Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 8

The Night Tripper, a whole pig, and a boucherie

Chef Donald Link (left) dropped in to guest judge.

The episode began with last week’s losing contestants, especially Sara, realizing that maybe they’re destined to never be on top. I’m sure this must be a pretty rough realization.

The next morning, the Night Tripper himself, Dr. John, showed up, looking slightly befuddled but still loveable. When he talked he needs subtitles, which made him even more awesome. He told the chefs that he needed them to make a hot sauce with a "hip tang," which doesn’t mean very much, but the chefs accepted the challenge and got to work (I’ll totally be incorporating "hip tang" into my lexicon from now on). Here’s what they turned out:

Brian: Jalapeño and serrano hot sauce with lime and yuzu juices
Shirley: Hot sauce with habaneros, serrano chiles, ginger, and pineapple
Carrie: Trinidadian-inspired pepper sauce with habaneros and green mango
Nicholas: Sweet and sour hot sauce with smoked apricots, vinegar, and coffee
Louis: Fresno chile, distilled vinegar, maple syrup, and chili powder
Stephanie: Peach vinegar and habanero hot sauce
Carlos: Yucatan-style sauce with mango, passion fruit, and habanero
Nina: Caribbean hot sauce with habaneros, ginger, and apple cider vinegar
Justin: Pepper hot sauce with fermented anchovies

We didn’t see Travis’ or Sara’s Quickfire offerings, for some reason.

Nicholas’s sweet-and-sour sauce wasn’t what Dr. John was looking for, Carrie’s was too hot, Nina’s was over the top "slammin’ hot," Brian’s was "verily hip," Justin’s anchovy hot sauce was also hip, and Carlos’ was also very good. Brian took the win, and immunity.

Dr. John took his leave, and a giant pig made its way onto the stage, along with chef Donald Link, of Cochon fame, and Toby Rodriguez, "artist/butcher/chef" and spokesman for the traditional boucherie tradition of whole-hog butchery. The chefs would be cooking at a traditional boucherie the following day, and they’d need to use the whole pig. The ones with butchery experience stepped forward and started taking apart the pig, then they headed to the Whole Foods to do some shopping. When they got back, Rodriguez had prepared a whole smorgasbord of pig-based deliciousness for them, and the chefs basically freaked out over how delicious this was before realizing that this was all basically a way to tell them that their offerings better be just as delicious.

The next morning they made their way over to the Bayou Barn and proceeded to jostle over cooking space before realizing that an alligator was lurking about 3 feet away from them. They kept on with it, though, and just about everyone’s pork started to overcook. They managed to pull their dishes together before time was up, though, and here’s what they ended up with:

Brian: Porchetta with oyster mushrooms
Sara: Pork dim sum with crab and shrimp har gow
Justin: Wood-roasted pork breast taco with pork liver salsa verde
Carlos: Pozole verde with fried chorizo tacos
Shirley: Jiaozi dumpling with pork, grilled kidney, and crispy pork fat salad
Louis: Slow-grilled pork leg with spring onions, shiitake mushrooms, melted corn, and popcorn
Stephanie: Pork brodo with braised pork belly and summer vegetable pickle
Travis: Cajun-style pork ramen with pork bone broth and collard greens
Carrie: Crispy trotters with snap peas and pickled onions
Nicholas: Tête de cochon with summer beans, lemongrass vinaigrette, and wheat berries
Nina: Braised pig’s head ragù, roasted corn, and mustard greens

Tom found these dishes to be "some of the most enjoyable food" he’d ever had on the show, but if you give a bunch of talented chefs a whole pig and say "go," you’re basically guaranteed to end up with something tasty. They weren’t all mind-blowing dishes, though.

Nina, Shirley, and Carlos were called out first, and their dishes were on top. Shirley’s dumplings were amazing and her salad on its own would have put her on top. Carlos’ pozole was modeled after his mother’s, and Tom wanted the recipe. Nina’s "should be a national dish somewhere," according to Tom. Carlos took the win, making this what I’m sure must be a terribly frustrating two winless episodes for Nina.

Justin, Louis, and Stephanie had the least favorite dishes. Justin’s pork was bland and dry, and Justin had no idea what they were talking about. Stephanie’s pork was drained of all flavor, was overthought, and seemed unfinished, and Louis’ pork was good, but the popcorn was unnecessary and there were just too many ideas going on.  

In the end, Louis ended up getting the boot. This was a particularly tough call: when everyone’s dish is good, someone has to get sent home without cooking a bad dish.

Next episode: Restaurant Wars!

Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 7Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 6Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 5

In other news: Janine is still a contestant on Last Chance Kitchen!