Tonight, we moved from New York to New Orleans, nicely timed with next week's Mardi Gras. This involved some of the tastiest, heartiest food ever filmed this season. Granted, there wasn't a lot of background New Orleans action—no music (except for a little brass), and no signs of Katrina or post-Katrina struggles, but I guess this wasn't a documentary.
Emeril Lagasse was the guest judge, and like Eric Ripert, he was full of positive energy. As the crawfish king, he could have been patronizing in the Creole cuisine department, but he was quite the opposite. ("Home run dish"..."I loved his gumbo"..."This one captured the spirit of New Orleans.") And whoa, did he even say Bam! once?
[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]
In the spirit of rebirth, however, the last three eliminated contestants—Leah, Jamie, and Jeff—were invited back. Showing up in chef whites, they got a second chance during the Quickfire round, but the winner could only advance to next week's finale if they could also win the main challenge.
Pretty rightly so, the current contestants were a little annoyed. Fabio was rolling his eyes ("gimme a break"), Hosea said he felt awkward, but hootie-hoo Carla looked genuinely excited. The three were less annoyed when they realized they didn't have to compete in this week's Quickfire, but just sit back and watch these three scramble.
Quickfire: Cooking Crawfish for Emeril
Desperately trying to get back in the game, Leah, Jamie, and Jeff cooked crawfish for crawfish royalty, Emeril. The plantation-style home in the background and sprawling lawn was a refreshing change from the Manhattan Whole Foods.
I almost forgot why Leah was so annoying this season, until she pulled her usual "I've never cooked this before, ugh" with the crawfish. So outside of toast or PB&J, are we supposed to feel sorry for you? Jeff, on the other hand, had his familiar game face on, kind of like he was going to kill someone if he didn't win. Luckily, he did win and nobody was hurt, which meant goodbye for reals to Jamie and Leah. OK, seriously, see ya!
Note: All of this took place while Fabio was sporting a bubblegum pink scarf with his slicked mohawk from the sidelines.
The Challenge: Creole for Masquerade Ballers
"Oh my god, there's like all the Mardi Gras parade stuff," was Carla's reaction when the four remaining contestants (including hanger-on Jeff) entered a huge room full of glitzy floats. They would be cooking Creole (a mix of French, African, and Spanish styles) for a room of masked and dolled-up eaters. Most of the chefs admitted they had little or no experience with Creole. But they were like kids in a candy store cooking at Emeril's restaurant Delmonico, where ropes of sausage and turtle meat hung around like no big deal.
And to sweeten the deal, this week's first place chef would score a Toyota Venza. The wheels rolled up in a shiny silver. Fabio made a pretty good argument for why he deserved it. "My car is a piece of poop."
Hosea went for duck andouille and chicken gumbo. Carla attempted oyster stew, but when the oysters weren't shucked (and she had no experience shucking) she just started stabbing the poor mollusks. This was a little painful to watch. Stefan did a duck and rabbit gumbo with grits. Fabio went for maque choux (a Louisiana smorgasbord of stuff in a pot) with sausage and rabbit. And Hosea made chicken, duck, and andouille gumbo. Bottom line: Louisiana is pretty delicious.
While cooking, there was obvious signs of cockiness. Stefan won for most arrogant jerk, basically daring the judges to send him packin'. "I'm not going home on freakin' gumbo." As Gail Simmons (hey girl, welcome back!) later put it, he had a laissez faire quality, not caring at all and acting completely entitled. "I'm not stressed out. I'm 36 years old." A male version of apathetic Leah? Jeff earned an honorable mention for the cocky medal. Dude, be a little thankful you got a Get Out of Jail Free pass?
Carla, on the other hand, a burst of bubbles per usual. Maybe annoying bubbles to some, but non-cocky bubbles nonetheless. Lots of "hootie-hoos" while working the crowd.
Masquerade Ball Fashion
Quick pause. Gail is looking svelte in black. Padma in a choker. Check. And as hoped for, Tom and Emeril are sporting sparkly masks. Fabio said it all reminded him of old pornos where everyone's naked except for the Venetian masks. Yeah. Moving on.
This was pretty tough. All the dishes looked beyond edible, and everyone has their favorite at this point. It all came down to cooking New Orleans food with bite, balance, and soul.
Despite her shucking disaster, Carla won. That meant winning not only pride and access to next week's finale, but the car. That also meant bye-bye, Jeff.
The final two: the European Union men, Stefan and Fabio. After a pretty tense three seconds, it was Fabio packing his knives. "I didn't come to this country to be average and I'm not going to be average. You will see me again." The mohawk has left the building.
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