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The great coc au vin controversy

Several seasons ago, Top Chef contestant, Casey Thompson, was undone by her take on coq au vin during an elimination challenge at The French Institute. Well, she wasn’t undone per se because it didn’t send her and her knives packing, but it cost her a win, even though it was possibly the best dish.

What kept her from being Top  Dog that day?

She called the braised chicken dish coq au vin. The result was coq au vin lite, if you will. Some will say, “How can you expect to cheat a dish that is a national signature dish in front of judges who represent the leading cooking school in the US of that country”?

Well, perhaps we should back up and talk about the dish and the controversy.

What is coq au vin and how in the hell do you pronounce it?

It’s pronounced (roughly) cocoa van. Easy enough. So it means chicken with wine, right?

Well, sorta.

Technically, it’s cock with wine (OK, get your sniggering out of the way). The older the cock the better (OK, get off the floor). It’s a dish that’s thickened with the blood of the cock or some other animal like a duck or goose or even pig, since you usually won’t get enough blood out of a wizened old bird to thicken the sauce by itself.

The key components to the classic version of this dish are rooster, blood and time…three things that are precious commodities or outright unobtainables on Top Chef. I mean, when was the last time that you saw rooster at your local Whole Foods?

Why rooster, you might ask? Why would you even want to bother with an old wrinkly sinewey tough bird in the first place?  Why, it’s the sinew and the “toughness”, silly. Sinew is connective tissues made from collagin and elastin and is dissolved through prolonged exposure to moist heat. Muscles which have been overworked are also tough, but they have enhanced flavor components not present in young, unworked muscles. They too benefit from a long braise and the combination of the melting of the connective tissues and the tenderizing of the muscle meat adds to the rich flavor of coq au vin.

All of this begs the question – why rooster? They don’t have much usable yield and French farmers running household farms weren’t probably awash in roosters. In fact, generally, really small operations usually only have one or a small handful, which get exhausted from all of the “pollinating” after about 3 years. You usually only need one rooster for a dozen or less hens. So, not only can’t you fill a pot with chicken meat from the roosters on hand, it’s a time-consuming dish. My theory is pretty simple – you never threw out anything that could be eaten. You never knew when the next revolution or world war was around the corner.  The rooster had to go eventually, so the French found a way to utilize these tough old birds and, in doing so, they created a classic dish.

This dish is best braised for hours and hours. You use aromatics like celery, onions, garlic, and bouquet garni, utilize lardons (thickly cut bacon),  tomatoes and mushroom (if desired) and serve with a starch like boiled potatoes or pasta (traditionally, the French also serve it with green beans). Thing is, the French realize that you just don’t run into roosters every day unless you’re a farmer or happen to live near one. So, even the French have adapted the dish to modern times.  Larousse Gastronomique even mentions that the dish is often made with regular chickens these days and, in fact, doesn’t even mention roosters in the recipe that it provides. Neither did Julia Child back in the day. Even the guy who decries the homogenization of regional cuisines, Anthony Bourdain doesn’t even mention roosters in his recipe and only adds an addendum at the end of the recipe about “being adventurous” and adding blood instead of using flour as a thickening agent. 

If you search the internet for coq au vin recipes, it’s almost impossible to even find one that has roosters in the recipe and demands blood as a thickening agent.

So, why all of the fuss on Top Chef?

Ironically, most of the agitating about the authenticity of the dish came from Italian heritage’d Tom Collichio. In fact,  IIRC  Sirio Maccioni loved the dish, as did the judges from the school itself. But leave it to Collichio to throw the book at Ms. Thompson because it wasn’t really a coq au vin. C’mon dude. She didn’t try to call a Pop Tart a bruschetta. He spent a lot of time trying to convince other judges that she had fired a torpedo into French cuisine.

So Casey, here’s your redemption, despite your recent ceremonial throwing-under-the-bus of your fellow Top Chef runner-up Carla, which I have to say, showed some cat-like qualities. At least you performed a mea culpa…

I would have offered an “authentic” recipe, but, believe it or not, I couldn’t find one. Not even in any of my “French” cookbooks – not even purist Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. That should tell you that Thompson was probably cheated out of a win, since Collichio’s objection was seemingly what gave competitor Hung the win. It probably didn’t make any difference in the end, but still… 

If you actually want to make the real thing, I would suggest that you take a reasonable-sounding recipe and substitute rooster for chicken. Have your butcher find you some pig’s blood and reserve about a half a cup of it. Make sure that if flour or a roux is used to thicken the sauce, ignore that part of it. Make sure that you slow braise the rooster for a long time over low heat (I’d give it at least 6 hours). As you get to the end of the process, instead of adding thickener, slowly add a little blood and incorporate it, adding just enough to start the thickening process. Add a little more and keep repeating until you get the consistency that you are looking for. If you add the blood too quickly, it will cause the sauce to seize and harden. 

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

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Where are the snarky Top Chef posts?

I know that some of you have been overwhelmed with grief over the screeching halt to my awesomely awesome and semi-acclaimed recaps of this season’s Top Chef episodes. It’s a long and torturous story of benign neglect, natural selection, Mother Nature’s revenge, and a horrible sense of ennui.

Well, basically what happened was we had a huge storm two (now three) episodes ago that overwhelmed my Dish Network satellite dish. I came home to find that nothing had been recorded due to some pretty nasty weather. So I had to wait a few days before it was re-broadcast. I got that recording and started my recap. This was a day or two before the “Restaurant Wars” episode was aired. I got about a third of the way through when I watched last week’s episode and got sort of tied up in that one. Then, stupid me almost reflexively erased the last episode at the end of the show, something I did almost out of habit, as I seem to always be less than 10 hours from being maxed out on my available storage.

In any case, now we have yet ANOTHER episode unaccounted for.

I seem to have lost the plot, as our British friends would say (they might also say that it’s all gone pear shaped, but that’s a different kettle of fruit).

I have the partial recap from three weeks ago, but it’s still up in the air as to whether I’m going to finish it. I have all three episodes saved for review purposes, but I’m not sure that I can recapture the lightning in a bottle of the early recaps. Perhaps I should consult the metaphor judges to see if I’ve exceeded the recommended daily requirement of poorly constructed metaphors.

So, bear with me. If I find a flood of pitchfork-raised posts demanding that I put my two cents worth in, I might be persuaded to do my duty and provide the commentary that you are all lusting for.

Failing that, I might just raise my glass to the finalists.

I can sum up the last episode in one word though – hubris.

Gotta love you some hubris, that’s for sure.

Top Chef Episode 7 – Umami yomami

umami-full

Image courtesy of http://www.umamithefifthtaste.com/

OK, chefs – how bizarre is it that nobody seems to know the definition of umami. “Earthy”? C’mon, Eli (hey, that’s almost a song). “It’s not salty, it’s not spicy, it’s not sweet, it’s not sour – it’s…umami”. Bzzzzt! Sorry Mikey, almost doesn’t cut it. Our judges would have accepted “savory” or even just “yummy”, plus, it’s bitter, not spicy as one of the 5 basic tastes since you’re Greek, not Asian. You lose 500 points. But everyone seems to know that mushrooms are one of the classic umami producers (hence Eli’s apparent conflating earthy with savory – sometimes they happen to intersect if you use fuzzy logic, I suppose).

Tyler Florence is approaching Florentine proportions – hey dude, time to lay off the butter sauces.

Poor Jen is under the weather. Slamming doors, looking baleful, puttin’ on the ole game face in the QF.

Slot machine! Didn’t see that one coming.

Mike Isabella proceeds to list off every type of cuisine that he’s cooked, which is most of the famous cooking styles, adding “I’ve never really cooked Asian food before”. Dude, how do you not have cooked Asian food before? Really? Icelandic I can see. Asian? Not so much. And Kevin, same thing. How does a modern chef not have any experience with Asian?

Ashley used sumac for her Middle Eastern dish! You go girlfriend! Sumac is one of my favorite little-known spices (at least little known by many Americans). Glad to see someone make a culinary connection on the fly.

So Mike, even though he can’t define it, does a good job with his umami, while Eli killed the umami…but let’s not confused that with “He killed”. He didn’t. And Kevin pulls through cooking something that he’s not familiar with (so he says, at least).

So we get the Macy’s Desert Day Parade of Chefs. The chefs, all loving that they got a free trip to Vegas, are holding bags of ingredients for a family style pot luck dinner under the desert sky.

And it turns out that Isabella is even more of a dickwad than he’s previously indicated. Not only does he take charge of a cuisine that he knows nothing about, he sulks and pouts and is just generally creepy. No way is this guy going to go all the way. And the elves are cutting it so that it looks like he and Robin will be on the chopping block (I’m typing this in real time with the help of DVR pause). there are two ways that this could go – Robin could go home because she didn’t stand up to him, or Mike could go home for being a prick. The former is more likely, but equally likely is that he accidentally lets her help enough to save his and his team’s butt. Hell, he didn’t have a clue about any of the ingredients (a bag that would have made me jump up and down for joy – it’s umami heaven!

Enter Tom. “Prawns over gnocchi”? I had the same quizzical expression on my face that he had. Just what I want, take a prawn and scoop some gnocchi with it. Huh?

Oh Mike, did you just hang yourself with Tom? I think he’s got your number. That won’t save Robin if she wilts under his “I can cook and I’ll pull it out” attitude. Of course, the fact that it ‘smells good” is an encouraging sign. Wouldn’t it be choice if they happened to be on top and he chose Robin as the winner because of something that she did? Hee.

“Ever prepped over a glass table before”? I was hoping that Ash would say, “Well, I’ve chopped some coke on one before”. Sadly, that doesn’t happen.

Cooking, cooking, bitching, real estate grabbing, fuses blowing (literally and figuratively), chopping, kvetching.

Turns out that Mike and Robin pulled out the one scenario that I didn’t outline. Middle of the pack.

The winners were obvious, the losers were too. Jennifer wins by some sick cooking (literally). Some nice attributions from fellow cheftestants.

Brother gets testy when discussing his brother’s predicament. Testy is as testy does.

Ash takes the high road, which wins him some style points. Ashley also takes the high road, which doesn’t win her anything at all.

In fact, Ashley gets the axe.

Ashley, take your Mr. Ripley good looks and go.

Ashley

 

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

penn_teller

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 5

chow wagon

Image courtesy of http://serenabartonsblog.blogspot.com/

This episode was hot and dry, sort of the Joanna Lumley of Top Chef episodes.

Disclaimer – I am the proud owner of a Walrus four person tent, a Sierra Designs one person tent,  a 26 year old Gregory internal frame state of the art backback (that set me back almost $200 way back when!), various backpacking stoves, fuel bottles, water bottles, tarps, flashlights and other assorted house-on-your-back stuff. None of which has been deployed for several years.

While it wasn’t exactly Survivor, it was funny to see these folks scrambling around in the desert because, not only is the desert hot in the day, it can get cold at night. I’ve experienced this when I was deployed to Ft. Irwin, California to take part in Army OPFOR exercises (Opposing forces exercises where the “home team” was outfitted as Russian troops). 40 degrees is damned cold when you’ve been working in 100 degree heat all day. We didn’t have cute teepees though.

But let’s go back to the beginning (ignoring the opening which was a bit flat and maudlin in turns), where we get one of the most taciturn, yet critical judges yet,  Tim Love. He’s pretty clipped and curt and looks like he just ate a rattlesnake one rattle at a time.  It’s appropriate that the viewers chose a prickly ingredient for a sometimes prickly guest judge. When Tim Love smiles, it’s through gritted teeth.

Mike Isabella is starting to come on strong after a bit of hubris hovering over his boastful statements about his abilities. Maybe there’s something behind it. And, isn’t just adorable how our little mime pronounces cactus “cactrus”?

We see ceviche becoming a dominate theme in this episode, something that is borne out later when our intrepid chefs are thrown into “the wilderness”.  Various chefs struggle with the sliminess of the cactus but Mike has the best solution and that is to let salt draw a lot of that sliminess out.

“Wet spot”! Best.Line.Ever.

Poor Ron. He just keeps getting outgunned, outclassed, and outdone by both the other chefs and the various challenges. He’s only hanging on by his accent. However, we’ve seen this before. All it takes is one challenge that’s actually in his wheelhouse and he could very well regain his equilibrium. But I doubt this will happen. He just doesn’t seem to respond well to this format.

When the chefs are told of their challenge, they seem to get the right idea. At least it seems that way. I suspect that there will be some serious failures to execute along the way. And I’m right. But here’s the thing, nobody said anything about ceviche during the Whole Foods segment. Serving ceviche to ranchers? That’s like Andrew from two seasons back serving vegetarian sushi rolls to firefighters. Not the smartest ploy if you ask me.

I know, hindsight is 20/20, but if it had been me, considering the guest judge, the prospective audience and the cooking conditions, I would have probably gone with pork “country-style ribs”. They aren’t really ribs, they are rib-shaped slices from the pork shoulder. Not having enough time to properly smoke and pull them (even though they are smaller, they still take a couple of hours to cook to the point of pulling or being tender enough to eat), I would have probably broken them down into bits and “smoked” them that way. I’d have tossed them in a quick rub and gone to town. Made some sort of BBQ “stew” using a little commercial beef stock and water. Maybe an onion, a carrot, a foiled wrapped potato cooked directly on the coals and then diced at the point of being firm but cooked. Grabbed a couple of cans of BBQ beans, a jalapeño and some canned pineapple and heated a slightly spicy/sweet pineapple BBQ beans dish over a smoky fire under a tin foil canopy. But it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.

What? Our Aryan princess/dominatrix doesn’t like losing control of the cooking environment.? What a shocker.

Frankly, I was disappointed at the challenge. A little over an hour doesn’t allow much use of flame and smoke, especially since it seemed that they were allowed no prior prep time as they usually are when cooking at a remote site. I also wonder if they weren’t allowed to even start the fires until the challenge began. If they weren’t, that seems a bit harsh. I’m also surprised that no one used the griller/smoker that was seen in some of the shots. Ashley seems concerned about even heating. Why not use one of those instead of the fire rings?

Bears and cougars. Saw that coming a mile away.

Even though I’m uncomfortable mentioning it, Ron’s Aunt Jemima moment was chuckle-producing. And who doesn’t love them a little voodoo?

Hey Eli, you’re asinine. No, Teleburst, you’re asinine. No, you are.

Gotta love a well-placed outhouse. I’m surprised it wasn’t labeled as a GE Monogram outhouse.

So Ash was an “animal psychologist” in a prior life. Probably tried to break the id of a cat and failed miserably. That’s why he’s a chef now.

Cooking, cooking, slipping, banging, spraying, buckboard raiding, sword-needing. More cooking, flaming, baking (in the sun).

Hey Mike, it’s not gyro as in gyroscope.

Dashi. Like a good Thai coconut based dish, always a good, smart choice. I love me some dashi.

Could shrimp/prawns be the undoing of yet another chef? Oh dear – “chlorine”. I suspect that he meant “ammonia”, but same difference really. If it was chlorine, could the cooler that she used might have been sanitized but not completely rinsed out? I suspect that this would be picked up by the ice and transferred to the shrimp, especially if the bag that they were stored in wasn’t sealed correctly.

What is Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos doing ranching? Did the last album tank?

Hey, bearded old fogey – wipe your mouth! Don’t you know that you’re on television? Where were you raised, in a barn? Oh, you were. Never mind.

Ron doing Haitian Tai Chi. Rippin’!

Tasting, tasting, tasting, evaluating, spitting out, pulling faces, praising, praising, praising…

Here’s a hint to the viewer, when a cheftestant is shown on camera saying that they thought that their food was great, plan on seeing an unpleasant Judges’ Table® experience.

JT was fairly brief on all counts. Not much to talk about really. Robin showed the wisdom of copping to mistakes. Mattin made the common mistake of continuing to defend his food. Ron was just sort of there.

And so, with a fond wave of the baguette, we bid a fond adieu to our mime. In this case (paraphrasing Billy Crystal in This is Spinal Tap), mime isn’t money. We pull a Marcel Marceau with a single painted tear on a whitewashed cheek and we expressively and silently wave goodbye while standing crookedly against an imaginary wind.

Mattin, please take your beret and go.

medium_top-chef-mattin

Top Chef Las Vegas – episode 4

I’ll be typing this in stages, as I watch it. So, it’s in chronological order, as it happens, so to speak (thanks to the pause capabilities of DVR).

The girl contingent is shrinking and the girls are worried. No worries, the law of averages is catching up although it might not happen this week  (Mike, I’m looking at you).

Collichio doesn’t feel that Daniel Boulud needs an introduction, so naturally he goes on to list his CV.

Our little Marcel Marceau gets a gleam in his eye when snails are mentioned. Perhaps he’s working out a new snail routine involving motor oil and a canteen taped to his back.

Daniel Boulud – “And I want to taste something that I’ve never tasted before”. I’m sure you will.

Boulud is a bit scary in a James Bond, mongoose sort of way. I wouldn’t want to be eyed by him before a Quickfire.

OK, pause for the cause – this looks like a 4 brandy in the middle of the day sort of show…be back shortly…

Oh dear – someone’s going home from the QF – knees buckle, heads bob, jaws drop, hearts race.  Sounds like love to me.

OK cocky Frenchman – remember what Boulud said – he wants to taste something different, not snails swimming in butter like you made when you were 15. At least, that’s what it looks like you’re plating. Maybe I’m wrong – we’ll see when I get back into the episode.

Poor little Nazi Girl. They didn’t serve snails to the concentration camp guards. What kind of 1000 year Reich are we running here?

I have to wonder – did anyone think of doing a snail tempura? That would have been my first thought. Within 5 minutes, you’d know whether snails would hold up under a tempura batter. I’d think they would. After all, they are roughly the same shape and size as button mushrooms, although they are more tender, of course. And who doesn’t love fried mushrooms?

OK, back to cheftestants scrambling around each other in panic…

OK, back to the computer…

The dominatrix pulls a yuzu out of her hat.

Frenchy actually did a little extra, but it wasn’t enough to clear Daniel’s Maginot Line.

Southern cooking rules! Jam, baby, jam!

Well, looks like at least one distaff chef is biting the dust. But WAIT! cook-off time! Oh, one distaff chef is still going home. Jesse is the obvious choice, but who knows? It won’t be the gay one that looks like Steve Forbert though, unless she implodes completely.

OK, brandy in hand I return…

And I was right. Jesse bites the dust.  I’m surprised that she has the constitution to work in a kitchen.There’s no crying in cooking (except when cutting onions, I suppose).

Nice perk for the winner of the QF – dining with a bunch of snotty French chefs with over a dozen Michelin stars amongst them. Dining with the chef of the century? How very 20th century.

Frenchy sees this as a slam dunk. Always dangerous on this show.

Trout with bearnaise? Maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem like a natural pairing. Delicate trout with a tarted-up hollandaise? I dunno. Yes, bearnaise with steaky fish like swordfish or salmon – that I can see. Bearnaise with darker fish like mahi-mahi, that I can see. Trout with bearnaise? Not so much.  I still wonder about the “natural pairing” thing.

I note that they’re doing “young chicken”. I guess there won’t be any nitpicking of the dish as they did in a previous season with Casey and her “coq au vin” – I’m looking at you Tom. Of course, if someone uses a cock, they’re screwed. But where you find a cock in Las Vegas? Oh wait…let me rephrase that…

OK…back to the show and the brandy…

Hic!

Oh Mike, you’ve semi-redeemed your braggadocio by deconstructing the bearnaise. That’s just twisty enough to create a positive impression as long as you execute it.

Uh oh, the funny music with Robin’s team. Garbanzo bean flour. Personally, I say why not? This could be the classic case of editing fairies’ misdirection. Time will tell, I suppose. It doesn’t help that Caribbean dude is a bit over-confident in his ability to cook chicke…I mean frog’s legs.

More cooking, more cooking. More exposition fairies explaining sauces to ‘mericans. Robin, turns out, is a motor mouth while Ron suffers under the weight of words. Things aren’t really looking that great for Frenchy and tattoo’ed lady (apologies to Rory Gallagher). 

Chateaubriand au poive?  Hmmm, not sure if that’s going to impress anyone, especially if it’s rare as a baby’s bottom. But you still have time. In the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic”! Hopefully, you can turn it into something special. But I have my doubts.

OK, I’m into my second brandy now (don’t worry, I’m off today). Time to return to the dinner portion of our entertainment.

Is that a yarmulke or a bald spot on our lucky cheftestant diner’s head? Oh, it’s a bald spot.

Uh oh, Gail got the end piece. I’m guessing that a chef is going to get the shaft.

The deconstructed bearnaise looks like a hit of windowpane with a couple of hits of orange sunshine dyed black on top. Turns out that it’s a mind-blower.

C’mon guys – no other season could have produced this food for these guests at this stage of the competition? I think not. But, what do I know? I’m not there season after season.

Awwww, Frenchy is disappointed. But I don’t think he has to worry about any of his team actually going home. But I’ve been wrong before…

OK, back to Judge’s Table®

You know, I’m waiting for the twist when they call the losers first. I’m surprised that they haven’t thought of that.

Praise praise praise. Nothing to see here folks. Please move along.

Oh SNAP! I wonder what the French expression for “throwing someone under the bus” is. I’m really surprised that Ashley showed the kind of class that she did (unless it was removed by editing). I really hope that our mime goes home for that, although it’s looking like we’re going to lose Puerto Rico at this point. A lying mime, while a contradiction in terms, is a good source of conflict in the future, so he’s probably going to end up staying. Now I know how Charles De Gaulle felt about General Pétain.

If Ashley goes home, then it’s “Katie bar the door’. But I don’t see that as very likely at this point. You send the guy who’s supposed to know about French cooking home when he doesn’t perform.

OK, time for the big finish. Better have another brandy.

Uh oh – the Ashley thing is being misinterpreted by our gang of 3. This is part of the game though – they’re not privy to “the facts”. It’s up to Ashley to defend herself. Still, I’m pretty sure that PR is on the way out. But, as I’ve said, I’ve been wrong before.

As I mentioned before, cooking Chateaubriand au poive isn’t the most challenging thing to do and to screw up that dish could be fatal and Tom confirmed that. Had they done something a little differently and thought outside the box, like doing a lightly seared piece of meat and doing a carpaccio au poirve, they might have fared better. It certainly would have been a lot easier. You only sear the meat quickly, you freeze it and then you slice it on site with a meat slicer like the type that they use at Arby’s (the type that took Rahm Emmmanuel’s finger. However, you don’t serve the finger if that happens to you as well.

OK, brandy break.

Time for the big reveal.

No great exposition, no big scolding. and yes, it’s Hector. A completely uncontroversial choice. I’m sure that some will make it so because of the Mattin thing, but his big sin was lying at Judge’s Table.

So big fella, you join Jesse in the recycle bin. Please take your “long knife” and go.

Just so you guys know, I rarely watch the teaser clips, either within an episode or for the upcoming episode. So I have no idea about what’s going to happen next week.

Are you ready for some football? A Thursday Night party?

Jesse Sandlin1

hector

Top Chef – Episode 3

thunderbirds-are-go

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

Thanks to Ocean Guy for the mention

http://oceanguy.com/?p=2430

I’m honored to be listed in “The Best of the Rest of Top Chef Bloggers”.

I hope my readers will check out his blog.

Ocean Guy

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

Top Chef Las Vegas Redux

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As you might know, I was shaken by the appearance of Vegas showgirls in the Quickfire challenge, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been.

So, it took me a little while to get back to watching the rest of the episode.

So kids, what did we learn?

We learned that chefs like alcohol. REALLY like alcohol. Probably bathe in alcohol.

Wolfgang Puck can throw a great slider. Imagine if he threw a slider slider (using a slider as a baseball, that is).

While bacon makes everything better, it doesn’t always make one a winner.

Wolfgang Puck is The Terminator.

Frying a ribeye? Not so much.

If you don’t have to say that you didn’t have time to put something on a dish (like a gastrique), don’t say so.

If you’re going to cook something as simple as a scallop, cook the damn thing right.

Poached chicken must rest in poaching liquid.

Substitute wheat gluten for meat at your own risk.

A good back-story will get you to the Winner’s Table, even if you miss the point of the Elimination Challenge.

Wolfgang Puck keeps a spotless kitchen. At least when it’s going to be on TV.

Padma has a different look when she’s trying not to telegraph who the winners are and when she’s getting ready to lower the boom. The first is “total stonefaced mean”. The second is “cobra eying its prey”.

Tom Collichio can shill Diet Coke.

Buh bye. Jen, please pack your tat and go:

jennifer-zavala-top-chef