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 31, 2008
I have watched Top Chef for a few seasons, but only this season have I actually wished I could try the food. I was really impressed with the dishes the five chefs came up with at Rick Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood restaurant last week. I am not a “foodie” so I can not appreciate food like “squid emulsion” or “foam.” Unfortunately, my palette is limited to mostly sweet and salty. Remember the blind junk food test from Season One? I could do that! In the past, I had to wait until the last final episode to appreciate how these chefs can create dishes from experience, how they can adapt the ingredients into their recipes, and how they can cook a meal in thirty minutes without a microwave! This season, you can’t just be a good chef, your food has to have meaning; the “foodies” have to feel your love, your passion, your soul. In a perfect world, my own personal chef would emerge happily from the kitchen and in a friendly manner discuss the courses for the evening meal. It would be so different from a server reading “tonight’s specials” at a restaurant. My personal chef would explain the whole history of the meal, from conception to birth: how he or she shopped for special ingredients to make my meal healthy and memorable: found the certain fresh vegetables at the market for the salad, and how he or she came across this one exotic fruit for the dessert. For a brief moment I could pretend I was a “foodie” about to be served dinner with love. I guess the the feeling I’m imagininging is “nurtured” and I am reminded how far I have gotten away from the “nourishing” aspect of food; meals have become just things to whip up and woof down. Although I would enjoy the pampering a personal chef would provide during a dinner service, I would want him or her to help me make my own positive connections with food. Is it possible for me to get excited about shopping for ingredients or do I have to out-source this ability? Is the goal of a personal chef to get you into a dependent-on-them lifestyle or to teach you to be more independent?
For more information try these links: The American Personal & Private Chef Institute and chef2chef a culinary portal
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?
May 15, 2008
Season 2 runner up, Sam Talbot was the guest chef this week on Top Chef Chicago. Sam, a diabetic and son of a police officer, asked the chefs to create sexy salads and healthy and hearty boxed lunches. Dale and Stephanie came out on top and won praise from the judges who said that their dishes were satisfying, great tasting, and healthy. Despite being criticized by Antonia for only being able to cook Asian food, Dale won this week’s challenge with his marinated bison in cabbage cups. As a reward, he received a Rutherford Hill 2002 bottle of Merlot and two tickets to visit the Rutherford Hill’s winery in Napa Valley, CA.
Spike, Andrew, and Lisa ended up as the bottom 3 for their failure to deliver a healthy boxed lunch for the Chicago Police. These three also delivered the most vocal barbs to fellow chefs. Spike, who won the Sexy Salad Quickfire, had an advantage of selecting 4 items at the market that the other chefs couldn’t use. Strategically, he chose tomatoes, bread, lettuce, and chicken, in turn making everyone else invent a boxed lunch out-of-the-box so to speak. Lisa announced at the onset that everyone’s “personality sucks-a**” and later claimed that one of the chefs burned her rice. The judges, however, were put off by her raw shrimp more than the burnt rice. Andrew said he “woke up today with a f***ing fire inside my stomach, you know, like I’m going to stab somebody, or I’m going to make some amazing food.” Fortunately, he didn’t stab anyone, and unfortunately (for Andrew), the judges hated his dish and the police thought the meal was not satisfying. Andrew was furious that Lisa “threw him under the bus” by telling the judges that he didn’t use a whole grain. Andrew then admitted to the judges that he had lost his rule sheet, but in the end, he was sent home because the judges hated his dish.
Will Dale keep the Merlot for himself and retain his a**hole status with the other chefs?
Coming up is the next instalment of the popular Restaurant Wars.
April 24, 2008
An arousing round of applause goes out to Top Chef host, Padma Lakshmi, for her reaction to the first course of last night’s elimination round when she said demurely, “I want to lick the bowl.” I could hear my fellow armchair critics shouting, “C’mon, Padma! Lick it! Lick it!” Last night’s episode was full of suggestive discourse and content. After an entertaining Judges Table, the chefs were surprised when Jen was eliminated. However, no one was more surprised than Jen and her cooking partner, Stephanie; either one could have been sent home, but it was Jen who defended the asparagus and cheese dish (meant to look like a threesome), insisting that plating each asparagus as an erection was a good idea.