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Tag Archives: Top Chef

More on Top Chef

Nope, still haven’t gotten back to the premiere of this season.

I was just thinking how, instead of going to Las Vegas, which has many showcase restaurants from already existing restaurants and chefs from anywhere other than there, they might have actually done some good and done a season from a city with a true culinary tradition – New Orleans. Think of the good that they could have done at a time when there’s some infrastructure present, but still a lot of waste and devastation and exodus from the city. Think of all of the twists and challenges that would naturally tie into the state of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Think of the exposure and the good that a show like that could do. Think of the charity possibilities.

Yes, they filmed the final of the New York season there, so I guess they can claim a sop to the city. But still…

Instead, they went in exactly the opposite direction. What’s next? A season filmed entirely in Epcot?

I wonder why I’m so cranky about this. Maybe I need to simply watch the rest of the episode and chill.

Top chef returns…

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Oh my.

This could be a mess.

I was going to post a blow-by-blow, but I had to stop the DVR when the showgirls came in for the first quickfire challenge. I’m definitely going to have to wait  until the light of day to finish watching this first episode because I’m afraid that, lacking any garlic and crosses, I might be in serious peril. After all, I’ve already invited it into my home.

I will say this – I didn’t like the opening sequence very much. They’ve done some retooling graphics-wise and, well, color me underwhelmed.

They keep upping the talent pool, now throwing in James Beard winners and Michelin star awardees. They have someone  who’s trained with Eric Ripert. Quite a few of them seem to own their own restaurants (this is a trend that’s been accelerating as the seasons go by). They’re not in a dumpy warehouse in a back alley of Miami, they’re in a hotel. And the house…the house…it’s a little McMansion, probably temporarily rescued from foreclosure from some formerly wealthy Vegas entrepreneur bordello owner. I only got a glimpse but I’m guessing that the Ikea budget is quite healthy.

Collichio has a wicked look in his eye as he welcomes them to the sixth Terrace of Purgatory (Gluttony, where only the finest, newest, shiniest GE stainless steel appliances are fitting for the preparation of excess), a place whose food court he has happily been a part of for a few years now. In Vegas, there are express escalators to the various other Terraces and one moves freely between Avarice, Envy and Lust and I’m sure that the show is going to exploit each of these sins with glee.

So, time will tell if I’ll be able to maintain the running commentary that I hoped to employ. This is the first season that has run in the life of this blog and I was sooooo looking forward to it. However, after seeing this lot (and this is the shallow, insensitive part of my character), I actually wanted to drive tattoo needles through my eyes. I hate myself for saying it, because I like the idea of real people, not eye candy, but there are some scary people on this season.

The elves that put on this show will probably find a way to hook me. We have a brother act, the requisite gays, bears, punctured and tattooed outsiders, players, token pretty girls and girls next door, foreigners, and amateurs. The Bravo demographic is certainly covered here. We have bitches and bastards, sensitive types and, in a reversal from previous seasons, only one New York City chef. Time will tell what sort of social experiments will brew this time. With brothers involved, will we see a threesome develop? Will we have a cheftestant have to quit because of a latent gambling problem? Will restaurant wars see someone deliberately sabotage the team in order to get rid of a strong cheftestant who volunteers to be Executive Chef?

At this point, I don’t even have the energy to look at the first five minutes to figure who’s going to get the first axe and have to pack their virtually unused knives. That’s Vegas for you. I’m already tired of the video collages of fake Eiffel Towers and faux Venice canals. I’ll bet Frenchy is going to have some juicy litle confessionals and sound bites.

Am I being overly pessimistic? Perhaps.

As I said, time will tell.

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A primer for would-be “Top chef” contestants

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It’s hard to go wrong with bacon.  Even with ice cream.

Never, ever tell a judge what you couldn’t put in a dish because of a screw-up unless you have to (it’s a listed ingredient). They might not miss it.

Always taste your dish right before service, especially for the presence (or lack thereof) of salt or acid.

Learn how to cook rice. Rice has been the downfall of many a cheftestant.

Never use frozen seafood or freeze seafood to get a certain effect.

Have a foolproof dessert in your pocket – one that you can make under any sort of circumstances. Try to avoid baked desserts because there are too many variables and too much precision required in measurements (unless you are drop-dead sure that you can execute it). 

Learn how to make a few Thai-influenced dishes, especially those that feature coconut milk as a primary ingredient.

Don’t proclaim that you are an expert in any particular type of cuisine, even if you think you are. It will be used against you as plot points, plus you will be teased unmercifully in forums and blogs everywhere.

It’s OK to fly under the radar for the first third of the competition. It is not OK to underperform though.

In restaurant wars, it’s better to be a team player than to be a team leader.

When planning a meal that has to be prepare at one site and transferred to another, don’t have any fried components of a dish.

Hone your knife skills (pun intended). Work on speed as well as precision.

Don’t overthink your dishes. And don’t second-guess a gut instinct.

Coming in second in quickfires in the first half of the season shouldn’t cause you distress. Just try to stay out of the bottom as much as possible and don’t worry about being “in the middle”.

Don’t “play the game” or try to game your fellow competitors to the exclusion of playing your own game.

A well-executed soup will get you far.

If you have to choose between simple and complex, choose simple. But always remember, that the simpler the dish, the more on-point you have to be with seasonings and ingredients.

When given a fellow competitor or celebrity sous-chef, remember – you are the chef, not them.

When fed a meal by the judges, pay attention to everything that’s said about the dish. Observe every facet of the dish that’s presented to you so that you can reproduce it later.

When given a challenge, listen to the challenge and pay particular attention to the rules. If in doubt as to whether you are breaking a rule, back away quickly. In the next tip, the cheftestant who did the sushi dish also screwed up the rules of the contest, plus he violated the “don’t proclaim that you’re an expert” rule. If in doubt, ask for clarification. Don’t lose the rules sheet that the production team gives you.

Pay particular attention to the people who will be served your food in a challenge and tailor your offering to them. Don’t do as one cheftestent did and serve an unconventional sushi dish to a bunch of firefighters, for example.

Learn to use a food mill instead of a blender.

Never tell a judge more than they need to know.

Every cheftestant will have a miss-fire occasionally. As long as it didn’t make you “pack your knives and go home”, move on. Ask yourself, “What’s next”?

Scallops are overused, but judges seem amazed when they are cooked correctly., so using scallops isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when they are cooked correctly, which ain’t hard unless you forget about them while you’re cooking.

Foams are soooo Season Two. What season are you in again?

On-air time is a double-edged sword, especially in the beginning of the competition. Don’t make it your goal to be the big personality of the season. As the field thins, air-time will come of its own accord.

If your ingredients total more than 7, that’s a red flag.

As the season progresses, try to maintain your own vision and try to keep your dishes distinct from everyone else. Collichio has complained that, all too often, at the midway point in the competition, “they all start feeding off each other and all the food starts to look the same. It’s kind of annoying”. He’s the last person that you want to annoy.

Ask yourself this – is the $100,000 prize worth compromising your integrity as a chef and a person?

And remember, while it might be “Top Chef” and not “Top Cook”, you need your “inner cook” in order to succeed.

If you win because of this post, I expect a good meal out of it.