Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 10

After last week's Restaurant Wars, in which Sarah got sent home thanks to mismanaging her restaurant, this episode forced the chefs to cook dishes that meant a lot to them, and not only did the results all end up delicious, but the chefs legitimately seemed to enjoy themselves, too.

The episode began with the final nine chefs chatting about the elimination and doing some bonding before Padma walked in with chef Hubert Keller, who introduced the Quickfire: use coffee (provided by sponsor Dunkin' Donuts) to prepare a dish in 30 minutes, and the winner would win immunity and $10,000. Coffee is a tricky ingredient because it can easily overpower a dish, so the chefs had more of a challenge than you might expect.

Here's what they served:

Thomas: Alaskan sockeye salmon, coffee ponzu, and coffee roasted eringi mushrooms
Carrie: Coffee custard with candied coffee beans and cocoa nibs
Brian: Coffee risotto with Andouille sausage and sugar snap peas
Carlos: Coffee and macadamia sponge cake with mascarpone coffee sauce
Nicholas: Roasted sockeye salmon with hazelnut coffee caramel and hon shimeji mushrooms
Shirley: Coffee-crusted tenderloin with garlic purée and coffee brown butter sauce
Stephanie: Sweet potato and goat cheese coffee crepe with ham and bacon coffee jam

On the bottom were Brian's risotto, which didn't have much coffee flavor, and Nicholas' fish, which was unpleasant; but Shirley's, Carrie's, and Stephanie's were on top (much to Stephanie's surprise). Shirley's steak won her immunity and a brand-new air conditioner.

Moving right along into the Elimination Challenge, Anthony Mackie came out and told the chefs that he loves going to the legendary Dooky Chase when he's back home in the city. They each had $275 and two hours to cook a dish that's important to them back home, and they'd cook it in Dooky Chase's kitchen, with chef/owner Leah Chase judging.

It was nice to see the chefs essentially being able to cook whatever they wanted for this challenge, as opposed to, say, lots of tiny, themed dishes for a catering challenge, and they were all in their element and actually getting along during prep. And then they headed back to the apartment to find none other then Emeril himself, who'd prepared a soup from his youth for the gang. So overall, a much better day that the previous one.

The next day they headed to Dooky Chase, where they had to get once again used to an unfamiliar kitchen (one which didn't have a grill, throwing Brian's planned steak dish off). Travis also discovered that he didn;t properly incorporate the butter into his biscuit dough, which led to a minor freak-out.

Carlos: Cochinita pibil with black beans, orange pico de gallo, and corn tortilla
Brian: Korean BBQ New York Strip with potato salad
Travis: Biscuits with maple sage sausage gravy and sour plum jam

The biscuit and sausage were good, but he wasn't able to hide the fact that the biscuit was basically raw. The pork was also good and rich, and the tortilla was great as well. The charcoal didn't come through in Brian's dish, though, because of the lack of a grill.

Nicholas: Ricotta gnudi with pancetta, peas, lemon, and Parmesan
Shirley: Beijing noodles, fermented bean, and pork sauce with pickled radish
Stephanie: Mussels with spicy pickled peppers and tomatoes

The gnudi was melt-in-your-mouth and delicious, the noodles had great flavor and were nicely seasoned, and Stephanie's mussels were unique and also popular.

Justin: Louisiana rice with chicken thigh gravy, pickled mirliton, and jalapeño
Carrie: Creamed asparagus over toast and poached egg
Nina: Curried chicken with fried bakes

The rice with gravy was great, Nina's chicken would have better with rice, and Justin's was tasty but reserved, and the rice was a little dry.

There were no real clunkers to speak of, and overall the food served was really impressive, surely due in no small part to the fact that the chefs were all basically operating right within their wheelhouse. I would have loved to have been on the tasting panel for this one.

Nicholas, Stephanie, and Carlos were called out to meet with the judges first, and their dishes were on top. An emotional Nicholas' dish was executed perfectly and "you could feel the love," according to Emeril; the pickled pepper-tomato-mussel combination was delicious and the mussels were perfectly cooked; and Carlos' dish was perfectly seasoned and left you wanting more. Nicholas' gnudi took the win, and he was finally able to relax (we also have our best "worry face" since Richard Blais).

Travis, Brian, and Justin's dishes were on the bottom. It was a tough decision, but Bryan's meat suffered from the lack of a wood or charcoal fire; the butter in Travis' biscuit got too warm and wasn't cut properly, resulting in a biscuit that didn't rise properly; and Justin's dish could have used more gravy, and the time between plating and serving sucked up some gravy and made the chicken dry.

In the end, Travis got shown the door because of his improperly made biscuits. This was the first challenge this season where the chefs really had to cook from the heart, and they all turned out tasty dishes. You could tell that this was a tough decision for the judges, but in the end someone had to go home.