Tom Colicchio

Tom assesses the early competition.

on Oct 2, 20130

Frog tastes like gator, gator tastes like turtle, turtle tastes like chicken. 

They all taste like chicken!

I love eating in New Orleans, my aversion to okra notwithstanding. When I arrive, I’m smelling beignets and po-boys and chicory coffee before I’m even off the plane. So I was psyched to learn that Season 11 was taking me from home in the Big Apple to the Big Easy, not that the natives often call it that.  

And nor would our contestants. We barely gave them time to set down their suitcases and claim their beds before making it difficult for them with a Mardi Gras parade “throw”… but with a twist: alligator, frog, or turtle as your protein, cooked in a swamp for a hundred people… GO. 

So many of our contestants had never cooked with these proteins, and they can seem daunting to the uninitiated. Not that our chefs shouldn’t have expected to encounter them at some point during their sojourns in New Orleans -- how could we not have expected them to cook with something like alligator, with the whole season set in this town? So personally, I’d have studied up a bit in advance of coming. But that’s just me.

For those of you who wonder how to handle these proteins, here’s your “lagniappe” of the day, an extra little gift for actually taking the time to come read my blog after watching the show:

Tastes like chicken. 

Actually, here’s the tip: frogs’ legs require a quick sauté. Don’t overcook them, just till they’re done. I’d say that gator’s like cooking a chicken breast, whereas turtle is more like braising a shoulder of lamb —  it has to cook a long time. It’s clearly the hardest of the three proteins to work with and requires the most skill. Of course, the payoff is that the turtle has a lot of flavor. A lot.

The three top dishes of the challenge showed a combination of intelligence and creativity on the part of their creators:

Having heard that alligator could winds up tough and chewy, and knowing that she’d never cooked it before, Nina thought of a way to cook it that would be sure to hedge her bets against the protein coming out too tough. She knew her target audience and used flavors they’d appreciate and the heat that works so well in that climate. The fact that she nearly buckled under the weight of the beads she was decorated with by the evening’s end (we could barely see her head for all the beads) showed that she’d hit the mark. 

On the other hand, if you’re serving people in a swamp and you’re not going to make them sweat to cool them off, then a cold dish is the way to go, and Carrie provided that. Again, a thoughtful choice. She was artful -- cold frog is not easy to pull off -- and gave us a great dish despite her evident opening night jitters, so it’ll be interesting to see what she does once she gets into a groove.

And Sara’s dish was delicious as well. The flavors were layered and complementary. The protein was featured well, and in a manner the locals would respond to. 

As for the bottom three, Aaron’s was actually a good dish. The only problem was that the pasta could never hold up in a swamp. At some point in the competition, this could be enough to get him sent home. But not this early on. Aside from the pasta not being al dente enough, though, the dish was solid, and so Aaron was never really up for elimination.  

As for whether Patty or Ramon should go home, Patty’s dish was not as weak as Ramon’s. Her mistake was in not making enough of her original dish for 100 people, but she corrected that mistake in time, smartly reworking the dish to serve everyone. Her problem was that in doing so, she simplified the dish to a degree where it was not as advanced a dish as we would expect from a Top Chef contestant. But it wasn’t flawed. Ramon’s was flawed, and flawed is worse than simple but basically OK. Ramon's dashi was watered down by his addition of ice to the point of being nowhere. This was a major flaw in execution that Ramon did not remedy, which is why he was eliminated. Will he be able to hold his own long enough in Last Chance Kitchen to come back? We shall see… 

Thanks for tuning back in for Season 11. No more NOLA slang from me, I promise.

11 comments
reluctantcaterer
reluctantcaterer

Please, If you intend to compete in New Orleans, wouldn't you do a little research?

Watching "Survivor" irritated me when contestants could not build a fire.......

Chefs, couldn't you nail a gumbo recipe and blackened seasoning before embarrassing yourself on television ?

Is this the element of what entertains viewers?

piccolo3nj
piccolo3nj

Your face was pretty priceless when he got to the ice bit. If there were 3 places to recommend someone to go to in New Orleans - which would you recommend? 

Library_Spinster
Library_Spinster

Come on, cheftestants! I've eaten alligator (Thai restaurant in Philadelphia's University City neighborhood). I've cooked turtle (Bookbinder's Snapper Soup) and frog's legs. There's no excuse for not doing your homework. Or for being less adventurous than a home cook who's just watching the show.

MLito
MLito

I actually hate doing this but... I'm insanely stoked that Orleans is the host city for these cheftestants. I can't wait to see what can be done with local product. My only sorrow is that only two chefs form big easy got to play this one. What region does food better than N'awlins?

ThatPeterG
ThatPeterG

NIna made turtle meatballs, not alligator, yes?

Al_1986_
Al_1986_

The whole time I was like you know you are going to NO and you didn't research it?    

Globester
Globester

Tom: Great fun! NOLA is a favorite of mine and this crew seems especially talented. Good luck on another great season.

Jeneverre
Jeneverre

Hi Chef! I think this is the generation that just wings it. Too bad, they can't just google it over the Internet - just to get some inkling of New Orleans cooking.

tigerpride
tigerpride

Tom,

 

I've enjoyed all the seasons of Top Chef (except the one in Texas) and am very excited about this season.   My family is headed to New Orleans next week for a celebration and I am very pleased to see that for 1 of the restaurants we chose awhile ago, our chef is one of your cheftestants!  We'll be dining at La Petite Grocery.   We'll also have a special dinner in Restaurant August's private tasting room.  I learned about John Besh from Top Chef.  So here's to another wonderful season:  congrats to you and to Padma.

oliviao44
oliviao44

 @tigerpride I too have truly enjoyed ALL seasons of Top Chef EXCEPT Texas.  New Orleans looks like it is going to be a good season with exciting food.

ChefLiz
ChefLiz

 @tigerpride

 Check out EAT, Iris, Central Grocery for muffaletta, Domilese's for shrimp poboy, Bayona, Irene's, El Gato Negro for fresh-juiced margaritas, Coop's Place for a local dive with a menu that includes rabbit jambalaya and duck quesadilla.