Top Chef Episode 12 Recap: You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Editor’s Note: This week’s recap is brought to you courtesy of guest recapper Kevin McKenzie who has stepped in at the last minute after last night’s episode proved too much for Fidel Gastro to handle. From what we understand, he is currently in seclusion with nothing for company but a life-size Padma Lakshmi doll made of pillows and Yeti hair and is subsisting on a diet of beef jerky and Southern Comfort (which, truth be told, is little changed from his normal daily diet). We have every confidence that he’ll be back next week, but for now, please enjoy Kevin’s attempt at channeling Senor Gastro as he brings us up-to-date on the doings in New Orleans.

After bidding farewell to the cafeteria ladies of LSU and sending Zac Brown Justin off to battle Louis in Last Chance Kitchen, we are now down to the Savory Seven. This week sees the return of the perfectly coiffed John Besh as he challenges the cheftestants to create their own version of a crawfish étouffée (it’s Top Chef: New Orleans; if you don’t know what that dish is at this point in the season, I can’t help you).

So let’s see how they did, shall we?

Stephanie calls home to her boyfriend/line cook, David, and this woman has her priorities straight as she first asks him about her fishing pole before professing how much she misses him. David, we come to learn, was one of Stephanie’s line cooks and because she had a crush on him, she made sure to work the line as often as possible when she knew he would be there. We’re pretty sure David is also a figment of Stephanie’s imagination, and his real name is George Glass. Nick, meanwhile, continues to fume about Carlos’ shenanigans last week and admits to being grumpy (FINALLY), which is the second stage of Reality TV Psychosis (after uncontrollable sobbing). Elmi’s a textbook case.

The chefs contend for immunity with their versions of étouffée and it dawns on Shirley that she’s the only one using rice, a realization that leaves her a bit worried. We also learn that Stephanie has a VERY specific shellfish allergy, which puts her at an obvious disadvantage. Nick offers to help taste her food for seasoning, but it’s not her flavors that land her at the bottom with our hero Nicholas. Her Parisian gnocchi with crawfish bisque is just more soup than smother. Dr. Elmi, meanwhile, continues his streak of disappointing Padma, who feels his shrimp and crawfish mousse stuffed in Napa cabbage with brandy and corn is more of a summer roll. Joining them on the low end are Carrie with a muddled Spanish-style étouffée with chickpeas, almonds, and wine that didn’t cook out; and Carlos, who’s basically on deathwatch at this point anyway. He couldn’t comprehend what it meant to smother something (though if he screws with Nick again he may learn real quick compliments of a bunk bed pillow).

Brian, Nina, and Shirley are the Quickfire favorites this time around. And all three are definite contenders for the finish line, too. Padma and John loved Brian’s Korean take on the dish with crabmeat, gochujang, corn and peppers, and John was impressed with Nina’s handmade pici pasta that she incorporated into her dish. But this time it was Shirley who walked away with immunity for her chili crab-esque version, incorporating lemongrass, egg, and rice (you knew her noticing no one else using it was a total foreshadow, right?). Since it’s Shirley, we get another story about how she cooks it for her husband and she perfected it for him and blah blah blah. You’re close to your family, there’s a tale behind every dish, and you had to walk five miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways. We get it.

The chefs are then told they’ll be cooking at the Louisiana Seafood Festival, and those folks are stoked at the free labor they’re getting for the catering. They’ll have three hours to cook on site for, get this…1,000 guests.

JUST KIDDING! It’s only for 200 people. Oh Padma, you’re such a trickster… The crew will have to create dishes highlighting two different kinds of seafood. But first, as a treat, they’re invited to John Besh’s house that evening for dinner and a keratin treatment (the man has the hair of Adonis). Over dinner at the Chez Besh, John mentions that some of the best chefs perform the worst as cheftestants because they overthink and want to produce so well to win. With all the subtlety of a brick in the face, Bravo cuts to Nick listening intently…

The chefs arrive at Mardi Gras World and ransack the truck full of seafood. It seems that most of them are choosing to do a cold dish (everyone gets a ceviche!) while Carrie, for some unknown reason, decides to make a flounder croquette. Carlos remembers being called out for his sloppy knife work on a previous challenge and asks Nick to borrow his sushi knife, a request Nick rebuffs, leading Carlos to publicly call out Nick for being selfish…well publicly from the privacy of that little confessional room, anyway. Fortunately for Carlos, Nick can only subdue his inner nice guy for so long. He finally relents when he sees Carlos floundering (get it?), but not without stressing the knife’s importance as a wedding gift/extension of Nick’s body. To no one’s surprise, he later finds his dirty knife cast aside like a used shotgun shell, and the anger wells within him. With the knife stained, we finally get to the long awaited quote of the series where Nick promises to become “the evil guy.”

The judges and guests arrive and it’s a foodie free-for-all. While Stephanie didn’t consider plating…or cooking time…or the difficulty of frying oysters a la minute, her dish is a hit and eventually earns her the win. Brian’s swordfish with shrimp, sweet onion puree and daikon relish lands him in the top three, where the gnocchi queen joins him. The judges lauded her choice of wahoo, as well as her salsa verde.

With Shirley having immunity, it’s Carlos, Carrie, and Dr. Elmi up for elimination. The judges felt Nick’s offering of oyster leek soup, oyster champagne emulsion, green apple and amberjack was missing both acid and texture. Carlos, meanwhile, was unable to handle the powerful magic of Nick’s wedding knife and so cut his fish TOO small (“It was like a fruit salad with bits of fish” commented Colicchio). Carrie failed to highlight her seafood by making croquettes instead of a sa-veech, and after a deliberation that really made it seem like any of the three could have been sent packing, cheery Carrie was headed to Last Chance Kitchen for the crime of not highlighting the seafood in her dish. Certainly not the wrong choice (I would have put my money on Carlos, but there’s drama yet to be had with him around), but I’m a little upset that it was only recently pointed out to me that Ms. Mashaney is a dead ringer for Ed Grimley (thanks, Matt and Jess), and all I can do with that is show you this side-by-side comparison to prove it. Until next week, folks.

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