Top Chef NOLA - Ep. #4 - 10/23/13 (Spoilers)
It's the first game of the World Series at Fenway Park! It's also Top Chef night! OK, here we go....
A brief review by Louis in the Stew Room about being in the bottom group and his first terrible review when he became a chef in San Francisco. He likes to get better from criticism.
Then Nick calls his wife to touch base with her and see how the kids are doing.
Emeril and Chef and owner of Baohaus in New York, Eddie Huang, show up at the house. Nina is convinced that Emeril has a secret bedroom at the house because he pops up when they don't expect it.
Emeril tells them there is no Quickfire today. He says there are a lot of cultures that influence the cuisine in New Orleans. Eddie notes that in the 1970s, many Vietnamese came to NOLA and invested a lot of time and energy in the local shrimping industry.
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE - they will broken up into groups of five, and they'll be charged with coming up with their own Vietnamese menu. Travis is very happy - he cooks Vietnamese, his boyfriend is Vietnamese. They'll be serving some of the local Vietnamese who know the cuisine. One dish must highlight shrimp. Then Emeril said that he and Eddie are going to take them on a crash course of Vietnamese cuisine in NOLA to experience the Vietnamese culture themselves. Travis said "no offense to Eddie or Emeril, but I could give *them* a crash course in Vietnamese cuisine." A little cocky there, Travis!
They get on a nice party bus. They start to review their menus. The teams are:
Red Team - Shirley, Justin, Carrie, Patty & Nina
Green Team - Janine, Bene, Travis, Sara & Stephanie
Orange Team - Brian, Carlos, Nicholas, Louis & Michael
Nina notes that Michael is sucking up to Emeril about a Vietnamese bakery they're going to, and she said she thinks Michael is faker than .... Pamela Anderson's breasts. LOL!
They try the best bahn mi in New Orleans and literally break into lots of packages and try various foods. They then head out to D. Ditcharo Jr. Seafood Dock. At the shrimp docks, a shrimping boat comes in and offloads their catch with big hoses to suck them out of the hull. Shirley takes advantage of talking to the fishermen and asks about various recipes from fishermens' wives. Carlos, Janine and Michael ask a fisherman about how he cooks a shrimp stew.
Back on the bus, Carlos is showing his nerves about making Vietnamese dishes - he seems comfortable with the soup, so Nicholas tells him to figure out what he needs for the soup. They stop at Kim Anh's Noodle House, and get lots of dishes to try - Shirley is making sure that Patty tries everything since she's unfamiliar with Vietnamese food. Sara seems nervous with Travis on her team and him bragging about being the "expert". Travis said "Oh, in Denver, we use romaine lettuce for everything like lettuce wraps!" when Sara said the Vietnamese wouldn't use romaine lettuce. She said "We'll see tomorrow when this is all over and done!"
They go to an Asian market to shop. Thirty minutes to shop and $200 per team at Hong-Kong Food Market. Sara is taking things out of her teams' baskets if she doesn't think they'll work. Travis is wondering if she doesn't trust him.
Back into the kitchen at Tan Dinh Vietnamese Bistro, they start prep and cook. The Green Team seems to have lost their lemongrass and can't find it. Did Sara remove it? She removed SOMETHING - I rewound to check and I can't tell if it was the lemongrass, as her body was blocking whatever she took out and put back. Justin (Orange Team) said he bought too much lemongrass and if the Green Team would just ask for it, he'd give some up, but.... So the Green Team scratches using lemongrass.
Emeril and Chef Eddie show up to check on them. Eddie asks how the Green Team is going to make Vietnamese food without lemongrass. Travis said they don't use it in everything! He says in the confessional that "Eddie is Taiwanese/Chinese - he only knows a little bit of what he knows. Sorry Eddie - you're kind of a douchebag." Oh REALLY, Travis?
Both Eddie and Emeril try Carlos' soup and there are lots of nodding heads and Emeril says "Push it" - they both seem to like it, but Carlos isn't sure what they mean. Stephanie asks Sara about the rice, and Sara asks Stephanie if she rinsed the rice - Stephanie says 3x. Sara says "too much water" and pours some of it out.
Plating begins. The Red Team seems happy with their dishes. On the Green Team, Janine says she knows she's made a bad decision on her preparation of the shrimp, but it's too late now. Justin notes that the shrimp dish from Janine and Bene shouldn't be covered in sauce, as by the time it gets to the table, they'll be soggy.
The diners and judges arrive. Tom, Eddie, Padma, Emeril, and Gail discuss Emeril and Eddie traveling with the cheftestants to the different locations to learn about Vietnamese food.
First team out is the Orange Team:
Nicholas - Black Pepper Squid with Cabbage & Peanuts
Carlos - Fish Head Soup with Pineapple, Tomato & Tamarind
Brian - Gulf Shrimp and Pork Belly Spring Roll & Dipping Sauce
Louis - Beef Broth Pho with Raw Eye Round & Oxtail
Michael - didn't have a dish; he was supporting the entire team
They like Brian's spring roll; Carlos' soup needed more acid, but when Emeril and Eddie tried it in the kitchen, it was in a better place. The tomato made it taste like minestrone. Tom thought Nichola's squid needed more seasoning. The flavor for the pho was weak.
Next team up - the Red Team:
Nina & Carrie - Raw Beef Salad with Pickled Vegetables
Shirley - Vietnamese BBQ Shrimp with Creole Spice Butter
Justin - Beef Pho with Rice Noodles & Lettuce
Carrie - Lemon Custard with Caramelized Bahn Mi
Patty - no specific dish; she did prep and had a hand in every dish
Justin's pho is light years ahead of the first one. Diners liked it as well. Tom *loves* Shirley's BBQ Shrimp - he doesn't know if it's authentic, but it's really delicious. Carrie's tartare's flavor is good, but Tom didn't like the texture. Emeril asks Eddie if he's had a raw beef dish in all the Vietnamese dishes he's had - Eddie said yes, but not the way Carrie made it - he's had it as shaved beef. Carrie's custard is flavorful, but presentation is horrible and seems like an afterthought.
Finally, it's the Green Team's turn:
Travis - Grilled Pork Sausage Lettuce Wraps with Pineapple Shrimp Paste
Sara & Stephanie - Dim Sum "Duo" - Oxtail Rice Wrap with Pork & Shrimp Rice Wrap
Bene & Janine - Fresh Gulf Shrimp with Ginger Vietnamese Tomato Sauce
Stephanie - Coconut Coffee Macaroon with Vietnamese Coffee Flavors
Tom likes Travis's dish, but Gail said there's no balance in the sauce - it's too heavy with fish sauce flavors and it just smacks you in the face. Padma says "But I was happy to be smacked in the face by something." Gail replies "Nice. That's how you like it!" Padma asks if it would have been better with lemongrass, and Eddie wasn't sure.
Sara's oxtail dim sum had good flavor, but Tom didn't like the texture. Another diner said the wrap was good the ground meat was bland. Bene & Janine's shrimp was fried and covered in sauce - Tom said the sauce is too well cooked - it's not a fresh tomato sauce anymore. Padma notes that the rice seems like they oiled the water. Gail said Stephanie's macaroon is what she has every year at her Passover seder - and she really likes the coffee caramel. Eddie said this dessert was the best one.
Tom said overall, some chefs had a better idea of southeast Asian cooking; and others said "OK, I'm going to listen, take something from this, and make it my own or reinterpret the dish", and then finally, some just didn't get it at all.
In the in-between - the cheftestants do a Plank-Off in the Stew Room - and Shirley wins. LOL
Judges Table starts and the TV turns on: Orange Team's beef pho wasn't right, nor was the fish head soup, but Brian's spring roll saved that team. The Red Team - they liked Shirley's shrimp, and Justin's pho nailed the play of anise and ginger. T
he Green Team disappointed the judges. But Stephanie's macaroon was well liked. Eddie thought the pork sausage with dipping sauce was too sharp and over-aggressive in all the flavors since there was no lemongrass. And their red sauce miss was epic. The rice wasn't broken rice - it was shattered rice. Travis said in teh confessional "They didn't get our food at all, but I'm willing to stand behind our dishes." He said in the Stew Room "I'm telling you - it was all straight from central Vietnam."
Padma comes in and asks to see the Red Team - they are the winning team. And Eddie tells them that the winner is :::whooshing camera shots of cheftestants::: Shirley!
The judges ask to see the Green Team - they are the losing team. Sara said it was a heart breaker for them, especially since they they got to cook "our food". And she breaks out crying.
Tom asks how they ended up with a tomato sauce - Travis said he's had it 3x before in central Vietnam. Tom said "But if we went to Paris, and it was a Parisian food challenge, and yes, I'm sure I could find a McDonald's in Paris - but I couldn't take a McDonald's dish and say it was Parisian because I found it in Paris!'
Eddie said "Travis, you had this dish and you picked this dish to make vs. showcasing the other things you had to have seen - the fresh basil, the fresh culantro, fresh mint - I was expect this bouquet!" Tom asked if anyone was nervous making the dish, and Janine said she was, as she's got some experience with Vietnamese flavors, but she's never come across the tomato flavors. Bene's sweet and overcooked tomato sauce was discussed, and Janine's twice-fried shrimp, and Sara's bad rice all took hits. Tom asked why serve the rice? Sara said "We were stupid." Stephanie's macaroon was the only dish that seemed to be OK - liked by Eddie, but not so much by Tom.
The judges deliberate. Tom said on paper this should be a dream team, and they fell apart. The tomato sauce, the rice, and the shrimp were all bashed yet again. Back come the cheftestants; :::whooshing camera shots::: And the chef asked to PTKAG is Janine - her shrimp did her in. Sara is relieved it's not her. Janine heads to LCK.
Previews of LCK, which starts tonight - it'll be Ramon, Jason, Aaron, Bret, and Janine all seek redemption. And previews for next week show Padma's and Gail's Moms in the Top Chef Kitchen, and Lea Michele will be hosting a Halloween costume party.
And now back to the World Series @ 11:30pm - the Red Sox are up 8-1 - and I see the last strikeout of Game 1! A very good night! LOL
The irony here is that Huang and Francis Lam, who of course also appears on TC, wrote that fantastic dialog about white chefs and authenticity a few years back. While I have to grant Tom his McDonald's metaphor, I can't see how a tomato sauce in central Vietnam is inauthentic while an Asianized pot-au-feu (pho) is the real deal.
But then Travis and his tomatoes weren't kicked out, Janine and her poor shrimp were. If everyone hated the rice so bad, that shrimp must have sucked.
Thanks Linda. You have not failed me. I hope you don't, but I'd understand.
Looked for LCK on demand, but not yet.
Wow! Pho is pot-au -feu????? I have never had that, but I have pho almost weekly! The sprouts and herbs like cilantro, basil, and the chili, etc are tasty, but I love freaking out those who might share with the tendons and such.
Still...it IS about the broth, isn't it?
I respect the judges but whenever it comes to Asian food, I feel pretty iffy about it. I've had oxtail braised in a tomato lemongrass sauce more than once in Vietnamese restaurants. Maybe Bene's sauce had the wrong flavour but I don't think a tomato-based sauce was wrong or inauthentic. Maybe Tom and Eddie just aren't familiar with it.
I remember having the same thoughts when Tom criticized Ed Cotton for rubbery skin on a chicken (or duck - can't remember which) in a challenge to make a dish for some international ambassadors and Ed had to make a dish for the Chinese ambassador. The skin is not supposed to be crispy on a Chinese tea-smoked chicken. The ambassador said it was done correctly - I think he said it was just like home. I'm Chinese and I've been eating rubbery-skinned chicken all my life. That's the way it's supposed to be, Tom.
I have to agree. Vietnam has different regional food traditions, and it seems like they were all judging the food against their experience of Vietnamese food in America, which is overwhelmingly Southern Vietnamese (just as for decades Chinese food in America was overwhelmingly Cantonese). I'll never forget the first time I had a northern Vietnamese dish called "Chả Cá Thăng Long" which had both butter and dill! Dill in an Asian dish? Who knew????
I also don't know why they couldn't have gotten an actual Vietnamese chef to judge instead of Eddie Huang. Apparently just being Asian makes you qualified to judge any Asian cuisine.
I'm not sure you can really grant Tom his McDonald's metaphor. I was thinking to myself finding a McDonald's in Paris is NOT the same as eating a tomato based dish in central Vietnam, in my mind at least. But Travis certainly was an idiot about it.
And I agree with the comment about Shirley's way of talking, not that she can probably help it. Have not seen Eddie Huang's "gangsta rap" persona, that would be funny.
i'm always amazed that people haven't had Vietnamese food (esp. chefs!), but i grew up in So. Cal. where tons and tons of Vietnamese migrated in the 70s - Westminster, to be exact, which at one time had the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. i didn't know there was such a vibrant Viet community in NOLA - makes me want to go even more.
i can't believe the green team didn't ask the other team for some lemongrass! although that one ingredient probably wouldn't have saved them. Sara was starting to bug - what gives her the right to take things out of the basket? - but then she volunteered herself as being at fault for the rice.
Hey Linda, did they actually say anise with regard to the soup? isn't it supposed to be star anise? i know they're similar but star anise is the one used in Asian cooking, right? certainly in pho....
this episode made me very hungry for Vietnamese food. think i'll be having some tomorrow.
as usual, thanks for the great write-up!!
That was a definite rewind on my part, mc, as I was a bit backed up in the recap, so I kept rewinding to get what Eddie was saying. Yup - just "anise" was said. But I think they were talking about just the flavorings in the pho - and doesn't star anise give somewhat the same flavoring as anise?
"i didn't know there was such a vibrant Viet community in NOLA - makes me want to go even more."
It's been said that New Orleans is the closest you could get to having Vietnam in the USA - huge river delta with huge mangrove forests full of fish and shellfish (well, huge once upon a time in both places, unfortunately), teeming business of fisheries, French speaking, Catholic, tropical climate. It was great that TC did this challenge.
Great write-up LW!
Well, the green team, and Travis in particular, certainly got the loser edit. I was kind of surprised that he didn't PYKAG, but Janine really should have known better about the shrimp. The problems in that team were arrogance, ignorance, and plain-old pig-headedness, and I was completely surprised by Sara competing for chief know-it-all with Travis. It's become almost a TC cliche that when someone says that they've "got this," and that something is in their wheelhouse, that they'll land in the bottom group and likely go home, which was why I was kind of surprised by Travis living to cook another day. When making their decision to send Janine home, I guess that they figured an egregious cooking mistake trumped ignorance and arrogance. She can now go up the pretty faction in LCK!