LaPlace home cook Natasha Clement will be back for another round on Food Network’s “All-Star Academy,” but “Top Chef’s” finale Thursday night will be minus its Cajun connection.
Rayne native Isaac Toups, who had advanced to the final three in the Bravo cooking competition two weeks ago, was told to pack his knives at the end of last week’s show.
But Toups could still walk away with a nice prize as fans seem to like his Cajun vibe. He’s been leading in the vote for Top Chef Fan Favorite, who gets $10,000. It’s down to Toups or Boston chef Karen Akunowicz. Fans can vote up to 40 times by visiting Bravotv.com on desktop, mobile, or by texting your favorite chef’s name to 27286. Voting ends at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Back at the ‘Academy,’ where a $50,000 prize is on the line, Clement and her mentor/chef Robert Irvine were in the bottom two teams on last week’s show, but survived elimination.
“We’re going to fight another day,” Irvine said.
Last week, the five remaining cooks were challenged to create a savory dish using pretzels.
Clement is the only member of Team Robert still in the competition.
“It’s a lot of pressure for me, because I don’t want to send him (Irvine) home,” Clement, 37, said. “If I get eliminated, it’s over for him, too.”
Putting their heads together, the pair came up with a chorizo and pretzel stuffed chicken breast over a Romanesco sauce.
“I am going to add a little of myself into this dish,” said the server/bartender at La Petit Grocery and mother of three. “I’m crusting the chicken with the dried pretzels because I do that for the kids all the time, and it wouldn’t be N.O. cooking if it didn’t have some spice,” she added, picking up the hot sauce bottle.
She served her chicken with fresh arugula in a creamy mustard sauce, the mustard a fitting complement to the pretzels.
On next week’s show, guest-starring Food Network personality Adam Richman, the mentors must switch teams to see how well they can train unfamiliar students. Whoever mentors the cook with the winning dish also gets to save one of their own team members, and the remaining cooks must create dishes featuring the four elements — earth, air, fire and water.
On “Top Chef,” Toups battled three other chefs, including Amar Santana, of Orange County, California, who was eliminated on a previous episode. He rejoined the competition after redeeming himself in the series’ online element, “Last Chance Kitchen.” Santana and Jeremy Ford, of Miami, Florida, will battle it out for the “Top Chef” title and $125,000 this week. Along with Toups, Washington, D.C., chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley also was eliminated.
The show, shot thus far this season in California, hit the road for Las Vegas for the first installment of the two-part finale.
Round one of the night had the chefs preparing a meal for 150 people in three hours, with the help of a sous chef drafted from the pool of eliminated contestants.
“This isn’t very Cajun, it isn’t very Southern, but I wanted to show the judges I have diversity,” Toups, 36, who owns and operates Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans, said of his dish.
He prepared seared black cod with caramelized fennel, eggplant and red wine vinegar.
Ford won the challenge, automatically advancing to finale night.
The remaining three were tasked with cooking up “some magic” for magician-in-residence David Copperfield.
Toups crafted his chicken fried steak by adhering cornish game hen skin to a ribeye. The dry-aged beef was accompanied by a quadruple fennel puree and yuzu hollandaise. His magical touch was pouring the sauce into a clear glass cup and inverting it on the plate. After performing a trick for the judges in which he made an eggshell and its egg white “disappear,” he told the judges that they’d find their yolk under the glass.
“I’m at peace with whatever happens,” Toups said while awaiting the judges’ decision.
Toups, who moved to New Orleans to begin his culinary career, worked his way up for 10 years in the kitchens of chef and TV personality Emeril Lagasse, a rotating “Top Chef” judge.
“Being on ‘Top Chef’ has taught me a bunch of things,” he said on exiting. “To break out of your mold, go do something different, try your best, win or lose.”