‘Top Chef: Seattle’ recap: ‘Kings of Alaska’

The good news is that this week, the chefs get off the cruise ship and get to cook on solid ground. I never love challenges that make working in a crappy or weird kitchen a major obstacle to overcome. Weird ingredients? Fine. But I don’t want to see people forced to cook with one hand tied behind their back or no hands, just feet or whatever the heck. Let these people make great food. The good news is that, in Alaska, with its great, fresh fish, they may be able to do just that.

So, as we know, Stefan got the boot last week, and before we can move on to this week’s hard work, we have to take a moment for everyone to mourn. The chefs all talk about how much they liked Stefan, and how good-hearted he was. Sheldon really thought he was the front runner to win. Although there isn’t a bad guy to hate (I honestly liked Stefan), it’s nice to see what appears to be genuine friendship among all the final four. 

Sean Brock, owner of Husk & McCrady’s, joins Padma for the Quickfire at Tracy’s King Crab Shack. The challenge? Take this near-flawless ingredient (king crab) and make it shine in a dish. This isn’t as easy as you might think. Crab has a delicate flavor, and it can be easily overwhelmed. There’s a reason why Sean says his favorite way of eating it is just with butter. Because really, that may actually be the best way. 

But, forget simple stuff. Lizzie is making a frittata. Eggs? With crab? Ew. Brooke is making crab toast. Josh is making succotash… with bacon. Can this guy cook anything without bacon? 

Lizzie – Crab frittata with cherry tomato, garlic oil & fried capers

Padma wonders if she soaked the capers. She didn’t. I think that may have been a damning question, though I would think soaking capers would take all the good stuff out of them.

Sheldon – King crab, dungeness crab “miso,” pine-smoked asparagus & charred corn

Padma thinks the broth is nice and a little thick. It looks awful, so I hope it tastes good. 

Brooke – King crab, sweet corn & leek salad on toast with dungeness crab butter

Sean declares it delicious. Oops, I think he gave away the winner, don’t you? 

Josh – Butter poached king crab with succotash & bacon

Sean thinks the succotash tastes like home.

Overall, Sean thought they did pretty well. The least successful dishes were Lizzie (overcooked and too many capers and too many flavors overall) and Josh (the bacon was unnecessary and covered up the crab, plus the sauce was broken). So, succotash wasn’t the home run Josh assumed it would be. 

Sean liked Sheldon’s (it was simple and highlighted the crab) and Brooke’s (it was easy, but it was flat-out delicious). The winner is… Sheldon. Really? I guess pine-smoked asparagus is not as disgusting as it sounds. 

On to the Elimination Challenge! They will be feeding the people of Juneau two of their favorite ingredients — sourdough and salmon. The chefs get to pick out their fish at the docks and have three hours to cook at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. Ooh, they also get sourdough starter. I was wondering how they were going to dance around making sourdough. 

The cheftestants go to their bed and breakfast and examine their sourdough starter, which is 31-years-old. That is so crazy! I now feel like I need to make a starter, but I just don’t think I’d have the patience. Later in the show, Emeril says one of his chefs actually took the starter home with him before Katrina hit so he could care for it, then kept it going for three months until they could re-open the restaurant. That is dedication. I hope he got a bonus or a car or something.

Anyway, the chefs mix up their bread, then sit around and let it rise. I can’t decide if it’s more boring to wait for bread to rise or to watch chefs waiting for bread to rise.

Later, Sheldon plays the ukelele and thinks about winning. Josh thinks about another kid. His wife is two or three days overdue, and man, I was sure he was going to be sent home in plenty of time to see this pup brought into the world. I guess you can never underestimate the power of bacon. 

The next morning, the cheftestants put on waders and prepare to meet their salmon. And then we get to watch them gut the fish. Josh thinks this is awesome! I think I may have to become a vegetarian! Sheldon is going to make a pea soup. He is not a pea soup guy. This could be interesting or terrible. And he picks chum salmon for his soup. Chum! Doesn’t he realize chum is hardly ever sold because it’s seen as a junk fish? This is either incredibly smart of him (maybe it’s great and we just don’t know it) or it’s oily and gross. I tend to think the latter. 

Tom visits the chefs as they cook. Doesn’t talk to Josh about food so much as about the baby. Yeah, Josh, it’s up to you to get feedback in this case, I think. 

Tom can’t believe that Sheldon is making pea soup with salmon, because just the other day he was telling someone he was in the mood for pea soup and salmon. Yeah, but was he thinking about chum? 

Tom talks to Lizzie. He’s thrilled she’s going to roast her salmon whole. 

Brooke’s turn. Tom doesn’t seem thrilled that she’s poaching her salmon. Eeek! Too late to turn back now!

Finally, it’s time to dish it up for the residents of Juneau. And there are bears! Hey, Sheldon, give them the chum!

The judges arrive — Hugh Acheson, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Sean Brock and Emeril Lagasse. First up, Brooke.

Brooke – Sockeye salmon & seafood broth with mustard seed caviar & dill sourdough

Tom thinks the broth is very nice. Hugh thinks the mustard seeds are a little gross to look at. Emeril thinks she nailed the bread, and Gail loves that she added dill to the bread.

Sheldon – Green tea & chive sourdough with smoked salmon & pea soup

Padma doesn’t like green tea and chive together. Emeril thought the crust lacked salt. Gail thought the salmon was well cooked but had charred flavor. Sean thought the way he tore up the salmon was almost disrespectful. Hugh thought the soup resembled baby food. I think Sheldon’s in trouble. Moving on…

Josh – Roasted garlic sourdough soup with sockeye salmon & black olive croutons

Hugh thinks the salmon is well cooked. Tom thinks the soup overpowers the salmon. Emeril likes his concept. Gail likes the fact he didn’t just put a piece of bread next to the salmon.

Lizzie – Citrus & beet glazed salmon slider with poppy seed butter & pickles

Gail likes the pickle. Hugh thinks the bread is great. But he doesn’t get the beet and citrus glaze. Tom doesn’t understand why she didn’t marinate the salmon in the beet and citrus before she cooked it. Sean didn’t get any of those flavors. Emeril thinks it’s a little too simple. But Padma loves the bread. 

Judges table! First, Tom congratulates everyone on a job well done. First, Lizzie. Tom loved her bread, but didn’t think her salmon wasn’t seasoned. She needed to taste a slide all together. Sean thought it was impressive she did something so simple, but simple is hard to pull off.

Gail tells Sheldon she’s not sure if his worked. Padma tells him the locals feed chum to their dogs. Sean thought the smoke made the fish bitter.

Gail thinks Brooke did a great job, except the fish was a little overcooked. She was flustered! Hugh shuts her down and tells her she has to take control of her emotions. Sean didn’t want his to end, which means it was a great dish.

Emeril thought Josh’s food was clever. Hugh thought the salmon was awesome, but the bold flavors overwhelmed. Tom loved the soup and loved the salmon, but found the dish unbalanced.

The winner is… Brooke. She is on a ROLL. Even though she didn’t make rolls. Anyway, she’s going to go to Costa Rica to see how coffee is sourced. 

So, who’s going home? This one is going to be close. The chef going home is… Lizzie? Really? Sheldon’s sounded far worse, honestly, though the judges clearly have a soft spot for the Asian flavors. And by the way, what the hell is Josh still doing in the competition? The guy just throws bacon at all his problems. 

Anyway, Lizzie will be going up against Kristen at Last Chance Kitchen. I’m still rooting for Kristen, though. 

Do you think it was time for Lizzie to go? Who do you think will win? And were you surprised Sheldon survived this week?