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Top Chef Review: Campfires, Cream Cheese and Countryside

It’s a Top Chef road trip, as the chefs pile into mini vans, complete with over night bags, and head out to the country.

Waiting for them in the middle of a picturesque Louisiana farm is the one and only John Besh. Chef Besh is there to inspire the chefs with fresh, local produce and act as guest judge for both the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges. He’s a New Orleans icon, so it’s great to see him featured here.

Top Chef Judges Pic

Quickfire Challenge

The chefs are challenged to create a dish that highlights the coveted Creole Tomato, which only grows in the soil of Louisiana. Many of the chefs have fairly original ideas, but a few chefs buckle under the pressure of such a simple ingredient and short cooking time. Stephanie completely chokes and makes a very generic tomato, watermelon and feta cheese salad recipe. Stephanie, along with Patty and Travis, winds up on the bottom of Chef Besh’s list. Their dishes were just plain uninspired.

On the other hand, Chef Besh is very impressed with Carlos’ combination of textures as well as Louis’ big, bold flavors. But it’s Nina’s delicate and perfectly chilled tomato soup that wins her immunity for the elimination challenge. And what an elimination challenge it is! It’s a farm to table extravaganza!

Elimination Challenge

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs will be cooking a Farm to Table dinner for the team of chefs that work in all eight of John Besh’s restaurants in New Orleans. The cheftestants will have an abundance of farm fresh produce and protein to work with, but will be limited to milk, cream and cream cheese for their dairy. So, while that means absolutely no butter shall grace the chefs’ work stations, they must use Philadelphia Cream Cheese in their family style dishes. The chefs draw knives to find out which course they will be preparing to compete for the $10,000 prize.

The night before the challenge, the chefs get the pleasure of staying in a gorgeous home on the farm, complete with pools and campfires. This is one of the first real glimpses of the chefs’ personal relationships with each other. I’ve got to say that this is a lovely, drama free cast. Well, not that Michael is gone, at least.

The morning of the challenge, the chefs head to La Provence to prepare their dishes. The chefs have to scour the kitchen to find ingredients, and even in the cramped quarters while vying for ingredients, the chefs stay quite civil with one another. Whlie the chefs are working on their own, they are divided into three categories: Appetizer recipes, Entree recipes and Dessert recipes.

Patty: Snapper Crudo with Cream Cheese Vinaigrette
Brian: Summer Squash & Zucchini Tagliatelle with Poached Oysters & Emulsified Cream Cheese
Carlos: Poached Baby Beets & Pickled Carrots with Peach, Habanero & Cream Cheese Sauce
Nina: Crispy Zucchini Blossoms with Eggplant & Cream Cheese Puree
Sara: Island Spiced Lamb Chop Stuffed with Cream Cheese & Curry Powder

Bene: Roasted Chicken Breast Filled with Caramelized Onions & Tarragon Cream Cheese
Carrie: Vinegar-Braised Chicken in Cream Cheese Sauce with Chilled Cucumber
Justin: Roasted Duck Breast with Eggplant Vinaigrette Chanterelle Mushrooms & Corn Puree
Travis: Seared Lamb Chops with Moroccan Succotash & Cream Cheese Aioli

Louis: Graham Cracker with Blackberries & Cream Cheese Mousse
Nicholas: Funnel Cake & Carrot Cake with Peach Flavored Cream Cheese
Shirley: “Philadelphia” Steamed Egg Custard with Macerated Blueberries
Stephanie: Cream Cheese, Peach & Cherry Mousse with Cream Cheese Short Dough

Judges Table

Overall, the judges felt that the chefs didn’t live up the the expectations of the challenge. Cooking ‘Farm to Table’ is often thought of as a chef’s ultimate dream, but it seemed as if several of the chefs choked under the pressure to showcase the ingredients in a spectacular way.

Nina, Nicholas and Justin, however, did not fail to impress the judges. Gail loved the composition and thoughtfulness in Justin’s duck dish and John was impressed with the variety of flavors that Nicholas incorporated into his Carrot Cake Mousse.

But it was Nina’s use of farm fresh squash blossoms and eggplant in combination with the Philadelphia cream cheese that wins her the $10,000. She is quickly proving that she’s the chef to beat, and all of the other chefs are sitting up and taking notice of her success in the kitchen.

In the bottom are Bene, Travis and Sara. Bene has don’t anything all that spectacular this entire season, so this isn’t shocking. Travis hasn’t been all that impressive, either. Sara on the other hand has been talking a big talk the entire time, yet has yet to deliver on all of her arrogance. In the end, the judges send Bene home for his lackluster steamed veggies. It looks like Sara is going to have another week to live up to all her talk.

Join us next week when we chat about ‘Jazz Hands’ and the chefs play a chef-y version of musical chairs.