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Top Chef New Orleans Review: “Soiree in the Swamp”

We welcome back good old Top Chef with an all-new season and city this week: New Orleans!

This season is going to be packed full of rich culture and amazing food. This first episode gives us a peek into the strong personalities that make up the talent-packed cast of season 11.

Top Chef New Orleans Pic

This cast is filled with chefs that make you sit up and take note. Multiple chefs are James Beard Award nominees and Bene Bartolotta appeared on Top Chef Masters as Odette Fada’s sous chef. I’m glad to see that the show is keeping high standards in their casting, and even raising the bar in some cases.

The competition gets started off quickly as Padma and Tom pop in on the mingling chefs to announce that there will be no Quickfire challenge. The first challenge will indeed be an Elimination Challenge. The chefs will be cooking for a Soiree in the Swamp, each focusing on a unique local protein.

Each chef is assigned either turtle, alligator or frog legs. The chefs hit up the local butcher shops to source their alligator, turtle and frog legs and it’s a bit surprising to find out that many of the chefs have never worked with their assigned protein. so it seems like the two local chefs, Justin Devillier and Michael Sichel, are at an advantage with this local cuisine.

It seems like the chefs could have been more prepared for this challenge than they were. Knowing that you were going to be on Top Chef New Orleans. You would think after being cast for Top Chef, you would research and the host city and practice preparing local cuisine. Local cuisine is always a focus on Top Chef.

The day of the soiree, the chefs arrive at the outside cooking site and get to work. A few chefs are totally in their groove, while others like Patty are really out of their element.

Here is a highlight of the dishes that were prepared for the soiree:

Bene – Turtle Croquette with Cauliflower Puree and Shitake Mushrooms
Nina – Curried Turtle Meatball, Chayote Slaw & Chutney with Raisins
Janine – Bacon & Alligator Confit with Tomato Jam & Lemon Frisee
Aaron – Pickled Eggplant with Turtle Confit & Turtle Ragout with Tagliatelle Pasta
Shirley – Turtle Soup with Goji Berry & Chinese Broth
Carrie – Poached Frog Legs with Oyster Emulsion & Cold Zucchini Salad
Carlos – Alligator Rillettes with Fennel & Pickled Red Onion Relish
Michael – Fried Alligator with Sauce Piquant & Slaw
Sara – Deep Fried Alligator with Smoked Chilis, Sweet & Sour Sauce & Pickled Vegetables
Ramon – Braised Turtle with Thai Dashi
Patty – Cajun Style Alligator with Yuca Puree
Jason – Frog Leg Croquette with Roasted Eggplant, Fennel Salad & Pickled Cherry Puree
Stephanie – Frog Leg Butter Confit with Spinach & Watercress Puree

For the first time on Top Chef, the cheftestants are given the opportunity to see the judges reactions to their dishes. There is a screen in the waiting room where the chefs are able to see the judges discussing each dish and narrowing down the pack to the best and the worst. This is an interesting change in the format of the show, because previously, only the chefs that got chosen for the top and bottom heard any of the feedback on their dishes.

Judges Table
Nina, Carrie and Sara were chosen as the chefs with the top three dishes. The judges loved the boldness of spice in Sara’s dish and the unexpected chilled frog leg that Carrie served. But it was Nina’s Turtle Meatball recipe that really won them over.

Aaron, Patty and Ramon find themselves on the bottom of the pack. Aaron’s mushy pasta recipe was unimpressive and uninspired. Patty’s scattered planning and last minute menu change left the judges wanting more from her alligator dish. But in the end it was Ramon’s watered down, flavorless dashi that was unacceptable. I worried for Tom Colicchio’s heart when Ramon said he added ice to his dashi. It looked like Padma was going to have to revive him.

Ramon clearly wasn’t up to the level of the other chefs, and I worry that Patty will be close behind him in his exit. Aaron shows promise, but definitely needs to up his game in the planning stages of each challenge. One thing is for sure: this season is going to be full of spicy cuisine and fierce competition.