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Top Chef Review: Giving it the College Try

Competition is heating up with just eight chefs remaining. Backstabbing, copping-out and just plain old whining are the name of this week as several chefs begin to show their true colors.

The chefs are cooking up drumsticks and cafeteria fare with a little side of drama. The drama always keeps things interesting.

Quickfire Challenge

Musician and restauranteur, Questlove, challenges the chefs to cook up various types of poultry drumsticks. Drumsticks are Questlove’s (and mine, for that matter) favorite part of a bird, and when it comes to the birds, there is a huge selection: goose, quail, squab, duck, turkey, guinea hen and of course chicken.

The drumstick possibilities are endless and fairly overwhelming, especially when the chefs have to fight over who gets what type of drumstick. Poor Nick gets edged out of his goose legs because he helps Shirley after she’s knocked to the ground in the poultry scramble. It never seems to pay to be the good guy, does it?

Top Chef Pose

Let’s talk drumsticks for a moment, shall we? Who knew there were so many possibilities for drumsticks? Many folks wouldn’t think past the traditional BBQ chicken wings recipe, but the chefs pull out all the stops and Brian even makes a chicken soup recipe, keeping bits of crispy skin for some crunch and texture.

Creativity pays off for Carrie, because Questlove is the most impressed with her Squab Legs Marinated in Thyme, Juniper & Cocoa Powder with Fig Mostarda. The key to Carrie’s win was that the squab was cooked perfectly. Not over, not under, but just right. She wins immunity in the elimination challenge, which at this point is as good as gold.

Elimination Challenge

The chefs are heading back to school to cook for a bunch of LSU freshmen – five hundred freshmen to be exact. They’ll be limited to the exact ingredients and equipment that the cafeteria has access to everyday. One of the best parts about this challenge is that the chefs get to sleep in the dorms, all the while having some serious trips down memory lane.

From Brian’s drinking stories to Stephanie remembering her boarding school days, there are definitely lots of new glimpses into each of their lives.

The drama continues as Justin gripes about everyone ‘dumbing’ their food down for college kids. He’s determined to keep things top tier and scoffs at the other chefs’ recipes. Carlos gets territorial about his cooking station, essentially pushing Shirley off the grill she claimed, forcing her to use the pizza oven and completely change her recipe idea from fried rice to roast beef.

During service, Carlos tattles on Nicholas for ‘stealing’ his oven, when in reality Nicholas had the oven the entire time and Carlos was simply pouting because Nicholas wouldn’t share. It feels like a bunch of kindergartners fighting over supplies and equipment. Carlos is beginning to wear on the other chefs in the competition.

Additional equipment issues arise when Nina is unable to find a large enough blender to mass produce her corn puree. This results in inconsistent puree and in many cases, nonexistent puree after she had run out. Carrie shocks everyone by making a completely basic broccoli salad with goopy white sauce on top.

It in no way looks like something that would appeal to anyone and the nonexistent line of students at her station confirms that. Carrie phoned this elimination challenge in, knowing that no matter what she made, she could not be sent home because of her immunity.

Shirley: Roast Beef with Potato Puree & Fire Roasted Tomato Relish
Nina: Fried Chicken with Sweet Corn Puree & Pickled Onions
Brian: Shrimp cake & Spinach with Chipotle Aioli
Nicholas: Roasted Pork, Parmesan Grits & Bacon Brown Sugar Gravy
Carrie: Broccoli Salad with Herbed Yogurt Sauce & Pita Bread
Justin: Marinated Gulf Shrimp, Cauliflower, Asparagus & Garlic Puree
Stephanie: Spicy Tomato Soup with Pimento Cheese Sandwich
Carlos: Seared Tilapia with Chile Ancho & Mexican Coleslaw

The judges loved Carlos’ fish recipe, even though he had difficulty keeping up with the pace of the service. His excuses for that were petty as he pointed fingers at Nicholas for ‘stealing’ his oven. If he keeps this up, he’ll be known as the whiner who always has an excuse for everything.  Also in the judges’ top three were Brian with his shrimp cake recipe and Shirley with her spot on roast beef.

Shirley takes the win, (therefore a brand new Toyota!) for cooking up a succulent roast beef recipe with charred tomatoes that made every student, and judge in the cafeteria happy.

In the bottom are Stephanie, for her soggy grilled cheese, Nina for her tasteless and inconsistent corn puree and Justin for his bland, bland, bland shrimp recipe. Justin ignored the challenge and tried to make food that was a bit to ‘chef-y’, but in doing so, lost the subtleties of flavor by mass producing a dish of that nature. Justin gets sent home for his lack of seasoning throughout his entire dish.

‘Giving it the College Try’ gave us peeks into the lives and personalities of the remaining chefs that we have not seen up until this point, and they are sure to become stronger as the season builds up to the finale.