Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 7

Kermit Ruffins, musical chairs, and a potluck
Bravo Chef Sue Zemanick and musician Kermit Ruffins joined in on the fun.

Seven episodes in, the jury is still out on how this season will fit in with the others. Nina is seemingly winning every challenge, the most personable and camera-friendly chefs are getting kicked off, the past two episodes have been disappointing, and as this episode began Nick was put under quarantine due to strep throat, which would mean a forfeit, and not much in the way of excitement.

Thankfully this episode got off to a good start as New Orleans jazz legend Kermit Ruffins showed up to introduce the Quickfire: several stations were stocked with different ingredients (tofu and bacon, duck and mussels, filet and chicken wings, quail and flounder, redfish, chicken thigh and trout, frog legs, and pork chop and chicken), and every few minutes the chefs would have to stop cooking and move to another station. It was set up as a riff on jazz and improvisation, but it was pretty funny watching the chefs get so frustrated with the way chefs before them screwed up the dishes they originally planned on.

This Quickfire was basically impossible to judge because so many chefs worked on each dish (including the same chef twice), but at the end the chef who finished the dish was judged for it.

Justin: Marinated tofu salad with crispy bacon and cucumber
Travis: Asian-inspired steak and potatoes with soy reduction
Sara: Trout with cabbage and pepper slaw and deep-fried cannellini beans
Brian: Duck and mussels with flavors of Asia
Patty: Pork chops, tamarind sauce, shaved red onions, mint, and jalapeño
Nina: Liver with Serrano chiles, celery salad, and coconut curry mustard sauce
Stephanie: Braised chicken and clams with red bean sauce, green apple, and red onion slaw
Carlos: Pan-seared redfish with cucumber slaw, red beans, and butter sauce
Shirley: Shrimp boil and herb salad with parsley, ponzu, and olive oil
Louis: Rosemary okra, rendered pork, confit potatoes with frog legs and queso fresco

Louis’ frog legs could have used spice, and Justin’s tofu salad had no flavor. Brian’s duck and mussels were good, Patty’s pork was juicy, and Carlos’ redfish had nice crispy skin. Brian ended up taking the win for a dish that Sara worked on more than him, and with it immunity.

Moving on, the Elimination Challenge forced the chefs to collaborate on a potluck-style meal, to serve to a bunch of leading New Orleans musicians in Kermit’s restaurant (Patty seemed to be the only one who had never heard of a potluck meal). They teamed up in groups of four, did some strategizing and shopping, dolled themselves up back at the house (leaving poor Nick behind), then headed down to Vaughan’s to awkwardly dance to Kermit's music and (presumably) eat some of his barbecue and signature red beans and rice. Good times.

Nick got a clean bill of health the next morning and was able to join his team, and decided to basically take on all of the prep by himself. Everyone prepared some pretty solid-looking food without any major disasters, and they headed to the restaurant with a half-hour to get it all cooked.

Here’s what they served to the judges, which included guest judge Sue Zemanick, of Gautreau’s and the last season of Top Chef Masters:

Blue Team:
Justin: Hominy grits with brown shrimp, roasted okra, fava beans, and smoked bacon
Louis: Grilled and pickled vegetables with crispy sunflower seeds and mustard vinaigrette
Shirley and Sara: Glazed beef with charred onions, melon pickles, and pickled ginger vinaigrette

The grits were nice and buttery although the shrimp were a little underseasoned, the grilled vegetables were really good, and the beef went over well. Overall, a success.

Gray Team:
Brian and Travis:
Togarashi fried chicken with bee pollen honey and ponzu
Patty: Tomato watermelon salad, Sichuan pepper and goat cheese espuma
Nicholas: Barramundi and red drum fricassee with zucchini, truffle, and yuzu kosho
Travis and Brian: Caramel glazed BBQ ribs, dehydrated potatoes, and peanut gremolata

The chicken was crunchy and had a lot of flavor in the batter, the fish was dry and overcooked, the ribs tasted a little burnt, and the watermelon really needed the chile threads that Patty forgot to add.

Green Team:
Stephanie: Fried baby artichoke, preserved lemon, and anchovy aioli
Nina: Semolina gnocchetti with sausage
Carrie and Carlos: Summer tiramisu with nectarines

The artichokes were nicely cooked, the gnocchi was pillowy and the sausage was tasty, and the tiramisu was good, but more of a trifle.

The Gray Team was brought out first, and told that their dishes were on the bottom. The fried chicken was delicious, the fish was overcooked and dry, the watermelon was watered down, needed more dressing, and didn’t get much flavor from the Sichuan peppercorns, and the ribs, while perfectly cooked, were overpowered by the seasonings.

The Green Team was brought out next. Their dishes were the judges’ favorites: all the food was well-seasoned, nicely cooked, and refined. The artichokes were beautiful, the gnocchi was just about perfect, and the tiramisu was good, but could have used coffee and more of the pistachio sponge cake. Stephanie’s fried artichokes won, most likely because the judges just couldn’t bear to give Nina another victory.

In the end, a bleary-eyed Patty got the ax, for her boring watermelon salad. She’ll never forget what a potluck meal is now.

Next week: Dr. John, and a whole pig!

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