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

Questlove, legs, and 500 college kids


The LSU mascot played a crucial role in determining the challenge's winner.

Eight chefs remained as we headed into the meat of the season, the point at which even minor mistakes can end up sending you home. This week, it was three chefs who made major mistakes, and the losing dish looked nothing short of bland and simple. 

The chefs trotted into the kitchen to find Padma with guest Questlove, who told them (after a random visit from a drum line) that he was on a quest to track down one of his favorite foods, the drumstick. They had 30 minutes to prepare a dish using drumsticks from any of a handful of different types of poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, guinea hen, squab, and chicken drumettes. Here’s what they came up with:

Carrie: Squab legs marinated in thyme, juniper, and cocoa powder with fig mostarda
Brian: Chicken soup, chicken skin crackling with parsley and Thai basil
Shirley: Crispy duck leg with Sichuan chile salt and mint
Nina: Jerked guinea hen charred with juniper berries and Scotch Bonnet peppers
Stephanie: Fried and grilled turkey leg with Sriracha and sour cream buttermilk dressing
Nicholas: Twice-fried quail legs with sesame sauce rolled in gomasio
Justin: Chicken drumettes with smoked aioli, herb salad, and sorghum vinaigrette
Carlos: Fried goose leg with cranberries and apple salad

Nicholas’ was too salty, Justin’s wasn't creative, and while Carlos’ sauce was good, it was overcooked. Carrie’s squab was perfectly cooked, Nina’s hen wasn’t too spicy, and Brian’s soup was surprisingly tasty. Carrie took the win, and with it immunity.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were sent to Louisiana State University, where they were told that they’d need to cook in the dining hall cafeteria to cook for 500 new students. Better yet, they’d be staying in the dorms that night. After last week’s challenge, where they could cook a handful of portions of basically anything they wanted, I can’t say I didn’t see a catering challenge coming. So the chefs packed an overnight bag and headed to LSU, where they were given a tour by two especially peppy students, saw the lion, and played some Frisbee on the quad. Ah, college.

The next morning, they took an inventory and figured out who was going to work what station. They claimed ingredients and had five hours to strategize and execute a dish that they could replicate for 500 students. Carlos and Shirley duked it out over the plancha, with Carlos stealing it away from her and Shirley taking the pizza oven. At the end of their five hours, helpers showed up along with a whole lot of college kids. Wonder if this counted toward their meal plan.

Here’s what they served:

Shirley: Roast beef with potato purée and fire-roasted tomato relish
Nina: Buttermilk fried chicken with sweet corn purée and pickled onions
Brian: Shrimp cake and spinach with chipotle aioli
Nicholas: Roasted pork, Parmesan grits, and bacon brown sugar gravy
Carrie: Broccoli salad with herbed yogurt sauce and pita bread
Justin: Marinated Gulf shrimp, cauliflower, asparagus, and garlic purée
Stephanie: Spicy tomato soup with pimento cheese sandwich
Carlos: Seared tilapia with chile ancho, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw

Brian's shrimp cake was nice and spicy with a good sauce; Shirley’s beef was tasty and cooked properly. Nina’s chicken’s breading was falling off and the corn was bland, and Nicholas’ could have been better seasoned. Justin’s shrimp tasted a little odd and it was under-seasoned; and they basically thought that Carrie opted out because she had immunity. Carlos’ fish (which took a full 15 minutes for him to serve) had a nice heat, and Stephanie’s soup was good but the sandwich fell apart because she put it in the soup.

Back in the stew room there was a bit of drama because Carlos told the chefs that Nicholas "stole" his oven. Carlos apologized, and then judging began.

Shirley, Brian, and Carlos were called to the back, and they were the ones on top. Carlos’ was focused and simple with a great slaw and the fish was cooked nicely; Brian’s shrimp cakes were made by the spinach and were the favorite of most students; Shirley’s meat was perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. Shirley took the win, and with it a brand-new car.

Stephanie, Nina, and Justin were on the bottom. Nina couldn’t keep up with the corn demand, and while the chicken was crispy, it was put on gray, sloppy, wet corn. Stephanie’s cheese didn’t really melt well, and the sandwich started to disintegrate in the soup. Justin admitted to being too "cheffy," and didn’t bring enough flavor to his bland shrimp.

In the end, Justin was shown the door for his underwhelming shrimp. A good chef didn’t quite know his audience and didn’t take the time to adjust, and for that the last New Orleans native packed his knives and went home.

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