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

Dominique Crenn, Julian Serrano, and Jacques Pépin

The six remaining chefs had to prepare French and Spanish dishes.

This week’s episode was all over the place, starting with the chefs trying to make none other than Jacques Pépin happy and ending with what very well might be the best argument against immunity in the show’s history. In the end, though, it might have been the best episode so far this season.

The episode wasted no time in introducing us to Pépin, who Carlos proudly claimed to follow on Facebook. The Quickfire required making Pépin’s favorite dish, Dover sole with mushroom duxelle, stuffed artichokes, and sautéed asparagus. They watched Pépin prepare the dish effortlessly (which I could have watched a whole hour of by itself), and then the chefs were off to the races.

They all met with various levels of difficulty in deboning the sole, and Nina realized (with five minutes left) that she’d forgotten to turn the burners on, but by the time the clock ran out, they all had a dish to present.

Brian undercooked his artichokes, and Carlos’ sauce was watery and had no tomato. Shirley’s was perfectly cooked, but all of Nick’s components worked together perfectly, winning him his first Quickfire as well as immunity.

Chefs Dominique Crenn, the first woman to win two Michelin stars for her Atelier Crenn, and Julian Serrano, who’s recognized as the godfather of Spanish cuisine, showed up, and gave the chefs their Elimination Challenge: they had to showcase almonds, mussels, chicken, olives, and chocolate in their dish; they drew knives to divide themselves into two teams. Nick, Stephanie, and Shirley chose French; Brian, Carlos, and Nina got Spanish. They met with their mentor chefs, then went on a hilarious trip to the supermarket with them, and it became pretty obvious that super-high-level chefs don’t bother themselves with shopping at inferior markets like Whole Foods.

They went back to the kitchen and got to cooking, and the mentor chefs actually hung around to help them cook, surprisingly. Here’s what they served:

Shirley: Snapper ceviche with dehydrated olives and ice cream
Nina: Ensaladilla rasa with green olives, Gulf shrimp, and potatoes

Shirley’s was delicious, but while the ice cream and fish tasted good by themselves, they didn’t work together. Nina’s was cooked perfectly, and all the ingredients played well together.

Stephanie: Pickled and poached mussels, crustacean jus, and tomate
Nina: Ajo blanco with almonds, crab, and cherries

Nina’s was delicious, and Stephanie’s merged both old school and new school and was tasty, but the mussels were a little gritty.

Carlos: Mejillones à la romesco with crispy leeks
Shirley and Stephanie: Chicken liver mousse with roasted chicken bouillon

The mousse was "very intense," according to Pépin, but the mussels were a little one-note and more about the sauce.

Brian and Carlos: Pollo con arroz
Nicholas: Cornish game hen and spiced chocolate with corn silk nest

The chicken and rice was moist and flavorful, and Nick’s was universally reviled: it made no sense to Serrano, and guest judge Rick Tramonto thought it was completely flat. Colicchio compared the corn silk nest to hair pulled from a drain. Yikes.

Brian: Flan de chocolate and strawberries
Nicholas: Almond flan, plum, and dark cocoa

Nicholas' was tasty but the flan wasn’t very good, and Brian’s was too sweet.

Brian, Nina, and Carlos’ team was on top. Nina’s salad and potato salad were perfect; Carlos’ chicken was cooked perfectly, and the flan, while risky, turned out well. Nina took her first Elimination win in a few weeks, and really re-asserted her dominance this week.

Nick, Shirley, and Stephanie's team were on the bottom. Shirley’s ice cream and fish didn’t really go together, but Stephanie’s mussels were well-executed. Nick’s chicken and chocolate just tasted like straight chocolate, and all the judges agreed that it was their least favorite dish of the night. His dessert was also pretty much awful.

Pépin gave Nick the opportunity to resign, because his dishes brought his entire team down. Because of Nick, his team was on the bottom, and one of two chefs who actually prepared delicious dishes had to go home. Emeril made it clear: "If immunity wasn’t in play, Nicholas would be going home." But Nick chose self-preservation (as any true competitor would), and the judges had to nitpick over every one of the flaws in Shirley and Stephanie’s dishes.

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If ever there was a reason against immunity, this would have been it, because even Tom seemed sad about seeing Stephanie forced to pack her knives and go home for really no reason. This was a rough one.