The reason the chefs have been asked to cook a lot of LA cuisine this season is that the show is partially financed by the LA state tourism bureau. They want to highlight the food and culture of New Orleans/LA to attract visitors and help the continuing recovery from Katrina. TC Seattle was not similarly funded and there was less focus on that city's/state's culture.
If you asked past TC winners if they know what an etouffee is, I wouldn't be surprised if some (and maybe many) of them didn't. It is a local dish, after all, and no chef can be expected to know every dish of every cuisine. Someone is top chef because he can cook better than others, not because he's a walking encyclopedia of food.
Why do you think his "attitude stinks"?
So it's not as simple as adding up wins. An argument can be made for putting Shirley or Nina on the top. Either way, Carlos is close behind while Nicks trails this trio by quite a distance.
So the fact Shirley made an etouffee, while Carlos didn't, is more a testimony to her English language skills than to her culinary knowledge. Who really knows if she knew what an etouffee was when she arrived in NO?
I'm not a chef, and I have never in my life been to New Orleans, but I know what an etouffee is. Chefs on the show make decisions all the time about preparing a dish in the very traditional way or to do a creative interpretation of it. Carlos was the only one who had no clue what he was supposed to make, even after it was explained to them.
No, language was not a problem. Carlos' limited knowledge of food for a chef was the problem.
Because I think that etouffee is a basic enough dish, especially for a chef going to New Orleans for a cooking competition, that Carlos should have known it with or without the reminder that the key is smothering.
Also, if prior knowledge (or homework) was important to winning TC, why would the producers even bother offering any explanation?
And why is etouffee a "basic enough dish"? It's a local NO dish. NO isn't even a major city in the US. How many restaurants outside of NO have etouffee on their menus?
This is what we saw on screen. Padma introduces the challenge and says "etouffee is French for to smother". Besh then chimes in and says "basically it's a rustic stew usually served over rice".
If you are going to argue Carlos has a culinary knowledge deficiency, then the only part of this explanation you can point to is "stew". How likely is it that he doesn't know what a stew is, especially since he produced a soup? It's clear he didn't understand what Padma meant by "smother". "Smother" is not a culinary term. It's a common word. So the problem for Carlos was English comprehension.
One key reason that the producers may have offered an explanation is that the viewers of the show are not all as knowledgable on food as the contestants are. So they explain some things the chefs should know so the viewers are up to speed. I have eaten etouffee at least three times in my life, and as I said, I've never been to New Orleans. So I think it is safe to say that there are restaurants outside of Louisiana who have it on menus. Whether or not New Orleans is a major FOOD city is debatable. I"d argue that it is - which is why they did a season of Top Chef there. And if this was the ONLY example this season of Carlos lacking basic food knowledge, then I guess I could see the whole "lets dissect their minds to know what they knew when they ladned" defense may be valid. But it's just one example of his lacking knowledge. He's also lacked knowledge of basic techniques on several occasions, which is a key reason why several of the other contestants don't care for / respect him. He's decided to prepare dishes when he didn't have the tools to do it, etc.
And where did I say you can't find etouffee anywhere outside of NO. I only asked in how many restaurants outside of NO can you find etouffee? Is it common? How many people have had it outside of NO?
NO has a reputation for its food and culture, but TC waited 11 seasons to go there, and even then, only after the LA tourist board ponied up a bunch of $$$. So is it NY or SF? No. Not by a long shot. Is it even Los Angeles or Chicago? Doubt it. Not cosmopolitan enough. At best, it's a second/third tier US food center, known more for its history than anything it is currently doing. And that food itself, imo, isn't even that good. But that, of course, is only my opinion. (The judges on TC may agree since I read in one judge's blog that more often than not they ate Vietnamese food while in NO. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the original, native cuisine.)