Survivor Mode

Survivor Mode

Eric Ripert praises the cheftestants use of strategy, and tells us the right way to unshell a conch.

Full transcript after the jump

I'm Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, commenting on Episode 14, the New York season of Top Chef, the finale in the Bahamas for the All-Stars.

So the Quickfire in this episode is about consistency and about providing 100 dishes that are very much the same, in terms of presentation and flavor profile. And Mike Isabella and Richard decide to do a pasta bolognese, so they make their own pasta, and of course, bolognese sauce. And it looks very similar. They create 100 portions that seem to be good. The people like it. On the other side we have Antonia and Tiffany who are doing a cold seared-beef salad, that is very consistent, and of course they don't even have the problem of temperature, since it's a cold dish. And it's very clever to think like that because you don't have to worry about serving hot food or not hot food. Everybody likes the dish. Ultimately they win, and I think it's well deserved.

So Mike and Richard are not very happy about seeing the ladies winning, and they think they took the easy way. Listen it's a challenge, I mean you have to cook good food, but you have to be strategic. And they did a lentil salad too. They had to cook the lentils and make it good as well. So again, there's no reason to be bitter. They won; they won.

So the Elimination Challenge is a little bit like the Survivor meets Top Chef, and they have to go and swim and go get their own conch, which they do. It's not easy, because it's heavy, and you have to be under the water, obviously. Thank god, they all swim pretty well. And then they come back on the beach. And they have to make the fire, clean up the conch.

And they're not really familiar with the conch; they don't know really how to take it out of the shell. It's a much simpler way to do it, than that, however they used the hammer, and they spent quite some time trying to break the shell and take the conch out of its shell.

I think Mike is the most creative in terms of finding a technique to take the conch out by cooking them. It’s not necessarily the right technique, but it work better than the others.

The way to remove the conch from its shell is to make a hole by the top of the shell where it's very pointy. You make a little hole there, and then with a screwdriver or a knife, you basically go inside, and the shell is attached with a nerve to the flesh. You just cut and then the conch comes out. It's very easy, and very simple. And sometimes if you don't have the right instrument, you can even use one conch against another conch to break the shell. And then again, it's fairly easy to remove the flesh from the shell. Conch in the shell in America is not easy to find.

It's almost impossible. Almost all the conch that we find, it's already clean and doesn't have any shell. And it's logical because if you have to pay for the weight of the shell it's so heavy, the conch will be very expensive. So it makes sense.

Tiffany makes conch ceviche, and then she's pouring on top basically a coconut soup. So she call that a conch chowder on top of a conch ceviche. And I'm afraid that the coconut that she used was sweet and not unsweetened, and that may have caused the disaster in her soup, which is the soup is too sweet. And on top of it she served the soup cold, it was supposed to be a hot soup. She doesn't have a winning dish here, and unfortunately we are sad to see Tiffany going home.

So Antonia does a red snapper that really looks like "Antonia Red Snapper." And she's criticized for having her own style. I have nothing against recognizing the style of someone. I think one of the criticisms is that the conch is cut too small, therefore you don't feel the texture of it, and conch has a beautiful texture, so it’s too bad. I think that makes her lose the challenge more than just having something that is really recognizable as Antonia style. Antonia makes a lobster nage.

Nage, technically, it's basically a very light broth, but very powerful in terms of flavors. It's the equivalent also of what we call a court bouillon, so it will always have a lot of aromatics, and some acidity in it, and usually it's used to cook fish or shellfish. And then sometimes you can remove some of the nage, and finish it and make a sauce with it.

Richard makes sweet potato linguini, and it's very clever of an idea. Tom thinks it's a pasta. It looks like a pasta, and it probably tastes like a sweet potato pasta. And I pay homage to Richard for cooking such a difficult item like a pasta, because it's basically, probably a bit al dente, but at the same time it's soft, and it doesn't break, so it's technically challenging to do that. It looks like it's a great dish.

Richard is psychologically not really doing well. He has a dark cloud on top of his head. And we are of course hoping for him to break the dark cloud and see the sunshine of the Bahamas in his head, because right now he's not happy with what he's cooking, and his food is pretty good.

Mike Isabella has the grouper wrapped in the banana leaf. And then he cooked pineapple to create a salsa, which is savory not sweet. And the pineapple can bring quite some acidity. At the end that dish is the winning dish. I liked the idea of using banana leaves, wrapping it, cooking it like that on top of the fire. And I’m not surprised that he wins.

I'm Eric Ripert commenting on Episode 14 of Top Chef in the Bahamas for the finale of the New York season

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