Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 6

Editor
John Besh, tomatoes, and a cream cheese nightmare
Bravo
John Besh was on hand to judge this episode.

After last week’s disappointing episode, in which the challenge wasn’t very well defined and nobody prepared a dish that really blew the judges away, this week once again left the judges unimpressed and viewers thinking that the crop of chefs this season is well below what we’ve come to expect.

The episode began with Padma and legendary New Orleans chef John Besh rolling into the house and telling the chefs that they needed to pack an overnight bag. They hopped in the RAV4 (as they made sure to let us know) and rolled out to a farm that supplies many of Besh’s restaurants and grows the thin-skinned, high-acid Creole tomato, which is similar to a beefsteak. For the Quickfire, the judges needed to prepare a dish that showcased the tomato. They sweated it out, and when the 20 minutes were over they each had something to present to Besh.

Bene: Chilled tomato and watermelon soup with balsamic reduction and feta cheese
Carlos: Olive oil poached tomato with red onions, cilantro, and basil
Stephanie: Creole tomato steaks with vinaigrette and olive oil
Nina: Chilled watermelon tomato soup with jalapeño, fresh basil, and shaved zucchini
Nicholas: Caramelized melon, cherry vinegar, and tomatoes with watermelon cucumber
Justin: Tomato skin tartare with squash blossoms and olive oil
Travis: Seared Creole tomato with steak, feta, and wilted arugula
Louis: Tomato seed bouillion, marinated tomato, watermelon cucumber, and zucchini
Brian: "Toad in the hole" Creole tomato with Andouille sausage
Patty: Roasted tomatoes marinated in olive oil and cherry vinegar with arugula and asparagus

Patty’s was a "mess," Stephanie’s was simple and didn’t show much creativity, and Travis’ didn’t elevate the tomato. On top was Nina’s soup, Carlos’ salad, and Louis’ bouillon. Nina took the win, and it seems like she’s won every challenge so far.

For the Elimination Challenge, Besh told them that they’d be cooking for all of Besh’s chefs at his restaurant La Provence, and that they’d have to incorporate Philadelphia cream cheese into their dish (they seem to be going overboard on the product placement this season, don’t they?). They’d also need to showcase all the local produce from nearby farms. They all drew knives to learn if they’d be preparing an appetizer, entrée, or dessert, and Padma told them that the winner would receive $10,000. After a bucolic evening relaxing on the farm (giving the producers a chance to get the chefs in a more relaxed state), they woke up the next morning and got down to business.

Cream cheese isn’t exactly a super-versatile ingredient (even though Philadelphia has been trying desperately in the past couple of years to convince us otherwise), and the fact that the only dairy available was milk and cream cheese (no butter) forced the chefs out of their comfort zone a little. As opposed to last week’s awkward catering challenge, it was nice to see the chefs cooking for a dinner party-sized group.

Here’s what they ended up with:

Appetizers
Patty: Snapper crudo with cream cheese vinaigrette
Brian: Summer squash and zucchini tagliatelle with poached oysters and emulsified cream cheese
Carlos: Poached baby beets and pickled carrots with peach, habanero, and cream cheese sauce
Nina: Crispy zucchini blossoms with eggplant and cream cheese purée
Sara: Island spiced lamb chop stuffed with cream cheese and curry powder

All the dishes went over well (especially the zucchini blossom, of course) except for Brian’s salty oysters and Sara’s undercooked lamb.

Entrées
Bene: Roasted chicken breast rolled with caramelized onions and tarragon cream cheese
Carrie: Vinegar-braised chicken in cream cheese sauce with chilled cucumber
Justin: Roasted duck breast eggplant vinaigrette, chanterelle mushrooms, and corn purée
Travis: Seared lamb with Moroccan succotash and cream cheese aioli

The braised chicken turned out dry and soupy, Bene’s dish was a major disappointment, Travis’ lamb was flavorful but inconsistently cooked, and while Justin’s duck was tasty, they couldn’t find the cream cheese. Overall, the gang wasn’t too impressed.

Dessert
Louis: Graham cracker with blackberries and cream cheese mousse
Nicholas: Funnel cake and carrot cake with peach-flavored cream cheese
Shirley: Steamed egg custard with macerated blueberries
Stephanie: Cream cheese, peach, and cherry mousse with cream cheese short dough

Stephanie’s custard was a broken disaster, Nicholas’ carrot cake was full of surprising flavors and textures, Shirley’s custard was "scrambled" and needed more sweetness, and Louis’ graham cracker bar was soggy and chewy. Another unimpressed showing, and Colicchio seemed almost embarrassed to present these dishes to Besh’s team. The judges railed into these chefs while they were deliberating, and it was painful to watch the chefs look on in horror.

Nina, Nicholas, and Justin took the top spots. Nina’s cream cheese filling was silky and smooth, and she accomplished everything she wanted to. Nicholas’ dessert was delicious, as was Justin’s duck, which was "composed and thoughtful," according to Gail Simmons. Nina, once again, took the win, the fourth challenge in a row that she’s won.

Bene, Sarah, and Travis were on the bottom. Sara's lamb was underdone and her effort to stuff it didn’t work. Bene’s vegetables were basically steamed and disconnected from the rest of his dish, and he tried to do too much. Travis’ dish was plated sloppily, and the vegetables were mushy and oddly cut. None of the dishes were inspired, memorable, or properly cooked, and the judges seemed truly appalled.

In the end, it was anyone’s game to lose, but Bene ended up getting the boot for his dried-out chicken and steamed, mushy vegetables. He was a good chef that had a bad day, and probably would have made it much further had he stuck around, which is more than I can say for the two who were on the bottom but weren’t kicked off.  

Related Links
Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 5Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 4Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 3
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