Archive for season 5

Wow

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , on February 20, 2009 by restaurantouring

Dear Lord, it has been a while since my last [real] post. Apologies for that. I’ve been trying to sort out some personal matters while looking for a new job, since I intend on leaving my current one very soon. Damn this economic downturn for making things so difficult!  I just want to cook!  But alas, no one is hiring.

The first thing I want to talk about is Top Chef, of course. I’m obsessed with this show. And what a roller coaster ride it has been! With Ariane Duarte eliminated a few weeks ago, the show became a little less interesting for me. I was really cheering her on, not just because she’s a fellow New Jerseyan and her restaurant is 15 minutes away from my apartment, but she was super nice (not like Leah or Stefan) and she actually knew how to cook, unlike half of the untalented hacks that show up on these shows sometimes.

The following week, Radhika was eliminated for being a poor host and leader during restaurant wars. Not only was her restaurant seemingly unfriendly, the desserts failed. What a bummer.

Then, Jeff fell in the All Star episode due to a seemingly lackluster ceviche. I’m still scratching my head a little about that one, but it doesn’t matter. I also read an interview with him somewhere online. I’ll link to it when I find it, but in it, he basically said that he felt like he was being used as some sort of sex object on the show or something. This I find hilarious, if you remember the name of the place he works at (Dilido Club, for those of you who don’t).

The following week, Jamie (Shock! Surprise! She was one of my favorites!) was sent home because of oversalted braised celery ribs in her attempt to recreate one of Le Bernardin’s dishes, even though Hosea botched some fundamentals and Leah completely fuxxed up her dish. The only justification I’ve been able to muster up for this decision is that salt is the most important thing in the kitchen. At least, learning to control salt is the most important fundamental. Terrible to see her go, though.

Leah finally gets sent home after that. She botched poached eggs for her eggs Benedict. Not only were her eggs undercooked, she watered down her hollandaise when she should have left it alone. Fabio breaks a pinky finger but still manages to win the challenge, which was fantastic.

This brings us to this week’s episode:

The final four (Stefan, Hosea, Fabio, and Carla) meet back up in New Orleans for the end of the season. Emeril is the guest judge. In the spirit of the rebirth of New Orleans, the judges bring back the last three competitors eliminated for a chance to get back into the mix.

Quickfire: Jeff, Jamie, and Leah must prepare a dish using crawfish. Leah’s dish looks the least appealing — like a failed gumbo or stew, so she calls it a soup. Although Jamie’s dish looked tasty, Jeff pulled it off with his version of shrimp and grits, substituting the crawfish for the shrimp.

For the elimination challenge, Jeff needs to win in order to proceed to the finale. If he does win, the judges will eliminate two other chefs. Unfortunately, he ends up just missing the mark to Carla, who really shined with an oyster stew, freshly fried shrimp beignets, and a non-alcoholic (Gasp! In the middle of Mardi Gras???) mixed drink. Stefan and Fabio end up being the least favorite chefs, and Fabio is unfortunately sent home.

So, the final 3 are Stefan, Carla, and Hosea. This is very different from whom I imagined would be in the final 3: Jamie, Stefan, and either Jeff or Fabio.

If Stefan wins, he will probably deserve it, even though he’s an arrogant ass. Hosea, I think, doesn’t really know how to cook at a high level. Carla has been truly impressive in the last few episodes. She’s definitely the dark horse out of the bunch, and I hope she wins it all. We’ll see what happens.

I just hope these chefs remember what the formula for success seems to be on the show: good interpretations of familiar foods. Simplicity. Elegance. Austerity. Perfect execution. And bacon.

Top Chef, Episode 7, Season 5

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by restaurantouring

Welcome back to Top Chef, everyone!  It’s been quite a while, since no new episodes aired over the holidays.  This is the first new episode in about 3 weeks!

As always, do not continue reading this post if you don’t want the episode spoiled for you.

This week, I’ll do a really quick update on the show.  Major props to Catie, “the editor,” for filling me in on the details live, since I won’t be able to download this episode until iTunes decides to stop sucking and make the episode available for me to download.

Quickfire

The guest judge is pastry chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and the challenge is to make “the ultimate sweet treat” without using sugar.  Jeff thinks he’s got this challenge in the bag.  Jamie decides not to make a dessert.  Hosea is doing something with peaches and figs.  Arianne is using diet Dr. Pepper.  Carla gets angry at everyone constantly opening and closing the fridge, cuz her bananas aren’t freezing properly, so she finally has to saute them with walnut oil.  Stefan is being Stefan.

Top Chefs: Radhika, Leah, and Jeff

Bottom 3: Ariane, Jamie, and Carla

Winner: Radhika and her whole wheat challah bread pudding with sauteed white peach, honey roasted cashews, and ground ginger.

Double Elimination Challenge

This one is a free-for-all.  The judges wanted to see exactly what these chefs could do, since they desperately need to prove that they know how to cook if they want to succeed on the show.  So far, the food has been pretty disappointing, despite the first episode’s dishes being very strong.

The cheftestants are split into two teams.  The twist is that they will be judging each others’ food.  Radhika chooses to be on the team that Stefan is not because she thinks that Stefan causes too much unnecessary tension.

Fabio rolls pasta.  Jamie cooks scallops.  Again. Fabio comments: “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!”

There’s a new judge:  Toby Young.  He is filling in for Gail.

Judgement

They love Jamie’s scallops.  They don’t like Eugene’s whole red snapper at all — it’s bland.  Melissa’s dish tastes like cat food.  Leah screwed up because she attempted something she had never done before.  Carla’s scallops are far too garlicky because of the gremolata she made to go with them (I never liked the taste of raw garlic much either, and I would only use it sparingly with strongly flavored items, like beef or something).  Also, Carla’s risotto was called uninspired.  Stefan is ecstatic that Colicchio liked his dish.  Jeff’s collection of hors d’oeuvres seemed to be disliked by all but Toby.  Ariane sauteed a skate wing.  Melissa is worried about her fish tacos and who will be going home tonight.

Top Chefs:  Ariane, Jamie, Stefan

Bottom 3: Melissa, Eugene, Carla

Winner: Jamie (Thank God.  Finally!)

Losers:  Eugene and Melissa.  Pack your knives and go.

Restaurant Week NYC

Posted in Food on TV, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2009 by restaurantouring

Restaurant week is coming back to NYC for the last two weeks of January. A list of participating restaurants can be found here. I’ve already made reservations at Centro Vinoteca, the restaurant where Leah, from Top Chef, works. At least I hope she still works there. I want to eat there out of sheer culinary curiosity, I swear. I don’t mean to be stalking her, even if it looks that way.

Yeah, there’s no way out of this one. I’ll just shut up now.

Top Chef, season 5, episode 5

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2008 by restaurantouring

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.  Readers beware!

Gail’s Bridal Shower:

Sorry for the super late post, everyone.  I’ve been extremely busy lately.  I just got back from B&H with a ton of new photography gear, so expect to see the image quality around here improve drastically within the next couple of weeks.

This past week’s episode of Top Chef was another bittersweet episode.  Bitter because Gail is getting married (noooo!!!!) and because Jamie didn’t win another challenge (noooo!!!!) and sweet because that lunkhead Danny finally got the boot (woooo!!!!), that arrogant bastard, Stefan, was one-upped by some of the other cheftestants (woooo!!!!), and my homie Ariane won another challenge (woooo!!!!).

The quickfire challenge was “Name That Ingredient!”  This was a lame challenge because obvious things were eligible as ingredients and not everyone picked up on that.  Shame on them.  Basically, pairs of chefs had to taste a mystery sauce and then see how many ingredients they could name correctly.  The chef that claimed s/he could name the most ingredients rattled them off first, and if they were all correct, s/he would move onto the next round of *drum roll* NAME THAT INGREDIENT!!!

So, what was the lame part?  Salt counts as an ingredient.  Pepper, too.  And oil (although you have to specify which kind: olive, vegetable, etc.).  The bases for most sauces are going to have oil or butter, salt, pepper, onion, and maybe celery, garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf or something.  Look at that.  I just named 9 ingredients.  The most anyone else (Stefan) could name were 8.  C’MON!

Anyway, Stefan gets eliminated when he wrongly guesses “tomato paste,” so the win goes to Hosea. He’s another lunkhead, IMO.  Maybe I’m just hating on him for being so flirty with Leah.  Maybe I should stop, cuz I’m actually not seriously obsessed with her, despite my numerous confessions of love (you HAVE to love a woman who prizes salt, olive oil, butter, garlic, and pork) and I’m taking it a little too far. . . . Nahhhhh.

The elimination challenge is to cook for Gail’s bridal shower.  There will be 45 guests and the cheftestants all seem to freak out.  I’m not sure why they’re freaking out, cuz catering for 45 people is a cake walk when you have two other chefs on your team, helping you.

The themes that help guide the teams to what they should cook are “old,” “new,” “blue,” and “borrowed.”  Team “old” consists of chefs Jeff, Hosea, and Stefan — a strong team.  Team “new” consists of Carla, Danny, and Eugene.  Team “blue” consists of Leah, Fabio, and Melissa.  Finally, team “borrowed” consists of Radhika, Ariane, and Jamie.

Team “old” goes with a trio of heirloom tomatoes (I SEE WUT U DID THERE).  Stefan makes a bland eggplant-wrapped heirloom tomato terrine.  Jeff makes a bombtastic tomato sorbet.  Hosea makes . . . I forget what he made, actually.  I’ll check and update this, maybe.

Team “new” goes with a disgusting mess.  Eugene fucks up sushi rice and instead of tossing it, tries to salvage it.  Dumb, dumb, dumb move.  He makes a DIY sushi roll, which he forgetes to explain.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s terrible anyway.  He also makes a yuzu sorbet/granita, which melts by the time everyone is supposed to eat it.  Carla makes a salad, which is lame, but probably the tastiest thing from the team.  Danny crowds his pan and steams his beef rather than sears it, so his dish is gray, tough, and flavorless.  Plus, he soaks some mushrooms in water and throws them everywhere in Carla’s salad.  It looked like she was about to stab someone when she found out.  She shoulda.  Now THAT would have been entertaining!  Reality tv, ftw.

Team “blue” goes with “the ocean” as a theme.  They make a blue corn crusted Chilean sea bass with a corn puree sauce, I believe (again, I’ll check and update).  Gail comments that the dish isn’t the most politically correct dish in the world (Chilean sea bass is overfished and endangered).  One of her girl friends comments that it’s like “old people food,” like something they’d serve in a nursing home.  Oh well.  The dish didn’t work, even though they sent Fabio out to charm the ladies with his accent, self deprecating humor (always awesome), and flattery.  Accent and flattery?  Check.  More than check — they ATE it up.  Loved it.  The food though?  Not so much.

Team “borrowed” “borrows” Indian flavors from Radhika and Radhika’s mom.  I forget what Radhika made, but this was an upset for Jamie, because she pulled off a vadovan scented carrot puree that required a lot of finesse to prepare, yet she lost the challenge to Ariane, who made an Indian spiced rack of lamb.  *shrug*  The lamb was cooked perfectly, had great flavor, and was the best tasting thing of the night.  The whole thing was Jamie’s idea, but she didn’t emphasize that.  Probably, if she brought it up at Judge’s table, things would have been different.  She didn’t.  Sucks.  Ariane wins her 3rd challenge (all right, technically her 2nd challenge.  The turkey should have counted, from the Thanksgiving episode, though).

The judges wanted to send all 3 of team “new” home, but they decided to send Danny home because, despite all the harsh criticism, Danny still thought their dish was a good dish.  Tom Colicchio mentions in his blog on the Bravo TV website that there’s a way to cook mushrooms (SEAR them in a really, ridiculously hot pan before they wilt and give up water, which kills the searing process) and that Danny obviously doesn’t know what that way is (soaking shrooms in water does not good food make, young [fat] grasshopper).

That’s all for now!

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 4:

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2008 by restaurantouring

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.  LOTS of them.  If you don’t want me to spoil the episode, go watch it already.  Or do what I did and subscribe to the season on iTunes (it kind of sucks not having cable TV in the apartment, but I’m not paying 50 bucks a month for one or two shows.  Sorry.)

Let me start this post by saying two things:

1)  For all of the judgmental people who have been searching for posts about “why [you] should eat at Ariane’s restaurant if Padma spit out her dessert,” and “Why is Ariane still on Top Chef?” I’ve got two words for you:  Eat it.  Eat it eat it eat it freaking eat it.  The number of hits I got on average per day almost doubled after the Foo Fighters episode, and I had a full day’s worth of hits by the time I went to sleep the night of episode 4 — I tripled my daily average by the end of today.  Fickle, fickle, fickle people.  Ariane kicked ass with her turkey last week, and she kicked ass this week with a simple and delicious watermelon, New Jersey beefsteak tomato, and feta salad with balsamic syrup.  AND she did it all knowing that millions of people would be viewing her on live TV.  Way to represent the dirty Jerz, yo!  Ariane’s my homie.

2)  This episode was disappointing for me in a lot of ways.  I’ll get to it.

Intro:

The episode starts off with a recap of last week’s episode, as usual.  This is followed by Jeff working out his lateral deltoids (with terrible form, btw) by lifting two pathetically small weights to his side (Dude, haven’t you ever heard of compound exercises?  Do some freaking pullups instead.  Or make me a chicken sandwich).  Ariane pours coffee for herself and the scene cuts away to Ariane monologuing about how she’s feeling good after the Thanksgiving challenge and her awesome turkey breast and about how she needs to keep the momentum going for herself.

Then Alex talks about how strange it was for him, waking up in the morning without Richard as a roommate (Richard was eliminated last week, in the Foo Fighters episode, for his banana creme s’mores with chocolate ganache).  Also, because Richard is gone now, this is the first time that Alex has really felt alone in this competition.

So, it turns out that Rich left a letter for Alex, on his bed, which Alex then reads to Jamie and Carla.  The exerpt shown on TV said, “It may sound crappy to say this, but you’ve got a friend out of this competition — me.  That being said, here’s the crappy part:  fuck the rest of ’em.  Believe me — you don’t get to realize how much you really want this until they say your name and your chances to compete are taken away.  Now, you really gotta take your gloves off and go for the win, every day.”

The letter makes everyone emotional and sad, and Alex talks about how he misses being at home with his family and his fiance — he got married about 20 days after this episode was filmed.

The scene cuts away to Jamie, the only remaining member of Team Rainbow, after Patrick was eliminated in the first episode, and after Richard was eliminated last week.  She rocks a rainbow bracelet she made in honor of the two, and is wearing a sequined rainbow shirt.

Quickfire challenge: Cue awesome music.

Guest judge:  Rocco DiSpirito

Blatant ad placement:  Rocco’s new book (sorry, but I’m not linking to this one).

The challenge is to make an elegant breakfast amuse-bouche.  One bite.  Everything you are as a chef, refined into one perfect bite.

Rocco mentions that he likes bacon.  A lot.  So just about everyone makes a mad dash for the bacon.

In short order, this is what everyone made, with some commentary:

Stefan: huevos rancheros, served in an eggshell cup.  Although it was good, the criticism (as with almost everyone else’s dish) is that it is too large — not one bite.  It was not, strictly speaking, an amuse bouche.  The judges (Padma and Rocco) love the presentation, which was kind of easy for Stefan, since he has that special tool that you can use to perfectly cut off the top of an egg without getting a jagged edge.

Jeff: He comments that he’s got too many ideas around in his head, so it’s actually really hard for him to commit himself to any one single idea, especially since this will probably be the most important breakfast they’ll ever cook.  He made a little twice-baked potato, stuffed with creme fraiche and bacon.  Also, he made a honey frozen yogurt and paired it with skewers of fresh fruit.  Rocco expresses his disapproval by posing a statement as a question:  “So this is two different dishes. . . . right?  Is that the idea?”  Jeff shrugs, “sure.”

Danny:  cornflake-crusted zucchini flowers, stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and a potato-bacon hash.  He made this dish because, apparently, the breakfast he used to eat as a kid was a bowl of corn flakes and zucchini flowers in a pan.  Sounds like bullshit to me.  What kid eats zucchini flowers for breakfast?  Either way, Rocco said that the dish was overpowered by the corn flakes and that it would have been better if you could taste more of the zucchini flowers.

Ariane: French toast, stuffed with soft cream cheese, bacon, and chives.  Served with a chili maple syrup.  Rocco liked it because it was well balanced — not too sweet, not too savory.  Just right.  Again, Ariane-skeptics should eat it.

Fabio: brioche with bruleed banana and a shot of espresso cream.  He says that he’s Italian — he doesn’t have bacon or eggs for breakfast.  But what does make  him happy in the morning is something sweet, like brioche and maybe some fruit and a cappucino.  Plus, in the morning, if you had something heavy like bacon and eggs, you’d be sluggish and slow.  On the other hand, if you had something light and sweet like his breakfast, you’d be energetic and ready to go.  Of course, the skinny-ass model that IS the host of the show shoots him down by saying he contradicts himself when saying that, since his espresso cream was so heavy.  Feels like a pudding, she says.  Maybe she’s just too used to eating next to nothing to keep her figure?  Fabio looks stunned and has nothing to say.

Leah: a mini bacon, egg, and cheese.  She comments that everyone else’s amuse-bouche is too large.  So, by sticking to what the quickfire challenge asked for — a single bite — she hopes to gain some brownie points.  She fries up some bacon and fries the bread in the bacon fat.  Then, she pairs this up with some spicy tomato sauce and a sunny-side-up quail egg.  Pepper and fried sage finish the dish.  Rocco “mmm’s” while Padma says that it’s the perfect size while still chewing her food.  Leah shoots back by saying, “Well, it’s an amuse-bouche, so I tried to make it one bite.”  Now, everyone else is screwwwweeeedddd, hahaha.

Melissa:  Eggs in a nest.  French toast with an over-easy egg, some strawberries, some bacon.

Radhika:  She says she loves breakfast, especially a good, hearty breakfast.  She made a potato cake with a miniature fluffy omelet with bacon, chives, and hollandaise sauce.

Jamie: she initially laments that she sucks at making breakfast because she never eats it.  When she was younger, she used to eat things like canned chicken noodle soup or Chef Boyardee for breakfast, if she ever had anything at all.  Come service time though, she’s made a BLT with fresh basil and balsamic syrup on top.  Rocco likes it a lot.

Those were all the dishes that were shown.

Judgement:

Bottom two: Danny (cornflakes killed it), Fabio (dish would have been a great dessert, but Rocco likes savory foods for Rocco’s breakfast),

Fabio is hilarious.  He laments that he should have listened when Rocco said he liked bacon by saying (in his heavily accented English), “Nexx time, I’ma do-a piece of toast-a, bay-honna (bacon), and-a some bullshit eggs on it . . . and I’ll probably a-one of the top three.”  Amen, brother.

Top three:

Stefan:  Even though it was more than one bite, Rocco loved the container — the egg cup.  Of course, Stefan cheated a little, since he has that stupid egg-cutting tool.

Leah:  Great arrangement of flavors in the perfect bite.

Jamie:  Beautifully arranged.  Great amuse-bouche.

Rocco would have picked both Jamie and Leah, but since he has to choose one winner, he would pick . . .

Leah!  Hell yes.  Her second quickfire win in a row.  Her prize, besides immunity?  Rocco’s new book, of course.  Jamie is pissed, not because she doesn’t get a stupid book, but because, again, she was so close to winning a quickfire and she didn’t.

Elimination challenge:

Padma says, “You all know how important it is, as a chef, to raise your profile so that people know about you and your cooking.  The more people who know about you, the more we’ll seek out your restaurants, buy your books, and try your food.  So, for your elimination challenge, we want you to show us how you would want to introduce yourselves and your food to millions of television viewers.  You must create a dish for a 2 and a half minute presentation, suitable for a live television segment.”

They all have an hour to cook.  Then, they’ll present their food to the judges.  The judges pick the top 3, who will then go on to a sub-challenge.  The winners will have a major reward here.  Leah is “scared as hell,” hahaha.

Again, Fabio entertains by lamenting about how tough this challenge is for him, considering that he has 2 and a half minutes to explain something in “purrfeck Inglish, live TV.  While I’m coo-hing [cooking].”  I didn’t like him much at first, but this guy is pretty funny.  It helps that he’s an excellent cook, too.

Commercial break.  Shot of Whole Foods supermarket.  $100,  30 minutes to shop.  Fabio narrates.  Also decides to butcher his own tuna.  Priceless.

Eugene and Hosea eventually find their way to the fish counter too.  Eugene is planning on doing homemade sushi, since his culinary background is in sushi.  He finds out that they sell tuna in blocks, so he changes his mind and asks for the blocks of tuna.  In fact, he wants to cut it himself, so he does what Fabio does and goes to the back to butcher his own fish.  Hosea, feeling left out, does the same.  Priceless, man.  Priceless.  Smart, too.

Alex claims that he’s the only one with guts enough to do dessert, so he wants to do a rose scented creme brulee.  I’m cringing in my seat, cuz I already know that custards need to be mixed, baked slowly in a water bath, cooled, topped with sugar, and then bruleed.  They only have an hour.  What the hell is he thinking?

Apparently, he thinks that if he pulls this off, he’ll get a free pass due to the sheer level of difficulty.  It’s more like an impossibility, though, so he’s got the right idea.  Kinda.  Not really.

Jeff wants to do a shrimp malfouf roll.  I’m not sure what he’s thinking, either.  What happened to quick and simple?  Something the viewers could sink their teeth into (literally)?

Jamie is doing a frisee salad with lardons and a fried duck egg, which is topped with caviar.  Honestly, she gets more beautiful with every episode, which is disappointing because she’s a lesbian.

Leah is doing a seared duck breast with corn and blueberries.  She’s happy she has immunity, because the whole live television thing freaks her out.

Radhika decides to do a sweet and spicy shrimp dish, since her flavor profile is Indian, which uses a lot of different strongly flavored spices.

Carla is set on making a tortilla soup.  It was the first thing that came to her mind, and she does not want to be on the bottom.

Ariane, as I mentioned above, is making a beefsteak tomato, watermelon, feta salad with aged balsamic and herb fleur de sel.  Basil oil.  It’s a smart move because it’s simple, tasty, and easy to prepare in 2 and a half minutes.

Danny is doing a ginger soy marinated skirt steak.  It’s got pineapple and tomatoes.  He mentions that he aspires to be like Bobby Flay, and that his goal is to make you laugh and teach you how to cook.  I only now noticed that he’s 25 years old.  I could have sworn he was, like, 30 or 35.

Showtime:

The judges come in and announce that time is up.  It’s time to present the food.

First up is Ariane.  She rocks the house, showing everyone how to make basil oil, and how to put her dish together.  She finishes with like 15 seconds left on the clock.  Perfect.

Next up is Jamie.  She puts together her bitter greens salad with lardons, fried duck egg, and caviar.  Unfortunately, her egg doesn’t cook in the two and a half minutes, so she ends up serving a half-raw egg to the judges.  They are not appreciative.

Next is Alex, with his rose scented creme brulee.  Padma gives him a hard time by asking specific questions, like how much vanilla he would use, then reacting in surprise when he says that he’d use a teaspoon.  This makes him adjust the amount by saying that he’d probably use half a teaspoon.  What a bitch.  Doesn’t matter.  He runs out of time.  The food is inedible anyway, because the creme brulee hasn’t set.

Jeff makes his malfouf roll with shrimp and muhammara sauce.  Don’t ask me what that is.  It’s from the middle east.  I was cool with the middle easterners in college and I ate a decent amount of food from that region, but I don’t know what that is.  I’ll look into it and get back to you.

Fabio is up.  He comments that he’s watching everyone else, and they’re using weird ingredients that professional chefs know, but that his mom doesn’t know.  His mom is the one watching TV.  His mom wants to know about tuna, “hhccarross (carrots), and asparagus.  That’s it.”  Padma asks when he came over from Italy, and Fabio makes fun of himself by calling himself a FOB.  Goddamn priceless, man.

Daniel’s turn.  While searing his skirt steak, a lot of smoke is generated.  Rocco asks why he has his pan so hot.  Danny explains that he wants the soy sauce on the outside of the steak to caramelize.  Idiot.  Soy sauce doesn’t caramelize.  Plus, it’s a lot of freaking smoke!  To boot, it’s all in Tom Colicchio’s face.  I’d say that Tom looked worried, but I couldn’t make out facial features behind all that smoke.  It doesn’t matter though, because the judges love his food.  He proceeds to spew some catchphrases while winking and pointing at the camera.  My friend Catie comments that she’s starting to really dislike him.  Oh well.  He’s all right, I guess.

Stefan makes minestrone soup.  He does the classic television swap-out by replacing his pot of sweated vegetables and cold soup with a pot of soup that’s already made.

Hosea makes tuna coated with a crust of crushed wasabi peas.  Ironic, for me, because that’s what I was munching on.

Eugene makes sashimi, although he doesn’t seem to answer Rocco’s question about the difference between sushi and sashimi satisfactorily.  For the record (to the best of my knowledge), the difference is that sashimi is just raw fish, sliced, with no rice or “seaweed.”  Sushi, on the other hand, is a finger food, made by the chef, which is typically bound with rice and dried algae (the “seaweed” wrapper is actually dried algae).  Sushi contains all the wasabi (if any) that the food requires, as determined by the chef.  To eat, you may use your fingers or chopsticks (both are permissible) to dip a corner of it into a light soy sauce or soy-based sauce (no additional wasabi, please!  Etiquette demands it, although I usually don’t follow this rule for the hell of it.  Plus, I use my fingers in sushi restaurants, so I’m kind of a bastard).

Melissa makes blackened habanero shrimp which is neither blackened nor appetizing.  Everyone thinks the food is way too spicy (habaneros are the hottest naturally growing pepper.  The spiciest foods out there are either capsaicin extracts which are refined from chillis, or crossbred, hybrid, super chillis like the “ghost pepper.”  Melissa’s food is so spicy, in fact, that Tom has to spit the food out because he has spicy food problems.  Oof.

Carla hardly gets a shot.  She runs out of time when she thinks she still has two minutes left.

Ditto Radhika.  She mentions something about rice wine vinegar and that’s it.

Leah, too.  She only gets to put together the corn and blueberry part of her salad.  No seared duck breast.  Bummer.

Stew room:

Everyone vents.  Judges deliberate.  They remember Jamie’s raw egg.  They say Leah is really lucky for having immunity, considering that she was so nervous on camera, plus the fact that she didn’t finish her dish.  Tom says that Alex’s dish was “a silly choice,” because he didn’t have the time.  Rocco didn’t like Carla’s nervous energy, which made him uncomfortable.  She didn’t finish the presentation, but her soup was good.  The girls (Gail and Padma) loved his food and thought he was charming on screen, but too messy.  Tom didn’t like the fact that Danny “smoked out the entire studio,” and “mugged” for the camera.  “Over the top.”  *cue shot of Danny, with beer, making scary faces*

Stefan did all right.  The judges thought it was smart that he had the swap-out ready to go, plus soup was a great idea for TV.  Tom doesn’t like his personality, though.  I guess Richard can relax a little bit at home, since he still has a chance with the Colicchio (HA!).

Everyone unanimously hated Melissa’s dish.  Way too spicy.  Very off-putting.  It would scare anyone who ate it from ever wanting Melissa to come back and cook ever again.

The judges were impressed with Jeff’s confidence, level of complexity, and the fact thathe managed to finish his dish on time.

Everyone loved Fabio.  I’m beginning to do the same.

Padma and Tom loved Ariane and her dish.  Thought it was perfect (Eat it, disbelievers!).

Bottom three: Melissa, Alex, Jamie

Top three: Jeff, Fabio, Ariane

The judges send them all home to rest instead of judging there and then.

The Next Day:

Tom wakes up the top three at 2:00 AM.  When they congregate in the kitchen, Tom tells them that the hosts of the Today Show will be judging their dishes and picking the winner.  Ariane is excited, despite her bed hair.  It’s fantastic.

They all get ready and head off to 30 Rockafeller Plaza to make their food for the show.  Jeff acts bad ass, saying that he’s pissed that it’s 6 in the morning and that he has to make complex, middle eastern food for ladies with “unsophisticated palettes.”  Easy there, Jeff.  Go fix your hair.

After cooking, the three of them are led to the Green Room to watch the hostesses pick apart their food (literally and figuratively).

The rest of the contestants wake up at the Top Chef house and discover that Fabio, Jeff, and Ariane are gone.  They find a big TV set up in the living room and congregate around it to watch the Today Show feed from the Top Chef camera crew.

They dig into Ariane’s watermelon, tomato, and feta salad.  Meredith something-or-other hates watermelon, so she picks around it.  Generally, they “love it!!”.

Next Fabio’s dish: sesame-crusted seared tuna with carrots, asparagus, and balsamic glaze.  Fabio watches in confusion, because he can’t understand what the hell they’re all saying, hahaha.

Next is Jeff’s dish.  Tom dumbs it down for them by saying that it’s a sauteed shrimp cabbage roll.  Some like it.  Kathi Lee gags and is about to throw up.  What a bitch.  Picky eaters really annoy me sometimes.

The judges deliberate (the women of the Today Show, that is).  They don’t seem to like unusual foods.  Freaking unadventurous palettes.  I hate that.

Finally, they say that although it isn’t the most original dish (where have we all heard that one before?), it was a good dish.  Ariane wins it!  She also squeals and jumps with delight behind stage.  Carla is ecstatic and likewise squeals from home.

Back to the Top Chef judge’s table:

Everyone says it was a great experience.  Ariane, being the winner, gets a prize from Rocco DiSpirito — a toolbag from a toolbag.  It’s got a thin fish spatula in it, an offset spatula or two in it, a big metal spoon, and a couple other things that I can’t make out.  There were about 24 tools in all, he said, but we only saw maybe 8 at home.

I was disappointed again because it was at this point that I found out that I missed the episode of the Today Show that aired this morning.  Apparently, Ariane was live on there.  Sigh.  If anyone finds it on YouTube or something, let me know!

The winners go out and the losers come in:

Melissa defends her dish — says that she thought the dish was well balanced.  Rocco expresses his disbelief, considering how spicy habaneros are.

Jamie defends her actions by saying that she knew the egg wasn’t cooked, but she wanted to get her dish done.  She should have flipped the egg over.  Rocco didn’t like her attitude, since she “recoiled” and crossed her arms, as if she were really angry.  Of course, she was angry at herself and not the judges, but that wasn’t the way some people (COUGH rocco COUGH.  Wow, I can’t believe I just did that) saw it.

Alex had to defend his choice in making creme brulee.  I don’t think he was very successful at defending himself.

Melissa then pipes in about how much she really wants to be here, which seems like she’s implying that other people don’t want to be here.  Tom calls her out on this, but she denies it.  Padma then goes back to Alex, who somewhat lamely defends himself and why he wants to be here again.

The bottom three get sent out and the REAL judges deliberate.  Rocco disagrees with Tom when Tom says that Jamie’s dish was very close to being a good dish.  Rocco says that raw eggs and cooked eggs are worlds apart, which is true, but he misses the point that Jamie only had 2 and a half minutes to cook an egg.  I would argue that he couldn’t have done it better himself.  Rather, I would argue that he probably would have done worse.

Rocco again brings up Jamie’s reaction after time was up — how she recoiled and got angry.  Hey, Rocco . . . WHO THE HELL CARES?!?  Leave it alone, man!

Back in the stew room, Alex wonders if Melissa is trying to throw him under the bus.  Either way, it’s too late to defend himself now.  The judges have heard enough.

Cut to commercial.  The show cuts back to a scene of Leah and Hosea flirting hardcore.  Bastard.  Just kidding, haha.

Back to the judges table:  Tom recites the list of offenses to the guilty party.  Padma passes judgment.

Alex goes home to write his vows and get married.

Next week: everyone cooks for Gail’s bridal shower.  Whyyyyyyyy is Gail getting marrieddddd???  How disappointing.  Sigh.

Thanksgiving, Top Chef, Pictures, progress, and more

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food on TV, Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2008 by restaurantouring

Hi, everyone.  I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving!  Hopefully, all your turkeys came out perfect, your dressings were aromatic, your gravies un-lumpy, and all your sides were delicious.

Admittedly, my own turkey (I got a 13.4 pounder for Thanksgiving with the fam) turned out pretty poorly.  I broke my probe thermometer and it was too late to get a new one, so I was roasting somewhat blind.  Then, in the middle of trying to get the bird golden brown, I had to go pick up my grandmother before she got too angry at all of us for forgetting to pick her up (no one else in the family seemed readily willing to go and pick her up for some reason).  I handed responsibility for the turkey over to someone else, who ended up ruining the outside of the turkey despite me giving timely instructions by cell phone (the skin got way too dark), and the foil covering I made for the breast wasn’t put onto the turkey the correct way, nor was it put on at the right time.  Sigh.  Needless to say, dinner didn’t start until an hour and a half later than expected because my family decided to keep cooking new, subpar, mediocre dishes, plus there was a decent amount of bickering and arguing.  Ah, well.  What’s Thanksgiving with the family without fighting, right?

Of course, the turkey dried out.  Between the extra hour and a half and the cycles of resting, cooling, and reheating the bird every time everyone “decided” that dinner was ready (it wasn’t), the breast meat overcooked and got fairly dry, despite my brining the bird for a day before hand, and the legs were starting to dry out as well.  Good thing there’s gravy and cranberry sauce.

I also made a roasted pumpkin terrine that turned out all right.  I layered it with apple, carrot, and dried cranberries for interior garnish.  It was all tied together with a pumpkin butter, apple cider vinaigrette.  I served it with a cream sauce that I made with heavy cream, maple syrup, sage, and some cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  I wish I took pictures.  The battery for my camera died and I have been scouring my cluttered apartment for the charger.  No luck so far.  Hopefully I’ll have some time to do some cleaning this weekend, since I will be pretty swamped with work this week.

Also, apologies for not updating about the 3rd episode of Top Chef.  Things got hectic with family, food, black friday shopping, etc.  If you missed it, Richard was eliminated.  I was so sad.  I liked him (no homo).  The contestants first had to draw knives with numbers and put their own spin on recipes from the Top Chef cookbook.  The numbers on the knives corresponded with pages in the cookbook.  Grant Achatz was the guest judge (you had all better know who Grant Achatz is.  He’s fantastic).  Maybe 15 minutes into the challenge, Padma and Grant interrupted the chefs and announced that they had changed their mind and wanted a soup instead.  Then, all the contestants had to take what they had already started to cook, and turn it into a soup.

To save time, the Top Chef kitchens provided them all with cartons upon cartons of Swanson broth.  I was horrified — not at the blatant ad placement (c’mon.  This is Top Chef we’re talking about here.  Any fan of the show should be completely desensitized to it by now), but because homemade stock is magnitudes better than the packaged, store-bought kind.  For shame, Top Chef!

Leah made a white asparagus soup with tuna tartare, which seemed to greatly impress Chef G (Achatz), since white asparagus is a tough ingredient to work with.  Danny also made a great soup (a ham and egg soup).  Jamie made a deconstructed falafel soup.  Leah ended up winning the quickfire (I love that damn woman).

For the elimination challenge, Leah was asked to pick teammates that she wanted to work with.  She picked the two Europeans, Fabio and Stefan (nooooooo!  team Europe!!!!), as well as Melissa, Hosea, and Radhika.  Leah’s team was nickednamed Team Sexy Pants.  The other team, fronted by Ariane, was nicknamed Team Cougars (because Ariane is such a cougar, raaar).  Then, the contestants found out that they had to cook for the band, the Foo Fighters, plus their roadies.  This was a catering gig, much like when I cooked for Five Finger Death Punch, Unearth, and some other bands at the Starland Ballroom (see the About Me page on this blog for more details).

The theme for this challenge was Thanksgiving.  Ariane made a bombtastic turkey breast and totally redeemed herself in the eyes of the judges, since it was the best turkey between the two teams.  Unfortunately for Richard, the judges decided that the dessert he made for the Foo Fighters was the worst thing on the menu.

Richard tried to please the band by making a dessert with bananas and chocolate, since they mentioned that they loved to eat chocolate covered frozen bananas.  So, he decided to make s’mores with ganache and banana creme.  The problem was that s’mores should be made a la minute, which he tried to do.  Unfortunately, the s’mores still sat around for a good bit, so they weren’t nearly as good come service time.  The judges commented that the banana creme looked like spit (or something similar in consistency and appearance).

It was too bad for Richard, since he didn’t want to throw someone else under the bus when he had to face the judges.  Danny also made some fairly awful dishes, but being a bullshit artist, he lied his way through the challenge.  “Richard, please pack your knives and go.”  Sadness.

There seemed to be some friction between Jamie and Danny in the stew room, too.  This could get interesting.  Maybe Jamie was just sad that she’s quickly become the only member of the former Team Rainbow?  Remember that Patrick was eliminated in the first episode, and now Richard has been eliminated.

That’s all for Top Chef.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve had quite a few updates recently.  I must admit, I’ve been cheating somewhat *evil*.  A few weekends ago, I was really quite bored and had nothing to do, so I wrote maybe a dozen entries in the span of a few days.  I used WordPress to schedule them to post at midnight, on just about every night.  So, if you’ve seen a lot of posts (and if you’re wondering why it took me this long to write about how my Thanksgiving was whereas it seems I’ve been writing about cooking with wine, frying chicken, etc. etc.) — well, that’s why.  I’ve been cheating.  So, there you go.  It feels good to get that out into the open.  *sigh of relief*

Finally, once I get my camera charged back up and ready to go, I’m going to be making some aesthetic changes around here.  I got tired of this silly default theme a long time ago, and I think it’s time to spruce the place up a bit — add some pictures.  I may even take pictures related to previous posts.  If I do so, I will edit those posts and also write a new entry with the pictures and links to the relevant posts.  I don’t know . . . something to pass the time, as well as to make the blog more pleasant to look at (I do enjoy pictures, you know).

That’s all for now!  Leave me some comment love if you please.  I’d love to hear about how you spent your Thanksgivings, how the turkey came out, what else you made for dinner, etc.  Also, if you have any questions or suggestions for future blog topics, please leave them here!  I will do my best to answer your questions as quickly as possible, while still posting meaningful, fun to read, informative blog entries.  There’s too much to do!

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 2

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by restaurantouring

Warning:  There are more spoilers in this post!

So this week, I almost missed the new episode of Top Chef because I was busy eating at Ariane‘s restaurant, CulinAriane, in Montclair, New Jersey.  Luckily, everyone was going to a local Irish pub to hang out and watch the new episode after dinner, so I tagged along and not only got to watch the new episode (except the first 5 minutes or so.  I missed the beginning while briskly walking through the freezing cold), but I also got to meet with Ariane and her husband, Michael.  I’ll write about my experiences at the restaurant and what I thought of the food tomorrow.

Tonight’s blog update is mainly possible because of my good friend, Catie, so consider her the guest blogger for tonight.  Catie sometimes leaves comments under the alias “The Editor,” which is exactly what she does for me and this blog — she edits.  She sent me comments through instant messenger, and I’m just reading, transcribing, and reflecting upon what I saw at the pub on TV, so my facts may not be entirely accurate.  If anyone has any clarifications or an additions or comments, please let me know!

TOP CHEF: Show Your Craft, Ep. 2

The quickfire features the lovely and gorgeous Ms. Donatella Arpaia as a guest judge, along with the also beautiful Padma Lakshmi.  Apt, because Ms. Arpaia is so friggin hot in New York.  The challenge features a food that 100 million people consume a year.  Or maybe 100 million of these things are consumed a year.  I’m not sure.  Either way, the food they all have to make is hot dogs, so a woman named Angelina (?), who is apparently famous in New York for her hot dogs, wheels a street cart into the Top Chef kitchen.  Essentially, this is a battle of sorts between the Top Chef contestants and Angelina’s hot dogs.  Everyone has 45 minutes to create their dish and present it to the judges (Padma and Donatella).

People panic.  Ariane, in particular, apparently hasn’t made a hot dog since 1989.  And no wonder — [most] American manufactured hot dogs are disgusting!  Quality made hot dogs are sublime, though (but that’s another blog).

According to Catie’s comments and her recap, Fabio is doing a panini dog. It has goat cheese and roasted bell peppers with it.

Stefan seems to be doing the same thing, I think. He later changes it to a “world dog,” with beer!

Eugene (one of the two competitors I’m really rootin’ for) is making a maki roll, sushi style. Sounds weird to me. I hope it’s good.

Radhika is making a pork, lamb, and ground chuck, Indian-inspired hot dog, which seems like the obvious choice in terms of flavor profile, given her background, but it sounds like it would be tasty. Heavy spices and fatty meats = love at first bite for me.

Jill is making a hot dog summer roll, with a soy chilli sauce, but instead of making her own dog, she’s using pre-made hot dogs.

Danny is making a pork and horseradish dog in natural casing.

Hosea is making a bacon and roasted red pepper dog with some red wine vinegar dressing.

Carla is making a lamb and pork sausage, with kraut and caramelized onions.

My home girl, Ariane, is making a chicken sausage with bacon.

My favorite lesbian, Jamie is making pork and beef, lemon zest and cayenne dog. Unfortunately, there seems to have been bits of bone in her dog. Sucks!

That’s all the info I’ve got so far on the quickfire. On with the judging!

So the ones up on the chopping block are Jill (because she used store-bought hot dogs) and Stefan (apparently the global-dog idea was terrible, especially because it looked so terrible).

The top chefs were Radhika (the judges loved that she was embracing Indian cuisine), Hosea (everybody loves bacon), and Fabio (people loved the flavors and the Mediterranean feel of the food).

And Radhika wins! The judges loved her Indi-dog. Lovely. I want one.

Now, for the elimination challenge:

The contestants will be “opening their own restaurant,” only not really. Rather, they will be working at Tom Colicchio‘s restaurant, Craft.

The challenge is to prepare a 3-course, New American lunch menu. There are no teams. This is all done individually. The guests will be 50 rejected Top Chef candidates, so they will most likely by hyper-critical judges of the food.

The contestants have $2500 to spend at Whole Foods. Hosea goes for crab meat, but it looks like it’s all from a can. Jill goes for ostrich eggs, because she thinks that will make her stand out. Jamie is going for some sweet corn to make a soup with herb infused oil and mint chiffonade. Ariane is going to make a lemon meringue martini, just like the one served at her restaurant. One of the many loves of my life, Leah, is going for another scallops dish (to see why I love Leah, read this previous post of mine). Jill is going for an ostrich egg quiche. Fabio is making beef carpaccio with olives and shaved parmesan cheese, except he’s taking a page out of the molecular gastronomy/avant garde cooking book and gelling his olive puree with sodium alginate and calcium chloride! The bastard *shakes fist*. Carla is doing a dessert made with some sort of laminated dough, maybe puff pastry, with some cheddar cheese on the side. Apparently, it’s very good. Hosea is making a sort of salad-like preparation, I think. He’s pairing the crab meat with a mango salsa type of appareil.

The 50 rejected Top Chef candidates don’t seem as angry and resentful as some of the competitors feared they would be. Too bad, hahaha. It would have been interesting. At any rate, Hosea gets called out on using canned crab meat. Fabio gets praised for having a very good dish. People seem to love Jeff’s dish (some grilled meat, I think. I can’t remember.) and Jill’s soup. Carla’s dessert is a hit, despite the funny looking wedge of plain cheddar on the side of the plate.

So it turns out that Ariane’s lemon meringue was far too sweet. So cloyingly sweet, in fact, that Padma spits out her bite into her napkin. Donatella Arpaia and Tom Colicchio likewise make faces when eating the dessert. Jill’s ostrich egg quiche is bad and Donatella comments that it tastes like glue. Hosea’s crab meat dish doesn’t sit well with the judges either, since the texture is on the slimy side of disgustingness.

Ariane defends herself, saying that she couldn’t tell if her dessert was any good because she kept tasting it and tasting it and it eventually started tasting the same. Hosea had no real, good excuse, since everything on the plate (and Tom Colicchio agreed) should have tasted good together, at least in principle (seafood and a tropical fruit sauce or garnish is extremely common). Jill was unfortunately unable to come up with a good excuse, and purportedly gave the lamest excuse for her dish in all of Top Chef history. Quite frankly, she was just too upset to come up with the words to explain herself.

The judges love Fabio’s dish. Donatella comments that the dish is probably the perfect lunch, and original to boot (gelled purees using sodium alginate and a calcium salt isn’t original, in my opinion, but it sure isn’t as ubiquitous as mango salsa). They also love Jamie’s soup and a couple other dishes.

Finally, the winner: Fabio
The Loser: Jill. Sadness. She packs her knives and goes home.

Other competitors eliminated thus far: Patrick and Lauren.

Again, tune in tomorrow for a review-of-sorts of Ariane‘s restaurant, CulinAriane!.