The Wife:

Can I start this Top Chef article with a little nugget about my Oscar party this weekend? Okay, because I’m going to. I’ve created a menu evocative of the Best Picture nominees, and there are two things I’m really excited to make. One is something called a Watergate Cake with Cover-Up Icing, a recipe popular with housewives during the Watergate era that uses, for no other discernable reason than its newness to the instant pudding market, instant pistachio pudding. Clearly, that’s my homage to Frost/Nixon. I mean, come on! Instant pistachio pudding? I can’t fucking wait to make this delicious abomination. The other thing I’m looking forward to cooking is a mushroom jambalaya in honor of the New Orleans setting of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I’m adapting from an Emeril Lagasse recipe. That said, this episode totally put me in the mood for proper Cajun cooking and I am extremely glad that Bravo managed to synch up its programming with Mardi Gras so that the finale can utilize all the best that New Orleans has to offer. And that includes Emeril Lagasse.

For the Quickfire, Padma, Tom and Emeril, that gentle Food Network giant, asked the four finalists to sit this one out and they invited Jamie, Leah and Jeff back for a chance to win their way back into the finale. I thought this was an awesome twist, especially because it brought my Jamie back, as well as Jeff, who I honestly still believe has more of a right to cook in the finale than Fabio or Hooty Hoo. I just pretended Leah wasn’t there, because there was no way she wasn’t going to fuck up. The three axed cheftestants were asked to cook a crawfish dish in one hour and the winner would get to participate in the upcoming Elimination challenge, which, if they won, would guarantee them a spot in the finale. (If they lost, however, too fucking bad.)

The Quickfire Dishes:

  • Leah created a crawfish soup with andouille sausage, which was built upon a crawfish stock that she claims she made in one hour (impossible!). She explained this dish with her usual mirth.
  • Jeff cooked up some crawfish and grits with andouille sausage cooked in beer, because even though he cooks at a place called the Dilido Beach Club and got blonder since he was eliminated, he’s actually a good ol’ Southern boy at heart.
  • Jamie served up a corn cake with collard greens, poached egg crawfish and an andouille cream sauce, sort of a New Orleans Benedict, if you will. (I secretly hope she reads this blog, likes that name, and starts making this for Brunch at Absinthe.)
Jeff, who likes booze so much he even cooked his food in it.

An offering from Jeff, who likes booze so much he even cooked his food in it.

Of the three dishes, Emeril liked Jeff’s best and invited him to cook in Elimination Challenge, as well as join the other cheftestants for dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico. The next day, Jeff and the final four were told to bring their knives to Mardi Gras World where they were given their instructions for the Elimination Challenge: cater an event for the Krewe of Orpheus’ masquerade ball at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The cheftestants would be allowed to cook in the Delmonico kitchen, with one hour to prep on-site at the event. Everyone had to create two dishes to serve 100 guests, as well as a signature cocktail.

The Menus:

duck, andouille and chicken gumbo
pecan-crusted catfish
a hurricane with grand marnier and rum

oyster stew
shrimp and andouille beignet
non-alcoholic cranberry and lime spritzer

duck and rabbit gumbo over grits
apple beignet
black cherry and run cocktail

fried oyster with sausage
crawfish pot de creme
cucumber mojito

sausage and rabbit maque choux with grits
crawfish and crab stew with handmade pasta
muffuletta bread
bell pepper martini (trinitini)

Most of these things sounded very good and very New Orleans, but I had some misgivings, particularly about Fabio’s dishes. First of all, a maque choux is made with corn, so why serve it over grits, which are, in fact, boiled cornmeal? Isn’t that a little redundant? And isn’t it something of a misnomer to call it muffuletta bread, which is a particular kind of plain bread, when you incorporate the olives (necessary to a proper muffuletta sandwich) into the bread? Doesn’t it just become an olive bread at that point? And the bell pepper martini . . . I long ago learned that my people are not for making the cocktails. The only vegetable that should be in a cocktail is a stick of celery in a long island iced tea or a bloody mary. A bell pepper martini just does not sound good.

Fabio said he wanted to do something with a little bit of Italian and Creole flavors, which is a very, very Californian way of conceptualizing Cajun food. I’ve never had proper Cajun in this state, and everything I’ve ever seen at a Cajun restaurant here (including The Palace in Santa Barbara, which I love because it has tons of little delicious muffins and dirty martinis served in mason jars). Every Cajun restaurant I’ve been to in this state makes things that are similar to Fabio’s menu. It all tastes good, I just wonder about whether or not he should have striven to do something a little more authentic to the region.

I also had some questions as to why Carla would, in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, decide to make a non-alcoholic drink, but when she explained that she doesn’t drink and that she hates having to have water at social functions, it made more sense. Her drink sounded so tasty, though, that I’m sure someone at the party could have easily made it alcoholic by slipping some vodka from their carefully concealed flask into it.

Carla's offerings, filled with love, oysters and no booze whatsoever.

Carla's offerings, filled with love, oysters and no booze whatsoever.

During prep, Carla had some issues with her oysters, which Tom Colicchio rightly pointed out would have been easier to shuck had she bothered to steam them open first, but she managed, with a little help from the other cheftestants, to avoid some unshuckingbelievable mishaps (shout out to Gordon Ramsay!). The only person who had trouble during prep was Stefan, and by trouble I mean that he didn’t give a shit and was so overconfident that he constantly went out for smoke breaks and nearly cost himself a spot in the final four.

The judges arrived in masque plus Emeril and minus one annoyingly snarky Toby Young, who was replaced by a lovely post-nuptial Gail Simmons. It was nice to see her back, because she and Padma both looked smokin’ hot in their ball gowns for the evening. Everyone’s food seemed to go off really well with the guests and the judges, and I loved Jeff’s subtle attempt to endear himself to Emeril by mispronouncing “chipotle” the way the great chef does. I was also both shocked and amazed to see that so many denizens of New Orleans knew the call of the Hooty Hoo and loved her so dearly. I think I will have nightmares about masqued people calling out “Hooty! Hoo!” for a little while.

At Judges’ Table, the five contestants were called in. Although Jeff didn’t win, his cocktail was voted the favorite of the night, which would have been higher praise except for the fact that his non-win meant instant banishment from the show. Oh, well. At least he got a second chance and showed that his cooking was up to par with the final four. For her perfect execution of each dish she created, Hooty Hoo continued her winning streak and was given a Toyota Vensa with which to drive herself to the finale. Hosea, whose gumbo was lauded as the best of the three gumbos that night (I only counted two, but whatever) because it was the blackest, was also voted on to the finale, leaving Team Euro to face off for elimination. Despite Stefan’s cockiness, he cooked truer N’awlins cuisine and Fabio, whose bell pepper cocktail was voted the worst thing of the whole evening, was told to pack his knives and go.

I am okay with this. Fabio will continue to improve his skills, but he needs to learn how to plate food better. He is lazy in terms of aesthetics, no matter how good he looks in a baby pink scarf. I wish him the best of luck in getting out of the Kraproom.

Random Observations:

  • This is probably blasphemy, but Carla as a model is starting to make more sense to me. Why? With straight hair and bangs, she kind of looks like Padma. Only kind of. Only kind of.
  • I am happy to know that every year for Halloween, Fabio dresses in drag. It does take big balls to dress like a woman, and you do have to make sure that they’re not so big that they fall out of your panties. Truer words were never spoken. However, this raises some questions in my mind regarding Italian drag culture.
  • Why, by the way, does Fabio think of porn when he sees people in masks? Has he seen Eyes Wide Shut one too many times? You know what he should think of? Carnivale. He’s fucking Italian! They have a big giant month of masquerade there in a little city filled with canals! Fabio, you continue to confuse me.
  • How excited are we for the return of Make Me a Supermodel? I’m especially excited that its returning on the same day that ANTM does! Wednesday will be full of “glambition” indeed.