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Top Chef Episode 6 – oh oh oh it’s magic…ya know

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Oh my – it’s mime solidarity day. What, no “man in a box” routines?

Well, turns out that some of our chefs are whiney little bastards – I’m talking to YOU, Mike. Despite the fact that Mattin was one of the weakest contestants and didn’t really have much of a clue as to how to respond to challenges (this is coming up later in this episode as well), suddenly he’s portrayed as stronger as he really was. And, of course, it’s dump on Robin time as well. Well kids, have you not seen the show before? This is the part of the season where the shakeout happens. It doesn’t always happen linearly, ya know. And Mike, let’s face it, you’ve only shown a couple of glimpses of greatness yourself. So, quit yer whining and hope that you’re not going in the next episode or two, because, of the remaining chefs, you’re sort of toward the bottom, along with Ron, Laurine and Ash. You do talk a good game though.

Ahhh Michelle Bernstein. Love me some Bernstein. Apparently, so do the cheftestants. One thing though – Bernstein with mane of curly hair = sexy. Bernstein with straight hair = not so much.

Another devil/angel “temptation” sort of theme going here. Guess we should just get used to it. Surely, they’re going to trot out another 7 deadly sins challenge soon.

Ahhhh, a scallop-centric challenge. Lots of “buttery scallops” vs lean scallops sort of things. At least this bunch can cook the damn things. Ron, as usual, just doesn’t really grasp the concept. I’m thinking it’s a cultural/language thing. Bryan’s dish looked like a designer’s mockup of the lobby of a poorly-designed modern art museum. Ash – custard? Really? In 45 minutes? Why not just cook a whole pig?

And Robin – how dare she use cancer in the challenge? Well, that’s the expression we get from Mike, who wishes that he could have had been raped by his priest at an early age so that he could “represent”. And, guess what? She finally executes! And wins! Pan to sour faces and grumpypants. Oh no, Eli…oh no you dint. You dint just whine about cancer…boy talk about yer sour grapes. She couldn’t have possibly won because she hit the challenge spirit on the head *and* played to the tastes of the judge. Nah, she couldn’t have executed a single good dish because none of the rest of you freakish chefs don’t think that she’s in your league. Nah, that couldn’t happen. It was the cancer sympathy card that she played. That’s because Bernstein is a moron.  Riiiiiight.

Let’s welcome the bad boys of comedy – Penn and Teller. They do their venerable “deconstruct the cups and balls trick” using clear plastic cups (apparently their “vanish a zucchini and pull it out of  Padma’s butt routine” was vetoed by the producers, probably over Padma’s objections). Aha. We’re going to deconstruct some dishes. The Voltaggios get a collective hard-on, Ron seems puzzled, Jen is annoyed, Robin just doesn’t give a shit because she’s staying, Laurine is still pissed because, once again, she’s been on the bottom, Eli is the first cheftestant to use duct tape for his dish, Ashley pulls a corollary of the cancer thing – “Oh, we were soooo poor, we couldn’t eat pot roast…we had to eat snails and grubs growing up”, Mike doesn’t seem to have a clue about eggs Florentine, and Ash also loses the plot on shepherd’s pie. Ash’s problem  becomes crystallized by Tom’s upraised eyebrows when Ash tells him that he’s going to do a potato puree. What’s the problem? Well, the mashed potatoes on a shepherd’s pie is browned on top, creating a soft crust and the rest of the potatoes is the consistency of normal mashed potatoes. A puree just wouldn’t cut it – if he had done a mashed potato “cake” – potatoes spooned into a ring and then browned under a broiler – he would have had a better chance – plus, doing lamb chops instead of minced, chopped or cubed lamb just went too far afield.

Ron draws the worst assignment. Deconstructing a paella seems rough. And, could rice be the downfall of yet another cheftestant? Frankly, I’m at a loss as to how to deconstruct something like paella. Maybe do a thin crispy rice cake topped with a mound of cooked rice with some peas, then mince the various fish components into a “fish hash” sort of thing that sits next to the rice thing? I dunno. And yet, not understanding the concept of deconstruction, he seems to think that it plays to his strength. Big mistake.

Jennifer, be careful. You’re showing signs of humanity, in between pulling stern faces, that is. At this point in the competition, you’re the favorite. As your mama might say, “You should smile more, girl”. 

Padma –  “I’ve actually had bull testicles”. Penn – “I’ll bet you have”. Oh, SNAP! Even Tom can’t help himself.

Toby Young’s looks at the fish and chips and shepherd’s pie are priceless. Skepticism coupled with disgust.

Judges eat, judges make judgmental comments, Teller vanishes a piece of food. Move along folks, nothing to see here. EXCEPT – a Bernstein smackdown of Toby Young coupled with the stare of death. You go girl – you can’t keep that Latin temperament at bay for long.

The 4 strongest dishes make it to judges table. Kevin redeems himself with a perfectly deconstructed mole negra. Of course, that was probably the easiest thing to deconstruct, but he did it with verve and panache.

Predicatably, Ash, Laurine and Ron are summoned to the chopping block. And, as I’ve previously predicted, Ron’s time is up.

I’m assuming that we’re going to see Restaurant Wars next week (remember, I don’t watch the previews). In most cases, you don’t want to be the head chef because it’s a position fraught with danger. However, I think that whichever teams gets Jen should have her running their kitchen and I think that she should volunteer for it, because she’s a stern taskmaster (and I think that if this happens, her team will win the challenge).

Ron, please pack your patois and go.

Ron

Top Chef – Episode 3

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Questions, answers and comments…and the call of the Wild Blue Yonder.

Of all of the season’s opening montages, this crew comes off as the most comatose. No crazy dancing, no weird hand gestures, no Martin Sheenesque Jed Bartlet coat flipping – only barely perceptible things like slightly creepy beard stroking, knife gazing  (combined with navel gazing, this could be catastrophic and quite seppuku), and game faces (never thought I’d wish for Spike or Andrew).  I guess the elves want to signify that this is ONE SERIOUS GROUP OF CHEFS. Shame that the cameras and the stress turn even serious Cheftestants into quivering masses of idiocy sometimes.

Jesse – “I love potatoes”. Oh reaaaaalyyyy?

Speaking of Jesse, those mouse  ben wa balls she has in her lips are really driving me nuts. Sometimes they’re lined up right and sometimes it looks like they were stapled by someone in a turbulent aircraft.

Oh dear – the teaming up was painful. Shades of playground kids choosing teams with the last kids picked looking like someone had stolen their puppy.

Why is the French mime talking? Can’t we at least get a walking against the wind thing?

I’ve never understood the “12 minutes and 32 seconds” type call-out thing during quickfires. I almost expect them to go “31, 30, 29, 28…”

The Aryan ice queen wins the QF.  The “I win” self-satisfied comment makes me think of Poland and Czechoslovakia for some reason. Just a bit of warning – watch out for the second front.

And speaking of Jennifer, did anyone else think that she should have been running that kitchen in a black latex catsuit, nine-inch stiletto heels and a Bettie Page wig with a black mask and a cat-o-nine tails?

Tri-color farfalle pasta -gee. why not just do red, white and green chipped nachos?

Hey, an A-10 “Warthog” tank killer! Shame we couldn’t have braised warthog. I guess pork shoulder will suffice.

“Eli’s comin’ hide your heart girl” – where’s the late Laura Nyro when you need her? I guess we’ll have to settle for Three Dog Night. 

Hey, I never got to peel Peruvian purple potatoes when I had KP duty at Ft. Benning in basic training.

Once again, shrimp almost proves someone’s downfall.  I’m still waiting for the rice catastrophe.

Frenchy said “Franco-American”…heh-heh-heh

Bryan would make a great ventriloquist, since he’s always talking as if he’s had his jaws wired shut.

Thought balloon above Ash when Col. Fantastic strides in – “I just LOVE a man in a uniform”.

Preethi – you didn’t just say that you became a chef because of 9-11… oh…you did.

Ash- “I want these people to have a little taste of America before they go”. I’ll bet you do.

Two words – “jet garage”.

Preethi – please take your androgyny  and go.

Preethi

Top Chef Episode 2

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Well class, what have we learned?

The “hot” ice queen chef will disrobe just for you.

Crap…I mean craps, it’s what’s for dinner.

Bravo missed an opportunity by choosing a real bachelor/bachelorette party instead of doing a bachelor/bachelor or bachelorette/bachelorette celebration, although it did give the chance to pummel the viewer with the outrage that gays feel in being excluded from the sanctity of marriage (an outrage that I share, BTW).

Both gays and straights had philosophical problems for different reasons with the elimination challenge. Not surprisingly, it was on the female side. Dudes just don’t care, even the gay ones.

What is it with scallops this season? Isn’t this the most accomplished group of food savants this side of Paris? First of all, scallops is what I would consider a “safe” dish, perhaps too safe to make a real impression on the judges, although I’ll have to say that judges always seem to go ga ga when a scallop is “perfectly cooked”. Damn, how hard is it to pan sear a scallop? Unless you’re distracted by shiny objects, it’s a breeze. Maybe all of the stainless steel is distracting our cheftestants.

The gay guy gets care of the orchids. He admits that gays grow better flowers than straights, but half-heartedly grumbles that he’s getting the fuzzy end of the stereotype lollipop. I’m straight and I’ve grown orchids pretty well in the past, so there! Besides – phalaenopsis – Easiest. Orchid. Ever. 

Brother on brother action. But not the type that you’d expect from Bravo.

Shame that nobody threw snake eyes. It would have been fun to see how someone would have dealt with that. Me? I’d probably do some sort of scallop dish. One pan-seared scallop as a base. Then I’d attempt to cut a scallop into a julienne and deep fry it until crunchy and brown. If it didn’t work from a flavor and texture standpoint, I’d discard, but if it did work, I’d nest a little bit of it on top of the scallop. Then I’d poach another scallop in fish sauce and water and slice it on the plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and a little sea salt and cracked pepper. I’d either prop up the slices against the seared scallop tee-pee style or lay them flat like playing cards fanned out next to the scallop. It would either fail miserably in terms of flavor but I’d get kudos for the effort or it would have worked perfectly.

Hmmmm, watermelon carpaccio.  It would have been more interesting if she had chosen watermelon seed carpaccio. Imagine shaving a few of those little buggers.

May I introduce to you Tom Collichio, Mafia hit man.

Gail Simmons is wearing my shower curtain for some reason.

Andy Cohen must have some salacious photos of Todd English to pry him away from QVC once a season.

When you marinate raw meat of any kind with any kind of acid, you’re actually chemically cooking it. As Tom points out, fresh tuna shouldn’t be marinated for more than about an hour. If you are marinating a big slab of beef, you’re free to marinate overnight, but not fresh fish that’s intended to be served rare. That’s why you can get away with it with ceviche because the seafood in ceviche is supposed to be “cooked”. Oh, by the way Jennifer, if you don’t stop pronouncing it “ceveech”, I think I’m going to throw a squid at the TV.

Leave the lettuce cups for P. F. Chang’s please.

A chips and guacamole “macaroon”? Inspired. HOWEVER – I’m surprised that Tom didn’t pull the same sort of linguistic “quibble” that he pulled on Casey a couple of seasons back when he blasted her for calling her dish coq au vin. That was no “macaroon”. While a macaroon certainly starts with something similar to a meringue (beaten egg whites), it adds coconut and/or almond paste to make a dense, chewy cookie, which is the exact opposite of his cookie. What it really was was a meringue cookie, which is exactly what he produced – something that was crisp on the outside with a melt-in-your-mouth middle.

If you aren’t an accomplished “pastry or dessert chef”, do dessert only as a last resort. Please. At least don’t admit to it at judge’s table. Your judgment will be questioned.

Eve and her knives are gone. See ya,

Eve

New foodie show worth checking out

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So, yesterday as I was typing my rambling tribute to my chef’s knife, unbeknownst to me, my DVR was recording a show on PBS whose title I found intriguing while breezing through the program guide – Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie. And this morning I got around to watching it. In an amazing bit of syncronicity, there were two segments on Japanese knives and the theme of the show was about an appreciation for the less-than-modern aspects of the culinary world. There was a segment on alambic pot stills in Napa, a bit on “heirloom” locally grown vegetables in Paris, a pottery maker in Italy who still collects his own clay from the mountainsides. And, lo and behold, an actual segment on the mortar and pestle, a subject of one my earliest posts!

As it turns out, it’s not a new show. It’s in its 3rd season. I guess it’s new to this market. My local PBS station seems to be starting with the first season and the episode that I saw was The Hungry Luddite (episode 5). In looking at some of the shows, it looks like a permanent add to my “record every episode” list on my DVR.

The show is produced by the two people who produce No Reservations and has much of the same aesthetic.

So, better late than never, I suppose. Go see this show if it’s in your market. And if it’s not, you can watch it at Gourmet’s dedicated site for it:

http://www.gourmet.com/diaryofafoodie