The theme of this week's episode of "Top Chef" was Spanish vs. French, or rather a competition between the two of the main culinary influences of our enigmatic city, New Orleans. And during the episode, Emeril Lagasse tweeted to the interwebs, which do you prefer?
And yet another question could perhaps be, what would you do if you have immunity but clearly lost the challenge for your team? If you stay, yes, you have a one in five chance to win 150,000 and a life supply of foil and cream cheese, but the people in your profession will always remember how you got there. If you resign you can still watch the episodes where you say you "cook with integrity" with a straight face and still have the chance to duke it out with Louis in Last Chance Kitchen.
I totally get that the money and competition is important, but a lot of the chefs from the show who have gone on to be super successful did not win the ultimate title. For season five, Hosea won, but he is not the person you remember the most from that season and at the end of the day, probably hasn't made the most money from his exposure. You remember Carla (hootie hoo) and Fabio. Obviously, there are other ways to "win" a reality show.
I don't know, I suppose there is no good answer, but for me, if Jaque Pepin implies you should resign, you should probably go ahead and resign. And Nicholas chose to remain, citing his performance in the Quickfire as reason enough to stay. Okay, fine. Totally, he won that fair and square and it's a competition and thems the rules. But do you feel good about it?
And Stephanie, wow does my heart go out to her. She started the competition as a nervous wreck, afraid that she'd be voted off first for a second time and then surprised each week when she made it through. Even more surprised when she won challenges. After several weeks, you could see the self-confidence grow in her and she's been by far the funniest person in the cast with her dry dead-pan sense of humor. A much needed addition. To go out when you made a great dish, that's just messed up. But what could she do? Physically wrestle Nick from putting those weird corn husk nests on the plate?
But I digress. Aside from the elimination, this episode of Top Chef was a pretty great one. We had some pretty distinguished guests beginning with Jaques Pepin for the Quickfire and then Julian Serrano and Dominique Crenn for the Elimination Challenge.
As most know, Jaques Pepin is a living legend in the culinary world, and he gave a quick demonstration to the chefs on how to cook his favorite meal of artichokes and fish, which I'm sure was incredibly more challenging than the effortless way in which the he made it look. It seemed as though all he did was make a few cuts and stirs and magically created a stunning plate of food. He even turned a few scrapes of butter into a rose. Afterwards, the chefs had 30 minutes to recreate it. The two who did the best were naturally the chefs who were trained in French technique, Nick and Shirley. The others didn't do so well and Nick snagged his first Quickfire win.
For the Elimination Challenge, we're introduced to two chefs with two Michelin stars, one Spanish, one French, to represent the two major European influences in New Orleans cuisine. Dominique Crenn, who is the only woman in the U.S. with two stars, helped out the French team and Julian Serrano mentored the Spanish team. Miraculously, the two French-trained cheftestants, Nick and Shirley, both were put on the French team. They were very pleased with this and thought themselves lucky, but history repeats itself and in the past, when teams assume they're going to win because they happen to be uber-familiar with the cuisine, it's usually meant that everything eventually falls apart.
Both teams had fun concepting with their respective mentors, using ingredients found in both Spanish and French foods, like chocolate, olives and chicken. Dominique is strikingly beautiful and charismatic while Julian is stern and knowledgeable. Both seemed to be excellent teachers and the chefs ate up the experience, though I wondered if the Spanish team thought Julian was a little anal and the food too simple. It doesn't matter though because it was his guidance that got them the win. He insisted that simple is best, and it served them well.
The best part though is the interaction between the two mentors. During service at Restaurant R'evolution, Dominique and Julian were sitting across from each other and engaged in some of the most awkward stares and remarks in Top Chef history. It was awesome. And I have to say that Julian Serrano is my new hero because when he took one look at Nick's plate of cornish hen with chocolate and corn silk nests, he threw up his hands and was like, "what in the hell is this"? It's kind of like when I take a non-Ohioan to a Skyline Chili (a very unique tasting chili over spaghetti with a pile of neon-orange cheese on top). He shook his head, he stared in bewilerment. I think it was the only time the whole season where I was laughing with my whole belly ... well, that and a few of the more awesome Tom Colicchio snark-faces. Needless to say, it was one of the more interesting dinner services I've seen on this show with what looked like mostly excellent food ... save for Nick's dishes, who heartbreakingly had immunity.
In the end, Nina wins for her contribution and Spanish potato salad that she actually feared would send her home. Oh ye of little faith. And Stephanie goes home for ... well, Stephanie goes home for no real good reason.
And a last word on Nick; I know why he did what he did. He obviously wants to win, as does everyone on the show, but I don't want to hear him whine and complain anymore. He's lost the privilege to me. His cockiness and thoughtlessness for his team as a whole got a girl who made a great dish sent home. Fine. It's a competition, but don't wear out your welcome. I also don't want to see anymore shit with Carlos (though judging from the previews it looks like we'll see more of it next week). I'm just not convinced that Carlos is a bad guy and you could have told him to clean your knife instead of acting like a martyr about it. End rant.
Next week: Jon Favreau and po boys! The finale is getting close.