home Cooking Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 4 – Captain Vietnam and The Adventure of the Italian Shrimp

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 4 – Captain Vietnam and The Adventure of the Italian Shrimp

Sorry for the delay – as I said in my Survivor article…things got in the way. It’s been quite hectic on my end and could continue for a bit. I will do my best to be as prompt as possible.

Also, I was driving around the great State of Maryland checking out various takes on our home state cuisine. As you know, we are known for our crabs. I found this one place near Hagerstown that made crab with prune juice, shallots and a touch of Tabasco sauce. Fried up and served in a pita. It was so good; I stole the recipe and entered it into a Taste of Maryland contest, and called it authentic Maryland crabs. I can’t believe I didn’t win. I mean, I had it in Maryland; it had to be good, right?

Not that anything like this BS story could happen in Top Chef, of course.

Wait a minute…

This week we were introduced to a brand new culinary superhero – or supervillain, depends on your line of thinking – Captain Vietnam. Or that could be a Communist Party creation extolling the virtues of the state. This version of Captain Vietnam’s secret identity is Travis – the as of now quietest member of the cast. I can’t say “who” anymore when mentioning him – he is now Captain Vietnam. He’s also engaged me on Twitter a few times – and I will add, I love that and wish more Survivors or Chefs would do it. I get a kick out of it. So, Cap, take what I’m going to say with a grain of salt, but no lemongrass, because I know you and your fellow chefs are super-talented, but I can only mock what I see on TV.

And this was kind of fun to mock.

Emeril and Baohaus owner Eddie Huang came to visit the Chef House and informed the lot that there was no Quickfire this week (twice now), and gave them a crash course instead on the prominent Vietnamese population in New Orleans. This sub-culture has grown bigger over the years – if I recall, a few years back the city elected a Republican Vietnamese Congressman. Cap was thrilled by this – he’s a Vietnamese expert, based partially on his boyfriend (I think ex, but that’s neither here nor there). He and Sara are psyched to cook their favorite cuisine and have been paired on the same team as well. The challenge is make a Vietnamese dinner as a team, with at least one dish highlighting shrimp. This is code for – if you make the shrimp and screw it up, you’re going to LCK.

The chefs go on a tour of the city and various Vietnamese restaurants, shops and the shrimping docks. Cap confidently tells us that he can give a crash course in Vietnam himself, no offense to E & E. He tells them all about the things he loves about the cuisine. He talks about the use of romaine, which Sara disputes. He assures her they do and that all the noodle bowls in Denver use it. That should do it – I remember reading about the Battle of Denver in 1971 in my Vietnam War studies. Gripping.

More to the point, Cap tells a story of going to Central Vietnam and chowing down on a dish that involved shrimp, tomato sauce, lime, Thai chili and other ingredients. The others are skeptical, or so it appears. Booth reveals her Thai experience – including being on an elephant reserve – and never hearing anything about tomato sauce. Bene is happy – his Italian background lends itself to this dish. So, they latch onto his recipe and are eventually tied to its fate.

The problem is – and I am sure Cap will defend this – the rest of the chefs involved, especially E & E and Tom, think it’s crazy. Why use some obscure dish when showcasing Vietnamese food – why not make something more traditional to show how much you get the nuts and bolts of that style. I’m sure there’s a regional way to make a great pot roast in Italy – but if you were doing an Italian food challenge, most likely pasta or tomato sauce would be more of a way to go. Tom chides him at Judging that you can find a McDonalds in Paris, but it doesn’t make it French. Well, maybe the fries.