Each week we'll watch Aragona chef Carrie Mashaney represent in the show's New Orleans season.  

Padma inhales a crawfish prior to crushing dreams. Photo courtesy of Bravotv.com

Previously, on Top Chef: Who the hell remembers—two weeks is a long time.  

Are we completely ignoring the fact that it’s New Year’s Day? There was a huge party for Halloween, and nothing for the start of 2014—no black eyed peas or anything? I guess they can only keep up the charade so long.

Today’s quickfire is an etouffee—“to smother,” in French—challenge featuring crawfish and the exquisitely charming John Besh. Poor Stephanie is at a serious disadvantage, considering she has a shellfish allergy so severe she jokes Carrie is going to have to shoot her in the thigh with an EpiPen. (Plus, Nick has to do all the tasting for her, which is putting a lot of trust in someone who’s ultimately competition.) Carrie does a Spanish-style etouffee that Besh isn’t impressed with.

Though the traditional Cajun dish generally consists of a thick shellfish stew over rice, Shirley is the only contestant to actually serve rice. And she wins, with a Singaporean dish she says she always makes for her husband. Girl’s on a roll, and gets immunity for the elimination challenge. 

The elimination challenge: Louisiana Seafood is throwing a party, and our lucky contestants get to cater. Padma makes a great joke that there’s 1000 guests coming, everyone’s jaws drop, and she laughs and says it’s really only 200. Oh, Padma. Besh says the challenge will be to highlight two different types of Louisiana seafood in one dish.

Before they start cooking, the chefs get one glorious night to feast as guests at Besh’s own home. Because she won, Shirley gets the first taste, and she has the balls to tell him he needs more salt. I kind of love her. Everyone swoons over how charismatic and humble Besh is. 

Back in the kitchen, Carrie says she’s going to make a flounder (which she’s treating like salt cod) fritter with an oyster emulsion. And though we all know our local gal knows her seafood, Shirley is quick to point out that Carrie’s taking the biggest risk, since she’s not exactly showcasing the ingredient as much as simply using it. Ugh, I’m getting nervous. Carrie also says that with only seven contestants left, “There’s no safe little area to hide in any more.” 

There’s a drawn out, dramatically edited argument where Carlos asks to borrow Nick’s knife—why he’s on a nationally broadcast TV show without proper tools is beyond me, particularly since this has come back to bite him already—and Nick doesn’t like Carlos but lets him borrow it anyway, blah, blah, blah.

Service goes mostly smoothly. With many of the chefs doing raw dishes, plating seems the greatest challenge for folks who’ve actually done some cooking, like Stephanie and her fried oysters. Hugh Acheson is there and gives a quick shout out to Shirley: “Good food is served by happy people.” Carlos and Nick are still stressing about their knife issue.

Judges’ table is particularly awkward, mostly because our talented Carrie is in the bottom three. Everyone seems to agree her fritter was well done—the salad on top even more so—but Tom says the flounder is unnoticeable and “it could have been anything in there.” Ouch.

The winner: Stephanie, forever redeeming herself for the tomato incident with Besh earlier in the season.

The loser: Noooooooooo. It’s time. Carrie is sent home—why not Carlos?!—for not focusing enough on the seafood, and Padma looks legitimately torn up about it. I even eagerly watched my first episode of the online series Last Chance Kitchen, in the hopes that she'd be making a comeback, but sadly she lost a broccoli challenge (a nod to her gaffe in the university challenge where she had immunity) to Louis, who's killing it with five wins in a row. What a blow after a lovely New Year’s. Good thing we’re lucky enough to have Aragona open now.

The line of the night: “If you feel good at the end of the day by winning Top Chef cooking like an asshole, then god bless you. I’ll cook with integrity, and I’ll be a gentleman about it.” Nick seriously has his panties in a twist about Carlos. It's hard to ignore the fact that this nugget of drama is the only thing even remotely controversial this season. Could they have axed Carrie to keep this feud going? Conspiracy! 

Minutiae:

  • I’m seriously disappointed that every challenge this season is so NoLa focused, when Seattle was a mere afterthought while they were here last year.
  • Did Carlos really not a) know what etouffee is, and b) not know meaning of “smother”?
  • Stephanie and her boyfriend met when she hired him as line cook, and John Besh and his wife have known each other since kindergarten. So many love stories tonight!
  • Can we start placing bets on who’s going to the finale? My money’s on Nina, Shirley, and Nick. But maybe Brian’s going to be the dark horse?  

Next week: Is it even worth going on if Carrie’s not going to be there? You tell us: will you keep reading these recaps?  

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