Recap: ‘Top Chef,’ Season 11, Episode 14

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Po’ boys, Jon Favreau, and burnt quinoa
Bravo

Just five chefs remained heading into the episode.

This episode got off to a weepy start, with the remaining chefs still reeling from Stephanie’s elimination last week. She might not have deserved it, but that’s the nature of the game at this point. But the final five competitors got it together, slept it off, and the next morning Padma introduced them to Roy Choi, of Kogi Truck fame. He introduced the Quickfire: make a po’ boy, but put your own unique twist on it.

The chefs were a little intimidated by having to tell their life story through a sandwich, but they all pulled it off in the 20 minutes allotted, with varying degrees of success. Here’s what they served:

Nick: Fried shrimp po’ boy with mayo, sriracha, fennel, and pancetta
Shirley: Sauteed catfish po’ boy with mirin, ginger, garlic glaze, and cabbage slaw
Nina: Fried mahi po’ boy with mojo aioli and pickled onions
Brian: Asian-inspired lobster po’ boy, gochujang aioli and yuzu with pickled Napa cabbage
Carlos: Al pastor po’ boy with guajillo chilies, pineapple, onions, and roasted garlic

All in all, Choi felt that they “missed the boat on this.” They had a chance to tell their story and make a delicious sandwich, and they messed it up. Harsh! Carlos’ al pastor was lacking flavor; Nick’s was too salty and didn’t have a balance of mayo; Brian’s gochujang wasn’t there; Shirley’s was good but didn’t represent her as a Chinese person; and Shirley’s fell flat. Shirley’s showed a balance of flavor, though, so she took the win, and immunity.

Jon Favreau, who’s working on a new movie called Chef, showed up to introduce the Elimination Challenge, and freaked them out by telling them that they’d need to dumpster dive for their ingredients. Just kidding! Not cool. The actual challenge? Create a dish that represented a turning point in their career, a moment when they really found their voice. They’d have two and a half hours, but before then they met up with Emeril and Gail Simmons to sample fare from some food trucks, including Drago’s famous grilled oysters. Jealous.

The next morning they headed over to the Whole Foods and stocked up on supplies. This had all the makings of a pretty solid challenge, because not only were the chefs allowed to make whatever they wanted, it wasn’t a walk-around tasting challenge. It was left up to the chefs to be creative but not overthink it.

Of course, as soon as they got to the kitchen Nick and Carlos got into a petty squabble; this time it was because Nick didn’t want him touching his pots. These guys just can’t not fight, apparently. The chefs all met with some challenges: Nina’s agnolotti didn’t come together because the kitchen was too hot so she made a fettucine instead, and Nick burned his quinoa. But they all got their dishes together in time. Here’s what they served:

Shirley: Seared snapper with crustacean broth, silken tofu, and Napa cabbage
The judges agreed that the dish was just about perfect, with crispy skin and a delicious broth.

Nina: Fettucine with charred calamari, pine nut gremolata, and crab meat
The calamari was cooked right, the pasta was perfect, and overall it was a flavorful, perfectly seasoned dish.

Brian: Chicken anticucho with twice cooked potatoes and feta walnut pesto
The dish tasted good, but it was a bit muddled, and the choice of using boneless skinless chicken breast was pretty boring.

Carlos: Braised pork belly with sweet potato puree and chipotle tamarind glaze
You could taste every ingredient, and overall the judges found it to be tasty.

Nick: Yellowfin tuna, several preparations of carrot, and fennel pollen dust
The dish was interesting and sophisticated, but the raw carrot was weird, the texture was off, and the fish was underseasoned.

All the chefs were called to the judges’ table. Nina’s pasta was perfectly cooked and well-balanced; Brian’s was bold but heavy, and Emeril’s potato was raw and the chicken had no flavor; Shirley’s was well-put together, the fish was perfect, and the broth was spectacular; Carlos’ dish made perfect sense, and the dish was great; and Nick’s carrot sauce was good, but the fish was completely disconnected and it really needed the quinoa that didn’t make it onto the plate.

Shirley’s insanely delicious snapper won the challenge, and Nina and Carlos were also safe. Brian’s dish was good but baffled them, and Nick’s tasted fine but didn’t come together. In the end, however, Brian was told to pack his knives and go. Once again, Nick skated by on the skin of his teeth, and we have our final four contenders. 

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Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 13Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 12Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 11
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