Archive for the ‘Top Chef’ Category

"Where were you with the rolling and the tying?"

January 17, 2009

Oh no! Leah has fallen from the pedestal of my esteem! How did this happen? I have forgotten how quickly things can change. For the worse! Now, I’m not going to say that I was totally shocked by the judge’s decision, because in a way, it was a long time coming. However, the eliminated chef might not have truly deserved this particular exit. Alright, I will end with my cryptic early recap ramblings and get back to the beginning of the episode.

The producer in lust with Dr. Chase must have decided it had been too long since the viewers were able to gape at his chest-we got a quick peek as he dressed before the quickfire. There is some animosity brewing between Hosea and Stefan. Hosea, wearing a most darling and original “I love Padma” shirt, has inspired me to join Radhika as the second member of the “I Hate Stefan” club. Stefan is just supremely arrogant, and the few wins he’s garnered recently have just inflated his ego to an unbearable point.

Padma waits in the Top Chef kitchen in front of a large object draped with a white “Top Chef” cloth, with Hung, who until the arrival of Stefan, held the title of Top Villain. Now, there have been many chefs that aspired to the title of Top Villain, most notably Marcel of Season 2. Hung, however, was more of an ice-cold, not beyond sabotaging the other chefs kind of villain. Much worse. He’s also remembered fondly for his crazy speed-he can break down a whole chicken faster than I can measure out a cup of chicken stock. It’s almost scary. Fabio knows that Hung is especially great with fish, and is quite sure that under the “blanket” behind them is a whole aquarium. Cue the sweeping, ominous music…the “blanket” covers the contents of the Top Chef pantry. As in canned goods. The chefs have to create “the most delicious dish you can from the cupboard and pantry staples” in fifteen minutes! Holy cow!

It’s like a running of the bulls to the canned goods. Fabio and Hosea fight over a can of artichokes, Dr. Chase is getting terribly beat up (perhaps his iron physique is a bit misleading?) and there is just general bedlam. Of course, pure and perfect Jamie has NEVER worked with canned goods before, because she cooks everything fresh from the farm in San Francisco. I’m more than irritated with her by now, in fact, I’m barely able to respect her cooking. It’s insulting to the many working people in this country who don’t have those resources before them every evening. I’ll say this once, and I don’t feel that I’ll regret it: Jamie has got it coming! Stefan starts to saw a can of some unidentified gross product open-what happened to the lid, I wonder? I loathe him even more when he pushes Hosea into loaning him a piece of Spam.

Leah, Jamie, and Radhika landed on the bottom. Leah’s fried waffles were unimpressive, Radhika’s dish was essentially pureed beans with some toast, and Jamie’s dish showed little effort at all. He nailed her on that one, by the way, telling her that it looked like she just dumped the contents of the cans onto a piece of bread. Ha!

To be honest, the majority of the dishes looked absolutely terrible. While I love the episodes that present the chefs with huge challenges like this (remember the gas station shopping in Season 2?), I do NOT usually crave the ensuing dishes. I almost gagged as I looked at Ariane’s turkey spam slice, sitting in a grayish pile of gravy on a piece of toasted white bread. It looked worse than anything I’ve ever seen in a cafeteria.

Stefan, Hosea, and Dr. Chase proved triumphant. Hung loved Hosea’s split pea soup with pork rinds and spam, Dr. Chase’s fried conch and pina colada, and Stefan’s strange sandwich and soup. Unfortunately, Hosea’s generosity hurt him in the end, because Stefan won immunity. I wish that the good doctor could have won-obviously, I can’t know what the dish tasted like, but it looked great. Perfect presentation, in my humble opinion.

After several individual challenges, we were due for a team challenge. Padma brought out the knife block, and the chefs began to draw, selecting lamb, pig, or chicken. The chefs would be responsible for creating a seasonal meal based around their main protein. They will be cooking for a group of 16 people, and dessert should be on the menu! Problems arise almost immediately, specifically on the lamb and chicken teams. The lamb team consisted of Ariane, Hosea, and Leah. Ariane is instantly apprehensive, because she fears that the close relationship between Hosea and Leah will eclipse her contribution to the team, or at the very least, make it difficult. The chicken team, Jamie, Stefan, and Carla, is having problems mainly due to Stefan’s personality. He’s demanding and bossy, but strangely attached to Jamie, despite her dismissive behavior. Carla is stressing out because she “can’t create in that energy.” All she does during the strategizing is nod her head and look contemplative.

Despite my bad Jamie vibes, I could NOT believe Stefan’s poor behavior. Jamie was absolutely right-he had immunity, and should have allowed the girls carte blanche with the menu and planning. That’s commonly expected behavior of a chef with immunity on team challenges-at the very least, he should have collaborated with them, not attempted to take total control of the menu. I felt like I could actually feel the waves of anger and frustration THROUGH the television! Not to mention, Stefan continues to harass Hosea. I won’t stand for that!

Little did the chefs know, their Toyota Sequoias would not be taking them to Whole Foods Market. Instead, they headed right out of the city. When Fabio sees “bushes and trees “ he figures out that something is up. The chefs pull up to a beautiful, lush green farm, which Jamie, the one who knows everything, immediately identifies as Stone Barns. Stone Barns is a nonprofit farm and education center, which also includes Blue Hill restaurant, where Dan Barber is the head chef. The chefs learn that they’ll be “shopping” at the farm. I personally love the idea, though I had a flicker of concern that the chefs would be involved in slaughtering their proteins. Thankfully, the chefs just get the opportunity to meet the animals and then peruse the fields for fresh produce. Most of them are pretty excited about that.

Ariane is obviously a city mouse-she can’t even emulate the baa-ing of a lamb properly. Fabio waxes philosophically about respecting the animals we eat, and tramps around in the mud with the pigs. A chicken has an innate sense of Jamie’s unlikeable-ness, and starts attacking her. Dr. Chase gathers a bushel of green tomatoes for a fried-green tomato salad. He knows about those because he’s from the south. Yet another area of expertise to check off on his resume.

The chefs enter the kitchen at Blue Hill to find tons of fresh produce and carefully laid out pork, lamb, and chicken. It was really a lovely spread-like a perfectly organized stall at a farmer’s market. I start to feel apprehensive about Team Lamb-they haven’t divided up their tasks equally, which is always a problem. In team challenges, it’s important that every chef is responsible for at least one dish. Not every dish, and not just dessert. One strong contribution is essential. Team Pig works hard on ravioli, pork loin, grilled corn, and crème brulee. Crème brulee is like the kiss of death on this show-I’m not sure why Dr. Chase selected it as the dessert. Ariane is actually not a professional butcher, and she struggles to tie her roast lamb. It looked a terrible mess, and horror of horrors, I had a sneaking suspicion that Leah deliberately didn’t do much to help improve it. Team Chicken is surprisingly productive-for all his many faults, Stefan at least seems to be manageable when he is cooking.

Padma and the host of judges dove into the chefs’ dishes under a sweltering New York summer sun. Team Chicken was hugely successful, even though they made an ill-advised soup. I think that Stefan’s palate is likely very trustworthy-how else can you get away with soup at that time of year? Team Lamb failed miserably, largely due to the way the lamb was butchered. Fabio’s pesto overwhelmed the ravioli from Team Pig, and Dr. Chase’s idea of removing the fat from the pork loin was simply terrible.

Team Lamb and Pig both presented poor desserts. I told you it was a bad idea to make crème brulee! Dan Barber compared Team Lamb’s trifle to cafeteria food. Team Chicken’s tart had a delicious crust and great flavors.

Thus, it was no surprise to see Team Chicken called to the judge’s table first. Jamie’s chicken cutlet and Carla’s pastry were standouts, so Dan Barber declared the whole team winners. Jamie was probably inwardly fuming at this decision. The judges had little or no comments to make, which makes me think the food wasn’t absolutely outstanding, just well-suited for the challenge.

Team Lamb and Team Pig, on the other hand, were skewered by the judges. With Team Pig, the main problems were the extremely amateurish mistake of removing fat, which we all know is EXACTLY what gives pork its flavor, and a “heavy-handed” pesto. Team Lamb did not honor their protein. Ariane did her best to take responsibility for the dish, and when Hosea and Leah failed to back her up, she stood up for herself and confessed that she had requested help on multiple occasions during prepping. Leah barely admitted contributing to tying the roast, and Hosea could really only take credit for his roast potatoes. It was truly shameful. Tom and the judges eventually determined to send Ariane home, because technically, there is no excuse for not knowing how to properly butcher a lamb, but you can tell they didn’t feel great about the decision. Heck, I felt bad about it! I almost think that if Leah and Hosea hadn’t had such equally poor showings, it would have been a different decision. I don’t know if there is something going on with Ariane behind the scenes, but from what we’ve seen so far, she certainly didn’t deserve that kind of treatment from her fellow contestants. After this and watching the previews for next week, when we see Hosea finally falling prey to Leah’s feminine wiles, I’m going to have to say that I’m no longer Leah’s number one fan. Just when I was beginning to really like her!

Next week is Restaurant Wars! Almost always the best episode of the year!

"Where were you with the rolling and the tying?"

January 17, 2009

Oh no! Leah has fallen from the pedestal of my esteem! How did this happen? I have forgotten how quickly things can change. For the worse! Now, I’m not going to say that I was totally shocked by the judge’s decision, because in a way, it was a long time coming. However, the eliminated chef might not have truly deserved this particular exit. Alright, I will end with my cryptic early recap ramblings and get back to the beginning of the episode.

The producer in lust with Dr. Chase must have decided it had been too long since the viewers were able to gape at his chest-we got a quick peek as he dressed before the quickfire. There is some animosity brewing between Hosea and Stefan. Hosea, wearing a most darling and original “I love Padma” shirt, has inspired me to join Radhika as the second member of the “I Hate Stefan” club. Stefan is just supremely arrogant, and the few wins he’s garnered recently have just inflated his ego to an unbearable point.

Padma waits in the Top Chef kitchen in front of a large object draped with a white “Top Chef” cloth, with Hung, who until the arrival of Stefan, held the title of Top Villain. Now, there have been many chefs that aspired to the title of Top Villain, most notably Marcel of Season 2. Hung, however, was more of an ice-cold, not beyond sabotaging the other chefs kind of villain. Much worse. He’s also remembered fondly for his crazy speed-he can break down a whole chicken faster than I can measure out a cup of chicken stock. It’s almost scary. Fabio knows that Hung is especially great with fish, and is quite sure that under the “blanket” behind them is a whole aquarium. Cue the sweeping, ominous music…the “blanket” covers the contents of the Top Chef pantry. As in canned goods. The chefs have to create “the most delicious dish you can from the cupboard and pantry staples” in fifteen minutes! Holy cow!

It’s like a running of the bulls to the canned goods. Fabio and Hosea fight over a can of artichokes, Dr. Chase is getting terribly beat up (perhaps his iron physique is a bit misleading?) and there is just general bedlam. Of course, pure and perfect Jamie has NEVER worked with canned goods before, because she cooks everything fresh from the farm in San Francisco. I’m more than irritated with her by now, in fact, I’m barely able to respect her cooking. It’s insulting to the many working people in this country who don’t have those resources before them every evening. I’ll say this once, and I don’t feel that I’ll regret it: Jamie has got it coming! Stefan starts to saw a can of some unidentified gross product open-what happened to the lid, I wonder? I loathe him even more when he pushes Hosea into loaning him a piece of Spam.

Leah, Jamie, and Radhika landed on the bottom. Leah’s fried waffles were unimpressive, Radhika’s dish was essentially pureed beans with some toast, and Jamie’s dish showed little effort at all. He nailed her on that one, by the way, telling her that it looked like she just dumped the contents of the cans onto a piece of bread. Ha!

To be honest, the majority of the dishes looked absolutely terrible. While I love the episodes that present the chefs with huge challenges like this (remember the gas station shopping in Season 2?), I do NOT usually crave the ensuing dishes. I almost gagged as I looked at Ariane’s turkey spam slice, sitting in a grayish pile of gravy on a piece of toasted white bread. It looked worse than anything I’ve ever seen in a cafeteria.

Stefan, Hosea, and Dr. Chase proved triumphant. Hung loved Hosea’s split pea soup with pork rinds and spam, Dr. Chase’s fried conch and pina colada, and Stefan’s strange sandwich and soup. Unfortunately, Hosea’s generosity hurt him in the end, because Stefan won immunity. I wish that the good doctor could have won-obviously, I can’t know what the dish tasted like, but it looked great. Perfect presentation, in my humble opinion.

After several individual challenges, we were due for a team challenge. Padma brought out the knife block, and the chefs began to draw, selecting lamb, pig, or chicken. The chefs would be responsible for creating a seasonal meal based around their main protein. They will be cooking for a group of 16 people, and dessert should be on the menu! Problems arise almost immediately, specifically on the lamb and chicken teams. The lamb team consisted of Ariane, Hosea, and Leah. Ariane is instantly apprehensive, because she fears that the close relationship between Hosea and Leah will eclipse her contribution to the team, or at the very least, make it difficult. The chicken team, Jamie, Stefan, and Carla, is having problems mainly due to Stefan’s personality. He’s demanding and bossy, but strangely attached to Jamie, despite her dismissive behavior. Carla is stressing out because she “can’t create in that energy.” All she does during the strategizing is nod her head and look contemplative.

Despite my bad Jamie vibes, I could NOT believe Stefan’s poor behavior. Jamie was absolutely right-he had immunity, and should have allowed the girls carte blanche with the menu and planning. That’s commonly expected behavior of a chef with immunity on team challenges-at the very least, he should have collaborated with them, not attempted to take total control of the menu. I felt like I could actually feel the waves of anger and frustration THROUGH the television! Not to mention, Stefan continues to harass Hosea. I won’t stand for that!

Little did the chefs know, their Toyota Sequoias would not be taking them to Whole Foods Market. Instead, they headed right out of the city. When Fabio sees “bushes and trees “ he figures out that something is up. The chefs pull up to a beautiful, lush green farm, which Jamie, the one who knows everything, immediately identifies as Stone Barns. Stone Barns is a nonprofit farm and education center, which also includes Blue Hill restaurant, where Dan Barber is the head chef. The chefs learn that they’ll be “shopping” at the farm. I personally love the idea, though I had a flicker of concern that the chefs would be involved in slaughtering their proteins. Thankfully, the chefs just get the opportunity to meet the animals and then peruse the fields for fresh produce. Most of them are pretty excited about that.

Ariane is obviously a city mouse-she can’t even emulate the baa-ing of a lamb properly. Fabio waxes philosophically about respecting the animals we eat, and tramps around in the mud with the pigs. A chicken has an innate sense of Jamie’s unlikeable-ness, and starts attacking her. Dr. Chase gathers a bushel of green tomatoes for a fried-green tomato salad. He knows about those because he’s from the south. Yet another area of expertise to check off on his resume.

The chefs enter the kitchen at Blue Hill to find tons of fresh produce and carefully laid out pork, lamb, and chicken. It was really a lovely spread-like a perfectly organized stall at a farmer’s market. I start to feel apprehensive about Team Lamb-they haven’t divided up their tasks equally, which is always a problem. In team challenges, it’s important that every chef is responsible for at least one dish. Not every dish, and not just dessert. One strong contribution is essential. Team Pig works hard on ravioli, pork loin, grilled corn, and crème brulee. Crème brulee is like the kiss of death on this show-I’m not sure why Dr. Chase selected it as the dessert. Ariane is actually not a professional butcher, and she struggles to tie her roast lamb. It looked a terrible mess, and horror of horrors, I had a sneaking suspicion that Leah deliberately didn’t do much to help improve it. Team Chicken is surprisingly productive-for all his many faults, Stefan at least seems to be manageable when he is cooking.

Padma and the host of judges dove into the chefs’ dishes under a sweltering New York summer sun. Team Chicken was hugely successful, even though they made an ill-advised soup. I think that Stefan’s palate is likely very trustworthy-how else can you get away with soup at that time of year? Team Lamb failed miserably, largely due to the way the lamb was butchered. Fabio’s pesto overwhelmed the ravioli from Team Pig, and Dr. Chase’s idea of removing the fat from the pork loin was simply terrible.

Team Lamb and Pig both presented poor desserts. I told you it was a bad idea to make crème brulee! Dan Barber compared Team Lamb’s trifle to cafeteria food. Team Chicken’s tart had a delicious crust and great flavors.

Thus, it was no surprise to see Team Chicken called to the judge’s table first. Jamie’s chicken cutlet and Carla’s pastry were standouts, so Dan Barber declared the whole team winners. Jamie was probably inwardly fuming at this decision. The judges had little or no comments to make, which makes me think the food wasn’t absolutely outstanding, just well-suited for the challenge.

Team Lamb and Team Pig, on the other hand, were skewered by the judges. With Team Pig, the main problems were the extremely amateurish mistake of removing fat, which we all know is EXACTLY what gives pork its flavor, and a “heavy-handed” pesto. Team Lamb did not honor their protein. Ariane did her best to take responsibility for the dish, and when Hosea and Leah failed to back her up, she stood up for herself and confessed that she had requested help on multiple occasions during prepping. Leah barely admitted contributing to tying the roast, and Hosea could really only take credit for his roast potatoes. It was truly shameful. Tom and the judges eventually determined to send Ariane home, because technically, there is no excuse for not knowing how to properly butcher a lamb, but you can tell they didn’t feel great about the decision. Heck, I felt bad about it! I almost think that if Leah and Hosea hadn’t had such equally poor showings, it would have been a different decision. I don’t know if there is something going on with Ariane behind the scenes, but from what we’ve seen so far, she certainly didn’t deserve that kind of treatment from her fellow contestants. After this and watching the previews for next week, when we see Hosea finally falling prey to Leah’s feminine wiles, I’m going to have to say that I’m no longer Leah’s number one fan. Just when I was beginning to really like her!

Next week is Restaurant Wars! Almost always the best episode of the year!

"This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!"

January 9, 2009

Did you really think I wouldn’t use that WONDERFUL little line of Fabio’s for my headline? How could I possibly resist? He is truly irresistible! In an endearing, make-me-laugh, hilarious way, NOT in an attractive way. Just wanted to be clear!

I’m beginning to be extremely irritated with the producers for heavily editing the opening scenes to cast an ominous tone over the obvious victims of the challenge. They toy with us loyal viewers! The rational side of us knows that Jamie and Hosea are probably safe and that Eugene and Melissa are in trouble. Yet, that sneaking suspicion lurks in the back our minds, all due to the editing! Ugh!

Chefs are STILL sunburned! Ridiculous! I don’t get it-is it really so intense and stressful that they have to swill large quantities of alcohol whilst sunning on the balcony just to get through the day? I can’t imagine what other reason there could be for the obvious lack of sunscreen use.

On to the quickfire!

Padma and the guest judge, Jean-Christophe Novelli, an acclaimed pastry chef, were waiting, with the usual self-satisfied cheer, in the Top Chef kitchen. Of course, the chefs all know Jean-Christophe. Does someone give them a primer of possible guest judges before the show airs, so that they can study their cuisines? I just can’t understand how they always seem to recognize the guest judges, even if they are going to have their own show on Bravo.

The Diet Dr. Pepper quickfire challenge (yes, this is the where the product placement has taken us-on a show about talented chefs, we’re being forced to think about Diet Dr. Pepper) was to make a sugarfree treat. Padma and Jean-Christophe happily wheel away a large cart containing all of the Whole Foods brand sugar in the Top Chef pantry. The chefs are remarkably calm, and quickly go about making their various treats. I would have been anxious, but it became evident right away that they all had a decent game plan. There was lots of yogurt and fruit floating around. Over half of Dr. Chase’s desserts at his restaurant are sugar free. There’s an awful lot of talk from him but no wins. In the midst of preparation, it would appear that Ariane was paid to pour Diet Dr. Pepper into her crepe batter. Eugene decides to make a Filipino dessert called bananas lumpias, which is basically a deep-fried banana. I’m concerned-usually his Filipino dishes are disastrous.

Eugene ended up being safe- Jamie, Ariane, and Carla misfired during the quickfire; Dr. Chase, Radhika, and Leah scored. I thought Leah’s dish, a crepe with whipped ricotta, honey, strawberries, and a balsamic reduction looked delicious! Definitely my favorite dish of the episode. Apparently, Dr. Chase really does know how to make a decent sugar-free dessert. Radhika pulled out the win for her lovely bread pudding. I half-expected Padma to say “Radhika, you are also the winner of a lifetime supply of Diet Dr. Pepper.” I mean, you could barely keep the Dr. Pepper out of your mind as you the camera constantly flashed to random cans sitting around the kitchen.

Padma announces the arrival of Toby Young, Gail’s replacement at judge’s table. Of course, Stefan and Fabio know exactly who he is, because he’s from England, and all European chefs know each other. The chefs are given the night off, which alarmed me at first-remember in Top Chef: Miami when the chefs got the “night off”? Tom and Padma pulled a fast one on them-the chefs got all dressed up to party and pulled up to a hoppin’ Miami club only to discover their elimination challenge was to cook late night munchies for club-goers.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here. I think it might have just been another ploy of the producers to warm the cockles of our hearts as we listened to Eugene’s conversation (via a handy T-Mobile Sidekick) with his young daughter.

Tom arrives at the house bright and early. Fabio worries needlessly that Tom will be shocked at the house’s state of cleanliness. Instead, Tom jumps right in to the description of the elimination challenge: the chefs will be cooking a family-style dish “with no limits”, something that will show the judges “who they are and what they’re capable of as a chef.” The catch? It will be a blind tasting-the judges won’t know whose dish they’re judging. Now I happen to think that the chefs should be turning cartwheels upon hearing of this challenge. It’s the perfect opportunity to cook what they know best, without the pressure of working with an unfamiliar cuisine or ingredient or having to rely on a team. They should have been THRILLED. Perhaps their lack of enthusiasm came from the shocking news that not one, but TWO chefs would be eliminated. As Hosea smartly put it, that’s 20% attrition. I’m not sure why they were surprised-did they really think that act of generosity in the last episode was really without a price tag?

As the winner of the quickfire, Radhika got to decide which group of chefs she’d cook with. I should’ve known something was up when the chefs were divided into two groups (remember Top Chef: San Francisco? ), but I missed the hint. Interestingly enough, yet another indication of the general feeling of ill will toward Stefan was revealed, as Radhika based her entire decision on which group Stefan would be cooking with. He is obnoxious, but until he started wearing his “I make good babies,” shirt and criticizing my beloved Hosea, I didn’t really have a strong feeling about him.

During Group A’s 30 minute shopping foray into Whole Foods, Jamie expressed her alarm about Eugene’s dish: a whole fried red snapper with daikon fettuccine in a tomato-basil sauce. While Jamie’s arrogance and general attitude of pathetic moping when she doesn’t win are beginning to seriously grate on my nerves, I had the same reaction. Daikon paired with Italian? Ew. Eugene is a great guy, but if the past few challenges are any indication, he has really lost that amazingly sensitive palate we saw in the first episode, when he managed to create a perfect Indian dish based on what he tasted at the Indian grocery.

Group A consisted of Jamie, Hosea, Radhika, Eugene, Fabio, and Melissa. Radhika, the immunity queen, makes a spicy crab bisque that apparently is the sole reason that hoards of people come to her restaurant. That kind of talk would have been ominous if she had not won immunity, as we will later learn. Hosea makes halibut wrapped in bacon and roasted baby vegetables-yummy. Hosea is comforting, like a big bowl of mushroom ravioli. Points for whoever guesses that guilty pleasure pop culture reference. Fabio decides that “meat and fresh pasta is myself”, so he begins to make fresh ravioli and sous-vide lamb. Ha! I didn’t even have to look up the spelling for that one! I learned the technique from Hung in Season 3. It is a method of cooking in which the food item is vacuum-packed and placed in a container of temperature-controlled water. Hung is a master, but Fabio? Perhaps he should stick to his 500-year old Italian recipes. When it comes time to serve, he realizes that his lamb is under-cooked.

While Group A is panicking about finishing in time, Group B heads to Whole Foods. I’m getting weary of Dr. Chase somehow having expertise on EVERY kind of challenge or cuisine. He has catered events before, he is an expert on Latin food, he cooks family-style in his restaurant, and conveniently, he knows how to create a wide-variety of sugar-free desserts. Have you won immunity on your own yet, doctor? Carla had been doing fairly well up until this point, but once she arrived in the store, she began to listen to her cooking spirits again. Big red flag.

Back in the kitchen, Jamie describes her lovely and light scallop dish, which provokes Fabio’s clever response. “All she does is scallops. This is Top Chef, it’s not Top Scallops!” I just had to write that once more. It makes me laugh every time. For the record, I understand why Jamie wanted to redeem herself for the disastrous slimy scallops in the last challenge.

Group B arrives, ready to cook, only to discover that the five empty seats opposite Tom and Padma are for them. They’ll be judging their competitors! Group A is appropriately shocked, but they do have the bonus of watching all the reactions and comments on a hidden camera. I suppose that is a blessing and a curse.

Radhika’s dish, the famous crab bisque and crab salad, give us our introduction to Toby Young, aka, the Simon Cowell of Top Chef, aka pure EVIL in human form! He refers to her salad and bisque as “weapons of mass destruction.” Wow. What a way to start a run as judge. I’m feel quite sure the number of the applicants for the show might plummet after watching this episode. I didn’t think he could get any worse, but then he tasted Melissa’s ahi crudo tacos and compared them to cat food. That was below the belt, Toby. A low blow! Hosea’s vegetables outshone the fish, Fabio’s lamb failed but his pasta soared, and Eugene predictably bombed, despite Dr. Chase liking his presentation. All the judges loved Jamie’s scallops. I don’t particularly like her, but I knew that I was right about her skill!

I feel that Group B had an unfair advantage in that they were able to cook AFTER having been witness to the terror of Toby Young, but I suppose there was no other way around it. Leah, who I’m beginning to like more and more, decided to make “bread-crusted” fish, something she’s never tried. Not really her best move. Ariane made skate with pineapple and fried capers. That particular combination sounded a bit weird to me, but she was totally confident. I felt bad for Carla, making scallops after Jamie. Stefan made some sort of German dish with red cabbage.

Jamie AGAIN made an arrogant comment to the camera after sampling Group B’s dishes. I’m thinking she needs to start worrying a little bit about karma-it always comes around in reality shows! Stefan was a huge success, garnering only one criticism, from the number one member of the “I Hate Stefan” club, Radhika. Toby loved Dr. Chase’s mini-dishes and Leah’s fish, although the other judges weren’t wowed too much by them. Carla’s gremolata had enough garlic to ward off a coven of vampires. Tom still seemed a bit underwhelmed, and I don’t think the chefs have really gotten out of the slump that characterized the last few episodes.

Jamie finally obtained a victory, though her blithe behavior seemed extremely insensitive, considering Melissa was in tears pretty much since the moment Toby responded to her dish. Ariane and Stefan just came across as genuinely happy to be on the winning side. I feel that I’ve probably underestimated Ariane-she may not be too flashy, but she has proved to be consistent, once she felt comfortable with the competition and developed some confidence.

Not surprisingly, Melissa, Eugene, and Carla ended up in front of the judges to defend their dishes. In what is becoming a pattern this season, the chef that remained safe was the one who was able to own up to the mistakes in the dish and provide a reasonable and humble explanation of what went wrong, and/or what he or she would do next time to make the dish better. This time, that chef was Carla. The confession of her failed vision and a possible solution to improve her gremolata appealed to the judges. Eugene tried to highlight his creativity as a positive trait, but it just wasn’t enough. Melissa made the fatal error of saying “I didn’t think it was that bad.” NEVER the right sentence at judge’s table.

Hung is the guest judge next week! I cannot imagine the cruelty that can arise from the combination of Hung and Toby Young. I’m shivering thinking about it!

"You don’t win with a deviled egg!"

December 19, 2008

Welcome to the “Christmas in July” edition of Top Chef! It has been glaringly obvious throughout the season that the chefs have been cooking during a long, hot New York summer. It’s not just the perennial sunburned faces that gives it away, but the light clothing and the gloriously sunny days that we’re always witnessing from the balcony of the fancy apartment. Also things like Stefan and Fabio, who are apparently now BFF’s, carving a huge watermelon in the apartment kitchen. I’m hoping that the party for the elimination challenge was a special “Christmas in July” party ALREADY, and not specifically thrown that way for Top Chef’s benefit.

This week, we were treated to a jazzy little intro, with Ariane cheerfully making her bed, confidence totally in place, and Eugene carefully studying his notes, absolutely sure he’d be gone if he landed on the bottom again. I knew the producers were up to their old editing tricks, and either Ariane or Eugene would be facing the proverbial music-I hoped Eugene would be able to stay.

We learned, through a typical reality show product placement (the T-Mobile Sidekick this time), that Hosea’s father is sick. He called his sister to check up on the family. He seems genuine, saying that even though it’s hard to be away, that his father knew this was a big opportunity for him. I don’t think he’s selfish. Not sweet Hosea.

The chefs trooped into a Top Chef kitchen bedecked with wreaths, garlands, ribbons, and all sorts of Christmas greenery. A table was laid with all kinds of Christmas food. Padma was there waiting, ever-present mischievous smile on her face, because she knows it’s JULY, not December, ready to spring a HUGE guest judge and rather enjoyable quickfire on the contestants. She informs them about their task first: create a delicious holiday meal using only one pot. I’m thinking, “This is a great challenge! One for the normal, everyday, non-professional folk who watch this show from the comfort of their own couch!” Radhika is thinking “Crap! I use AT LEAST 10 cooking “vessels” to cook curries, chutneys, dal, and various regional Indian cuisines usually!” That’s not exactly what she said, but the 10 vessels part is verbatim. She’s definitely stressed. The rest of the chefs look nonplussed. Until, that is, the guest judge makes her appearance. It’s Martha Stewart, formerly convicted of a white collar crime, traipsing into the Top Chef kitchen all smiley with her brand new book in hand! An American icon, she is, despite a rather tarnished crown. The chefs all look at her with rapt eyes and focused attention. It’s as if Steve Jobs walked into a room full of computer nerds. Or if Mike Krzyzewski stopped by a weekly meeting of high school basketball coaches. Actually, what is probably the most accurate comparable reaction would be what might happen if Robert Pattinson visited a PTA meeting full of Twilight moms. I’ve never seen such reverence from Top Chef contestants, and there have been some very well-respected guest judges. They were borderline ridiculous, nodding emphatically at Martha’s every word. Lest you think I’m being too hard on them, I should say that I can understand the kneejerk celebrity reaction to simply gawk and act nonsensical. It’s what I did, after all, when I ran into the Duke basketball players on campus. And really, they were MINOR compared to some of the stars I’ve sighted.

The chefs got right to work on their one pot wonders, although I had serious doubts at MANY of the final products actually being considered one pot dishes. Ariane made a cauliflower puree, with filet mignon! Sorry, that is NOT a one pot dish! Jamie, on the other hand, immediately started to work on a delicious-sounding potato-kale stew. I forgive her for topping it with a seared scallop, because I know she can make a great stew, and she’s right in her self-assessment. She is innovative and modern, compared to Ariane’s consistent and more familiar dishes. Obviously, Ariane is much better than she led us to believe in the beginning, but that could also be because the rest of the chefs are either making entirely too risky dishes that have failed OR simply haven’t made anything fabulous and unique.

I’m worried about Hosea and his paella, and Dr. Chase’s potato risotto sounds strange. Fabio shared a colorful story about his childhood-apparently he was very bad, and “In order to make me don’t destroy the house, she (his grandma) would make me stir the polenta for hour.”- and had Stefan taste his polenta. They are the “dynamic duo”, now. Personally, they had both better step up, because they have NOT impressed me over the past few episodes.

Martha liked many of the dishes, including Stefan’s celtic goulash. What made it Celtic, I wonder? Hosea’s paella turned out to be great, and Ariane hit a homerun with her creamy, non-buttery puree. No dish was terrible except for Dr. Chase.’s risotto. Eugene’s broth was an issue. Fabio’s polenta was grayish, and Martha couldn’t see the mushrooms. “Martha,my grandma would be so ashamed of you you would not believe it!” It was close, but Martha was most amazed by Ariane’s trickery at eliminating the butter from the puree, and granted her immunity. So Ariane won. Again. I do feel sorry for Jamie, because I think she is much more talented than the majority of the other chefs, and it would be nice if she could finally be officially recognized for that skill. She just needs to learn how to not incorporate butter in cauliflower purees. Then she’ll be A-ok.

Now, all of the chefs were clueless about what the elimination challenge would be, so to help with the confusion, Padma brought in the…what? Is that the Harlem Gospel Choir in the Top Chef kitchen? What are THEY doing here? Oh, it’s so obvious. The chefs will be catering for a holiday party for AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS research, full of fundraisers, famous actresses, various advocates, and extremely picky chefs. Thank goodness for the Harlem Gospel Choir. Gosh, those chefs would NEVER have figured out their challenge without them. And they certainly wouldn’t have been inspired to make a dish based on the 12 days of Christmas had it not been for that joyful singing.

Yes, the chefs drew knives to determine which day of Christmas they would have to use to create a dish for the event. It’s an extremely daunting challenge. Everyone is pretty freaked out. I would be too. How the heck do you make 9 ladies dancing into a dish for freaking 300 people? Ariane is THRILLED to sing out six geese a laying. Maybe that is because she has IMMUNITY!

The chefs were obviously in the Christmas spirit when attacking the produce aisles of Whole Foods. They were exceedingly polite to the staff, so much so that it made me wonder if there had been some problem with their behavior before which needed to be addressed. I patted myself on the back for calling that Dr. Chase would try to use frog legs for “10 lords a leaping.” Fabio lamented that once again, he pick the crappy theme. He decides to use crab legs for his dancing ladies.

The prep time is predictably crazy, especially when factoring in the late hour (the chefs were still in the kitchen at 2 am!) and the prodigious amount of smoke arising from Hosea’s pork. Catering challenges are usually very stressful on the show, and understandably so. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to make sure you’ve done absolutely everything in advance that you can, but still making sure that you didn’t cook something too early, so it won’t taste good the next day. I’m not sure what to think about Dr. Chase-he’s determined that Tom and Padma see him thinking out of the box and racing around the kitchen. That is not always a good thing, Dr. Eugene seems very sure about his dish, because he has made it successfully before. Tahitian-style ceviche sounds good to me! Ariane’s deviled eggs, Fabio’s crab cakes, and Hosea’s grilled pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes do indeed seem rather simple, as Dr. Chase notes. We’ll see what Tom thinks.

Tragedy strikes in the morning, as the chefs discover that one of the refrigerators wasn’t closed properly. Hosea and Radhika were the most affected, as their duck and pork is now completely unsafe for serving. They were distraught, of course. However, they have their competitors in their corners, and all of the chefs banded together, scouring the Top Chef stock to find additional protein and doing everything they could to help fix the dishes. It was really very sweet, and even though I occasionally doubt the talent of this crop of chefs, I have to admit that no other season has showcased such generous and considerate qualities in them. I was touched. Christmas spirit was present.

The event was relatively calm, even though I’m sure the chefs were in a constant state of panic, getting 300 plates ready. Natasha Richardson was the host; she is absolutely lovely. Jamie, surprisingly, absolutely bombed. Her scallop was “raw” AND “dry”-how is that possible? It must have been bad. Fabio’s crab cake was greasy. Melissa’s gorgonzola drowned out the flavor of her meat. Hosea was the most popular, with the judges AND the ladies. However, no one was truly wowed, and across the board, the dishes were mediocre.

It became immediately evident at judge’s table that this challenge was a colossal disappointment to Tom. He looked apathetic and slightly sour while speaking with Hosea, Jeff, Radhika, and Stefan, who all made successful dishes, at least according to the crowd’s opinion. While Padma was fairly cheerful with the winning group, she had a steely glare fixed on her face the moment the losing chefs walked in. Eugene, Melissa, and Jamie stumbled through less-than-satisfactory explanations about their less-than-stellar dishes, and then the judges struggled to come to a good decision.

Finally, Tom decided that he needed to let all of the chefs know how he felt about the challenge, including the winners. He had some very justifiable zingers: “You don’t win with a deviled egg! Do the food that got you here!” We were treated to some heretofore uncharacteristic attitude from Leah, and Tom promptly put her in her place. Essentially, he let the chefs know that they needed to relax, be comfortable, and cook what they know. Very generously, he decided that no one would go home-all of our chefs will be fighting it out for at least one more week! Thank goodness-it would’ve been sad to see either Eugene or Jamie go. I’m not Jamie’s number one fan, but she IS a good chef. Prove it to us, Jamie!

Top Chef Nuptials

December 13, 2008

Well ladies, Sam Talbot is officially off the market. I decided that I should include relevant Top Chef news on my blog. Sam will definitely make my Top 5 Top Chefs, whenever I decide to make that a topic for my newly-instituted Top 5 Tuesday. The always sweet, diabetic chef has a place in my heart. And Padma’s, by the way. He was never dramatic or ridiculous and he ALWAYS made good food. That’s a rarity on my beloved reality show. If I ever need a recipe for sweetbreads, I’m going to turn to Sam.

"I out-palated him!"

December 12, 2008

How did this happen? So there I was, eagerly anticipating my ON TIME viewing of Top Chef, the very first time I might actually finish a recap within 24 hours of the show airing, and…I went to bed early. What a disappointment. I fear my side career as an aspiring recap writer may come to an end if I can’t improve on my timing. At least my free time today allowed me to have not one, but TWO viewings of the episode, so hopefully I won’t leave any juicy detail unwritten.

I was a big fan of this episode, despite the lame quickfire. I don’t usually enjoy the culinary bee. The chefs are often surprisingly bad at it, although that could just be the pressure of knowing they are on national television.

Oops, I forgot to mention my deep thoughts regarding the opening scenes. First, it is now painfully obvious that one or more of the producers and/or camera men/women have taken a strong liking to Dr. Chase. We are ALWAYS seeing him in a state of undress. I’m pretty sure he’s married, and more committed to his relationship than either Hosea or Leah seem to be to their significant others. Finally, the biggest juicy nugget from the intro was Stefan’s newfound obsession with Jamie. Apparently, he has been bestowing tokens of affection upon her for quite some time now, including a pair of pants that he fashioned out of a Calphalon kitchen towel for her stuffed bunny. Jamie seems pleased by the attention, no matter what she says, but her comments and the time devoted to the scene set up a Stefan-centric episode where we, the audience, are given a very clear indication of how the rest of the chefs feel about him.

On to the bee! If it was a spelling bee, I would so win, by the way. I did find the twist interesting-instead of blindfolds and tiny ramekins of barely identifiable seeds, the chefs would have to go head to head, each tasting a sauce and attempting to identify as many ingredients as they can. There were three rounds, three sauces. First up was a shrimp and lobster bouillabaisse. The chefs were predictably nervous here, and none of them were very aggressive. Hosea, Carla, Stefan, Ariane, Leah, and Radhika moved on to the next round, a thai green curry. Hosea immediately lit up, recognizing what is obviously one of his fave dishes. Stefan gave Leah a knowing smirk, which was annoying, but then he immediately proceeded to list off practically every ingredient in the curry. He knows his stuff.

The final showdown was between Carla, Hosea, and Stefan. The sauce? A Mexican mole. I have actually never had mole myself, but I’ve always been curious about the chocolate element. Are raisins really a part of a traditional mole? If so, I was even MORE impressed with Hosea and his super-palate. Thai, Mexican, AND seafood???? He needs to give Melissa lessons. He dominated, after Stefan suggested tomato paste as an ingredient.

Now for the elimination challenge! It was a bit personal, this time, as the chefs learned they would be cooking for frequent guest judge Gail Simmons’ bridal shower luncheon. They were clued in to the wedding theme as they drew knives labeled “borrowed”, “old”, “new” and “blue.” Ariane claimed that she knew that phrase because she’s married. Radhika began to freak out worrying that Stefan would be on her team, likening such a scenario to being on a team with Satan. I haven’t seen anything terribly devilish yet from him, but he MUST be bad. Fortunately, Radhika landed on a Team Borrowed with Jamie and Ariane. Jamie immediately takes charge, deciding that they would borrow from Radhika’s Indian culture AND use her super secret special spice, vadouvan for a yummy carrot puree. I was actually proud of Radhika for acknowledging her roots in a way that would further her team in the competition, which is different than heavily relying on it.

Team Blue consisted of Fabio, Leah, and Melissa. Fabio is sure that “of all the theme, it’s the hardest.” Also, “there’s not any freaking blue food!” After a discussion on whether or not figs can be considered blue, they decide to go with a deep sea theme, selecting sea bass, roasted corn, and chard for the menu. I’m wondering what Melissa can really contribute if all she is doing is the chard. Let me tell you, she is flying under the radar, and not in a good way. She is sure to be rooted out soon as one that needs the boot!

Team New looks like a disaster from the start. Danny thinks of pickles when he thinks of new, and somehow has the inside knowledge that Gail likes a lot of pickling. Are pickles new? I’m with you, Carla. I was worried when Eugene suggested sushi. It’s weird, but when the chefs decide to make their own specialties for a team event, pushing them onto other chefs, it usually doesn’t end well.

As for Team Old, Dr. Chase, Stefan, and Hosea decide upon a tomato trio, deciding to focus on heirloom tomatoes and “old world” cuisines: a tomato terrine, gazpacho, and tomato carpaccio with a sorbet. Yummy. Stefan is SURE that Dr. Chase’s sorbet will fail, because of his millions of experiences with catering. He says no. Dr. Chase says yes. Clearly, the whole group of chefs hates him. Hosea immediately has a reaction about Stefan, and I’m proud of Dr. Chase for standing his ground.

Shopping was fairly uneventful, the highlight definitely being Carla’s secret for finding her husband in a grocery store and Fabio’s declaration that “this fish want to go back to the ocean.” Stefan continued to be annoying and condescending, giving Hosea a hard time about the tomatoes for his gazpacho. BACK OFF, buddy! Hootie!

As usual, the prepping gives us ominous clues, like Ariane’s foreshadowing about cooking the lamb being her only job. The surf n’turf sushi roll is risky, for sure. Tom looks dubious. Plus, Eugene used a digital rice cooker that ruined his sushi rice. I do love tomatoes, and Hosea. Team Old is looking strong, despite Stefan’s obnoxiousness. Tom astutely notes that Team Blue’s dish is boring and would likely go unnoticed among the other dishes. He will be in the kitchen during the luncheon (no boys allowed!) and Fabio likens this experience to being a priest in the presence of a pope. He continues to endear himself to me. ☺

Side note: Melissa thinks better with her green hat. Bring your green hat! (Points for anyone who recognizes that little pop culture reference)

During the prep and before the chefs served their food, we were treated to a flashback of all the chefs’ various memories of weddings. Of course, Fabio cooked for his wife’s bridal shower. Ariane hearts marriage. Stefan has been married three times.

The challenge was fascinating! Team Old scored! EVERYONE loved the sorbet, but Stefan’s terrine was pronounced “bland.” This is what happens when you are what my mom would call “bossy boots.” Team New failed miserably. Danny called his yuzo sorbet a “granata”-not a granita. Eugene forgets to explain to the judges how to eat the dish. It’s a disaster. Padma lightly tosses the nori aside. Dana Cowin looks completely confused. Stefan turns out to be right about women not liking to put food together with their fingers.

Team Borrowed was wildly successful, due in no small part to the way that all the chefs banded together to make sure the plates were finished in time. Ariane underestimated how much time she would need for her lamb, so they were behind when it was their turn. Everyone loved Jamie’s puree. Despite her slightly unlikeable personality, I will stick to my theory that she is going to go far. She is a sophisticated chef.

Team Blue did, as Tom predict, underperform, mostly because their dish was boring. See, that’s all I have to say about it. The challenge ended nicely, however, because Gail seemed genuinely touched by the presence of all her friends.

At judge’s table, we learned what the professionals really thought of the dishes. Team Old and Team Borrowed were the obvious winners, but who would Dana Cowin single out as an individual winner? After Jamie had gone on and on for an entire episode about “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” and such, I was sure she would pull out the win, finally. She does deserve it, by the way, even though I really don’t like her. However, she was SNUBBED, which was even more powerful because of her quick aside to Ariane about wanting the win. What she needs as much as a win is a big slice of humble pie. Team Blue made a “sad plate”, and nothing that Team New did turned out well. Despite Daniel’s jolly explanation of why he added mushrooms to Carla’s salad, it wasn’t enough to keep him around. He was sweet, but he’s like the poor man’s Joey. I won’t miss him much.

I should note that despite the distracting cleavage, Padma was a vision of loveliness in this episode. I loved her hair! Also, the picture above is, as you might guess, Team Old’s plate from the shower. I am Team Hosea, after all.

Martha Stewart is descending upon the chefs next week! Should be good!

"The scariest thing about failing is failing."

December 6, 2008

I’m noticing a trend with the weekly Top Chef New York opening scenes-one or two chefs are shown engaging in some sort of morning ritual (Dr. Chase working out, in this case) and then we’re given another shot of Ariane attempting to convince herself that things will get better. So far, I’ve assumed that the producers are pulling their usual editing tricks to constantly make us believe that Ariane will be going home at the end of the episode. They’ve fooled me every time!

Things quickly became emotional as Alex read a letter from Richard. Everyone cried. Team Rainbow is dead. Well, with the exception of Jamie and her rainbow bracelet and her arrogant profession that she is the strongest one of Team Rainbow. We shall see.

It was tough to decide what quote I would use as a heading for this post. Melissa said so many crazy things. I think it’s not at all impossible that she spends her down time at the house rolling joints and trying to figure out where she’ll next be able to show off those crazy Elaine-like dance moves. Case in point-as the chefs headed out for the quickfire challenge, you could hear Melissa say “Let’s roll like a doughnut down the hill.” Am I right?

The chefs were greeted in the kitchen by Padma and Rocco di Spirito. Now, Rocco has faced some opposition in the culinary world, but he continues to show up as a judge on the show, and all the chefs fawn over him and he usually takes every possible opportunity to spout off little criticisms in the hopes that his fifteen minutes of fame might be extended. Fabio immediately points out that Rocco is not really Italian. It’s hilarious to hear that declaration coming from him. Rocco mistakenly refers to Padma as Podma, and the two of them tell the chefs that they will be creating a breakfast amuse-bouche. Podma (sorry, Padma) makes it very clear to the chefs that an amuse-bouche (literally translated: amuse the mouth) is an “elegant mouthful”, one bite! Not a sprawling plateful! One bite! Can you tell that chefs of the past have had problems with this concept?

Rocco gives the chefs a huge advantage by actually telling them what he loves: bacon. Seriously, if you want to do well in this show, USE BACON. BACON IS THE KEY!

I’m wasn’t sure what to think as the chefs go about crafting their itsy bites. Jamie is not a breakfast person. Apparently she grew up eating Chef Boyardee for breakfast. Daniel surpasses Jamie in weirdness-he used to have his bowl o’ corn flakes accompanied with zucchini flowers. Dr. Chase admits he is “thinking too much”, and decides to make several components for his dish. Dude, LEARN YOUR LESSON. Stefan uses a nifty eggshell slicing tool and creates huevos rancheros, served inside of the egg. Too many people make French toast for my taste.

In the end, Rocco is torn between Leah and Jamie. Jamie’s breakfast actually sounded better-a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with balsamic syrup and fresh basil. However, it was two bites. That is an important distinction. Leah’s bacon, quail egg, and cheese sandwich was a perfectly-sized amuse-bouche. And she certainly wasn’t afraid to point that out. I have to admit, while her comment was slightly catty, I have to give her credit for defending her dish. They aren’t there, after all, to make friends. Jamie’s dish was clearly not a true amuse-bouche (I don’t care what Rocco says), and Leah deserved to win the challenge. While I certainly admire Jamie’s talent, she has shown an edgy, defensive side of her nature over the past two episodes that leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Leah has a bit more humility, and I like her. So does Rocco-he pronounced her the winner of the challenge and presented her with a copy of his newest cookbook.

For the elimination challenge, we were treated to a speech by Padma about how important it is to “raise your profile” because the more people know you, the more they’ll come to your restaurant. The best way to do this, obviously, is to appear on the Today Show and give a 2 ½ minute presentation teaching a possibly inexperienced home cook how to make something. This is definitely going to be a challenge. Especially for Fabio-he knows how hard it will be to explain a dish in perfect English. Plus, Carla probably told him that “They will cut you,” if he does a bad job.

For this edition of shopping at Whole Foods, we were treated to a tuna-slicing competition between Hosea, Eugene, and Fabio. They all decided that they should slice their own tuna, behind the counter. I was worried about Eugene deciding to do sushi for a demo, but it is his specialty. Cooking what you cook best is usually a good bet.

Lots of juicy tidbits during the prep time! Jamie is apparently a television star, having performed a demo cooking lesson on live television before. I’m beginning to think she might have been slightly over-qualified for this kind of reality show, although hearing her worries about cooking her duck egg in the allotted time was at least a medium-sized red flag. Huge alarm bells went off as Alex’s sureproof plan to make a rose-infused crème brulee began to crumble. I was worried as I watched Ariane chop up a HUGE watermelon, but Tom seemed pleased with her, giving the camera a winning smile. Dr. Chase wasn’t worried about his Middle Eastern dish, because he has done a fair amount of television-we know, on House!

The chefs all performed the demo in the Top Chef kitchen with Tom, Padma, Gail, and Rocco. Several weren’t able to complete them in the given time. A few were terrified. Jamie’s egg was not cooked. Daniel smoked up the whole studio. Carla had a “nervous energy.” Melissa’s mountains of habanero peppers completely turned off the judges. Seriously, you need to use gloves when you handle them. What was she thinking? As we could easily have predicted, Alex’s crème brulee failed miserably.

On the winning side, Fabio was a huge success, a “dream guest” for a talk show. Ariane gave a perfect presentation, and Dr. Chase’s shrimp rolls were delicious. Thus, these were the three that were woken up, by Tom, at not even the crack of dawn to head over to 30 Rock where they would hopefully run into Jack Donaghy on their way to the Today Show. The hosts of the show would be tasting the dishes and choosing a favorite on live television. Of course, Bravo woke up the rest of the chefs and dragged them into the living room to watch the show together, awaiting the results.

I wanted to yell at Dr. Chase for saying the Today Show hosts have unsophisticated palates, but it is probably true, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit bad for him when Kathie Lee Gifford rudely spit his food out. It was bad, really bad. Ariane’s clean, fresh salad impressed the ladies, and she managed to pull out a win.

Judge’s table was intense. The bottom three, Alex, Melissa, and Jamie, trooped in to face the music. I noticed they were all wearing capris-is that a chef thing? Tom didn’t appreciate Alex’s defense, the ol’ “no one else was going to make a dessert so I thought I’d try it” thing, telling him that “The point of this competition is to win.” Melissa was a disaster, spouting off lines fed to her by Leah and saying that she loves spicy food. Rocco hates Jamie, and habeneros. He seems frightened by both. Despite his insistence that undercooked egg is a major problem, Alex was sent home.

Now that we’re getting a feel for the chefs and their personalities, the season is improving. I haven’t ever seen such obvious division among groups of chefs before, however, so I have a feeling there will be some fireworks. There is also love, or at least “sexual chemistry”, between Hosea and Leah.

Next week I’ll be writing my recap from the comfort of my own home! No more scrambling to watch the episode and seeking out various wireless hotspots…I can’t wait! I included a photo of Ariane’s winning dish, because it did look delicious and I would order it if I ever happened upon her restaurant in New Jersey. It was a Jersey beefsteak tomato salad with watermelon and feta cheese.

"I hate, hate, hate white asparagus."

December 1, 2008

My recap this week is shamefully late, as I well know. Yes, I can imagine my 4 or so loyal readers have been fraught with anxiety, wondering when they were going to hear of the latest goings-on in Bravo’s culinary world. I must use the holiday weekend as my excuse-I just didn’t feel it was the proper time to be blogging, when there is so little time usually to be spent with my family.

I was excited about this episode, even though I haven’t listened to much of the “Foos”, as everyone on the show kept referring to the band. Is that really what the hardcore fans call them, by the way? I just always enjoy celebrity guests-seeing normal, non-celebrity reactions to famous people is usually quite entertaining.

For the quickfire challenge, the chefs learned that the guest judge of the week would be Grant Achatz, yet another “superstar of the culinary world.” Grant’s specialty is apparently molecular gastronomy. I’m not quite clear why a molecular gastronomist is usually selected every season to be a guest judge-it’s not as though the chefs are ever expected to make foams. Marcel and Richard erroneously believed it would get them ahead. Another thing I’m curious about is how the cheftestants always seem to know every obscure guest judge. I mean, it would be ridiculous for them to be unaware of the big shots, like Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Bouloud, or even Ming Tsai. But are people like Grant Achatz and Maria Frumkin (Season 3) really that commonly spoken of in chef’s social circles?

On to the challenge-the chefs were told to draw knives, which is always slightly terrifying in a quickfire. One never knows what that might mean, and I myself was a little nervous when I saw that each knife was plastered with a number. Would the chefs have to use 125 ingredients? Would they have to design a meal in the shape of 63?

As it turns out, the numbers corresponded to pages in the Top Chef Cookbook-each chef would have 1 hour to put their own spin on a recipe created by a previous contestant. The chefs were remarkably calm about this, although I was having nightmares of Sam’s (Season 2) sweetbreads and Hung’s geoduck. The inevitable twist? Padma cheerfully announced, a mere fifteen minutes into the challenge, that she and Grant were “in the mood for soup.” The chefs would have to use the recipes and ingredients to create a soup. Leah, whose dish was a tuna tartare, was panicked, and I shared her feelings. Tartare, by definition, is raw. How could she pull this off? Jamie was blissfully confident, sure that the deconstructed falafel recipe the drew would easily translate into a soup. Richard rightfully panicked that he neglected the “acid”, in the form of lime juice, in his disgusting looking black bean soup. In the end, Leah scored a big win. Padma and Grant really liked her soup, and she was complimented on her ability to use that loathed ingredient, white asparagus. Now I am left to wonder what white asparagus tastes like-how can it be so different from the traditional and delectable green? I would have had to dip my spoon into Jamie’s chickpea soup with crispy shallots and pickled chiles, although she is revealing a mean edge this week, stating that the “world revolves around Stefan” and giving Daniel a hard time later in the episode.

The chefs then learned, much to their delight and shock, that they would be preparing (in the middle of the summer) Thanksgiving dinner for the Foo Fighters and their 60+, vegan and vegetarian-speckled entourage. They all seemed thrilled. Interestingly, as an additional bonus for winning the quickfire, Leah was able to select the chefs for her team, setting up a painfully obvious “have” and “have-nots”, “popular kids vs. social outcasts” dynamic. Her team was comprised of Hosea, Jamie, Stefan, Melissa, Fabio, and Radhika, who, with the exception of Melissa, have proved their exceptional prowess in the kitchen thus far in the season. This winning team dubbed themselves Team Sexy Pants upon arriving at the grocery story-who knows where that ridiculous moniker came from- while the “last picked in the schoolyard” team decided to honor Ariane by calling themselves Team Cougar.

Right away we were treated to a slew of potential problems with Team Sexy Pants, which should have been a huge indication that everything that the eventually made would turn out perfectly. They did not handle the news that they’d be cooking with microwaves and toaster ovens well at all, while over at Team Cougar Eugene devised his own homemade grill. They panicked over having to use only one burner, while Dr. Chase determined that organizing the dishes was the best plan. Leah looked on sternly as her team argued, while Ariane assured the camera that her catering experience would make the turkey a sure hit. It looked like Team Cougar might have it in the bag.

Alas, it all comes down to the food, so both teams anxiously awaited their judges. This was the most hilarious/enjoyable part of the episode, for we were treated to a fabulous, VERY Hollywood slow-mo entrance of Tom and Dave Grohl. If I had been at home with the comfort of my trusty DVR, I would have definitely rewound it several times. Hilarious. The judges would pile up the requisite turkey, sides, and desserts and then proclaim a favorite team, who would, incidentally, attend the concert which took place that evening. The losing team? They would clean up Thanksgiving dinner, all while hearing the revelry going on above them. Definitely a cruel move by the producers.

Unfortunately, dessert decided the winner. It didn’t matter that Ariane finally scored with a moist, delicious turkey, or that Eugene made a delicious maple-smoked pork loin (homemade grill, remember?). Dr. Chase and Richard absolutely choked on dessert, while Fabio’s pumpkin tiramisu, while potentially rain-spattered (“It start to rain on my tiramisu!”) was a big favorite, and Hosea’s fruit crumble got a huge thumbs-up.

This is when I got irritated with the show. It shouldn’t come down to dessert, particularly in a Thanksgiving challenge. I’m not saying that lackluster or even bad desserts shouldn’t affect a team, because the chefs absolutely need to be able to make a decent dessert. It just seems shameful for that to be what the final decision is based on. I guess I’m a bit of a softie, but I felt bad for Ariane, after finally making a good meal, and I was more than a little upset that Eugene wasn’t recognized for his ingenuity. Team Cougar was a team of misfits and underdogs, but that’s exactly why I was hoping they would pull out a win, and the wicked producers edited the episode in such a way as to let the viewers think they had a chance. The absolute worst part of it all was that Team Sexy Pants were the furthest thing from gracious-they trooped into the deliberation room full of enthusiasm from the concert, and Jamie immediately started trading barbs with disgraced-potatoes Daniel. I think it’s possible that Melissa was a tad inebriated or possibly high, based on what we saw of her crazy dancing at the concert, so I might give her a pass for her insensitive behavior.

Of course, Dr. Chase was smacked face down on the proverbial chopping block, which we could have all predicted considering he made a critical Top Chef error-taking on too many dishes. I was desperately fearful that he’d be eliminated, not because he’s a favorite of mine, but because he really had tried so hard throughout the episode to make things go well for his team. Thankfully, the judges recognized that, and Richard was sent home for bad s’mores with a vanilla cream that looked like “spit.” It was a truly sad moment-he’d tried out three times for Top Chef, and it’s just such a bad way to go. His tears tugged at my heart strings! I’m really hoping we can stay away from dessert eliminations after this.

I’ve got a busy week coming up, and I’m a little worried I’ll miss Wednesday’s episode-what a terrible thought! I’ll just have to purchase it on I-Tunes if that’s the case.

It doesn’t matter how many dragon you kill, it’s who take home the princess.

November 20, 2008

Well, the second episode of Top Chef was certainly a tremendous departure from the first, at least as far as the food was concerned. In episode 1, there was nary a dish (besides Ariane’s poorly cooked farro risotto) that inspired a negative reaction from Tom and the judges. Apparently, it’s one step forward, approximately 25 steps back, because the dishes this week were almost across the board either unimaginative, boring, or plain awful. But that’s mostly in the elimination challenge, so let’s get back to the beginning of the episode.

Nothing extraordinary occurred in the house after Patrick’s departure, other than Ariane feeling emotionally depleted from her trip to the judge’s table, Stefan and Fabio each determining that the other is their greatest competition, and the viewers being treated to a gratuitous shot of Dr. Chase’s chest. By the way, I would like to mention that I have an inherent distrust of any rail-thin or exceptionally toned chef. There’s just something not right about that. It’s one of the reasons (besides her strangely large head and penchant for selectively using an Italian accent in an annoying fashion) that I can’t quite warm up to Giada DeLaurentiis.

The quickfire was much more successful than the elimination in this challenge. Padma and guest judge Donatella Arpaia (David Burke and Donatella fame) informed the chefs that they would be working to produce an original take on a classic New York dish, which (I found this shocking) New Yorkers spend over 100 million dollars on each year. I was not at all surprised to see Angelina D’Angelo rolling in a hot dog cart, straight from Queens. The chefs seemed a mixture of panic and pleasure. Melissa reeled from her assumption that a real classic New York dish is cheesecake- oh dear Melissa, you have so much to learn. Fabio loves hot dog, but determined you “cannot beat American hot dog playing his own game.” Daniel was unfazed, because he is from Long Island, and he has his “New York flavorings” to help him beat the hot dog lady “of all times.” Ariane worried, as expected, because she has not made a hot dog since charcuterie class in 1989. I’m beginning to lose respect for culinary school-surely they don’t actually have courses where hot dog preparation is a part of training?

As for the final products, I thought that many of them looked delicious. Radhika, the eventual winner (who is still not doing much to break through the Indian barrier) made a most delicious looking lamb/pork/beef dog, kebab-style, with caramelized onions, cucumber, and tomato jam. Hosea’s squatty dogs, which looked terrible, nonetheless tasted great. How could they not have tasted great? They were comprised of pork, roasted poblanos, jalepenos, a bit of red wine vinegar, and most crucial of all ingredients, smoked bacon! My mouth is watering as I write! Interestingly, Stefan and Fabio both went for a “panini dog”, though Stefan’s global dog, a horrific-sounding mixture of Wisconsin cheddar and Irish tartar sauce (what IS Irish tartar sauce, anyway?) did not please Donatella, while she enjoyed the Mediterranean flavors of Fabio’s dog. Radhika, Fabio, and Hosea ended up on top, while Jill and Stefan were stuck firmly in the bottom. Jill made the fatal error of not making her own sausage, which does not spell a good future for her in the competition. Not making your own sausage on Top Chef usually leaves you plummeting in the judge’s estimation, but actually using a hot dog instead? Her dish looked like a disaster, and probably tasted worse.

The chefs then learned of the elimination challenge: they would be required to create a dish for a three-course New American lunch, which they would be serving to 50 New York chefs in Tom’s restaurant, Craft. The twist? The 50 guest judges of sorts were all Top Chef applicant rejects. Immediately, Crazy Carla is concerned. Mean judges, plus she also has to learn a “new kitchen”, just when she was getting used to the first new kitchen. How did Carla make it onto this show? Just because of her craziness?

Speaking of crazy, I have never seen bedlam ensue on the show like it did as soon as Padma announced the challenge. The chefs immediately began screaming out the courses they wanted. I believe I heard “I’ll do dessert!” and “I want dessert!” several times, which I found alarming. Everyone knows that chefs do not actually specialize in desserts. On this show, if we’re lucky, each chef has one or maybe two decent dessert recipes up their sleeve, and none of them are relishing the idea of actually having to use those recipes. Although Dr. Chase had to step aside to calm his own panic, he eventually rallied the forces, and 5 chefs each were assigned to appetizer, entree, and dessert.

Warning signs abounded as the chefs prowled the aisles of Whole Foods. Jill lit upon a ginormous ostrich egg and determined that she would make an ostrich egg quiche, thus scoring points for using an unusual product. I had to agree with Jamie, who felt Jill was “playing it ridiculous.” Plus, quiches never go over well on this show. Absolutely never. It’s not really the kind of dish that does well with advance preparation.

Hosea made the mistake of purchasing canned crab meat. He felt confident in his dish (always another red flag), so he was willing to go without fresh Dungeness crab. Major faux pas-not only was the flavor from the tin evident in the final product, it just didn’t taste (or look) that great. Ariane decided to make a lemon meringue martini dessert. What is a lemon meringue martini, by the way? It looked dreadful, and sent her straight, and deservedly, to the judge’s table.

As for the rest of the dishes, they simply weren’t spectacular. Eugene’s dish had something freakishly yellow, Alex’s pork looked undercooked, Leah’s presentation was so “80’s” and Radhika used an avocado with dessert. Padma actually spit out Ariane’s overly sweet lemon meringue. One can only wonder if the sweetness of the dish was due to Richard’s snarky unwillingness to tell Ariane that it was too sweet. I couldn’t blame the guest judges for not loving any of the dishes, though I was highly annoyed by the footage of the chef who uses neither animal fat nor butter. Seriously? This is why you didn’t get to be on Top Chef. I’m just saying…

Only Fabio’s really and truly stood out to the judges, and that was mostly because of his strange chemical treatment of the olives (hard to understand with his accent), where he caused them to be liquid on the inside and frozen on the outside. Dr. Chase’s chicken and chorizo actually looked delicious, but the judges weren’t wowed by it. I shouldn’t forget Jamie, who made a chilled corn soup and did manage, along with Carla and Fabio to have a top three dish. I’ll go ahead and reiterate that I think Jamie is going to go far. There is a sophistication and professionalism to her cooking and presentation that is unique and interesting. Of all the chefs, she is the only one that really seemed to understand the New American concept.

In the end, it was Jill that was sent crying to her bag o’ knives. She gave the “lamest explanation” the judges had ever heard, according to Gail, on five seasons of the show, for why her dish wasn’t good. In fact, her inability to speak about her dish and what she would do to change it is the only reason that Ariane wasn’t the one to go. Not to be cruel, but Ariane is actually absolutely right in her self-assessment-she doesn’t deserve to be there. Thankfully, we know that Jill has plenty of cookin’ years ahead of her. I won’t be at all surprised to see Ariane back at judge’s table next week.

The accent has continued to work its charm on me…I think Fabio might be my favorite. I wouldn’t mind hearing the dragon story a few more times.

Overcooking your protein is unforgiveable.

November 14, 2008


Not long ago, when I decided that my blog would no longer be devoted to only two pursuits, my love of literature and my passion for cooking, I thought that perhaps what I might also enjoy writing are recaps for my fave reality show, Top Chef. I do have to confess to enjoying reality television-I mostly like the classics, Survivor and Amazing Race, though I often descend into the madness that is the Bachelor. I was only recently introduced to Top Chef, and I was immediately addicted. The contestants are all professionals, in some capacity, so it’s not as though the average home cook could even fathom participating, but watching those crazy chefs is equally inspiring, motivating, and horrifying. I think that recaps are a fairly young development in the television world-I suppose we’re all watching more television than ever. I’ve grown extremely attached to the recaps of a few Entertainment Weekly columnists, Dalton Ross and Josh Wolk, and one of my favorite blogs, ihategreenbeans.com, is full of the most hilarious and deftly comedic recaps (of the Bachelor) I’ve ever read, courtesy of blogger Lincee Ray. My recaps cannot aspire to the work of these fine writers, but I know I’ll enjoy reliving the Top Chef episodes.

I am disappointed to acknowledge that this batch of chefs does not include one that I immediately felt an attachment to-every season I’ve watched so far has had stand outs, right from the beginning. Crazies and snobs? Quirky and clueless? Yes, most definitely. I’m just not feeling a Tre or a Stephanie or a Harold among them. We have two international chefs, Stefan and Fabio (yes, a Fabio) who, incidentally, seem to be the most arrogant of the group. Arrogance runs rampant throughout the chefs on this show, and there is always one that the cameras seem to focus on the most. What’s interesting here is that almost inevitably, one of the most arrogant chefs is actually able to back it up with great food. Stefan seems to be that example this season.

I was filled with joy to see Padma and Tom awaiting the chefs on Governor’s Island. It’s just been so long! We were barely able to glance at the buckets full of apples before being slammed with a proverbial reality show twist-the loser of the Quickfire would be sent home immediately, without ever even stepping foot into the Top Chef kitchen! Heavens! The nervous, weirdly sunburned chefs stepped up, however, preparing to peel 15 apples, sans peeler. Well, they had a paring knife, but apparently, peelers are readily dispensed in culinary school, so many of the chefs felt “out of practice” with the knife. Stefan blazed through his apples, thus winning individual immunity.

Now, I should stop for a brief minute to share my initial, often wary, impressions of some of our contestants, or “cheftestants”, as the Entertainment Weekly columnist likes to call them. We have Lauren, doomed from the start, stating that she doesn’t want to “waste her life away” while her husband is stationed in Iraq. Seems a bit heartless. Then Radhika, the “global small plates” chef, who immediately states that just because of her Indian heritage, everyone will assume she will just make “spicy curries and rice.” That’s fine Radhika, but don’t expect anyone to take you seriously when your VERY FIRST DISH is a chutney. I’m not hating on Radhika, as she may turn out to be lovely. Just a bit weird to bash a stereotype and then actually make it true! I can’t forget Crazy Carla, who later in the episode informs us that she is led by “spirit guides” to her dishes, because she made the cardinal sin of comparing catering to working as a restaurant chef. If I’ve learned anything from watching every season of Top Chef, it’s that caterers, personal chefs, and anyone else who hasn’t actually experienced the pressure cooker that is a restaurant will never win the final prize. Sorry, Carla.

Ok, let’s get back to the quickfire. Despite the fact that one batch of apples were doused in Richard’s blood, from an untimely cut, every batch was deftly peeled in a timely fashion except for those of Radhika, Lauren, Patrick, and Leah. Well, there were a few more who had to partake in Round 2 of the quickfire, which was to “brunoise” the 15 apples. I’ve learned a new culinary term! To “brunoise” is to finely dice. The losing four had to prepare a dish with apples, with only 20 minutes to spare. I immediately doubted Radhika (see above complaint) and Leah, who decided to use scallops. Somehow scallops and apples just don’t seem to be the most appropriate combination, but then again, I wasn’t there to taste it! Patrick and Lauren both made a salad, and both ended up on the bottom. I guessed correctly that Lauren, who made a delicious-looking but decidedly ordinary and classic spinach salad with balsamic dressing, blue cheese, and bacon, would be the one who departed without feasting on the sight of piles of Gladware and Whole Foods products in the Top Chef kitchen.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs drew from the knife block, each selecting the name of a New York neighborhood. I am proud to say that I knew several of the associated cuisines-I would not have been stumped to draw the Brighton Beach knife! Ha! Borscht and caviar! The challenge was similar to the last season, when two chefs went head to head on a popular classic dish (like shrimp scampi or crab cakes). This time, two chefs would face off, preparing an ethnic dish based on the neighborhood they drew.

Problems rose a collective ugly head almost immediately as we saw the chefs depart for the neighborhoods. Dr. Chase, er, I mean Jeff, raced about the market in Ozone Park, totally confident of his ability to cook Latin food because he’s from Miami. Hey, Dr. Chase, have you met Radhika? Self-proclaimed “country mouse” Melissa admitted that she has little experience with Italian food. Seriously?? This is Top Chef-how could any of them not have a basic go-to dish representative of every major cuisine? At the very least, I would think that go-to list would include Italian, Japanese, Indian, and some sort of Latin dish. Good lord! Ariane wandered around the Middle Eastern grocery in Long Island City attempting to read the labels, looking forlorn and piteous all the while. Ariane, pull yourself together! I felt a teensy bit suspicious of Patrick’s demise when I heard him confidently share that he really knew Chinese food, because at the Culinary School of America they have a “Cuisines of the East” course. Sheesh, Patrick, “Cuisines of the East” will certainly not get you through even one episode of this show. It’s serious stuff! Also, it is NEVER a good idea to decide, on your first elimination challenge, to cook something that you’ve never worked with before.

By the way, as I’m watching the show a second time to add to my notes, I’m gradually growing fond of Fabio. Something about the accent, I think.

As far as the actual challenge went, nothing monumentally shocking occurred during the cooking, except Dr. Chase crying as he chopped onions. I erroneously believed you develop an immunity to that kind of problem the more you cook.

I should mention that the chefs had the extremely stressful misfortune (and/or honor) of having freakin’ Jean-Georges Vongerichten as the guest judge. Of all the judges! If Patrick wasn’t doomed before…

The highlights of the judging were with the unassuming Hosea and eager yet self-conscious Eugene. Padma stated that Hosea’s dish was an example of “culinary eloquence” and Tom seemed equally taken with the mild-mannered, sheepish bald guy. I’m going to have to start calling him “Humble Hosea.” Maybe he’ll be my favorite. Eugene was worried when he drew “Little India” (is that really a neighborhood name? what about Curry Hill?) because he has no experience cooking Indian food (see my note about Melissa). However, he proved to be a perfect example of “cooking by mouth”, my spin on “playing by ear”, cooking what Padma called a perfect “curds and rice”, a classic Indian dish, even though he mistakenly referred to it as a tzatziki. I actually really liked that Tom, Padma and Jean-Georges weren’t too bothered by that mistake-proves they really loved the food. As far as what dish sounded the best to me, I would have to go with Jill’s jerk seasoned scallops with plaintain fritters and three sauces. The winning dish, Stefan’s lamb chop with tabouli and beef skewer with onions also sounded very good, and I can’t deny that I would probably have happily devoured Richard’s lamb slider with dill, feta, and orzo salad, even though the judges felt it was overcooked.

In the end, Patrick fell victim to his own inexperience. While Ariane made an elementary cooking error (and, horror of horrors, admitted a reliance on cookbooks!), Patrick revealed, with his first elimination dish, that he has a lot to learn. He is simply not on par with a host of professional chefs. Bless his heart.

Hopefully, the second episode will show us the more favorable, lovable sides of the chefs…I want to have a favorite!

Quickfire Winner: Stefan
Elimination Winner: Stefan
My Top Four Predictions: Hosea, Jamie, Stefan, Fabio

Check out the subway tile-style Top Chef logo on the wall!