Hugh Acheson shares tales of his time in Juneau, Alaska.
Juneau. Ah, Juneau. So beautiful and so wonderfully strange.
Stefan is gone and also lost in LCK to his beloved Kristen. The lineup is comprised of Josh, Sheldon, Lizzie, and Brooke. The boat pulls up to Juneau, and we all disembark. The chefs walk the gangplank and head into town. Juneau is a very interesting town: beautiful scenery, amazing people, very much a “last frontier” mystique. Sheldon realizes it's cold and tells us that he is wearing three pairs of Hawaiian Hulk Underoos to compensate for the chill to his “package.” I thought he called it his “Lil Menehune."
They get right into a Quickfire at Tracy’s Crab Shack with Sean Brock. Tracy’s is billed as Juneau’s “No. 1 culinary destination,” and it is really tasty, but don’t expect a deep wine program and Limoges china. It’s a hut that serves great food. But it’s a hut. That’s like calling a Kogi truck the apex of dining in L.A.
Fresh king crab is just so much better than frozen. These barbed beauties are eons away from the stuff you may have grown up with. It is truly superb, and Tracy’s does it in numerous ways. I think it’s probably a five-million-dollar a year hut with a 20% food cost, and it’s closed for a huge amount of the time. Sign me up for a franchise, as this business model makes me very jealous.
My friend Sean Brock, culinary wanderer, superstar chef, and wunderkind of Appalachian food lore, has flown up to meet the chefs for some crabby patties. He is wearing a Billy Reid t-shirt and looking very stylishly professorial. Sean and I made it a point to go to all the bars in Juneau that locals told us not to go to. Should have listened to the locals, as the Lucky Lady has no luck, no ladies, and is about the strangest-smelling drinking hole on the planet. It smells like Lysol covering a crime. Josh is pretty psyched to make a crab dish for Sean, and to prove their fraternal bond is going to feed Sean succotash. Let’s remind everyone that the South does not include Oklahoma and most of Florida, but I will give in to the Panhandle being part of the South. Succotash is Josh’s choice of dowry for Sean, and we’ll see how this goes, but Sean has created a whole chapter of his own in the tome of Southern food, so I’d be a little apprehensive about feeding him a Southern staple.
Sheldon is pushing himself to be creative in this challenge and makes the only dish that takes the crab out of its usual comfort zone. Crab with crab miso, pine-smoked asparagus, and charred corn. I mean, who is doing “pine-smoked asparagus” on this show? He seems to have ramped up his game and is cooking on a different level in the past few episodes, except for last week’s surf and turf catastrophe.
I don’t think a completely novel dish was a necessity to win the challenge, but it can’t hurt. Another reminder: simple is difficult, and if you are told to push the boundaries, you need to show a new idea on a plate. No one said it was easy.
Brooke serves crabby toast with Dungeness crab butter that looks pretty tasty, but maybe failed to bust out of the “same old crab dish” mold. Lizzie gets a crab frittata onto the plate which is just not going to win points for originality. Sure, I love crab and eggs together; it’s just not novel. It’s not what the challenge dictated.
Josh has gone all Ol’ Keller on us with a butter-poached “Southern” variation involving succotash.
Padma and Sean do not like the frittata; they enjoy Sheldon’s smoky delights; they ho-hum to Brooke’s crabby toast, and get really sad for Josh’s succotash. C’est la vie. Sean does say that the succotash “…tastes like home” and hypes Josh up before knocking him out with a bottom ranking. Ouchie.
The Elimination Challenge is to use salmon and sourdough -- both important staple of the region. Cool. I am down with that. Back at the house, they meet their sourdough starter and start to make their bread for the challenge. The dough is going to rise overnight and then be baked tomorrow. Lizzie is rolling rolls, Sheldon is making tea bread, Josh is making olive-bacon breakfast bread, and Brooke is making something but I have lost track. They watch the bread rise until they realize getting drunk on wine and jacked up on coffee (recipe for dehydration) and listening to the uke is much more fun. Have they been in the living room all night? I am, again, confused. Did they sleep?
They get dolled up in raingear and pick out their fish. Sheldon gets some chum which is déclassé with the locals, but probably a forward-thinking way of addressing hunger. It took someone who loves Spam to realize that we should be eating the primary ingredient of catfood.
They cook in a bear-infested outdoor space called the Gold Creek Salmon Bake, kind of like a matchmaking site for hungry bears and stupid humans.
Those bears were so close and no one seemed overly concerned. I was freaking out and freezing cold.
So it’s a local food night, which was fun. Mark, who led two different fishing trips that I went on, was there -- one with Tom (very experienced fisherman), Gail, and Emeril, and then one where it was just me and Sean. Mark was a great guide and awesome guy. If you get out there give him a call. He’s at Bear Creak Outfitters. Fishing for trout is much fun, and even though I am a beginner at best, I can see myself getting into the calm cadence of it in my future.
To the food!
Brooke: Sockeye Salmon & Broth, Mustard Seed Caviar, Grilled Dill Sourdough.
Very advanced campfire cooking. Really nice. The mustard seed melted down to a mucky mess, but the flavors were great. The bread was good.
Sheldon: Green Tea Chive Sourdough, Smoked Salmon and Pea Soup
Strangely thick but good flavor. Best catfood fish ever. No joke, if everyone is dissing chum, then Sheldon should be the new chum spokesperson for human consumption. The bread was really weird with instant green tea in it. The locals are really against this chum thing.
Josh: Garlic Sourdough Soup, Sockeye Salmon, White Beans, Black Olive Croutons
He nailed the salmon, but the soup was powerful. Salmon is a bit delicate, so if you hit it with the garlic hammer you can drown those nuanced flavors.
Lizzie: Citrus & Beet Glazed Salmon Slider, Poppyseed Butter, Pickled Cucumber
Her bread was great. Best bread of the night. But before using it in a great dish, she makes a salmon sandwich with a pickle. It was so basic. Very strange strategy. At Judges' Table, it got really dark really early and my exhaustion was showing through. Long fishing days and long bar nights made Hugh a goofball on this episode. Sorry about that. I was shivering too and dressed in a quilted vest. Not my usual comfort zone. When I get cold, I smile like the joker. Strange.
Winner is Brooke. So close to the end, and this girl is on fire.
Loser is Lizzie, who I think wanted to lose about five episodes ago. Lizzie, you rocked and you should be proud. Your dad would be.