Chuck Hodes/Bravo
May 08, 2008 12:00 AM

What happens when you challenge the remaining Top Chef contestants to cater a wedding banquet with little to no sleep? Apparently, two pretty decent wedding cakes, some delicious brisket, uninspired pasta dishes … – and a healthy dose of finger-pointing in front of the Judges’ Table. On Wednesday’s episode, the chefs were split into teams and had to create two menus to please a bride and groom at their wedding. The bride loved comfort food with a Southern twist, while the groom craved classic Italian dishes. In the end, the bride’s team … helmed by Richard … impressed the judges, while the groom’s team fell flat. The person who took the fall on the losing team? Nikki, who planned the menu, but refused to take a leadership role.

Back in New York, Nikki offered up her take on a classic crab cake recipe (after the jump) and talked about her teammate Dale‘s temper tantrum, her pasta dish and her ouster. –Brian Orloff

Nikki’s Crab Fritters with Citrus and AvocadoServes 4 For Garnish 1 orange, segmented 1 blood orange, segmented 1 medium avocado, peeled and diced

For crab mixture 1 lb of jumbo lump crab meat 1 cup of mayonnaise 1/2 tsp of hot sauce 1 tsp of sea salt

For breading 2 cups of panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Vinaigrette 1 cup of white balsamic vinegar 2 cups of olive oil 1/4 cup of fresh mint, finely chopped 1/4 cup of sugar 1/2 lemon, juiced 1 tsp of salt 1 tsp of black pepper

For Frying 1 gallonof canola oil

Use fresh not frozen jumbo lump crab meat when possible.Strain excess liquid from the crab meat and discard.Place crab into a medium mixing bowl.Pick through the crab meat, pulling apart large chunks and making sure all shells are eliminated.(It should not be shredded.)Mix the crab meat with hot sauce, salt and mayo.Refrigerate the mixture for at least two hours before rolling it into fritters. To make the vinaigrette, place all ingredients except the olive oil into a food processor. On medium speed slowly drizzle in the oil until all blended.

Of all the challenges, was this the most physically draining because you were up all night? As chefs we really do live that day in and day out … – not quite to that extreme. A 14-hour day is not uncommon. But what happened is we worked a whole day and then some, so that’s a whole different thing. And the added emotional energy that it takes from you, that’s why it wasn’t like a typical day.

Normally at this point in the competition, the chefs do the Restaurant Wars challenge. Were you expecting that? We all wanted to do the Restaurant Wars so desperately. Everyone goes on that show and is so excited for that. It seemed to us that a lot of this season was Top Caterer. We were so expecting Restaurant Wars at this time in the competition that it was just a major letdown. I am a restaurateur, first and foremost. For me, walking into this competition, that was one of my strong points.

You were criticized by some for not really stepping up as a leader. Do you think you should have asserted yourself more?I personally feel like I did take an assertive role. In this case, I was kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We had a team that really didn’t mesh well right from the get-go. Dale, it speaks for itself how he’s difficult to work with. I think everybody was having issues getting along and agreeing with everybody’s dishes. And sometimes you just can’t lead certain , no matter what.

Take us through the scene at Judges’ Table. You didn’t get into the fray between Spike and Dale.I’m not a big fan of the pointing fingers and attacking one another. I’d rather stand up there and defend my dishes and my team’s dishes. I will say this–because crazily enough I’m pretty friendly with Dale–the pressure and the stress and the exhaustion really did get the best of my team. What you see on the chopping block is a product of that. I actually think that challenge brought the four of us closer together as human beings and chefs.

Chuck Hodes/Bravo

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