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Top Chef Review: “Captain Vietnam”

The chefs are exploring Vietnamese food this week, with the help of guest judge, Eddie Huang.

Eddie, along with Emeril take the chefs on a field trip around New Orleans to give them all a crash course in Vietnamese food. This help is a bit unorthodox for Top Chef, but much appreciated by the chefs, many of whom have never worked with the cuisine.

Allowing the chefs an opportunity to taste various dishes at a Vietnamese bakery, shrimping boat and noodle restaurant is going to give the judges an accurate reading of what chefs are truly worth their salt. Having experience with every type of cuisine isn’t necessarily the mark of a great chef. However, being able to taste and discern flavors and cooking techniques and then recreate them in the kitchen is a highly developed skill that only a truly talented chef could pull off. 

Introducing the chefs to Vietnamese food isn’t handing them the answers, it’s giving them the opportunity to show what they’re made of.

Top Chef in Big Easy

The Quickfire is skipped this week and the chefs are thrown directly into the Elimination Challenge.

For the challenge, the chefs are split up into teams of five to create their version of a Vietnamese menu, including at least one shrimp recipe. The teams go shopping and begin their menu planning.

While some of the chefs like Carlos and Stephanie have little to no experience with Vietnamese cuisine, there are a few chefs who are quite confident in this arena. Sara boasts great knowledge of Asian cuisine as does Travis who has traveled to Vietnam. The problem is, Sara and Travis are both on the same team and their ideas of what Vietnamese cuisine are, differ greatly. This causes friction from the time of menu conception to execution.

One major error is that their lemongrass is somehow forgotten at the market, therefore eliminating the key ingredient to several of their dishes. It is oversights and errors like these that happen when people can’t work together as a team. One person gets bossy (Sara) and starts editing down the groceries and accidentally puts the lemon grass back on the shelf.

Teams and Menus:

Red Team: Shirley, Justin, Carrie, Patty & Nina
Vietnamese BBQ Shrimp
Beef Pho with Rice Noodles & Lettuce
Raw Beef Salad with Pickled Vegetables
Lemon Custard with Caramelized Banh Mi

Green Team: Janine, Bene, Travis, Sara & Stephanie
Fresh Gulf Shrimp in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Grilled Pork Sausage Wraps
Dim Sum "Duo" Pork & Shrimp
Coconut Coffee Macaroon

Orange Team: Brian, Carlos, Nicholas, Michael & Louis
Black Pepper Squid with Cabbage
Fish Head Soup with Pineapple & Tamarind
Pork Belly Spring Rolls & Dipping Sauce
Beef Pho

Judges Table

As a whole, the judges are very underwhelmed during the tasting. There is a lack of flavor and complexity to many of the chefs’ dishes, and the chefs were missing those key elements that made the food truly Vietnamese. 

That said, the judges were pleased with the red team’s performance, in particular Shirley’s BBQ Shrimp dish. She was smart by chatting up the various Vietnamese fishermen and cooks on their field trip and taking their advice to use butter in her shrimp. The amount of butter that she used in her shrimp recipe shocked Tom, but was so spot on, that it brought her the win. The judges couldn’t stop eating it.

The judges least favorite is the green team with both Sara and Travis – the self proclaimed Asian food stars. Sara loses her bluster and breaks down into tears while Travis gets scolded by the judges for pushing Bene and Janine into making an Italian inspired tomato sauce recipe. It’s that very recipe that was the downfall of the entire time.

Travis’ poor concept, Bene’s overcooked tomato sauce, Sara’s terrible rice and Janine’s poorly cooked shrimp all contributed to the worst dish of the night. In the end, it’s the fact that Janine couldn’t properly cook shrimp that gets her sent home. It really could have been any of offending chefs going home, but the judges felt that if Janine couldn’t properly cook shrimp, then she had no business being in the competition.

Each chef has good days and bad, and this was Janine’s bad day. She’ll have a chance to earn her way back into the competition in the Last Chance Kitchen, which starts this week on www.bravotv.com. 

Join us next week for a Top Chef Halloween celebration complete with costume party and Lea Michele from Glee.