This week on "Top Chef" we have a mashup of Dunkin Doughnuts coffee, Hubert Keller, Anthony Mackie and the return of Leah Chase of Dookie Chase's. Also, lots of tears.
And what's the best indicator of who is going to be knifed at the end of the show? That would be someone in the beginning telling the camera that they've made life-long friends forever. You make BFFs? You're gone. This time that person is Travis, who has slowly turned into one of the more likable personalities on the show and made me forget all about the "Captain Vietnam" era.
For the "Quickfire Challenge", the blatant product placement very special ingredient is Dunkin Doughnuts Coffee with the winner nabbing $10,000. The guest judge is french chef and occasional DJ Hubert Keller who owns a restaurant named Fleur de Lys which somehow is not located in fleur-de-lis-obsessed New Orleans. He explains to the chefs that cooking with coffee adds complex depth of flavor and I realize that I could listen to him talk about anything all day and I'd be happy. He could record Harry Potter fan-fiction and I'd listen to it in lieu of guided meditation podcasts.
In 30 minutes we get Alaskan Salmon with Coffee Ponzu and Roasted Coffee Mushrooms from Travis, which sounds weird, but strangely good. Coffee roasted mushrooms? Interesting. We also have Coffee Custard with Candied Coffee Beans and Cacao nibs from Stephanie and Coffee Risotto from Brian, who did not get the memo that risotto has never been much of a winner on "Top Chef". Most of the people who make it get sent home.
Carlos makes a Coffee and Macadamia Sponge Cake with Coffee Mascarpone and just typing that has made me extremely hungry. Nicholas also makes salmon and mushrooms but this time with a coffee caramel sauce, which also sounds weird but not so much in a good way.
Shirley makes Coffee Encrusted Fillet which looks delectable and Stephanie makes a Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Coffee Crepe with Ham & Bacon Coffee Jam. Wow. Bacon and coffee, two of my favorite things right there. Sign me up.
Hubert doesn't seem to be too impressed with Nick's coffee dish, but loves Shirley, Carrie's, and Stephanie's, with the last one being so shocked that her concoction managed to be on top that she makes all sorts of confused faces. She's like ... really? ... really? ... REALLY? Girlfriend needs to work on her confidence, she's a great chef. She's also a funny chef and a girl after my own heart with her deadpan sarcasm. I speak her language.
Shirley takes home the Dunkin Doughnut prize though with $10,000 big ones, which is more than enough money to buy a new air conditioner for her house in Nevada, which she said it needed. I sincerely hope she wasn't living with no air in 100+ degree heat. I remember being without air conditioner for several days during Hurricane Isaac and I nearly packed up and moved to Alaska.
Padma explains that the challenge will be about what you cook at home and then tells everyone to "welcome home" New Orleans-born actor Anthony Mackie. When asked about what kind of food he likes when he goes home, he says that he likes to go to Dooky Chase's, where the chefs will just so happen be cooking and serving dinner later.
From the get-go everyone starts to get emotional over this one. At Whole Foods you can tell that their energy and passion seems to be recharged a bit as they're able to cook food that is close to the heart. There's nothing that brings you back to fond memories quite as much as food does. It's like it's own kind of time machine. All I have to do is heat up a can of Cambell's Chicken and Stars or a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and I'm back to childhood. Obviously it's the same for the chefs as most of them at some point or another starts crying. And it makes sense because if your career and passion is cooking, then it means something very special to you to serve the people that you love most and to also re-create the food that first inspired you to become a chef in the first place. They are all probably, no doubt, also pretty homesick.
Brian makes Korean BBQ New York Strip With Potato Salad as a nod to both his mom and dad. His dad only grilled so he naturally gravitates to BBQ, but unfortunately Dooky Chase's doesn't have an open grill so he's forced to use grill pans, which just isn't the same.
Carlos decides to go with Cochinita Pibil With Black Beans, Orange Pico De Gallo and Corn Tortilla. It's something that usually takes hours to cook so he speeds the process up by using a pressure cooker. And incidentally, Cochinita Pibil was the dish in "Once Upon A Time in Mexico" that made Johnny Depp shoot the chef for being too good.
Inspired by her grandmother and asparagus-picking with her mother, Carrie makes Creamed Asparagus Over Toast and Poached Egg. And Justin makes Louisiana Rice With Chicken Thigh Gravy, Pickled Mirliton and Jalapeno because he says it's the first thing he learned how to cook.
Nina prepares Curried Chicken with Fried Bakes, which is a fried dough eaten on The Islands and it looks pretty amazing. I mean, fried bread sounds like all kinds of heaven. Stephanie makes Mussels With Spicy Pickled Peppers and Tomatoes and Shirley makes Beijing Noodles, Fermented Bean and Pork Sauce With Pickled Radish.
Travis decides to go with Biscuits With Maple Sage Sausage Gravy and Sour Plum Jam, and it looks and sounds so good that I really want to try and make it. Travis makes a little mistake however, and puts too much butter in his biscuits and they turn out raw in the middle. Tom seemed to think that the butter wasn't cold enough when it went into the dough, but I it looked like Travis kept opening the oven door to check on them, which is a huge baking no-no. Any number of things could have attributed to them not getting done.
And finally, for the most emotional dish of the day we have Nick's Ricotta Gnudi With Pancetta, Peas, Lemon and Parmesan, which is his daughter's favorite. He becomes visibly distraught as he makes it because he's obviously dealing with some guilt for working too much and missing out on things like his kid's first steps and first words. It makes me want to reach through my TV screen and give him a hug.
Nick's Ricotta Gnudi With Pancetta, Peas, Lemon and Parmesan
The dinner at Dooky Chase's includes Leah Chase and some of her family members, Tom, Padma, Emeril, Hubert and Anthony Mackie, who is all kinds of adorable with his New Orleans accent. Everything is a hit and the only things mentioned as negatives were Brian's not-grilled grilled steaks, Justin's dry rice and Travis's raw biscuits. On some other challenge these things would probably be dismissed as nitpicks, but when everything is so great the judges have to focus on the little mistakes. Travis made the biggest little mistake.
And for the winner we have Nick and his emo mini gnocchi and Anthony Mackie tells him that he needs to relax, which was pretty funny, but is actually pretty good advice. Competitions like this are definitely reliant on skill and execution but it also takes a clear head. All of the chefs left have shown that they are very talented and I think the ones that will end up in the top will be the ones with the strongest mental fortitude.
Next week: It look like a field trip to Baton Rouge and LSU with a little Questlove thrown in. Go Tigers.