June 12, 2008
Stephanie wins Top Chef Chicago and becomes the first female Top Chef, but aside from her victory, the rest of the show was BORING! I decided to post this in fancy “Vivaldi” style font because it suits the high brow foodie audience for which the finale was intended. I could not appreciate Stephanie’s daring pecan and olive ingredients that so impressed the judges. The producers keep forgetting that those of us at home can’t taste the food.. I could appreciate, however, that Lisa’s soup caused the renowned guest chefs to “slurp” and ask for seconds. Like I have said before, Lisa did her homework before arriving in Puerto Rico and performed better than she ever did in Chicago. She was uncharacteristically at ease during the finale due to the fact that there wasn’t anyone around to argue with her. If you have ever watched Hell’s Kitchen, you can easily imagine Chef Gordon Ramsey eating Lisa alive (and probably throw up afterwards). Richard’s tanks of exotic gasses didn’t set him apart from the others. As I watched him pour liquid nitrogen into his bacon flavored ice cream, I thought isn’t that the stuff doctor’s use to freeze warts off of people? (ick) I believe Richard’s downfall was that he thought he could pull it all together on the second day, but surprise—no sous chefs! They bring back the old format for the finale: 2 finalists cooking head to head with the help of former cast mates. Otherwise,Top Chef should move over to the FOOD network. I hope to see more of Stephanie! Maybe she will write a cookbook or get her own television show. She is a heck of a lot less annoying that Rachael Ray!
June 6, 2008
Richard made it clear from the onset that he didn’t think Lisa had the talent to be in the final four, and later referred to her as “a gray cloud in the kitchen.” However, Lisa arrived in Puerto Rico with a new haircut and ready for the challenges. For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs had to cook with plantains for celebrity guest judge, Wilo Benet. There were a couple of amusing moments: when the timer went off, the chefs raised their hands without Padma yelling, “Knifes down! Hands Up!” Richard managed to singe his eyebrows and sound like a woodpecker when chopping. Stephanie won the Quickfire, and as a reward she got to pair-up chefs with sous chefs (season cast-offs). Stephanie picked Dale because she “has known him for about 10 years.” Richard was paired with Spike (who sported a new hat), and Nicki was assigned to Antonia. The paring of Andrew and Lisa could have produced a lot of drama, but Andrew announced, “Never have I thrown somebody under the bus. I play with honor!” He kept his cool throughout the preparations, despite Lisa acting more than a little bossy. Richard brought along a roll of bright green painters tape to make labels and this “ingredient” helped to keep him organized the small kitchen. Dale had a brain fart and left the pork belly out on top of the stove overnight, but with Dale’s help, Stephanie managed to improvise and wind up in the top two with Richard. Her food sounded delicious (especially the Pork Satay on a Sugar Cane skewer with miso almond sauce and cilantro vinaigrette) and for a fraction of a second, I forgot that the chefs spent 7 hours dismembering pigs. I was surprised at the decline in Antonia’s performance during this this episode. She had said that on the hiatus, she had been “working 100 hours a week” at her restaurant, so that may explain why she was not in her usual top form. Lisa had practiced cooking Puerto Rican food at home, and came to Puerto Rico familiar with the local ingredients. Antonia ended up leaving for her “unsophisticated dishes” and “undercooked pigeon peas.” I made the mistake of wasting a few minutes trying to figure out the judges’ decision: didn’t Lisa have several less than successful dishes? Lisa did make great garnishes and dipping sauces, but personally I would have passed on her Roasted Pork-butt. Baring any more undercooked lentils, Stephanie is a the strongest contender for the final two. Lisa will be a big surprise if she lasts another week. Richard’s past performances have been uneven, but he won the elimination challenge this week—and a car!
May 30, 2008
The Quickfire Challenge this week was a vegetarian’s nightmare. The chefs had to show their “butchery skills” at Allen Brother’s meat plant and cut seven chops with a “frenched bone” from an American raised long-boned rib-eye, USDA Dry Aged Prime Rib rack in 20 minutes. After returning to the Top Chef Kitchen, each of the five remaining chefs had to cook a tomahawk chop in thirty minutes. Spike, a grandson of two butchers, soared through both parts of this challenge, and as a reward he was able to have first pick of ingredients from Rick Tramonto’s kitchen in Rick Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood restaurant. For the elimination challenge, each chef had to create an original appetizer and entree. Chef Tom Collicico took on the role of “Expediter” for the dinner service. Tom’s quiet demeanor was quite a switch from Chef Ramsey’s famous freak-outs in Hell’s Kitchen. Previous Top Chef winners Harold Dieterle (Season One), Ilan Hall (Season Two), and Hung Hynh (Season Three) were invited as the judges’ VIP guests. (I must say that Ilan looked a little out of place wearing a brown tee-shirt)
Stephanie won the challenge with her Sweetbreads with Golden Raisins & Pine Nuts appetizer (she was proud that she could make sweetbreads taste like Chicken McNuggets) and her Beef Tenderloin with Wild Mushrooms & Apple Sauce entree . Richard’s Hamachi with Crispy Sweatbreads, Radish, Avocado & Yuzu appetizer was the favorite dish of the evening, and Lisa’s Peanut Butter Mashed Potatoes was the best side dish. Chef Tom thought that Antonio’s entree tasted best out of all the steak dishes.
Lisa and Spike wound up as the bottom two, Lisa was at the bottom for the fifth time. I think Padma saved her because she thought Lisa had “an amazing pallet.” The frozen scallops turned out to be Spike’s downfall. Spike tried for a long time to drain the water out of them with paper towels, but he still could not turn them into fresh scallops. Moreover, at the Judge’s Table Spike told Rick that he shouldn’t have had scallops in his walk-in that “weren’t high quality.” (Ouch) Rick rebounded with, “I’ll take that shot, bro. I had frozen scallops in my cooler, but you got to take the shot that you used them.” On the positive side, working in Rick’s hot kitchen made Spike remove his signature silly hat. I really hope he tossed it into the wood burning oven. Next week the four remaining chefs head off to Puerto Rico. Will there be an all women final three?