Top Chef Episode 15 Recap: Au Revoir, New Orleans

The final episode before the final episode(s) is always anticlimactic.This week was certainly no exception.The cheftestants are past the point of exhaustion both mentally and physically, and with two or three dishes standing between them and a trip to the finale, the only place we can expect to see beef is on their plates.Gail manages to show up for this week’s Quickfire (which is nice for a change), and it’s one that finally does not come with immunity attached. Instead, the winner gets a 2014 TOYOTA COROLLA.Ripping off NBC’s The Taste, Gail asks the chefs to create the perfect bite, then further complicates things by having them serve it on a cocktail fork. Our hometown hero serves a beef deckle (ribeye cap) with aged balsamic and purple potato chips, while his nemesis Carlos goes the seafood route and makes a chile-glazed shrimp with grilled mango. We don’t particularly care what Nina and Shirley make because we can safely assume they’re both going to the finale, even though they failed to impress Gail with their not-so-perfect bites. Nick and Carlos move onto a second Quickfire round, where Tom talks about how he’s known for his steakhouses in Las Vegas (huh?), then asks them to make a dish highlighting either eggplant or red pepper.

Yeah, I’m confused, too.

A short footrace decides which vegetable each of them will be cooking. Nick beats Carlos to the eggplant, then roasts it and serves it with a sesame seed sriracha tahini and chili threads. It’s a great looking dish, but it’s not seasoned enough for Tom, so Carlos’ red pepper soup (which didn’t exactly highlight the pepper) wins him the car, some muted gloating, and a scripted monologue about the car’s neat-o features.

Next, Emeril walks into the kitchen to announce their final elimination challenge in New Orleans. Since they’ll be packing up the next day, the chefs are tasked with a capstone assignment: Create a dish inspired by their time in the Big Easy. Not only will the winner move on, but their dish will be featured on Emeril’s menu. Oh yeah, and they’re cooking for Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini, and Douglas Keane. No pressure guys.

The cheftestants all opt for seafood, which makes sense. Nina makes her first mistake of the competition by forgetting the malfatti on her barbecue speckled trout. The judges don’t seem to miss it. Nick goes above and beyond once again and prepares not one, but three types of fish in a shrimp broth. The judges appreciate its beauty and the depth of the broth, but Dr. Elmi falls victim to underseasoning once again. Shirley, a study in studying exactly what people want to hear, impresses the judges by using the Cajun holy trinity of celery, onions, and bell pepper in her dish–black drum with Zhenjiang vinegar butter sauce, braised celery and mushrooms. Carlos gets creative and makes a tamal entirely out of seafood. The concept is well-received, but the dish needed more acid and a bit more time in the banana leaf.

All told, it was a showing good enough that the judges are left to split hairs, but not for Nina and Shirley. At this point, they’re cooking on a different level. Even with the missing component, Nina advances. Shirley does her one better by winning the challenge, leaving the final spot to either Nick or Carlos.

During deliberation, it’s clear that Padma wants Nick gone, but she can’t override the rest of the judges, and as if the decision was made before they even talked about it, she quickly dispatches Carlos to the Last Chance Kitchen, where he’ll have to battle Louis Maldonado for the final final spot (which won’t be announced until next week, so no need to waste the 11 minutes and 42 seconds watching the webisode. You’re welcome). And just like that, we’re finishing things up in Hawaii.

Only three more to beat, Nick. Let’s do this.

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