|by Budget Travel||Food + Drink, Pop Culture and Travel, New Orleans||3|
In its two-part season finale, Top Chef traded New York for New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations were heating up. Here's a recap.
Season five finalists found out here that they'd have another competitor in their second-to-last elimination challenge: Leah, Jaime, or Jeff, contestants who had already been told to "pack their knives and go." These eliminated chefs created dishes judged by New Orleans native Emeril Lagasse, who favored Jeff's crawfish and grits. Houmas House itself offers a taste of the antebellum south. The 21-room Greek Revival mansion, completed in 1828, survived the Civil War and produced 20 million pounds of sugar annually in the late 1800s. Tours are $20 for the mansion and gardens or $10 for the gardens: 36 acres of lagoons, fountains, blooming camellias, crepe myrtles, and other exotic flowers.
When they weren't busy cooking, the chefs retreated to Hotel Monteleone's cushy digs. This grand hotel in the heart of the French Quarter has 655 guest rooms and suites with amenities like marble bathrooms and plush robes. Despite the luxe setting, accommodations come with a reasonable price tag. This week, for example, rooms start at $179/night.
After wining and dining at Emeril's Delmonico—Lagasse's renowned Creole restaurant on Saint Charles Avenue in the Garden District—the finalists took over the kitchen to create their own Creole-inspired dishes. Tip: The restaurant has an "After Work on the Avenue" happy hour, weeknights, 5-7 p.m. Typical small plates include dirty rice boulettes with Creole mustard sauce ($4), house made charcuterie ($10), and mini muffulettas ($7), and cocktails are half price (from $4).
The Krewe of Orpheus, a group that puts on one of the most lavish Mardi Gras parades, hosted a masquerade ball at NOMA. For the second-to-last elimination challenge, chefs served gumbo, beignets, and seafood dishes, hoping to win raves from the Krewe and the judges. Carla's oyster stew and savory beignets were a hit, but Fabio's gumbo and grits, muffuletta, and Cajun/Italian pasta were deemed mediocre—the Italian Stallion's New Orleans journey ended there. Walk through the Freeport-McMoRan Great Hall, the stately space with towering white columns where the masquerade was held, and check out NOMA's French and American art collections and its five-acre sculpture garden. Adults $8, kids $4, garden free.
The last episode began with a rare quiet moment for Carla, Hosea, and Stefan, who sipped coffee aboard the Creole Queen, an old-school paddlewheel riverboat. Climb on board yourself and see New Orleans via the Mississippi River on one of its Big Easy Harbor Cruises. During the 90-minute ride, you'll float past the French Quarter, St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, and other N'awlins landmarks. Adults $25, children 3-12 $13.
It all boiled down to a final challenge at this historic Garden District restaurant: creating a three-course meal that showed off the chefs' skills and personalities. Of course, there was a twist. Each chef had to whip up a last-minute fourth course featuring a local ingredient—such as alligator, which Hosea gleefully assigned to Stefan after drawing knives. Commander's Palace has been serving Creole and American specialties since 1880. Treat yourself to a lunch of caipirinha lacquered gulf fish ($20) or sugarcane grilled pork chop ($17), and accompany it with one of the 25 cent martinis.