Cruising toward the final four: Top Chef Episode 13 recap

Lucky 13 –  the episode in which our final five chefs hop on a Celebrity cruise from Seattle to Juneau. Chefs Lizzie Bender, Brooke, Sheldon, Josh, Stefan.

We get to know the chefs a little better. Brooke talks about her fear of boats and wanting her son to not learn that fear, and how her husband booked a trip to Catalina for them before she left for Top Chef to help her get over her fear. She didn’t say how the trip went, but I’ve been on that boat to Catalina. It was awful – the seas were rough, the boat was pitching in the waves, passengers were green and . . . let’s just say there’s a chance the ferry didn’t help Brooke very much.

We learn that Stefan was a bad kid, bad enough for his mother to send him to military school for a year, where he learned to cook. It’s an interesting story, and humanizes him, but let me say – he Stefan is an HR nightmare. Seriously. He’s definitely been like this all season, but there were SO many incidents this episode: touching the the female chefs, dancing uncomfortably close to Brooke, smirking about putting something “warm in their mouths.” He jokes that he and Sheldon are there on a gay cruise, and asks Lizzie with a wink if she’s ready for some “sexy time.” If this were a corporation instead of a reality TV show, I’m certain after just one of his double entendres lawyers would have put the entire cast and crew in sensitivity training faster than you can say quickfire challenge.

The boat sets sail, and Padma introduces Top Chef Masters host Curtis Stone as guest Quickfire challenge judge. The task? Prepare food for the Celebrity Cruises Welcome Aboard party. The chefs get 2 hours to make 200 single-bite portions featuring . . . wait for it  . . . iceberg lettuce. Get it? Icebergs? Alaska? Stefan did. Josh didn’t.

Now Padma introduced iceberg as the non-foodie member of the lettuce family, but I’m a fan of that watery crunch. I even wrote a blog post about it last year. Curtis points out all the things you can do with iceberg – caramelize it, wrap it – it’s a versatile ingredient. Yes.

Josh isn’t happy with the iceberg, and he whines as he often does. Sheldon stays true to form with is great attitude and talk about respecting the ingredient, whatever it is. He also warned Brooke when her quinoa was boiling over. Stefan warns us to not underestimate Lizzie and then went and did something different by braising his lettuce. Brooke is worried about her presentation.

Here’s the menu. Since they all sounded delicious and I’d make any one of these, so I linked to the recipes on Bravo’s website:

Curtis had only positive words about everyone’s flavors, but Sheldon won for his most “brilliant use” of the ingredient. Go Sheldon! Now time for some down time.

Sheldon and Lizzie get manicures, where Lizzie talks about her father, who has recently passed, and shares her raw pain. Stefan, Josh, and Brooke sit outside and have beers, where Stefan talks about his first time with a girl from Stockholm . . . watch it Stefan. Remember that sensitivity training is on your horizon. Josh shares that he is having a hard time; his wife is due to deliver their baby on this very day and he hasn’t spoken to her yet. The scenery is lovely, and they meet up at dinner at Qsine, Celebrity Cruises’ Alice through the looking glass-ish restaurant where things aren’t always as you expect them to be. Table lamps mounted upside down on the ceiling, menus on iPads, and the chefs engage ins ome good-natured teasing. Dinner is a journey that begins with sushi lollipops, disco shrimp, a cabinet of goat cheese cigars,  and ends with a chocolate tombstone. 

Curtis and Padma show up with the elimination challenge: the chefs will be in charge of service at Qsine the following night. The task – take a classic dish and turn it on it’s head. The dish . . . surf and turf. Sheldon gets first choice of proteins as the winner of the quickfire.

Sheldon chooses lobster tail and beef tenderloin, and those ingredients are off limits to the other chefs. Not that the other chefs wanted those proteins; Stefan wonders why he played it so safe. Stefan went with eel and pork belly. Josh, scallop and pork belly. Lizzie took a whole baby pig and scallops. Brooke went the most out of the box with frog legs and mussels.

It’s great watching this group of chefs prep this challenge. Josh is quite taken with Lizzie’s butchering skills, and he’s right – she’s quite expert at breaking down her pig. Brooke is great with her frog legs; she debones each one as she preps. Josh decides to try and make pasta out of the scallops, an idea that sounds so wrong, I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t work out. Interestingly, he turned the scallop goo into a scramble, which is a seriously inside-out dish. Stefan gets his pork belly extra-super crisp, which could come back to bite him. Only Sheldon obviously has a difficult time with this challenge; he’s just not inspired; when Brooke asks him how he’s making his dish playful he replies, “I’m not.” Uh oh.

Here are the dishes. Again, I’m linking to the photos and recipes from the Bravo Top Chef site.

From Sheldon: Lobster & Filet Mignon: Korean BBQ Filet Mignon, Tempura Lobster, Sesame Cabbage, Kimchi & Teriyaki Sauce. The judges loved his presentation and kimchi, but thought the tempura was cold and mushy, the dynamite sauce lacked a punch, and he didn’t integrate the surf with the turf. “The flavors weren’t married. I’m not even sure they’re dating,” said Tom.

 

From Brooke: Mussels & Frog Legs: Mussels & Frog Legs with Celery Root & Fennel Puree, Papadums & Shallot Chutney. Brooke got high praise for taste and for a modern interpretation of the theme, but her papadums were quite greasy. “It was really out there,” says Tom.

 

From Stefan: Pork Belly & Eel: Braised Pork Belly with Beer Sauce, Parsnip & Eel Ravioli. Stefan’s pork belly was way too crunchy; “Oh my god” is not a good expression coming from Tom Colicchio. Curtis pointed out it was a cultural trait, but the rest of them were afraid of losing a tooth. Padma thought eel ravioli really pushed the envelope, but his sauce was greasy.

 

From Josh: Scallops & Pork Belly: Scrambled Scallops with Braised Pork Belly & Bacon. They thought his dish was super-inventive with a good texture, but thought the pork overpowered the scallop flavor. “Everything was enveloped in a seawater goodness,” observed Hugh.

 

From Lizzie: Pork & Scallops: Cabbage Stuffed with Suckling Pig & Scallops with Mustard Sour Cream. Lizzie was close to perfection, but cabbage wasn’t cooked enough and the scallops were a bit overpowered. “It was a perfect little dim sum,” said Hugh.

 

In the end, Brooke was the winner – ironically winning a Celebrity Cruise. Although by now, she thinks she’s over her fear of boats. Lizzie and Josh were clearly safe. It came down to Sheldon and Stefan for the elimination, and because Stefan’s flavors weren’t there and the dish was too hard to eat, he was told to pack his knives and go . . . wait, where? walk the plank? They’re on a boat.

Stefan was absolutely gracious when he left, talking about how much inspiration he derived from being a Top Chef contestant. And don’t forget he’s got one last chance to cook – here comes a good Last Chance Kitchen: Stefan vs. Kristen.

Congratulations to the final four: Brooke, Josh, Lizzie, and Sheldon. Here’s a sneak peek at Episode 14:

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