The six remaining chefs get inspired by the South for their biggest challenge yet

By Brian Orloff
Updated February 24, 2011 09:15 AM
Credit: David Giesbrecht/Bravo

Heat up the deep-fryer, Paula Deen’s coming to dinner!

With six contestants still in the running to become Top Chef, Wednesday’s episode took a southern-fried turn. “If you can eat it, you can fry it,” Deen told the chefs by way of introducing their Quickfire challenge. Their task? To fry up something delicious – just don’t put it on a salad.

Richard Blais took Deen’s anti-veggie stance very much to heart as he conceptualized a dish involving deep-fried mayonnaise. The molecular gastronomist used liquid nitrogen to deep-freeze the mayo, then seasoned it with coffee and lime before battering it and frying it.

Antonia Lofaso went more traditional: frying shrimp served with fried veggies. Unfortunately, the chef forgot to serve two plates – forcing Deen and Padma Lakshmi to share.

Speaking of sharing: Did Richard unintentionally share an original recipe that Mike Isabella served in the Quickfire challenge? Isabella said he was inspired by a drawing in one of Richard’s notebooks of a dish involving the piece of chicken meat that connects the thigh to the body. He called it a chicken oyster and playfully served it in an oyster shell. Though Mike referenced seeing Richard’s drawing, he never fully credited the chef in the kitchen.

Richard did earn major points from Deen for his inventive plate, which also included fried bacon. “Mr. Hairdo,” as she called him, served a dish that was “out of this world.”

In the end, Deen felt Antonia should win – but there was a hitch: Because she only produced one plate, she was disqualified from the competition on a technicality. “Why did you not follow the rules?” Deen playfully chided. “I could whip your cute little ass.”

Despite the praise, Deen handed the win to Mike, leaving Richard more than steamed.

Carla Hall was also angry – with herself. Her fried fish was too bland and had too thick of a crust. Worse, her hushpuppies were dense and tasted, as Deen so eloquently put it, “like spitballs.” She vowed to redeem herself in the elimination challenge.

A Big Challenge

And it was a big one.

Joined by chef John Besh, the contestants had to cook gulf seafood, southern style, for a benefit dinner with 300 guests. To help, many former contestants returned … bearing proteins. The catch, however, was that the chefs had to work with the eliminated contestant who brought the protein they wanted.

The difficult decision led to some pretty interesting pairings – most notably Fabio Viviani and Richard, and Tiffany Derry and Marcel Vigneron. The former were an odd couple, though they found harmony as they shopped for food. (Fabio even told Richard he reminded him of his ex-wife, which he apparently meant as a compliment.) Tiffany and Marcel, on the other hand, kept clashing as Marcel offered Tiffany advice about how to cook her shrimp rather than getting down to business.

When it was time to serve, all the teams seemed overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food they had to produce.

Carla was dismayed by her fish, which she attempted to remake after her Quickfire failure, and Dale struggled with thickening and seasoning his stew.

Better, Antonia’s blue crab cake offered a balanced bite, while Richard’s snapper with citrus grits and pulled pork cohered despite sounding like a cacophonous jumble of ingredients. And Mike Isabella stood in the top once again for his shrimp, which he coated in grits.

Deen and Besh announced that Richard was the winner – nabbing a six-night trip to Barbados.

Despite Carla’s confidence issues this week, and her mediocre dish, she was spared elimination. Instead, Dale, who had just come off a double-win last week, was ousted for his stew, which featured a crouton with too much harsh mustard.

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