February 26th, 2009 2:45 am |
This is a full excerpt from my food blog, Foodie In Disguise.
I have been waiting ALL SEASON for this moment. Every year for the last 5 seasons of Top Chef I find myself on the edge of my kitchen counter waiting to see who will be named TOP CHEF.
This season was no exception but I got an added bonus this season. I know one of the contestants! I have worked with Carla Hall when I was doing my culinary sabbatical in Washington DC. Carla and I worked together when I was the Culinary Manager at Sur La Table in Arlington, VA. From the first day I met Carla I knew I liked her. Her energy was always positive and her philosophy of sharing love thru food has been the foundation of her soul. If you are a regular reader of FoodieInDisguise or The World of Scott Mindeaux you know that I have been rooting for Carla since day one!
After last week’s defeat of Jeff and Fabio, our three chefs have been on pins and needles waiting for tonight’s episode. Our three chefs meet Padma and Tom at the Historic New Orleans Collection. All three are ready. The final challenge? Cook the judges the best 3 course meal of their life – dessert is not required. The stakes are high. They will be serving their meal in front of 12 distinguished judges and guest at the renown Commander’s Palace! What a treat that is! They will get two hours of prep at the Audubon Tea Room, then three hours to complete their meals for service the next day.
Tom says they’ll probably need a little bit of help in the kitchen. Three silhouettes emerge from a dark walkway and we find Marcel, Casey and Richard, past contestants that also made it to the final three. There is a knife block out and since Carla won the last elimination challenge, she gets to draw a knife first. The knives will determine what order they get to choose their sous chef. Carla draws a 3, Hosea a 1 and naturally, Stefan is 2. Hosea opts for Richard Blaise, Stefan choosed Marcel and Carla is teamed up with Casey!
The chefs get going and they all get to work. They have two hours tonite to prep. They are all scrambling in the kitchen searching out protiens and seeing what is available. There is some foie gras in the walk-in and Stefan is seen grabbing it and then tossing it back on the shelf. In walks in Hosea and he takes the foie gras. He walks out and then Stefan confronts him that he can’t have it all and the “claimed” two of the three packages. Ugh. There is more rumbling later about some caviar…I’m over it Stefan. Please…pack your knives…no wait..just leave.
So Carla is opting to do something comforting and decides to do something with meat and potatoes. Casey is prepping the beef and she recommends to Carla to sous-vide the meat. Carla says she’s never done sous-vide and wasn’t sure but Casey convinced her to do it. I’m not quite sure why Carla gave in. This is the Carla show, not the Casey show. Carla is skilled in classic technique. While I applaud what sous-vide brings to the table, I feel that this will change things for the outcome of Carla’s dish. It’s not hers anymore, it’s really Casey’s.
So prep is done and our chefs head home for a good night’s rest. The chefs show up the next morning at the Commander’s Palace and they find Tom with a table of “surprise” ingredients: an alligator, redfish and crabs. Come on, it’s the finale of course they’re going to throw in a twist! It’s a mini contest. The winner will get to choose their protein AND get to assign the remaining proteins to the other two chefs. They have to use these ingredients in an hors d’oeuvres. The contest? In the spirit of Mardi Gras, there is a King Cake. It is divided into three parts. Who ever finds the “baby” hidden in the cake wins. So they each get their piece and start chowing down on it. Hosea finds the baby and he decides on the redfish. He assigns the crab to Carla and the alligator to Stefan. That’s right Hosea, stick it to Stefan!
So here are our menus for this evening:
Blackened Red Fish on Corn Cake with Creole Remoulade & Micro Cilantro; Trio of Sashimi; Scallops & Foie Gras with pain Perdu; Closing with Venison Loin with Wild Mushrooms
Shiso Soup with BLue Crab & Chayote Thai Salsa; Seared Snapper with Saffron Aioli & Crouton; Sous-Vide New York Strip Steak, Potato Rod with Merlot Sauce and finishing with a Cheese Tart with Apple Coins & Marmalade
Alligator Soup with Celeriac, Parlsey Leaves & Puff Pastry; Halibut & Salmon Carpaccio; Squab with Braised Red Cabbage & Schupfnudeln and ending with Ice Cream & Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Syrup & Lollipops
So who are our guests and judges for the evening? Susan Spicer, Chef/Owner, Bayona; Rocco DiSpirito; Toby Young; Hubert Keller, Chef/Owner, Fleur De Lys; John Besh, Chef/Owner, August; Branford Marsalis, Musician; Tory McPhail, Executive Chef, Commander’s Palace; Gail Simmons; Ti Martin, Owner of Commander’s Palace, Tom and Padma, and least by not least, Fabio Viviani!
The remaining three courses are all served one course at a time, but from each chef altogether. As each course came out the guests and judges offered their opinions on the dishes. On the first course, it was pretty unanimous that everyone loved Carla’s Snapper dish. THey weren’t too keen on Stefan’s carpaccio and felt that Hosea’s sashima needed something.
Second course is up and presented. Right off the top everyone loved Stefan’s squab. Next is Carla and the meat is a bit tough. A discussion ensues about the sous-vide. Many at the table enjoyed the foie gras/scallop with the pain perdu.
The last course is up. They are finishing up service and everyone is plating. Carla puts her souffles in the oven. Carla forgot to turn down the temperature of the oven and her souffles started to bubble and curdle. She knows she messed up here and inside I start to tear up a bit. They present their plates and Carla has to announce that her souffle didn’t work and she did not put it on the plate. Hosea is the only one who did not do a dessert. Everyone at the table was saddened and disappointed that Carla’s dish didn’t work. If anyone could have made a wonderful dessert tonight it was Carla. The judges and guests laughed at Stefan’s dessert. Gail said the presentation looks sooo 1982. Fabio even said that he was disappointed in Stefan’s last course.
The three are in front of Judges’ Table and there are compliments and criticisms handed out to all three chefs. They work their way thru Carla, Hosea then Stefan. During Carla’s review, Tom points out that Carla allowed Casey to change her course and that she second guessed herself. I think that if she did what she inteneded to do tonight, she probably could have won tonight. Padma then comes out to ask each chef why they should be Top Chef. Stefan says that he should get it because he deserves it. HoseaWhen they got to Carla, she started to explain to them that she is a good chef. She says, “I’ve proven that when I cook my food it’s really delicious. When I cook my food, there is alot of heart, there is a lot of flavor. Do I think I’m a Top Chef…yes. Do I think my food is good…yes. When I make it…yes.” At this point, she starts to tear up and cry.
I just about lost it and I’m crying at this point myself. Even Stefan is affected and goes over to Carla to console here. You can see in each of the judges’ faces that they too are affected. I firmly believe that if she did her food her way, she would have been Top Chef tonight. Carla was really sad and I think she knew exactly what happened tonight that lead us to this point.
The chefs leave the room and the judges start their deliberations. To start, they all agree that Carla is out of the running. Tom offers, that even Carla would agree. They go back and forth between Hosea’s dishes versus Stefan’s. Overall, they knew who they were picking now that it was only down to Stefan and Hosea. Stefan has won many challenges, while Hosea hasn’t. Stefan is more classically trained, but Stefan has a touch of thoughtfulness that Stefan cannot touch.
The chefs return and we can’t wait! Tom thanks the chefs. He goes on to say to Carla that when the food comes from her heart, they love what they see. Hosea put on a great meal and was steady across the board. For Stefan he says he’s had some highs and some lows.
Padma announces that Hosea is TOP CHEF!!!!
Everyone comes pouring out and hug Hosea. Fabio, Jeff, Jamie and Leah are there too and they congratulate Hosea. The chefs are giving their final thoughts and this is what Carla had to say while she was choked up and a tear in her eye:
“I should have done my food and I will not make that mistake again. When I came here I wanted to show people a different way of competing – to compete with love. So, I did do one of the things I wanted to do here…”
Carla, you’re a winner in all of our hearts!