Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 4

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A visit to Vietnam
Bravo

Eddie Huang and Emeril Lagasse opened the episode by making an unexpected visit to the house.

Fifteen chefs remained heading into this episode, and it’s still not clear exactly where this season will rank among the previous ones. The setting is great, for sure, but the cast of characters doesn’t really seem to have the pop that say, the Voltaggio or Stefan season did, and while a few chefs are jumping to the head of the pack, it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to hold the show on their shoulders down the line. That said, it’s great to see Emeril doing his thing every week, and the challenges so far have made for quality television. This week took them far from their comfort zone, and established a clear “person we’re supposed to hate” in Travis Masar.

Emeril and Eddie Huang strolled in unannounced, as they are wont to do, and they announced that there’d be no Quickfire. Huang told them that in the 1970s tens of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants arrived in New Orleans to farm shrimp, and that there’s still a major Vietnamese influence there today. For the Elimination Challenge, they’d be broken up into groups of five, and each would create a Vietnamese-inspired meal (including one shrimp dish) for a group of real live Vietnamese people. They then took them on a crash course, via blinged-out party bus, in Vietnamese cuisine: a bakery selling some incredible-looking buns and turnovers, D. Ditcharo shrimping dock, and Kim Anh’s Noodle House for some noodles, also delicious-looking, and finally a trip to New Orleans’ top Asian supermarket ($200 per team, 30 minutes). Travis couldn’t stop bragging about his Vietnamese boyfriend and his Vietnamese skills, so he elected himself team leader. We’ll see how that pans out.

This week took them far from their comfort zone, and established a clear “person we’re supposed to hate” in Travis Masar.

Here’s the menu each team decided on:

Red Team: Vietnamese BBQ shrimp, beef pho with rice noodles and lettuce, raw beef salad with pickled vegetables, lemon custard with caramelized banh mi
Green Team: Fresh Gulf shrimp in spicy tomato sauce, grilled pork sausage wraps, dim sum "duo" of pork and shrimp, coconut coffee macaroon
Orange Team: Black pepper squid with cabbage, fish head soup with pineapple and tamarind, pork belly spring rolls and dipping sauce, beef pho

The Green Team somehow ended up with no lemongrass, which Travis told Eddie and Emeril before calling Eddie a douchebag for some reason (off-camera). For the most part, everyone else’s cooking seemed to go according to plan.

The judges bellied up to a table inside the bustling restaurant (which was packed with those real live Vietnamese people), and each team served their best take on Vietnamese food. Here’s what they ended up with:

Orange Team
Nicholas: Black pepper squid with cabbage and peanuts
Brian: Gulf shrimp and pork belly spring roll
Carlos: Fish head soup with pineapple, tomato, and tamarind
Louis: Beef tendon broth pho with raw eye round and oxtail

The spring roll was well-balanced and had a good texture, and the dipping sauce was very good. The soup was lacking acid and the tomato didn’t work, the squid was lacking seasoning and fish sauce, and the pho was "weak in the flavor department," according to Tom, and was lacking herbs. Not off to a good start.

Red Team
Nina and Carrie: Raw beef salad with pickled vegetables
Shirley: Vietnamese BBQ shrimp with Creole spice butter
Justin: Beef pho with rice noodles and lettuce
Carrie: Lemon custard with caramelized banh mi

Justin’s pho was much better than the Orange Team’s, with the spice right on. Shirley’s Creole butter sauce was aromatic and delicious, the tartare was tasty but the texture was off, and while the custard’s presentation was horrible, it tasted good.

Green Team
Travis: Grilled pork sausage lettuce wraps with pineapple shrimp paste
Sara and Stephanie: Oxtail rice wrap with pork and shrimp rice wrap
Bene and Janine: Fresh Gulf shrimp with ginger Vietnamese tomato sauce
Stephanie: Coconut macaroon with Vietnamese coffee flavors

Travis’ dish had no balance and was heavy on the shrimp paste but tasted fine, the meat in the rice wrap was bland, the shrimp, which was fried and then covered in sauce, was almost diavolo-style and the rice was atrocious, and the macaroon was the team’s best offering.

The Red Team was called out first (after Travis opined that Tom and Emeril just didn’t understand his food, which they hated; the producers are doing a great job of making him unlikeable), and all their dishes were hailed. Shirley ended up taking the win, with her delicious BBQ shrimp.

Next the Green Team was called out, the bottom of the pack. Travis defended his tomato sauce (which he "ate three times in Central Vietnam"), and was called out for deciding to showcase an aspect of the cuisine that’s basically the equivalent of eating McDonald’s in Paris and calling it French, according to Tom. The twice-fried shrimp didn’t work, and the rice just shouldn’t have been served. And while they liked the macaroon, it was a bit of a cop-out.

It wasn’t an obvious choice by any means, but in the end Janine got the boot for her poorly executed shrimp. She’ll be competing against the others who have been booted in the premiere of Last Chance Kitchen, so there’s about a 2 percent chance that we’ll be seeing her again in the finale.

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