Top Chef recap: Big Forkin' Heart

The Top 4 compete for the chance to have a dish featured in all of Emeril's NOLA restaurants
Ep. 15 | Aired Jan 22, 2014

David Moir/Bravo

For Round Two, Tom tasked the chefs with drawing inspiration from one of two pieces of produce: eggplant or red pepper, which are his favorite veggies to work with. Carlos eyed the eggplant for a marmalade, but when the two chefs sprinted toward the produce, Nicholas easily beat him to it. Nicholas humble-bragged about doing Varsity track... like, what, 15 years ago or something? Remember how arrogant Nicholas was at the beginning of season, especially when his "bro" Jason was still around? Yeah, he hasn't changed.

Even though Nicholas had vowed to make simpler dishes, he immediately planned on doing two different types of eggplant to showcase his versatility and technique. His scalloped eggplant with sesame seed Sriracha tahini and chili threads looked anything but simple. Carlos' fried red pepper soup, on the other hand, looked very simple, almost like a sauce. The judges, though, preferred Carlos' simplicity over Nicholas' fussy but still under-seasoned dish. Carlos won a Corolla, but it must have been almost as sweet to beat Nick.

The premise behind this week's Elimination Challenge was basically the same as the past five or so challenges this season: Take what you've learned from New Orleans and put it in a dish. They'd be serving their dishes for special guest judges Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini, and Douglas Keane. The winning dish would be featured in all of Emeril's New Orleans restaurants.

This week, there weren't any dust-ups in the kitchen, but Nina -- who, for most of the season, was looking like the clear front-runner -- left her malfatti off her plate. It was a horribly timed careless error to make so late in the game. But still, her speckled trout with baby vegetables and barbecue sauce still satisfied the judges. Tom noted that the ricotta cheese from the malfatti may have overwhelmed the dish. Nina managed to dodge that bullet.

Shirley decided on a Chinese fish dish that still contained the Holy Trinity of NOLA flavor: celery, pepper, and onion. The judges all went nuts for her seared black drum fish with zhen jian vinegar butter sauce, braised celery, and mushrooms. Nicholas, trying to correct his usual mistake of under-seasoning and over-complicating, went with a shrimp-based broth, shrimp dumplings, charred cobia, roasted bass, and a confit of tuna, fresh herbs, and fried rice. How is that simple? Also, Nicholas under-seasoned once again -- Grant wanted more salt on the fish.

Carlos went Mexican again but added a NOLA twist. His steamed seafood tamal was served with saffron cream sauce and pickled okra. The judges thought it was a cool concept, but Tom wanted the full tamale experience of opening a banana leaf.

At the Judges Table, the ladies returned to the top, but Emeril chose Shirley's dish as the best of the night. Really, Shirley is on an unprecedented roll here. At one point, Nina felt like the presumptive winner, but now it's very much up in the air.

As for the loser, it was between Carlos and Nicholas. I honestly thought it would be Nicholas, because he repeated the two mistakes he'd been making all season long. But ultimately, Carlos got the boot because the tamales weren't as warm as they could have been, and the cream didn't mix well with the seafood.

Is it absurd that Nicholas is still in the game? Who do you predict will return in next week's finale, part one?

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