'Top Chef: New York': A fan favorite gets swallowed by the fish challenge

Hosea_topchefnewyork_240 Hey, chefs! If you're ever invited to a surprisingly luxurious lunch on a show like Top Chef: New York, pay close attention to what you're eating. You have to know it's going to come back and bite you before you've even had time to digest.

This spoiler is still yelling NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Seafood master Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin is the guest judge this week, so the challenges are all about seafood. This should mean that Hosea has it made, and Leah is halfway out the door, right? You'd be surprised...

For the quickfire, the cheftestants had to prep various fishies -- itty-bitty sardines, arctic char, and freshwater eel. Carla rips her sardines to shreds, and tells Ripert to not even bother trying to come up with something nice to say. Jamie sliced through the filets, so she's out too. In the arctic char leg, Leah basically gives up, not even completing the job. Fabio gets spanked for leaving too much meat near the head.

Now the two bald badasses go head-to head in battle eel. No, really-- the eels, though dead, still look like they're battling. Gah!  Stefan has the advantage, as he grew up eating eel, whereas Hosea has never dealt with this before. Apparently, to properly prepare eel, you first nail its head to the cutting board, then peel the skin off like a stocking. That's... ok, that grossed me out. Stefan peels eel with aplomb, while Hosea struggles. Stefan wins the challenge.

After that traumatic experience, the chefs are thrilled to learn that they get a nice, relaxing lunch at Le Bernardin, possibly the best seafood restaurant in New York. I'm immediately suspicious -- surely there's a catch. And there is: the chefs have to recreate the dishes they just ate. I hope they were paying attention...

Because Stefan won the quickfire, he gets to choose which dish he wants to cook. He goes for the easy one -- lobster and asparagus with hollandaise. Everyone else is left with fish dishes of mounting complexity. Jamie looks like she might be in the most trouble -- not only did she draw the dish she didn't like the taste of, she'll also have to do several things she's never done before.

The chefs do a test run while Ripert watches from the sidelines. No pressure! Ripert then makes the rounds. He tells Leah that the intensity of the broth is off, and Hosea that he used too much za-atar on the spiced monkfish. Stefan learns that the asparagus isn't cooked, and Carla is told to bring up the acidity of the sauce. Unless I spaced out, Fabio didn't get a comment. And Jaime? She was so far behind that that there was nothing for Ripert to taste.

Fabio brings out his version of sourdough encrusted red snapper with a tomato consommé -- and does pretty darn well. The bread is a little thicker and browner than on Ripert's version, and some of the nuances aren't there, but the judges say it's close. Stefan's hollandaise is thicker than Ripert's, but Ripert makes his in the blender and Stefan did it by hand. Otherwise, the dish is almost identical. And Carla nailed the sauce on her oil-poached escolar  with potato crisps, and the fish was cooked perfectly. I thought Carla was bluffing when she said she was most comfortable with classic French cooking techniques. Apparently she was right. 

As for the others, Hosea used too much za'atar, and worse, he didn't let the monkfish rest before cutting it. That's unforgivable in someone who's supposed to be a fish specialist. Leah had no clue how to deal with the miso that accompanied her baked mahi-mahi, so she turned out a bland dish. Jamie didn't know how to braise celery (because dude -- who braises celery?) and left it over heat too long, which means the sauce reduced too much and got WAY too salty. The judges look like they're in pain when they take a bite.

As expected, Stefan, Fabio and Carla are in the top three. Stefan was nearly perfect with a classic dish. Fabio cooked his fish perfectly, and the bread crust turned out quite well, against Ripert's expectations. Carla figured out that the menu was misleading -- the sauce wasn't actually a béarnaise. Tricky menu writers. Despite that feat of culinary deduction, Carla doesn't win the challenge. That honor goes to Stefan, and Carla is NOT happy about it. I have to admit, I kind of agree with her: Stefan had the easiest dish to figure out.

When the bottom three come before the judges, they all confess their failings to various degrees. Both Hosea and Jamie know exactly what they did wrong. Leah didn't pay enough attention to her dish and didn't know how to construct it. So which is worse, Tom asks: "Someone who knows they made a mistake and knows how to fix it, or someone who has no idea how the dish is put together and doesn't really get out of the block?" Alas, they decide the salt-lick celery was unforgivable. Jamie is going home. Noooooooooo! I'm shocked -- I expected to see her in the final.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends
  • I'm not much of a seafood person to begin with -- I basically trained myself to like shrimp when I lived on an island for three years -- so this episode was torture for me. Fish just looks nasty -- especially when they're still coiling around when they're supposed to be dead!
  • Leah walking away and giving up in the quickfire was unforgivable. You keep trying, even if you know you're not going to win. Tom brought that up at the judging table -- "Are you at the point where you cant to give up?" he asks. Leah says no. Oh, but Leah -- we WANT you to give up! Go home! Bring Jamie back!
  • When the judges deliberate, Tom chides Leah for "not paying attention -- her head's not in the game. I don't know why she should stick around if she's not paying attention or putting the time or effort in to getting things done." I don't know, either -- so why did you keep her? Grrr.
  • I knew Jaime was in trouble when she interviewed that Ripert's food was great, "but to be honest I'm actually bored by this kind of food. It's not something I'm inspired by."
  • Carla has no such qualms. She went to school to be an actor, but now "this is what I want to be when I grow up -- one of his dishes."
  • Ripert sounded shocked to learn that Hosea was a chef in a seafood restaurant. That's.... not good.
  • Doesn't "peeling an eel" sound like some sort of disgusting euphemism? I'm going to have to incorporate it into my daily speech.