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“Destro, You're Out of the Band"

Hugh Acheson is ready to take on both Dana Cowin and Tom Colicchio.

By Hugh Acheson

The above quote was uttered by Cobra Commander (from G.I. Joe). This has nothing to do with anything. 

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There is wallpaper at Commander’s Palace that is pictures of birds. It’s beautiful, but to make it even more stunning there are also stuffed birds mounted to the walls that make the wallpaper look 3D. This is a strange thing to try to understand when you are three drinks into a fancy meal. Do not go to Commander’s Palace on acid. The birds would be way too much to deal with. 

Commander’s is an icon. From K-Paul to Emeril, Jamie Shannon to Tory McPhail, the chefs parade through that kitchen has been nothing short of amazing. I took my family for a birthday dinner there, and we had such an amazing time. It’s service beyond compare with food to match. Oh, and the wine list is killa. It is a seminal place. You should go.  

Stew Room time. Light blue apron Bret, who we have not seen much of yet this season, wanted a “group leader” to guide the previous challenge. He says “group leader,” and I think of Star Wars. I have no idea why. Nick gets his panties in a wad at Bret, and shows his first emotions. He is in a bit of a mood cause his friend and colleague from Philly, Jason, was shunted off. Surfer boy is gone. Long live surfer boy. 

Louis calls his son to brush up on family time. He laments his place in the industry, pointing out that by this point in time he had planned to have his own spot and be higher up the ladder, but his life diverted to having a family and whatnot. Being a father with a loving family is much more of a life achievement than owning your own place. Trust me, Louis, you’re gonna do great in this world. Just keep doing what you are doing and season your fish well. 

To the Quickfire we go, and for this one we will have Dana Cowin and Emeril tag along with Padma to analyze food trendz, or more specifically Dana’s least favorite bandwagons of the last five years. Evidently, if you want to win Best New Chef don’t make Dana Cowin a kale salad with a smoked egg and bacon. Carrie doesn’t want to pull the wool over Dana’s eyes but is knitting a hostage hood just in case. She looks like a knitter. 

To clarify, Dana is tired of everything having an egg on top of it. She is so over smoked food in general. She finds bacon’s starring role needs to be cut. And kale is her greenemy (green+enemy). Dana and I choose to disagree because I love all of those things. I am not so concerned because I won Best New Chef about 45 years ago, which was ten years after Tom won. Mind math aficionado that I am, this makes me 67 and Tom 77. We do like the invites to Aspen and feature articles, so I am happy to oblige her will and never make Dana a kale salad. 

Adding to the pressure of cooking for this power trio is that the winner gets immunity and the loser gets the “pack your knives” line. They just woke up and are barely through their first mug of chicory coffee, and this happens? Wow, you Magical Elves are mean. So to clarify, the challenge is to change Dana’s mind and make her love one of the food trends again. We later learn that all they really have to do is make her whipped cream and a key to her heart will appear. Hindsight is 20/20.

Michael is happy crazy. He really does march to his own drum, which plays really loudly in his head all the time. It’s a little demon character with a tam drum playing a ten second loop of nonsensical hippy jazz. A therapist has been notified. 

“I’m rollin’. My smoker’s blowing smoke.” This line should be sung by 2 Chainz, but it is just Michael. Pay no mind. This man does nothing in solemn, stoic fashion. If he is smoking food, he will yell and holler and make the smoke go everywhere, while annoying everybody in the room. He’s not a “hunker down over stove and get the food done” type. He’s more of a “LOOK AT ME. I AM CRAZY” type. 

Nina went to Eton prep or Hogwarts… someplace like that. 

They cook these things:

Nicholas - Egg on Top: Quail Egg, Scallop, Truffle Juice, and Duck Egg Vinaigrette

Nina - Egg on Top: Scotch Quail Egg on Confit Potatoes with Leek and Potato Puree

Carrie - Egg on Top: Soft Boiled Eggs with Chili Flakes and Lemon Zest on Green Beans

Shirley - Egg on Top: Rice Congee with Shirred Egg, Soy Sauce, and Sesame Oil

Sara - Smoked: Tuna Tataki with Arbol Chile Vinaigrette

Michael - Smoked: Cold-Smoked Oysters with Mignonette

Janine - Smoked: Roasted Pork Loin with Chipotle Smoked Caramelized Apples

Louis - Smoked: Smoked Trout with Lim and Olive Oil Vinaigrette

Bene - Bacon: Seared Tuna in Bacon with Honey, Vinegar, Jalapenos, and Corn

Brian - Bacon: Bacon with Scallop, Ginger, Honey, and Sugar Snap Peas

Travis - Bacon: Bacon Pho Broth with Seared Scallop and Sweet Carrot Puree

Carlos - Bacon: Bacon and Halibut with Apples, Tomatoes, Avocadoes, and Bacon Vinaigrette

Stephanie - Bacon: Pasta with Lightly Candied Bacon and Flash Fried Sweet Potatoes

Patty - Kale: Kale with Toasted Garlic, Chili Flakes, and Shaved Parmesan

Justin - Kale: Kale Steamed with Lemon, Anchovy Syrup, and Parmesan

Aaron - Kale: Fried Kale Dredged in Soy, Mirin, Rice Vinegar, and Yuzu Sauce

Bret - Kale: Kale Juice and Gazpacho with Kale Salad

Michael is all coy when the judges make the rounds. He made an oyster topped with a maniacal smile. Louis made trout, with a hint of smoke, but the judges don’t get the hint. That’s the last time he uses the smoke-free smoke gun. Bene made sticky tuna. Travis made pho stuff, but I keep hearing “faux” stuff. 

Stephanie made pasta with bacon and sweet potato. She made a joke as well. She is deadpan. And funny. And she made pasta for a Quickfire, which is pretty badass. 

Aaron made fried kale. It’s salty. He knows this, but it’s too late to take it back. Bret made gazpacho, kale juice, and a kale salad, completely ignoring Dana’s warning against making a kale salad. If you go to Bret’s restaurant and ask not to eat chicken, he will make you chicken. It’s his thing. 

Other people make other food. Cite list if you are curious. Or just pay attention to the show. I cannot hold your hand in this. 

The hammer is about to drop. Tops are Nina, Shirley, and Stephanie. Girlz rule. Winner is Shirley. She jumps up and down and does the immunity hop. Congee is now a food trend, defeating the whole purpose of this whole charade. 

Bottoms are Bret, Aaron, and Louis. Aaron is gonzo to resume his job at the Slurping Turtle. Takashi will give him a hug and welcome him back, but I don’t think the kale salad will be on the menu. Shirley whispers Commander’s Palace right before Padma does. Creepy. Shirley also sees dead people. 

Someone went home already, so they decide to celebrate at Commander’s Palace for dinner. Commander’s Palace is a very important restaurant for so many reasons, so they dress up. 

At dinner, Bret is picking up on the nervous energy in the room and is ordering everybody food they have specifically requested not to have. It’s his thing. 

Chef Tory explains the dishes that they are having and posits the challenge: to recreate the classics through the years that have put Commander’s on the map: Shrimp n Tasso. Black Skillet Seared Trout. Veal Chop Tchoupitoulas. Strawberries three ways. 

Janice craps her pants. I have no joke for this. She just said it. 

Suit up time happens after some night night time. Brian must spend hours on that hair. They get right into the cooking at CP. Though they are grouped into teams, each is responsible for their own dish. Oddly enough, some of them are grouping items together to tackle the prep more efficiently, most notably in the fish course. We judges did not know this until the Judges' Table later on. This could definitely bite them in the ass.

There is a hovering chef from Commander’s Palace who looks a tad bit psychopathic, like he has been staring at the wallpaper in the dining room a bit too long. 

Stephanie is SO wonderfully deadpan. Me likey. For a chef who has never made biscuits she is about to luck into a new craft. 

Somebody stole Shirley’s beets and she goes all crazy. Bret talks us through his grill issues and explains that he will be fine. This positivity was said by the Houston Astros this season as well. 

Michael has a tizzy fit that would make a four-year-old embarrassed. He tosses the food off of the plates that Nina has started. Pick your battles, Michael. 

We eat. It is all pretty good. Close to the originals for the most part. 

I get all ballsy and say that Stephanie’s biscuit is better than Commander’s. I am four strawberry cocktails in at this point, so believe nothing I say… I then challenge Tom to a cook-off but he wimps out. 

1. Shrimp and Tasso Henican (Created by Chef Jamie Shannon) - Bene, Michael, Travis, Nina

2. Black Skillet Seared Trout (Created by Chef Paul Prudhomme) - Janine, Nicholas, Louis, Carlos

3. Veal Chop Tchoupitoulas (Created by Chef Emeril Lagasse) - Brian, Patty, Shirley, Bret

4. Strawberry Trio (Created by Chef Tory McPhail) - Sara, Carrie, Justin, Stephanie

So the tops are the tops for these reasons: Stephanie rocked the biscuit. Justin nailed the beignet. Nina made a great Shrimp Hennican. Justin wins and does his city proud. Bottoms are bottoms for these reasons: Louis needed salt. Carlos overcooked his trout. Bret steamed the meat. 

Bret is gone. He does so in style though. Very respectful. Someone hire that chef. 

Follow me on Twitter @hughacheson.

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