nina - Shrimp Escabeche with Potato Aioli & Pickled Shallots.

Everyone liked Carlos’ dish. Grilling the mango was a great idea. The bite started off sweet and finished with the acidic gastrique.

Shirley’s steak was cooked well, but since the whole thing fell apart when Gail picked it up, she’s probably not going to advance. 
Steak and potatoes always win.

Without the handicap of over thinking, Nick comes through with his simple and well executed dish. Crispy potatoes are always a win.

Nina’s shrimp had a good texture and good heat. But it was a little too greasy for Gail.

The top dishes belong to the boys. Nina and Shirley gets to ride the bench for Tom’s challenge.

Ok. So Tom says even though he’s known for his steakhouse (Craft), he actually draws his inspiration from produce. He lifts up his dome (no pun intended) and we see an eggplant and a red pepper. Remember kids, those are Tom’s favorite veggies. Also don’t forget - Tom doesn’t like skin on his bell peppers!

No skin on my pepper please.
First come, first serve. Who ever get to the table gets first choice. Speed racer Nick comes through. Then he casually humble brags about being on varsity track. He’s going to (you guessed it) do the eggplant two ways. One is a puree of eggplants with sesame and the other, a  roasted eggplant cut in shape of a scallop. He wants to show some technique and versatility.

See - that’s the problem with this season. Most everyone is trying to show technique instead of making the most delicious food. I predict this will eventually catch up with Nick.

You know who doesn’t care about showcasing technique? Carlos. Dude is just going to make soup. Red bell pepper soup. Just throw the red peppers in the fryer, combined them with some stock and blend the hell out of it. No technique showboating here!
Look. Technique!

Carlos - Fried Red Bell Pepper Soup with Fennel, Basil & Onion.

Nick - Roasted Eggplant with Sesame Seed Sriracha Tahini & Chili Threads.

So one of them cut the eggplant like a scallop, made an eggplant tahini, and even finished with some aged vinegar. The other guy made soup. Guess who takes home the car?

Nick is pissed. He’s the only chef who hasn’t won a major prize. Shirley won cash and a car, Nina’s won cash, and now Carlos scores a car. Nick could conceivable go home empty handed. If that happens he’s only got himself to blame. Chefs who under-season over-complicated dishes usually don’t last, let alone win.

Look. No technique!
Time for elimination. Padma tells them that only 3 of them will get to go the finale…in Maui, Hawaii! 

Last time the show went to Hawaii for the finale one of the cheftestants got booted for not actually cooking something (Sam Talbot made 2 raw preparations) so hopefully these chefs will know better! The probably won’t. At times it’s like these guys have never seen the show before.

It’s only fitting that before we leave New Orleans, the godfather of Crescent City joins us for the send off. The chef synonymous with New Orleans itself, Emeril Legasse!

See. It's so easy even Michael Voltaggio can do it.
Everyone’s happy to see Emeril. He’s that comforting figure on the show. You just feel like if Emeril’s around everything is going to be ok.

For this challenge, the chefs are to gather up everything they’ve experienced in New Orleans in this past 14 weeks and put them into a dish. One dish that culminates all that is New Orleans. Easy peasy right?

They will cook at Emeril’s flagship restaurant tomorrow for the judges and super chefs Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini, and Douglas Keane. 

Would you want to serve bad food
to this man? #NO
Grant Achatz is a multiple James Beard Award winner and the owner of Alinea, one of the best restaurants in the world. Andrew Carmellini is a multiple James Beard Award winner and the owner of the Dutch, a popular restaurant in NYC. Dougass Keane is a James Beard Award winner and won Top Chef Masters. Talk about an intimidating table.

The winning dish will also have the honor to being featured at all of Emeril’s restaurants in New Orleans.

Tonight, the chefs will gets to dine at Emeril’s with Emeril cooking for them. As awesome as that sounds, it’s really Emeril overseeing his staff making some of the restaurant’s dishes for them. What really kicked ass was earlier this season when Emeril personally cooked a big pot of kale soup for the gang. That was a incredible moment. 

And since taking the show to Hawaii ain’t cheap, we get to spend a few minutes with Carlos in his brand new Toyota Corolla and listen to him explain some of the features. Oh look! You can sync your phone! #whoopdeedoo

Shopping time. This week we head to the local supermarket instead of Whole Foods. Cuz you see, Whole Foods isn’t part of the New Orleans experience. Not today anyways.

But it's not.
And since this the last episode in New Orleans, we get a lot of “reflection” moments. Flashbacks of guest judges, challenges, and basically recycled footage. Ah let’s all reminisce on how great this season could have been. #toosoon

Dinner time. Let’s go to Emeril’s.

The chefs arrive at a beautiful and packed dining room. No worries, they’re not with the common folks. Emeril’s set up a private “chef’s table” for them in the kitchen. Searching around I didn’t see an option to book the chef’s table for Emeril’s, so they did set this up just for them. 

The first dish is Emeril’s famous BBQ Shrimp with Rosemary Biscuit. This baby’s been on the menu for 10 years. The rich sauce is luscious with just the perfect shade of brown, as Emeril calls it, “creole coffee.”

Nina immediately jumps on this idea. She was already contemplating making BBQ shrimp on her own, but now she’s going to take the inspiration and build on it.
New Orleans on a plate.

Carlos says he’s going to make a seafood mousse, like a tamale. Wait. So after spending 14 weeks in New Orleans the impression this city left you is a freaking tamale? 

Second Course. Angel hair pasta with crawfish, smoked mushrooms, local tomatoes and tarragon. Simple yet delicious.

Main Course. Grilled pork chops with tamarind glaze and sweet potatoes. And the dessert was sort of a sampler of a bunch of stuff.

Speaking of stuffed, the chefs roll on home. Inspired by tonight’s food.

I dunno. If you weren’t already inspired by Toby Gonzalez’s boucherie, John Besh’s old school home cooking, and Emeril’s big pot of kale and potato soup, you’re either dead on the inside, or you’re making tamales.

Time to cook. The gang returns to Emeril’s. This time they’re here on the other side of the pass. 

Nick has learned his lesson and is now going to keep it simple. Um…not. 

He’s making a dish with shrimp dumpling, confit of yellow fin tuna, charred cobia, and buttered bass. Yeah. And he’s trying to convince himself it’s just a simple dish with some sauce and fish. #Rolleyes

Here comes Emeril and Tom for the cook ’n chat.

Nina tells Emeril that his BBQ shrimp is her inspiration for tonight’s dish. She’s also making malfatti, little ball-shaped pasta with ricotta cheese and rosemary, in lieu of the rosemary biscuits. Emeril seems moved by this gesture.

Shirley making one of her seafood stocks again. A quick shot shows shrimps, clams, mussels all getting the sautée treatment before being deglazed and reduced. She’s also braising celery to be placed under her fish to create the feeling of a raft drifting down the bayou. How poetic.

Nick admits to the chefs that he’s had an up and down season. He says part of the problem is that he’s overthinking. He tells them tonight's dish is going to be simple. Yeah, go ahead and lie to them. Wait ’til they see how “simple” your dish with 10+ ingredients is.

Carlos drops the bombshell that he’s making a tamale. But he quickly adds that this tamale will not have any corn at all. The masa is going to be made entirely out of seafood. So it’s like a seafood mousse with some seafood inside. Tom seem relieved because he didn’t think the initial dish truly reflected New Orleans. Tom, haven’t you figured out that Carlos does not care?

Here comes the judges and the mega chefs. Tom says there are two times you don’t want to get sent home. You don’t want to be the very first guy to get booted, and you don’t want to get sent home right before the finale. Cuz you know, all the other times are ok.

Time’s up. Nina wants to plate everything right up to the wire. She doesn’t want the fish to be soggy or cold. However, she completely forgot to plate the pasta! 

She is NOT happy. Having made very few mistakes the entire season and now this. A major component left off the plate.I wonder how the judges would react to this. 

Nina - Speckled Trout with Baby Vegetables & Barbecue Sauce.

Right away Tom asks about the malfatti. See, that’s why they do the cook ’n chat. You can’t hide from your mistakes. Nina admits she forgot to plate it and is ashamed. 
However, Tom and the rest of the table felt that the ricotta malfatti would have been a subtraction to the dish. So it was a rather fortuitous mistake on her part. Also, Tom says if the challenge was to take inspiration from New Orleans and put it on a plate, she did it. Phew.
Nick's idea of simple.

Nick - Charred Cobia, Roasted Bass & Tuna Confit with Crispy Rice & Shrimp Consomme.

Everyone loves Nick’s shrimp broth and the fish was cooked really well. Got to give the man credit for three separate preparations of fish on one plate. Oh oh. Here comes the ‘ole problem with under seasoning. The consensus is that while the broth is flavorful, the fish needed more salt.

Note to chefs. These master chefs like their food heavily seasoned! You’d figure after decades of tasting food, they must develop some sort of resistance right? 

Carlos - Steamed Seafood Tamal with Saffron Cream Sauce & Pickled Okra.

New Orleans via Mexico.
Um. You’re serving Tom Colicchio okra? Brave man. Note: Tom does NOT like okra, sea cucumbers and grated mountain yams. #Protip

Emeril was skeptical of this concept. But apparently Carlos pulled it off. Douglas Keane was impressed with how inventive this dish is and how it fulfills the challenge. Tom wish Carlos served it in the banana leaf for the full tamale experience.

Shirley - Black Drum with Zhenjiang Vinegar Butter Sauce, Braised Celery & Mushrooms.

Home run. Everyone loves the fact that Shirley combines the “holy trinity” (bell pepper, onion, celery) with black asian vinegar. Fish cooked perfectly crispy. Boom.

Meanwhile, Nina’s kicking herself in the kitchen. She cannot believe her egregious mistake. However she has no idea that the judges thought the dish was fine as presented. 

The heart and soul of New Orleans food.
Dinner’s over. This is going to be a tough decision. We go straight to judge’s table.

Nina’s up first. She cop to her mistake but right away Tom tells her that dish didn’t need the ricotta cheese. It was simple but precise. Talk about a sigh of relief. She honestly thought that mistake was going to send her home. 

Emeril loved Shirley’s dish. All the chefs loved that she used the trinity, and her sauce is a perfect compliment to the various combination of cultures that makes up New Orleans cuisine. Yeah, she’s probably going to Maui.

Nick’s dish is beautiful to look at and Tom liked the fact that each fish was cooked differently. However, the broth was so well seasoned that it made the fish taste bland. The consensus at the table was it needed more salt. Still, Gail says it was one of the best things from Nick this season.

Carlos’ tamale didn’t disappoint either. Everyone thought it was a clever way to reinterpret an age-old classic. Tom says the whole pieces of seafood inside might have broken up the lusciousness of the mousse. And Emeril asks why wasn’t it served with the banana leaf. With that said, it was a really well done dish.

There you go. Four solid dishes. Who gets to move on and who gets the cut?
I. Can't. Even.

In one of those cliched dramatic pauses, Padma tell Nina and Shirley that they….

… had the two best dishes and are headed to Maui.

And cue the tears. Jesus people. Shirley’s crying again. Maybe I’m just a cold hearted bastard because Gail’s getting chocked up and even Emeril’s getting misty. Shirley says she’s just happy that she “found herself.” 

She certainly did. Because she’s the winner of this challenge and her dish will be featured in all of Emeril’s restaurants in New Orleans. What a great way to leave your mark in this city.

Since we’ve got one more commercial break left, Carlos and Nick gets to suffer through one last stew room agita. 
Stew room.

So it comes down to this. Emeril says his tamale was lukewarm, which was why he asked about the banana leaf. Mean Girl Padma says Nick’s under seasoned fish is a violation of basic cooking 101. 

Back in the stew room it’s pretty obvious who Nina and Shirley want in the finale. They’re openly telling Nick he should be the one going to Maui. It’s ok. Pretend Carlos isn’t there in the same room with you guys. #Rude

Remember this?
Well, they get their wish. Carlos, who in all honesty made a freaking tamale in a challenge to capture the essence and influence of New Orleans, gets sent packing. Tom nicely consoles hime by letting him know that there’s still Last Chance Kitchen and he still has a shot. Yup, Last Chance Kitchen, where I’m sure he’ll make yet another Mexican dish. #yawn.

Adios Carlos. You’ve managed to hijack this season with your non-New Orleans related food and cliched back story. I hope Louis beats the hell out you in Last Chance Kitchen. #SorryNotSorry

So the connection to New Orleans ends here. I know I’m biased because I love this city so much. I was excited beyond belief when I heard Top Chef was going to be in New Orleans. One of my favorite shows about my favorite topic set in one of my favorite cities. I guess the expectations were too high and the whole thing was doomed for me from the start. Unlike Shirley’s dish, this season just didn’t capture the essence of the city. I know. I’ve got lots of feels.

Next week. On to Maui and what must be part 1 of 2 of the finale!

Who are you rooting for? And do you think it’ll be Carlos or Louis to emerge from LCK?

See you next week!!

{Written by Mykl Wu}