Top Chef recap: Quest for the Hot Tang

The chefs cook with "flavornocity of the highest order" and learn the art of boucherie
Ep. 08 | Aired Nov 20, 2013

Padma teaches Dr. John the art of clear communication. Dr. John decides to continue to be a legendarily cool, instead.


Justin seems most at home cooking in the great outdoors and immediately builds a fire in one of the wood-burning grills to roast his pork on a low, constant heat. But he didn’t build the fire for other people to come mooch (Sara, that one is perfectly acceptable in everyday conversation) off of it, and goes a little nuclear when Nina also puts something on his grill. Nina says she’ll take it off when she sees the fiery look in Justin’s eye, but not before telling him to “suck a d---,” because that is a thing that she says to multiple people for multiple reasons. Chefs, you guys; They’re just like us your rebellious 8th grade cousin.

Shirley is making dumplings because the pig roast reminds her of Chinese New Year with her grandparents; Travis is sweating more than ever while not making his own ramen; Stephanie is playing ISpy with alligators; and before I know it, there are four minutes left and Hugh Acheson is there with a fever, and the only prescription is pork, pork and more pork.

Tom thinks all of the food looks amazing, which is good to hear after a few lackluster Elimination Challenges. This is a talented group of chefs, but as a whole, they’re not entirely consistent. As the judges and guests sample the dishes, there really doesn’t seem to be much negativity to the critiques. Padma says she thinks every new dish she tries is her favorite. When they get back to the judging table, Tom, not one for hyperbole, goes so far as to say it’s collectively some of the most enjoyable food he’s had in 11 seasons. So, let’s just get right down to the best and worst:

Top three: Shirley’s “day after Chinese new year” Jiaozi dumpling with pork, grilled kidney and crispy pork fat salad was a big hit amongst the judges. Not only was she driven by a personal connection to the food, but she really incorporated the boucherie idea into her dish, using multiple parts of the pig. Carlos’ pozole verde with fried chorizo tacos also came from a place of emotional resonance, as well, gaining his inspiration from the pozole his mother used to make in Mexico that people would travel four hours to eat. Finally, Nina’s braised pig’s head ragu with roasted corn and mustard greens had a building heat to it that left all of the judges wanting more.

Bottom three: Justin’s  wood-roasted pork breast taco with pork liver salsa verde proved inconsistent. Tom and Hugh Acheson had great cuts of pork breast, but Padma and Donald Link’s were bland and dry. Stephanie looks confused as she explains her own process of creating and cooking her pork brodo with braised pork belly and summer vegetable pickle. Tom thinks her confusion was clear in the execution of the dish, leaving it feeling unfinished. All judges agree that Louis’ pork was cooked perfectly, but his slow-grilled pork leg with spring onions, shitake mushrooms, melted corn and popcorn just had too much going on.

Carlos takes the win for his pozole and I can only assume his mother would be proud. Unfortunately, the judges agree that none of the worst dishes were bad dishes, they just had errors, and it was Louis’ dish that had the most fatal of errors in cooking, writing and fashion: not enough editing. Always take off one accessory before you leave the house, Louis. But keep making those friends when you head back home!

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