Top Chef: Recreating Dishes


Top Chef: New York
Le Bernardin

Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:

  • Quickfire Challenge: Three Rounds: Fish Filleting Tournament
  • Elimination Challenge: Recreate one of Chef Ripert’s dishes

Tonight’s episode was all about technique and not very much about creativity. I know in the past some people complained about Season Three winner Hung lacking creativity, but he had excellent skills and technique in his cooking. I know the judges like when someone is creative while also showing off excellent cooking techniques. I wonder if they will get that balance from their Top Chef in the season finale or if technique will end up winning them over, like it did in this episode’s elimination challenge.

Quickfire Challenge


The guest judge was Eric Ripert, who makes the best faces! He always looks like he is disgusted and smiling at the same time. It amuses me highly and he’s on almost every season so I get to be amused quite a bit. Padma said that Eric was all about technique and precision so they would be testing that in their quickfire challenge. They would be filleting fish in a three-round tournament.

Round One: Sardines


Each chef had a plate of two whole sardines along with a third one that had already been prepared by Eric. They had five minutes to clean and butterfly the sardines according to Eric’s example.

  • Carla
    Padma asked Carla what happened to her fish. She said her hands were shaking too much. She knew she had butchered it so she told Eric that he didn’t need to say anything.
  • Leah
    Leah knew her track record with fish on the show had not been good. Eric said one of her fish was better than the other one, but she did complete it in time and there were no bones.
  • Stefan
    Eric said he could see a little bit of bone in one of Stefan’s fish, but the butterflying job was very nice.
  • Jamie
    Jamie admitted to Eric she had never cleaned a sardine in her life. Her sardines were torn apart. He said they were very thin and the movements needed to be small or too much flesh would come off.
  • Fabio
    Fabio said since he was Italian he grew up preparing sardines. Eric said his fish looked pretty good. There were no bones at all.
  • Hosea
    Hosea said he was very disappointed with himself since he works with fish. He said his hand was shaking so badly. Eric said he did finish and it was not too bad.


  • Eric said that overall that Leah did the best job, which she physically stepped back in shock.
  • He said that Fabio also did a good job.


  • He said that Jamie and Carla did the worst jobs. Carla said he didn’t have to explain why, which made everyone laugh.

Round Two: Arctic Char


Everyone but Jamie and Carla moved on to the next round. They had five minutes to filet one arctic char.

  • Leah
    Eric asked what happened because Leah didn’t even finish. Leah said she “got all nervous again” and she just gave up. Oh slacker Leah, why are you still in the competition?
  • Stefan
    Eric said they had to take into consideration that he left some flesh on the bone and some bone on the flesh.
  • Fabio
    Eric pointed out to Fabio that when he cut the head off, he left about three to four ounces of meat there.
  • Hosea
    Eric said there were no bones in it. It was very beautiful and precise. He did a great job.


  • Leah – She just gave up so she would not be moving on.
  • Fabio – He did not filet it correctly so he wouldn’t move on either.

Round Three: Fresh Water Eel


They had to peel and filet it. He didn’t say it was alive, but talked about the tough nervous system would make it move around a bit. It looked like it was alive. Eek! Hosea was not used to working with eels and Stefan had a lot of experience with them.

  • Stefan
    Eric commented that it looked like Stefan had done that before. Stefan said he did it growing up. Eric said the filet looked beautiful.
  • Hosea
    Before Eric said anything Hosea said it was probably obvious that had never done it before. Eric said he didn’t do a bad job, but he did cut a bit too much of the flesh away.

Quickfire Challenge Winner: Stefan

As a reward, they were invited to a private lunch at Eric’s restaurant, Le Bernardin. Will it be a trick? Their rewards usually are tricks in some way. Will they have to prepare lunch or will they have to eat something and then recreate it? They have done both of those things before.

Le Bernardin

At lunch the next day, Eric informed them that they would be trying six dishes off of his menu. Tom was also there eating with them. They weren’t making lunch, but eating it. Six courses? Six chefs? I wonder what the elimination challenge will be!

First Course

Sourdough Encrusted Red Snapper with Tomato Basil Consomme

Carla said it was very nice. Hosea said the flavors all worked so well together. He said it was apparent that a lot of thought went into making each dish.

Second Course

Baked Mahi-Mahi with Miso & Matsutake Mushroom Sauce

Fabio said he loves mushrooms so he thought the dish was really good. Fabio was also excited that the food that was coming out was back to basics without a lot of components or “foo foo on the plate.”

Third Course

Baked Lobster with Asparagus & Hollandaise Sauce

Leah said the food was amazing. Jamie said it was delicious, but told the camera later she was bored with that kind of food. It wasn’t something that inspired her. Stefan said the lobster was his favorite at that point. Tom said the lobster was awesome and perfectly cooked.

Fourth Course

Oil-Poached Escolar with Potato Crisps in a Red Wine Bearnaise Sauce

Carla said each dish was beautifully presented and the flavors were amazing.

Fifth Course

Za’atar Spiced Monkfish with Black Garlic

Fabio noticed the almost sweet taste to it. Stefan said it tasted a little bit like licorice.

Sixth Course

Sauteed Black Bass & Braised Celery with Serrano Ham Peppercorn Sauce

Stefan and Hosea loved it. It was Jamie’s least favorite out of the six dishes. She thought the sauce was weird, but she isn’t a fan of celery to begin with. She just didn’t like it.

Elimination Challenge

After they were done with the six courses, Tom told them there was one more course on the menu and out came the block of knives. He told them that he hoped they had been paying attention to what they just ate since the six courses they had were their elimination challenge. They would be recreating one of Eric Ripert’s dishes. Tom told them that all the ingredients were in the kitchen. They had two hours to prep and practice. Then, Eric would be by to give some critique. After that, then they would prepare the dish for the judges. As the winner of the quickfire, Stefan got to choose his course. He picked the lobster course. The rest of the chefs had get their course assignments from the knives.

  • Carla – Escolar
  • Hosea – Monkfish
  • Leah – Mahi Mahi
  • Fabio – Red Snapper
  • Jamie – Black Bass

Tom said that they needed to use all their skills to make the dish as close as possible as Eric’s dish. They needed to meet his standards. He said the chef that fell furthest from the mark would be eliminated.

Prep Time

They went off to the kitchen to prep and prepare their dishes. They were given all the ingredients for each dish. Carla had never oil-poached fish before so she was nervous about the technique. Fabio was very happy that he was making one of his two favorite dishes that he tried. Jamie had never braised celery and never made a sauce out of serrano ham so she had to figure out how to do that in the two hours. Stefan felt confident about his dish since it was a classic French dish. Leah was the lead fish person at her last job (you couldn’t tell that from the Restaurant Wars challenge) so she felt confident with her dish. She did comment that she gave up during the Quickfire Challenge and she could not give up there. She knew how to do it well. Hosea had never used the za’atar spice before so he wasn’t sure how much to put on it. He had eggs and bread crumbs on his tray so he figured it was some kind of batter that the spice was mixed into. Leah was struggling with the miso in her dish. She thought it was too strong on its own. There was butter on her tray so she started to mix it in with the miso.

Eric Ripert’s Critique

Eric came around to the finished dishes to try them and offer critiques.

  • Stefan – Lobster
    He told Stefan that they do not cook their asparagus at all.
  • Leah – Mahi Mahi
    Eric told Leah that it was too oily and she had to be careful of the intensity of the broth. She asked if what she had there was too intense and he said yes.
  • Carla – Escolar
    He said she was very close with the sauce, but she had to bring more acidity into it because it was a very rich dish. He said the fish was okay.
  • Hosea – Monkfish
    Eric said there was too much spice and Hosea had to dry the fish.
  • Jamie – Black Bass
    She ran out of time so Eric never tasted her dish so he wasn’t able to offer any critique.


They were done with the prep work and critiquing so they moved to another kitchen closer to the dining room and had 50 minute to prepare their meals for the judges. The judges were served Eric’s recipe from his own kitchen and then the contestant’s dish next to it.


Sourdough Encrusted Red Snapper with Tomato Basil Consomme

Fabio was worried about the crust being a little bit overdone, but thought it was still good.  Comparing it just by looks, Padma commented that the bread looked a bit overdone. Tom said the fish was too thick. Eric said flavorwise it was very close and he was impressed. Tom said it was good. Toby said it was a very good impression, but it did “reveal the extent to which the details make an enormous amount of difference.”


Baked Mahi-Mahi with Miso & Matsutake Mushroom Sauce

Leah was running out of time and her fish wasn’t finished cooking. She threw it back in the oven when she had about three minutes left on the timer. By the looks of it, they could tell the miso sauce was different. Padma said the flavors were very different. Tom’s fish was overcooked. Eric’s fish wasn’t overcooked though. Tom said, “In Eric’s dish, there is an intensity of flavor, where in this the only real flavor is ginger. That’s it.” Toby said the dish reminded him of the dull fish he remembered eating whenever he went to Carribbean, but Eric’s fish felt like a “new discovery.” Eric was thrilled with the compliment from Toby and Padma congratulated him on being the Top Chef.


Baked Lobster with Asparagus & Hollandaise Sauce

Padma could tell right away that Stefan’s sauce was not as light. Eric pointed out that they make the sauce with a blender, but Stefan made it by hand. Padma said her lobster tasted and felt exactly like Eric’s lobster. She said even the thick sauce tasted very close. Tom said it was very good. Toby said if he didn’t know it was supposed to be like Eric’s dish, he would be very happy with his dish. Padma said to Eric that  Stefan was “dangerously nipping at your heels.”


Oil-Poached Escolar with Potato Crisps in a Red Wine Bearnaise Sauce

Carla had difficulties with the fryer oil not being hot enough and she needed to make the potato crisps right before the dish went out. With the help of the other chefs, she was able to plate her dish in time. Eric said the potato crisps were not as crispy as they should be. Tom said said it was one of the more difficult dishes since it was so subtle. He thought Carla did a good job. Eric said she was very loyal to the original dish. He thought she “got it. ”


Za’atar Spiced Monkfish with Black Garlic

Hosea said he is the fish guy so he could not be sent home on a fish challenge. He was having problems with the fish being a little too wet and it didn’t look exactly the same. He hoped his techniques would make up for his fish not being done exactly the same way.  Eric said Hosea was close with the sauce. Tom said he was not close with the cooking of the fish. Padma noticed that just looking at the fish, they looked completely different.  Eric said the za’atar spice was changing the dynamic of the dish since he applied too much of it. Eric said the original, the spice was very delicate, but it was encrusted on Hosea’s dish. Tom said the other problems was it was overcooked and monkfish needs to rest before it was cut and the fish didn’t rest. Tom said it was the least precise of all the dishes.


Sauteed Black Bass & Braised Celery with Serrano Ham Peppercorn Sauce

Jamie didn’t think the celery was soft enough after it was braised so she kept it on the stove in a pan with foil covering it. As she was plating it, she thought it was too salty. The liquid reduced by being on the stove and the celery soaked up all the salt. Tom called the celery a salt lick. Toby said, “Clearly, something has gone very wrong.” Tom said, “Beside the celery, the fish was fine. It wasn’t as crisp as [the original], but it was nicely cooked.” Eric agreed. Toby disagreed saying, “Tom is being too kind. It is not nearly unremarkable, but it is remarkably poor.” Tom said it was not as easy as it looks. Eric said it was not an easy dish.

Judges’ Table

Padma asked to see Fabio, Stefan and Carla. The three of them were in the top of the challenge. Stefan said that he loved lobster so he liked being able to make it. Tom asked if Stefan found it easy. He said no, but he did like cooking with flavors that he grew up with. Eric said the flavors were good and the lobster was properly cooked. Tom said it was spot on with the presentation and technical side. The only really flaw was the sauce was on the thick side. Eric told Fabio he was worried that he might burn part of the bread, but he didn’t. Tom said his dish was flavorful. It was a slightly different flavor, but it was a good example of the dish. Toby was very impressive and the fish was cooked perfectly. Carla loved the challenge. Eric said on the menu the dish was described as a red wine bearnaise, but it wasn’t a real bearnaise. He asked how she figured that out. She said when the sauce was cold, she could tell more about it so she started out with a true bearnaise and started whisking butter in until it was right. Toby thought it was powerful and had a “certain swagger to it.” Tom said he was not envious of being in their position of trying to recreate one of Eric’s dishes. He said it was too bad they had to pick one winner since they all did a very nice job. Eric picked the overall winner as Stefan. He said it was a tough call. Stefan won a copy of Eric’s new book and gave him an invitation to work with him for a week in his restaurant while staying at the Ritz Carlton hotel. After the week, he would fly to the Food & Wine festival in Aspen.

Next, Leah, Hosea and Jamie were sent in. Padma asked Hosea if he was surprised to be there since he works in a seafood restaurant. He said he was somewhat surprised, but said since he didn’t have any experience with the spice, it was the one he was least looking forward to cooking out of the six. Eric said the sauce was good, but the fish was overcooked. The spice crust was very thick. Tom said that it didn’t rest enough before cutting it. Hosea said he should have let it rest longer and Tom was happy that he knew the mistakes that he made. Leah said when she was combining all the ingredients together for the sauce, it looked greasy. She didn’t know how to fix it. Eric said they mix the miso with some lemon and then dilute it like a thick sauce. Tom said the dish was very subtle so without watching how it was made or knowing how it was made, it missed the mark. Toby said that his dish had the least amount of miso sauce so he was just left with a hunk of bland fish on his plate. Tom said in the quickfire that she gave up and he wanted to know if she was ready to give up. Did she want to be there? She said she didn’t want to go. She wished she hadn’t given up in the Quickfire Challenge, but she did not give up on the Elimination Challenge dish. She tried her best to make it like the original. Jamie said she was not surprised to be there. She knew the braised celery was oversalted. She felt it was overreduced. Padma said if she could have, she would have sent it back. It was not appetizing to look at or to eat. Toby said there was a metallic aftertaste to the fish and he didn’t want to eat any more after the first bite. Jamie said it was her least favorite dish at lunch, but she thought she was making the sauce as close to what she tasted at lunch. Jamie said she knew the mistakes she made, but it was too late to fix them.

They were sent out. Padma said all three of them made critical mistakes. Starting with Hosea, Tom said if he had seared the fish before putting the spice on there, he would have seen it. He just missed that when he ate it at lunch. Tom said that he knew monkfish needed to rest, which most chefs don’t know that with monkfish. Tom was surprised that he knew that, but he didn’t give himself enough time to allow it to rest properly. Toby said he did get the most difficult aspect of the dish right, which was the sauce. Eric said that when Leah didn’t incorporate the miso into the broth, she made it bland. She misunderstood the dish and the concept. Tom wondered why she thought butter would go into the miso. He said when they ate lunch, there was no fat in the sauce. She wasn’t paying attention to something important. He said her head was not in the game. He didn’t know why she should stay around if she wasn’t paying attention. Padma said in Jamie’s case, it was too salty. Toby said in her defense, she did understand what she did wrong. Tom asked what was worse, someone that knows they made a mistake and how to fix it or someone that has no idea what was wrong or how a dish was put together? Eric agreed they were both major mistakes.

They were called back in. Tom told them that all three of them made a mistake in either observation or execution. Tom said if Hosea has spent more time observing, he would have seen the fish was seared before the spice was put on. With Leah, she was not able to figure out how the miso was incorporated into the dish. With Jamie, she oversalted the celery and she knew it was oversalted. Padma asked Jamie to pack her knives and go.


  1. Both Jamie and Hosea made mistakes that they admitted, knew they made the mistake, and how to fix them. Leah had no idea how to make the dish and failed at her way of making it. She didn’t know how to fix what she had done. Why did Jamie get sent home? Why wasn’t Leah sent home for not really trying? Did Jamie get sent home because both her celery and fish didn’t taste good? Was Leah saved because her fish was okay even though her sauce wasn’t close?
  2. Should Tom had made a point to Leah about her giving up at the Quickfire Challenge? They are only supposed to pay attention to the Elimintion Challenge when voting. Is that what saved her? He brought it up, but it really couldn’t come into play in their final vote?
  3. Was it fair to have the chefs recreate a meal instead of having them create a dish on their own with their own inspiration?
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