'Top Chef' Recap: Captain Vietnam

Last week the chefs visited the New Orleans institution”Commander’s Palace” for an elimination challenge rooted in classic Orleans cuisine. This week the culture of Vietnam was front and center.

Two staples of reality TV are homesick participants, and misplaced tattoos. The show kicked off with both as Nick called home to check on his wife and kids. For some reason production on “Top Chef” gives the chefs flip phones to use for the calls. Nick has a moment to tell his wife that he loves her before Emeril arrives at the house with a special guest.

Emeril introduces the guest judge for this week, Chef Eddie Huang. Huang is dressed like a hipster hockey player. Emeril reveals that there won’t be a quickfire this week. Instead the chefs are broken up into three teams of five. Each team will then present their own version of a Vietnamese menu. The chefs will then serve the local Vietnamese community their creations. The only requirement is one of the dishes must contain shrimp.

In order for the chefs to better understand the cooking in the challenge they head out on a tour of important Vietnamese areas with Emeril and Huang. The first stop is a Vietnamese bakery where the chefs lean about black pepper and turnovers. The second stop is a shrimp processing factory. The chefs got to get their hands dirty by working with the fisherman, and learning some of their secret recipes.

The last stop on the tour was an authentic noodle house. During the whole tour the chefs weighed in on their knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine. The chefs acted either like total novices or seasoned pros. There seemed to be no in between on the show. Travis rubbed some of the other chefs the wrong way by acting like a total know-it-all. Travis told us earlier that he’s studied Asian cuisine, and loves it so much he only dates Asian men. That’s a commitment to food.

With the tour now over the chefs visited an Asian market and picked up all the ingredients needed for their Vietnamese menus.

The Red Team Menu

  • Vietnamese BBQ Shrimp
  • Beef Pho with Rice Noodles & Lettuce
  • Raw Beef Salad with Pickled Vegetables
  • Lemon Custard with Caramelized Banh Mi

The Green Team Menu

  • Fresh Gulf Shrimp in Spicy Tomato Sauce
  • Grilled Pork Sausage Wraps
  • Dim Sum “Dup” Pork & Shrimp
  • Coconut Coffee Macaroon

The Orange Team Menu

  • Black Pepper Squid with Cabbage
  • Fish Head Soup with Pineapple & Tamarind
  • Pork Belly Spring Rolls & Dipping Sauce
  • Beef Pho

The first sign of trouble in the kitchen occurs when the Green team loses its lemongrass. This throws the team into a tail spin as it was an essential flavor on their menu. When Emeril and Huang visit the Kitchen Travis blames the lemongrass fiasco on Sarah. Another drama point is the Red and Orange team both doing a Beef Pho dish which means one team will be a definite loser in that category.

Emeril and Huang sit down with Tom, Padme, and Gail at the judges table, and the challenge is on.

The Orange Team is up first, and Brian’s spring roll and dipping sauce are a big hit. They soup by Carlos gets hit for being too much line minestrone, and the pepper squid is under seasoned. The Beef Pho was labled “weak in the flavor department” by Tom. That isn’t a winning endorsement. All of the judges seem to think the Orange team missed the mark in Vietnamese flavors.

The Red Team served second, and Shirley delivered the plates to the judges. Justin’s Beef Pho is “lightyears” ahead of the Orange team. His beef was better cooked than the other entry. Shirley’s shrimp was also a winner with its use of butter. As usual the judges complained about the texture of a tartare. The worst dish seemed to be the yellow custard dessert. While that dish didn’t score well the other plates should be enough to keep the Red team out of the bottom.

The Green Team served last, and Sarah came out from the kitchen to explain them. Travis’ dish was liked by Tom, but Gail thought there was too much shrimp paste. His dish wasn’t missing the lemongrass. Sarah’s dim sum had a bad texture inside, and Huang seemed to need a pull of water after his bite. The batter on the Green Team’s shrimp was too heavy, and tasted more like a fra diavolo sauce. Gail liked the dessert, and said it reminded her of a Passover treat. So not necessarily Vietnamese style.

Back at judges table the winning group is revealed as The Red Team. Their team was led by Shirley and the shrimp dish she learned from the fisherman during the tour. Justin’s Pho received high praise due to the level of difficulty. Chef Huang announced the winner of the challenge as Shirley who immediately felt like a phoenix rising from the ashes. When the Red Team returned to the stew room they sent in Green for elimination.

The first major issue was the use of tomatoes in the Vietnamese sauce. Travis defended the sauce as being authentic, but Tom and Chef Huang begged to differ. The sauce tasted far too Italian, and the Shrimp were overcooked. Sarah took the blame on the rice, which was described earlier as “baby food”. The only dish that got positive notes was Stephanie’s macaroon, but Tom made sure to note how that dish was a cop-out in this challenge. Travis, Sarah, and Bene were the top names mentioned during judges deliberation.

In the end the judges gave us a curve ball, and sent Janine home. Janine was responsible for the poorly cooked shrimp, and that was the worst protein on the menu. She cried those Australian tears and made her way down to Last Chance Kitchen.

Next week the Chefs welcome Padme and Gail’s Moms to the show for a quickfire, and then Lea Michele is throwing a party in the masquerade themed elimination challenge.




Tags: Bravo Emeril New Orleans Sarah Top Chef Travis Vietnam

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