Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 12

Besh returns, crawfish, and crudo

John Besh returned to help judge, and he prepared a winning meal for the chefs.

After a week off for the holidays, Top Chef returned right where it left off, with the remaining chefs toasting to their ability to dodge the bullet that knocked off Justin the previous episode.

John Besh and a pile of crawfish were on hand to introduce the Quickfire, which forced the chefs to prepare a twist on crawfish étouffée for immunity. Stephanie happens to be allergic to crawfish, so she had her EpiPen at the ready and the other chefs helped her out. Here’s what they served:

Nina: Italian-style étouffée with pici pasta and tomato crawfish broth
Carrie: Spanish-style étouffée with crawfish broth, chickpeas, and almonds
Nicholas: Crawfish with shrimp mousse stuffed in Napa cabbage with brandy and corn
Shirley: Singapore chile crab étouffée with crawfish stock, cucumber, and egg
Brian: Étouffée with gochujang, corn, peppers, crabmeat, crawfish, Andouille, and pasta
Carlos: Soup with crawfish, guajillos, garlic, corn, potatoes, and crispy chorizo
Stephanie: Crawfish bisque with Parisian gnocchi and poached crawfish

Carrie’s was muddled and the wine didn’t cook out, the corn overpowered Nicholas’, Stephanie’s was more of a bisque, and Carlos’ wasn’t an étouffée at all. Brian’s took it to another level, though, Nina’s pasta was full of flavor, and Shirley’s was creative and delicious. Shirley took the win, and immunity.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs needed to create a dish highlighting two different types of seafood for the Louisiana Seafood Festival. They’d have three hours to prepare the dish, which would be served to 200 people. Before that, though, Besh invited the chefs to his (spectacular) home, where he prepared for them some of his favorite dishes. If you’re ever on Top Chef, make sure to stick around long enough for one of the guest judges to cook for you.

The next morning the chefs headed over to the event site, where a truck full of seafood awaited them. Nicholas used fresh oysters while Stephanie went for the pre-shucked, Carrie decided to make a fritter (which doesn’t necessarily highlight fresh ingredients), and Shirley mixed tonnato sauce and salsa verde, which she was concerned about. But they all finished on time, and served nice-looking dishes to the judges.

Brian: Grilled swordfish, shrimp and sweet onion purée with fennel daikon relish
Nicholas: Oyster leek soup, champagne emulsion, green apple yogurt, and cured amberjack
Carrie: Flounder croquettes with oyster emulsion and pickled cucumbers
Shirley: Tuna and amberjack ceviche with aged soy sauce, lime dressing, and toasted pecans
Nina: Marinated wahoo with salsa verde, tonnato sauce, and pickled vegetables
Carlos: Amberjack ceviche with rustic peach and shrimp relish
Stephanie: Fried Louisiana oysters with tuna and pickled beech mushrooms

Brian’s was nicely cooked and the sauce was spot-on, Nick’s was technically sound but needed some acid, Carrie’s was good but Tom wasn’t sure why she puréed the fish, Shirley’s was bright and the pecans added a good crunch, Nina’s wahoo was nicely cooked and the flavors were great, Carlos’ was underseasoned and lacked acid, and Stephanie’s fried oyster was crispy and the acid level was right.

The judges were surprised by the amount of raw fish served, but felt that among those Nina’s was the best, with Shirley in a close second. You couldn’t taste Carlos’ fish, however, Nicholas’ was flat, and Carrie’s croquette decision was confusing.

Stephanie, Nina, and Brian were called up first, and their dishes were on the top. Stephanie pulled it off and the salad element was great. Brian’s decision to cook to order was gutsy and the results were delicious. Nina’s wahoo’s cure was great and the flavors all worked together. Stephanie took the win, and was glad that she and Besh now "have a great memory together."

Nick, Carrie, and Carlos were on the bottom. Carrie’s croquette was well-executed but she did anything but highlight the flavor of the fish. Carlos’ salsa was good, but the fish was improperly cut and was overpowered by peaches. Nick’s was complex, but the texture was unrelentingly soft, it lacked acid, and the amberjack appeared thrown in.

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In the end, the fact that Carrie highlighted the freshness of the seafood less than everyone else was what sent her home. So remember: when life hands you fresh seafood, don’t purée it.