Recap: ‘Top Chef,’ Season 11, Episode 15

Two Quickfires and an ode to New Orleans

Only four chefs remained heading into the last episode in New Orleans.

Four chefs to go. The remaining competitors, Nick, Carlos, Shirley, and Nina, had certainly all more or less bonded by this point, but it was pretty clear that none of the others were quite sure how Carlos made it this far. But they forged onwards, right into their last Quickfire in New Orleans, presented by Tom, Padma, and Gail: It was separated into two parts. Part 1 was devised by Gail, who challenged them to place one perfect bite on one teeny tiny fork. Two would move onto Tom’s TBA Quickfire. Here’s what they served:

Carlos: Grilled mango with shrimp and chili glaze
Nick: Beef deckle with aged balsamic and potato chips
Shirley: Tataki-style flank steak with black pepper cherry and crispy onions
Nina: Shrimp escabeche with potato aioli, pickled fennel, and crispy guanciale

Gail loved Carlos’ flavors, and the shrimp was cooked perfectly. Shirley’s steak was cooked well, but had too much soy and could have been tighter. Nick’s deckle was cooked well, and the potato was great. Nina’s was full of flavor and the shrimp flavor came through, but it was a little greasy. Carlos and Nick took the win, and went on to Tom’s Quickfire: to make a dish that showcases either eggplant or red bell pepper. Nick got the eggplant; Carlos the pepper.

Carlos: Fried red bell pepper soup with fennel, basil, and onion.
Nick: Roasted eggplant with sesame seed sriracha tahini and chili threads

The pepper flavor was spot-on, and Nick’s eggplant was nicely roasted. Carlos took the win, and a brand new car. Nick was, needless to say, not happy.

To introduce the Elimination Challenge, Emeril showed up and told them that they could make essentially whatever they wanted (as long as it was inspired by their time in New Orleans) and the winning dish would be featured on his menu at Emeril’s.

Grant Achatz, Douglas Keane, and Andrew Carmellini were brought into judge, three serious heavy hitters (and I’m pretty sure Achatz and Carmellini hadn’t appeared on the show before).

Here’s what they served:

Nina: Speckled trout with baby vegetables and barbecue sauce (without the malfatti she had made and forgotten about)
Nick: Charred cobia, roasted bass and tuna confit with crispy rice and shrimp consommé
Carlos: Steamed seafood tamal with saffron cream sauce and pickled okra
Shirley: Black drum with Zhenjiang vinegar butter sauce, braised celery and mushrooms

The New Orleans inspiration in Nina’s dish was there, and Tom felt that it really didn’t need the ricotta malfatti. Nick’s broth was delicious, and the fish, while a little bland, was cooked very nicely. Carlos’ concept was smart, and all the ingredients worked well together, although it could have used a little more acid and it would have stayed warmer if he’d left the banana leaf on. Nina’s sauce was delicious and the fish was well-cooked, and it merged Asia and New Orleans cooking well.

Nina and Shirley had the top dishes, and will be going to the finale in Maui. Shirley’s fish took the win, and will be featured on the menu at Emeril’s.

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The dueling duo of Nicholas and Carlos were up for elimination. In the end, Carlos, and his tasty but slightly bizarre tamal, were on the bottom. This was a tough one for the judges, but in the end it was clear that Nick was the more talented chef.