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Friday, November 30, 2012

Top Chef Seattle Episode 4 Recap: “50’s Food Flashback”

It’s week 4 of Top Chef Season 10 in Seattle and right away we start off with...DRAMA.

Instead of opening with the Quickfire Challenge, we pick up where we left off last week in the stew room with John Tesar making friends by telling everyone that Kuniko Yagi deserved her demise. (She got sent packing last week.)

“You can do potatoes in your sleep as a chef...”

I don’t know if he’s playing head games or just being a douche. What I DO know is pretty much everyone else thinks he’s a douche. CJ is trying to be civil in curbing the douchiness, but John retaliates harshly, “You’re full of shit right now.” 

Our Mustachioed Crusader (Josh Valentine) jumps in and call Tesar tactless, only to catch an insult of his own about being from Oklahoma. Gauntlets have been thrown!

Valentine blasts some personal salvos, citing all the reasons why Tesar is known as “The Most Hated Chef”

“How many restaurants have you opened and failed? Walked away from? Not showed up for events? That’s why you’re an a**hole!”

Feeling surrounded, Tesar blurts out the most egregious statement of the season.

“You pretend to have balls but you have no balls.”

**Sidebar: For those of you who missed Top Chef Season 3, CJ is a testicular cancer survivor. I haven’t mentioned it because I think it’s uncouth and it doesn’t seem that’s something CJ wants to be known for. I don’t blame him. If you haven’t already you can see why John Tesar gets his “most hated” title. 

Ah...we're one step closer to Top Housewives of Seattle. Oy.

Instead of moving on to the "cooking" part of Top Chef the show cuts to the chefs' apartment. Where we see with a gratuitous scene of Stefan giving Kristen a foot massage. It’s like watching a snail crawling up a princess’ leg. Plus, feet. Really?! That’s not appetizing! *shudder* 

Can we get to the cooking PLEASE??

Finally. Quickfire Challenge

The chefs walks into the Top Chef kitchen and standing in front of a curtain is a puffy shirt wearing Padma Lakshmi with this week’s Quickfire guest judge, Naomi Pomeroy.

Naomi is a James Beard Award nominee, Top Chef Masters alum, and owner of the restaurant, Beast. With that name in mind...


Beauties and the Beasts
Padma lowers the curtain to reveal two giant sides of beef dangling on a hook, hoisted by a mini cranes. In between the swaying bovine carcasses, two huge cleavers embedded into a cutting board. It’s a vegetarian’s nightmare.

The chefs will have one hour to butcher and showcase a dish featuring their favorite cut of beef. Winner will have immunity.

Chef Pomeroy would like them to think of these sides of beef as a blank canvass. How poetic. I might try taking a cleaver to a blank canvass. Imagine if I took a cleaver to a Rothko? Wait. Too soon?

Everyone’s hacking away, trying to get their choice cuts. Frankly it’s looking more like “gimme whatever cut I can get.” The key is quickly get what you need and start cooking.

Tyler Wiard is “in a funk.” He was on the bottom last week with a weak gumbo so now he’s thinking outside the box and making a Hispanic style crudo. His enthusiasm and “aw shucks” personality is quite endearing. Not that I think he’s gonna win. Not at all.

Have you seen the movie Saw?
Gotta say. The high level of techniques shown during this quickfire was really impressive. Stefan made ravioli, John and Micah braised ox tail, Lizzie pressure cooked some shank. To carve out a cut from a slab of beef that size and make some steak frites would be tough enough, let alone attempting these time-consuming preparations. Tip-O-the-Cap to them.

If you really want to understand the difficulty and artistry of butchering a whole side of beef (if you’re reading this then you probably do) check out this great video of Tom Mylan, butcher from Marlow and Daughters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY. 

Hour’s up.

Eliza - Grilled Flank Steak with Cherry Cognac Reduction, Asparagus & Potato Cake.

John Tesar - Braised Oxtail, Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Vegetables & Celery.

Josh - Beef Meatballs with Creamy Polenta & Pickled Shallots.

Sheldon - Kalbi Round Steak with Tomato Cardamom Broth & Fennel Salad.

Hanger Steak
Brooke - Grilled Hanger Steak with Smoked Onion Figs & Cauliflower Puree’.
Tyler - Hispanic Crudo with Charred Tomato Sauce & Cilantro Raddish Slaw.

Kristen - Top Sirloin Tartare with Mustard Sabayon & Carpaccio Salad.

Micah - Oxtail Polenta with Truffled Romanesco Cauliflower.

Carla - Sirloin Medallion Wrapped in Bacon, Asiago Risotto with Marsala Sauce.

Stefan - Braised Top Round Ravioli with Marjoram & Aged Parmesan.

CJ - Top Round Tartare, Raw Juniper & Kohlrabi

Chrissy - Grilled Hanger Steak with Brown Butter, Parsley & Radish Salad.

Lizzie - Braised Foreshank with Turnips & Dill.

Less Successful dishes:

Lizzie’s beef foreshank was just too tough. If you’ve ever tried to make osso buco you’d understand just how ambitious it was to do this in under an hour. Pressure cooker or not.

Eliza’s flank steak was cooked well, but why on Earth did she pair asparagus and cherry? Judges didn’t like that combo either. Bottom.

Poor Tyler. His Hispanic crudo just “fell short and it was also a little under seasoned” as well. He looks like he’s about cry.

“I can’t do ANYTHING right.” *slump*

The Contenders:

CJ’s tartare was “fantastic,” and Naomi complimented him on the knife work. I thought CJ showed some of his Copenhagen influences here with the raw kohlrabi and juniper as I’ve seen a few dishes from NOMA with those products. You know what, from his earlier bravado during the challenge, CJ thought so too. 

Beef sushi. NOMA Style.
“This is the kind of dish if they don’t like it, then ‘screw you.’ They don’t know what’s good.” Bold words.

Naomi also liked John’s oxtail with gnocchi. He managed to successfully braise the oxtail, and create a "lovely"sauce due to the gelatin in the bones. From CJ’s (albeit edited) reaction you’d think his prom date just left with John. Ha!

The final contender was Josh’s meatball and polenta. This was a stroke of genius. Beef is beef. So regardless of cut, if you can break it down prior to cooking by making a meatball, you’ve removed the “is it tender?” factor out of the equation. The flavors all came together and the meatball was “perfect.”

When in doubt. Go with Polenta.
Note to self. Master the heck of out how to make a killer polenta. I cannot tell you how many times through 10 seasons a top 3 dish involved polenta. You know why? Because when done correctly it’s the perfect warm gooey delicious hug from the inside you can give someone. I have just one word for you chefs..."Polenta. There's great future in Polenta."

As if the Bravo producers themselves orchestrated this riveting scenario, the top 3 dishes were made by the same 3 chefs who had it out last night. How fortuitous! (Obviously they didn’t, but isn’t funny how things turn out? Ah reality television...you’re so cheeky.)

The best beef goes to...

John and his oxtail. Personality aside, to pull off braised oxtail and gnocchi in that time limit is really impressive. Say what you want, the man can cook. 

Elimination Challenge

Canlis, a family-owned iconic restaurant has been open in Seattle since 1950. Its’ chefs and staff have won multiple awards and nominations ranging from James Beard Foundation to Food and Wine Magazine to Wine Spectator Magazine. 

With that, Padma introduces Mark and Brian Canlis. The brothers explain how 62 years ago their grandfather’s vision became the “Birthplace of Northwest Cuisine.” Since then, most of the old menu items are gone except for one, the Canlis’ Special Salad. So the challenge is, for one special night only, to revive Canlis’ original menu.

Sweater are very IN in Seattle.
The winner of this challenge will receive $10,000 furnished by Healthy Choice. Oh did I mention this will be a double elimination challenge?! WOMP.

Time to divvy up the menu items.

I don’t know the exact science behind who-gets-what. Chefs are yelling out what they want and somehow Stefan is in the center of it all, playing the role of auctioneer.

In a stroke of evil genius, Stefan bogarts the calf liver and suggests Carla take squab. 

Carla says she’s nervous on camera. I have no idea why, given her personality, she didn’t refuse the squab and fight for something she’s comfortable with. 

Chrissy ends up with the signature Canlis’ Special Salad. Of all the dishes this is the one that’s been around for 62 years. It’s going to be difficult to duplicate such an iconic flavor. Any misstep could spell trouble.

Since he has immunity, John volunteers to expedite. This seems like a good idea at first and no one said anything. If you don’t have to expedite, you can just concentrate on your dish. However, the expeditor is the organizer who calls out orders and decides when and how the dishes get sent out. So he has control the tempo and pace of the ENTIRE service. That’s a lot of power for someone who doesn’t have any stakes in the challenge.

Day of the event.

Everyone is enjoying the beautiful kitchen at Canlis. For once there is just cooking. No yelling, no drama, just cooking. *sigh of content*

Kristen has two side dishes. Fried onions and sauteed mushrooms. She’s not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse because fewer ingredients means EVERYTHING needs to be perfect. But then again, how is she going to showcase her talents with two sides dishes?

Josh is making the classic French Onion soup. I’m not sure if he’s happy about it or not because he’s telling us there aren’t a lot of onion soups floating around in Oklahoma. He also felt the need to share that in the 50’s his grandparents used to eat bull testicles. Sorry buddy. Zimmeran’s got that market cornered. 

Tom can you get the photog to get more cooking shots?
Meanwhile Carla clearly has NO idea which direction she wanted to prepare the pigeons (Oh you didn't know? Yeah, pigeons.) She’s doing her best HULK SMASH impression by literally pounding these little pigeons flat. Oh Carla...the lights starting to dim, aren’t they?

Is CJ confused? Because I swore he said that he was going to sous vide his shish-kabob before sending it out. Ya you know. That popular popular 50‘s cooking technique, cooking “under vaccum.” Hm. We’ll see.

Guests are starting to roll in. Time for service.

Joining us this week as always, our lovely host Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio, also culinary superstar Emeril Legasse along with James Beard Award winner Hugh Acheson. Top Chef alum Naomi Pomeroy and the Canlis Brothers are also there, but not as actual judges.

First up. The Appetizers:

Tyler - Fresh Crab Cocktail
Judges really liked the salad. Tyler kept it simple and let the Dungeness crab shine. Tom also particularly liked the chopped lettuce at the bottom of the cup, a nice surprise. Way to go Tyler. You did something right after all! 

Lizzie - Marinated Herring
Everyone loved the herring. It’s got tons of acid, flavorful, and most of all judges loved the ballsy move of serving it with saltine crackers. Big hit all around.

You call this Onion Soup?!
Josh - French Onion Soup
There were some issues with Josh’s soup. It’s cold, too salty, and not enough cheese on the hard-to-eat crouton. My question is, why was it not in one of those two-toned onion soup crock bowls?! If at any time on Top Chef you get to use those things it's now! Ugh. Kitsch opportunity squandered. 

John - Steamed Clams Bordelaise
John’s clams were good. Good flavor, cooked nicely, it’s steamed clams for christ sake! Moving on.

Chrissy - Canlis Special Salad
Her salad was way over dressed, croutons soggy, and just not crispy and fresh like the original. What did I tell you. There’s a saying in baseball that “you never f**k with a streak.” Well this salad has had a 62 year long streak! She was doomed from the start.
The term here is "drenched."

Brooke - Seafood Salad A la Louis
Her salad looked like a cover of Life Magazine. All the shellfish were nicely cooked. However, Naomi had issues with the green beans being slightly under cooked. Oh Naomi, don’t you know that Tom likes his vegetables al dente? 

Overall Tom thought the appetizer course was very nice. He felt “visually” it channeled the 50’s. 

Second Course:

We see the first hiccup of the night. Carla’s squabs kept getting sent back to the kitchen. It's either over cooked, undercooked, or just plain inedible. Not good. 

John, as if he needs MORE screen time, steps up to introduce everyone’s dishes.

Sheldon - Fresh Hawaiian Mahi Mahi
Nicely done. Bright, fresh, nicely emulsified beurre blanc.

Pigeon of Doom

Carla - Whole Milk Fed Squab
While Padma enjoyed the squab, Tom DISMISSED it (literally with a gesture of his hand and an irritated expression) Breast should have been removed and it wasn’t boned properly. Discussion over. 

Micah - Mixed Vegetables
Somehow Micah screws up the veggies. Carrots way under, turnips were too done. But you get a sense for some reason he’s getting a pass.

Stefan - Calf’s Liver & (Kristen’s) Crispy Onions
Everyone liked the liver. Tom thought it was nicely cooked and seasoned, and Emeril’s just glad Stefan “finally respected the product...finally left something alone.”

Bart - Double Cut New York Steak
Nobody was really that passionate either way about the steak. I think he gets by another week.

Josie - Gargantuan Baked Idaho Potato
Ah it’s baked potato. Could have been hotter, could have had crispier skin, but it’s a POTATO. As long as it’s cooked and seasoned, it’s gonna be ok.

CJ - Shish Kebab with Pilaf
Another poor showing for CJ. Under seasoned, pilaf not up to par, and the lamb was mealy. Tom suspects he sous vide the kabob. Yup he sure did. Hopefully we’ll find out why??

Kristen - French Mushrooms (and Crispy Onions)
Tom and Huge raved about the mushrooms. They were caramelized well, not too much moisture - one of Tom’s favorites of the evening.

Dessert

Danyele - Vanilla Ice Cream and Royal Hawaiian Supreme

Eliza - Mint Sherbet and Fresh Hawaiian Pineapple Parfait

It's SO natural looking!
Zzzzzz...honestly nobody really cared about the dessert. It was sweet, it was green, it was fine. Moving on.

During the post dinner discussion, the Brother Canlis were kind of offended by Chrissy’s salad. Considering it was their namesake, it was way over dressed and just fell flat.

Carla’s squab was pretty much unforgivable. It wasn’t properly boned, really over cooked, Emeril couldn’t even cut into his piece.

CJ’s kabob wasn’t seasoned well, wasn’t cooked well, and the rice was soggy. Just a poorly executed dish.

Lastly, Josh’s onion soup was way too salty, and not enough goopy cheese on the croutons. 

Judges’ Table

Padma comes into the civil and peaceful kitchen area of Canlis which the chefs used as this week's stew room and picks out Lizzie, Kristen, Tyler, and Stefan. It’s good to be the chosen few.

This Judges’ Table was at the restaurant itself. So the ambience was slightly different. Somehow it seem...not as scary, but the whole place had a more insidious Twin Peaks vibe. 

Padma tells the four chefs that they had the best dishes of the evening. Tyler lets out a tremendous sigh of relief, Lizzie is her composed self, and Stefan, inspired by the earlier foot massage, moves in on Kristen with a arm-around-the-shoulder-smooch-on-the-cheek maneuver! As they would say during 50's, “Oh my word!”

Hugh summed it up best when he said that the “50's was such an iconic time of reveling in simplicity...”

Kristen Kush wins with her simple by perfectly executed Sauteed Mushrooms and Cripsy Onions!

I'll pay you $10,000 to never touch me again.
She’s elated. Hell, $10,000 for ‘shrooms and onions, why not! 

*Stefan! Stop touching her!!*

The touchy feely Stefan gives two thumbs up and is “super happy” Kristen won. Super creepy.

Once again it just goes to show that you don’t have to be showy to win a challenge. Just execute to perfection. That is all. (Easy said than done huh.)

Dead Chefs Walking time...

Carla, Chrissy, CJ, and Josh are called to the “dark side” of the Judges’ Table. Two of them are going home.

Time for some answers. Let’s see how these guys fight for survival.

Josh could not believe his soup was cold! Hugh helped him out by asking about John’s expediting. Obviously last night’s bad blood was evident to everyone in the room.

Chrissy had no defense. Too much oil, too little mint and lemon. 

Carla didn’t check on her dishes as it was being cooked. That’s a HUGE no no. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t actually operating the grill. It was her dish and she should have been making sure that every single one of those squabs were cooked correctly before letting it go out. The multiple dishes sent back meant she failed in doing so. Tom's disgusted. The proverbial fat lady just hit the crescendo. 
Why must you disappoint me so?
Yeah. CJ did sous vide his lamb kabobs. That’s why they were mealy. It was also dry and flavorless. Being the wily veteran, he quickly admits his mistake but argues that he shouldn’t go home for that dish.

In the end...

Carla and Chrissy gets the boot.

Oh Chrissy, you see what happens when you tread on Emeril’s trademarked catch phrase last week? “BAM!” now you’re gone.

Carla Carla Carla. I wish, like your fellow chefs, that I can say that I’ll miss you...but we all know that’s not the truth. Plus, I’m sure Bravo Andy’s already working on developing your own show, “LOL Top Flipping Out of Vegas Strip?” Eh. Working title. "Top Chef, Top Ass?" Possibly.

Aww I kid. I’m sure she’s a lovely and fun person, just REALLY would not want to cook in the same kitchen with her. 

Bye ladies. Good luck in Last Chance Kitchen!

Next week...

Well. The only thing you need to know about next week is this:

TOM IS PISSED OFF.

Remember in season 5 when Tom was so disappointed he came back to the stew room and totally bitched everyone out with the famous, “You’re not going to win Top Chef with deviled eggs!” speech?

Well it looks like we’re due for an encore!

Have a great week!

As always. Be great if you followed me on twitter @ChezWu

Thanks!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top Chef Seattle Episode 3 Recap: “Tom vs. Emeril: Turkeypocalypse”


On week 3 of Top Chef Season 10 in Seattle, it’s Turkey time!! 

From last week’s preview and subsequent promos, we know that in some way head judge Tom Colicchio and culinary superstar Emeril Legasse will be involved in this holiday season feast. Will they actually get their hands dirty and cook? Let’s find out.

As always, a quick reminder of the stakes: a feature in Food and Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, $125,000 provided by Healthy Choice and title of Top Chef.

(Hm. The initial prize money for the first season of Top Chef was $100,000. Glad to see that they’ve kept up with inflation and then some! Bravo indeed!) 

**During the opening voice over Padma says TWELVE chefs remain...which is wrong. Not sure where she got that number from but we have SEVENTEEN chefs remain. Yes, that’s why I’m here. 

Around the world in 17 dumplings
Quickfire!

Joshua “The Mustache” Valentine donning his brown hipster cap of the week leads the chefs into the Top Chef Kitchen.

Standing in front of a map of the world (complete with chef’s knife icons) is our beautiful host, Padma Lakshmi and one of the most important people in the food world, Editor-in-chief of Food and Wine Magazine, Dana Cowin.

Cue gratuitous reaction of how important is it to impress the Editor-in-chief of the magazine who’s namesake is part of the final prize package. 

“You fail during this challenge you might as well go find another career.” Josie tell us on cam. Wait. Who’s Josie again? Damn. How many times do I have to look up this chef for her to be memorable?!  

This week’s quick fire - dumplings!

The chefs are to make dumplings from around the world. Most every country/culture have some type dish that is composed of an outer wrapper with a filling inside. The selections on the board (represented by the chef’s knife icons) ranges from Fufu (Africa) to Jiaozi (China). 17 choices. 17 Dumplings. (and 17 chefs! Ahem)

Dana tells us that she has “eaten her weight in dumplings” and will be judging them on “what they can do with a wrapper, a filling, and a sauce and some authenticity.”

Judging by Dana’s size, I’m gonna go ahead and say she’s maybe had 3 dumplings in her life. Have you looked at her? Seriously, how do you make a living eating and drinking around the world and stay that thin? Sigh. I digress.

Hey Bravo's gotta pay bills! 
Since some of these dumplings will be very foreign to the chefs, Bravo gets a product tie-in with Amazon’s Kindle Fire! Each chef gets five minutes to research their dumplings and say great things about the Kindle Fire before spending the rest of an hour to make their dumplings. 

This will be a sprint and grab situation, first come first serve. 

I wonder if they draw knives each week to see who goes into the kitchen first. Especially since in some of these challenges it’s a clear advantage to be closer to Padma. Well, that’s always a good thing regardless of challenges.

Here come’s the mad dash!

After the dust settles:

-Micah Fields is left with Kazakhstan, which he didn’t know was a real country.

-Stefan Richter got German Klopses, which reminded him of the good days when he had hair. 

-Sheldon Simeon got Jiaozi, a Chinese dumpling. Full of smiles, he confidently tells Danyele on screen. “I know what I’m doing already.”

-Kuniko Yagi landed Japan’s Takoyaki. Takoyaki is basically an octopus ball. Kuniko is from Japan, so if you ask John Tesar he’ll probably tell you that due to that fact alone Kuniko should win.

-Brooke Williamson doesn’t have flour to make a wrapper for her Siomay, an Indonesian  seafood dumpling. So it looks like she’ll be serving a “nudie” dumpling.
The Siomay has no clothes

I have no idea what CJ picked because he’s too busy doing a quick commercial for the Amazon Kindle. “These things are kinda awesome!” Ugh.

.....and of course Carla Pellegrino’s acting like this is a silent movie with her gestures and flailing about. She has Fufu from Africa. I get the feeling some of her fellow chefs wish she just got the first half of that.

Time. Hands up. Utensils down.

BOOM. Kuniko has NOTHING on her plate. Yup, she lost track of time and forgot to plate her dish. She’s “extremely” embarrassed. If you ask John Tesar about this he’ll probably tell you how since she’s Japanese, she’d have to perform Hari Kari. Ok maybe he wouldn’t go that far.

Here are the bottom dishes:

-Brooke Williamson: Soimay -  Chicken & shrimp with peanut sauce & daikon. Judges thought it was tasty, but without a wrapper she can’t be considered and landed on the bottom.

-Carla Pellegrino: Fufu - Chicken and lamb filling with a red sauce. Last time I checked there aren’t a lot of tomatoes in Africa. Dana agrees. X-nay on authenticity. 

-Kuniko’s empty bowl meant an automatic out.

The contenders:

-Josie’s Smith-Malave: Mandu - Pork, tofu, shitake mushrooms filling. She made a complete dish spiced up with kimchi scored high with the judges.

-Stefan Ritcher: Klopse - Ground lamb, mashed potatoes and capers. He knocks it out by bringing the flavors his grandmother to the challenge. Dana was impressed by his Klopse.

-Micah Fields: Manti - Ground lamb with dates, curry & cinnamon. He brought some middle eastern bold flavors by adding mints and dates. It looked delicious. 

The TOP Dumpling goes to...

I Do You Do We Do Mandu
Josie’s Mandu! She’s ecstatic because last week she was on the bottom and now she’s got immunity! Keep winning and I wouldn’t have to google every week. 

Stefan rolls his eyes. Sigh. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. It’s ok Stefan, go look at the pictures of your Porsche GT and tell yourself you own many restaurants.

Elimination Challenge

Padma tells us it’s time to give thanks. The challenge is to make a Thanksgiving dinner for the organization, FareStart. This organization recently won the James Beard Foundation Award for Humanitarian of the Year. In case that’s not enough, they get an extra Thanksgiving dinner this year. 

Here we go. It’s a team challenge. Two teams (Red and Gray) are simply divided by splitting their formation in half. 

Well who’s gonna lead the teams and help them guide their menu?

“Oh guys!!!” Padma calls in the heavy.

With a Tarantino-esque music in the background, Tom and Emeril swagger in like the bad asses they are. In case you’re missing the fact that these guys ARE bad basses? Padma’s here to remind you by quoting Scarface, “Say hello to my little friends.”

Everyone is super excited. 
Mister Blond and Mister White

Tom will be helping out the Red Team while Emeril will guide the Gray Team. 

Each epic chef will “set the tone” by sharing some of their own inspirations to guide each team. They won’t do any of the heavy cooking, but more of a prepping, tasting, and tinkering type of deal. Each cheftestant is still responsible for their own dishes.

Both teams go to their corners and begin to strategize. Spoiler alert: It’ll be Cajun vs. Italian

Emeril suggests bringing some creole flair while Tom talks about giving the American Thanksgiving tradition an Italian twist. That’s it. Simple. Let’s go.

During this crucial moment Josie proudly tells Emeril that since she has immunity, she should be responsible of cooking the turkey. For some reason, NO ONE on the Gray Team object!

Sure. Let’s give the MOST crucial dish to the one person who could care less about how things turn out. No matter what happens, she knows she’s not going home. 

Time to prep.

Right away Tom shows his “playful” cutthroat mentality. He tells Bart Vandaele to take ALL the fresh herbs just to screw over the Gray team. Meanwhile Emeril’s going with the more friendly approach and teaching Tyler Wiard about the nuances of making gumbo. Don’t forget, when it comes to gumbo - it’s all in the roux.

Not saying that Emeril isn’t a fierce competitor, but you can tell while Emeril’s doing his best weekend football coach impression, Tom’s more like a Marine Corp sergeant giving out orders. Tom REALLY wants this one.  

At one point talks of jalapeno going into Emeril’s corn stuffing and Tom jokingly scoffed, “Jalapeno? Hey what is this, Mexican Thanksgiving?” Heh. I guess only one ethnic influence is allowed. 

Is she having a laugh?
Faux pas of the evening. Persona non grata thus far Chrissy Camba actually had the nerve to sidle up to Emeril and invoke his immortal catch phrase, “BAM” while adding a few drops of vanilla into a cream mixture. What’s worst is she asks for permission then blurted it out before Emeril could say yes or no!!

You don’t need to be a good poker player to tell that Sir Legasse was NOT amused. I don’t care if Chrissy wins this whole thing or can make the best soup in the world, she’s probably not going to be working anywhere near New Orleans anytime soon. Oy.

“Yum yum yum!” Tom brings a spoon full of stuffing to Emeril to taste. Seeing these two so relaxed and in their element, having a great time just goes to show that despite all the television shows, all the accolades, all the posh restaurants, a chef’s heart is still in the kitchen. *tear*
Brothers in arms.

CJ (Red team) decides to take over the leadership role because he knows it’s more important that team wins. He’s going around making sure there are no weak links. So much so he had the audacity to slap Tom on the shoulder and asks “You feeling good chef?”  Um...have you have forgotten your place CJ?!

It’s Faux Thanksgiving time. The gang gathers at FareStart kitchen and have five hours to complete their turkey feast. Everyone’s humming along, getting set up when Stefan spazzes out about not having enough space.

Exchange of the day:

John Tesar (Gray team): “(mumbles)...this kindergarten...”

Stefan (Red team): “(Whiny) No you’re kindergarten!”

I know actual kindergartners who share space better than these two.

Kuniko (Gray team) is responsible for a Potato Pave. Layered potatoes. Since it’s a relatively simple dish, she’s spending a lot of her time helping out others. 

On the flip side, Lizzie Bender (Red team) is working mashed potatoes. Yes. She’s making an even simpler dish than Kuniko. She’s also not running around helping others with their dishes. 

Kristen Kish (Gray team) casually asks Kuniko about her dish. She hasn’t started yet, but she “thinks” she’ll have time. "Gokouun o inorimasu" Kuniko. (That’s Japanese for “good luck.”)

We get a peek at Josie’s (Gray team) turkey and talk about cajun. Those things looked burnt. She’s turning temperature down, repositioning the turkeys and now have to go with a “low slow” approach. Which anyone who has ever cooked a turkey on Thanksgiving will tell you that’s how it should have been done in the first place!
Turkey Sashimi anyone?

Just to rub it in. We see CJ (Red team) basting their glistening golden turkey and it’s glowing like something out of a Pulp Fiction suitcase. 

Just when you were appreciating the peace and quiet where everyone goes about their cooking, we hear some squawking from the Red team’s side.

Whaddaya know. Realizing she hasn’t had as much screen time this episode, Carla decides to throw a tantrum at CJ and Stefan for tasting her yet-to-be seasoned carrot soup. 

“You guys decide to call me sweetie and honey...and tell what the f**k to do is another.”

Once again we’re reminded dramatically by Carla that she’s a (successful) woman chef and she’s had it rough. Stefan throws a dig in about European women and that’s why he left Europe. Way to bust out the world's smallest violin, buddy.

Time’s up. Here we go.

This week’s guest judges: Editor-in-chief of Food and Wine Magazine Dana Cowin, Executive Director of FareStart Megan Karch, and Chef/Top Chef Masters contestant Thierry Rautureau, owner of Rover’s & Luc.

First up, Gray team.

-Josie: Triple Spice Turkey with Cayenne & Hot Sauce

-Danyele: Emeril’s Mom’s Dressing. Bread Stuffing with Chorizo & Cayenne

-John: Emeril’s Cornbread Stuffing with Ground Turkey and Diced Bacon

Team Creole
-Kristen: Assiette of Root Vegetables, Parsnip Truffle Puree & Creme Fraiche

-Tyler: Andouille & Shrimp Gumbo

-Kuniko: Potato Pave

-Sheldon: Braised Greens with Ham Hocks

-Brooke: Sweet Potato Buttermilk Biscuits

-Chrissy: White Chocolate & Pecan Bread Pudding

-John: Spiced Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Ricotta Torte

Josie, determined to finally make an impression with us viewer, is the de facto team leader by presenting the menu to the judges. 

Right away the judges note that despite the “cajun” exterior, Josie’s turkey is undercooked. Everyone agreed that the flavor is good (C’mon, it’s straight out of Emeril approved spice jar!) it was “just a little” undercooked. Chef Thierry Rautureau laughingly said it was “not recommended by the USDA.” WOMP.

Other low points were Kuniko’s raw and unseasoned Potato Pave, Tyler’s lackluster gumbo and Sheldon’s undercooked braised greens. 

Funny how these professional chefs ran into some of the very same problems home cooks make on Thanksgiving - not enough time. Unfortunately, the judges aren’t understanding relatives who’ll keep drinking and wait for you to finish cooking. Well, some relatives anyways.

Some other highlights were Brooke’s biscuits and Chrissy’s pudding. Dana especially liked the extra texture the pumpkin seeds added to the biscuit, and everyone liked the warm and cinnamony bread pudding.

Overall, the judges were kind and cordial as to not blast Emeril’s team. But we pretty much see which direction this is headed. Let’s see how the Red team fare.

Red team:

-CJ: Braised Turkey with Tom’s Stuffing
Tom's Diner

-Carla: Carrot Soup with Turkey Meatballs

-Bart: Fennel, Gorgonzola, Orange & Pumpkin Seed Salad

-Josh: Sweet Potato Ravioli with Pecans

-Micah: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries, Bacon & Shallots

-Lizzie: Potato Puree

-Stefan: Panna Cotta with Orange Cardamom Crisp & Candied Pecans

-Eliza: Chocolate Tart with White Chocolate & Mint Syrup

CJ, the self-proclaimed leader of the Red team, brings out their beautiful turkey and explains to the judges how Tom’s stuffing with “foie gras, sausage, kale, fennel” has been passed down from “generation to generation.”

Nobody’s buying that foie is part of Tom's “generation-old recipe.” No offense Tom, maybe if your last name was Medici instead of Colicchio. 

Compared to Josie’s bird, this one wins hands down. That’s what happens when you follow Tom’s recipe, put tons of butter underneath the skin and baste every 30/45 minutes. I know Thanksgiving’s over but Christmas is coming up and you can find his recipe here

Other favorites were Carla’s velvety carrot soup with meatballs and Lizzie’s buttery mash potatoes. Judges loved the simplicity and seasoning on both chef’s dishes. 

This just goes to show that seemingly simple dishes, if executed properly, can be the most delicious and magical thing on the table. 

You know I should have won Top Chef Masters, n'est pas?
Judgement time. Since both Tom and Emeril were personally involved they’ll recuse themselves from judging. It’s up to Padma and the three guest judges.

Despite Emeril’s best effort to bring up Brooke’s biscuits, and lovely biscuits they are, the vote is unanimous. Gray team loses.

Now they need to figure out who goes home from the Gray team.

It’s going to be a tough choice between Tyler’s weak gumbo, Kuniko’s crunchy (not in a good way) potatoes, and Sheldon’s undercooked greens. Oh did I mention they’d love to send Josie home if she didn’t have immunity? Well, at least now I’ll always remember her as the “Turkey with immunity.”

Judge’s Table

CJ, Carla and Lizzie head to the winners’ circle. Apparently Tom thought Carla was making CABBAGE and not CARROT soup? Dana thought Lizzie’s potatoes hit Joel Robuchon’s stratospheric standards and Tom told CJ his turkey was roasted to perfection. 

I'm a woman hear me roar!
...and the winner is...

Carla!  

Yes. I’m as surprised as you are. A mistaken identity soup beats out 3 Michelin Star quality potatoes and a perfect turkey? You know who else was surprised? CJ. He looked about as happy as Stefan did during the Quickfire results. The veterans are taking a beating thus far. 

Speaking of which...

Josie, Tyler, Sheldon, and Kuniko are called to the “knive packing district.” (Trademark: ChezWu)

Josie is embarrassed. Her biggest worry was that her turkey was dry and overcooked. Tom is equally surprised she didn’t know her turkey was undercooked. I guess she’s never heard of a thermometer. 
Tyler conceded that after adding more roux he failed to add more worcestershire and hot sauce, thus resulting in a bland dish.

Kuniko had 5 five hours to make potatoes. Josie tried to help defend her. If only she had put that effort into cooking that damn turkey. 

Sheldon’s not going home for them greens so don’t bother scolding him down. 

In the end, Kuniko and her raw potatoes gets the ax. Wait. Wasn’t Kuniko the winner last week? 

Wow. Sometimes cooking’s a lot like fashion. One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. Only in this industry the saying is “You’re only as good as your last dish.”

Good bye Kuniko. Please don’t hold a grudge. If you do? Go after Josie. 

In the stew room. John Tesar continues to carry on his “most hated” persona by picking fights with everyone. He’s clearly playing head games but the rest of the chefs don’t seem to recognize it, yet.

3 weeks in. What’s coming up next week?

-To nobody’s surprise John and Carla gets into it.
-Giant slabs of meat!
-Double elimination! 2 chefs get sent home.
-Josh wear a new hipster hat and cusses again.


Hope you had a great Thanksgiving! See you next week!!


Feel free to follow me on twitter @ChezWu!



Friday, November 16, 2012

Boycott Butterball Products

Butterball turkey abuse
Have your heart set on a Butterball Turkey this year? You might want to make other plans after watching this video with footage secretly taken at some of the Ballerball turkey facilities.

I won't write a big long spiel about why the Butterball brand is bad. I won't go into detail about why you shouldn't buy their products. I don't need to because the video speaks for itself.



With so many other options, so you really want to spend your hard-earned money on them?

Top Chef Seattle Episode 2 Recap: “A Shock at the Space Needle”


On Week 2 of Top Chef Season 10 the competition gets down to business as our 15 chefs arrive at the Top Chef Kitchen in Seattle. 

A quick reminder of the stakes, the chefs are competing for a feature in Food and Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, $125,000 provided by Healthy Choice and title of Top Chef.

The Top Chef Seattle Gang's all here!
(Bravo does it to pay the bills. I do it for consistency.)

Quickfire Time:  

The cooks enter the kitchen, eager for their first Quickfire Challenge.

“Alright alright alright!” Wait. Is Matthew McConaughey the guest judge? No. Unfortunately it’s just Tyler Wiard doing his best impression of our favorite bongo player.

Normally here’s where we meet this week’s guest judge. Instead, our lovely host Padma Lakshmi walks out  with two familiar faces and someone I had to look up. Former contestants Josie Smith-Malav, Chris “CJ” Jacobsen, and my favorite Bond villain - Stefan Richter

No Mr. Bond. I expect you to cook!
CJ and Stefan were both memorable characters who lasted deep into their season. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know who Josie is. 

The season’s first Quickfire is a team challenge. The cheftesants are divided up into groups of three so there are only five dishes total to judge. And, of course, team challenges always make for good television.

The chefs divide up into teams by grabbing a colored apron underneath the prep table. 

John Tesar quickly made the decision to switch from gray to blue apron just to be teammates with Kuniko Yagi.

“I know she’s Japanese. I’m thinking to myself maybe she has incredible knife skills. I’ve watched every episode of Top Chef and I think the decisions you make are just as important as the dishes you make,” John tells the camera.

Apparently the decision of coming across as someone who’s kinda racist and stereotypes people didn’t factor into his thought process at the time. Hey, at least he didn’t refer to her as “origami.”

Their task: Make a dish that highlights one of the local shellfish. We see a tank full of Dungeness crabs, a basket of crawfish, and a big box of mud full of buried razor clams and geoducks. The kicker? Get it onto the table with only 20 minutes. Considering last week they allotted 45 minutes for an omelet, the degree of difficulty has gone up dramatically. 

Frankly I was surprised they busted out the geoducks so early in the season. It’s a giant salt water clam that is native to the Pacific Northwest. A “signature” item from that region with a distinct appearance of being rather phallic. Seriously. Whoever was the first person to eat that definitely had an oral fixation. I’m going to guess this won't be the last we see of geoducks this season.  

Magnum. Ummm...
John Tesar starts to strategize out loud and immediately gets scolded by Padma. Do NOT interrupt Padma. 

Mad scramble time.

Almost everyone digs for the geoduck because it’s one of those products that doesn’t require much preparation as it’s usually served sashimi style. With the time restraint it’s definitely a wise choice. However the savvy Quickfire producers know this as well so it was an “early bird gets the clam” situation. Some teams had adjust and go with some other product.

Sure, Bravo producers, go ahead and let the pretty model cook (Kristen Kish) make the geoduck big penis reference.

Comic relief Carla Pellegrino reminds us that she’s a not only a cook, she’s also a woman. She “wants a James Beard...and a nice ass.” As predicted last week, she’s running around being loud, dramatic and still looking for that white pepper. Prediction: Her own show on Bravo, “LOL Top Ass”

Business in the front...
Party in the back...
John Tesar reminds us again that he’s the “Most Hated Chef in Dallas.” Sigh. I think this might be a weekly occurrence. Maybe they won’t hate him as much if he took those glasses off his forehead. Is that some sort of anti-Guy Fieri fashion statement? 


Tyler Wiard name drops John Elway because working in a RESTAURANT for a two-time Superbowl champion makes you a good team player. Hm. Actually, that makes sense. 

Time’s Up.

Here are the teams and their dishes:

Pacific Crawfish. Picked red chili fennel. Crawfish Cream.

-Orange Team (Lizzie Bender, Carla Pellegrino, Crissy Camba)
Oven Roasted Crawfish. Fennel and Herb Salad.

-Green Team (Kristen Kish, Micah Fields, Tyler Wiard)
Fried & Sashimi Geoduck. Raddish & Bak Choy Salad. Yuzu Chili Vinaigrette.

-Blue Team (John Tesar, Sheldon Simeon, Kuniko Yagi)
Geoduck Sashimi. Ponzu. Apple and Cucumber.

Razor Clam and Grilled Corn Chowder. Fresno Chili. Grilled Lime.

Ah. Much more pleasant looking Geoduck. Sashimi Style.
The bottom dish: Team Yellow. Apparently it lacked seasoning, acid, and Padma called it “watery.” Trying to make a chowder in twenty minutes is pretty ambitious. Emeril would have warned them.

The winning dish: Team Blue. Geoduck sashimi with apples and cucumber. Ponzu. Simple and clean flavors. Apple and cucumber provides sweetness and crunch, enhanced by the acidity in the ponzu. You can see why this was a winner dish.

Ok to make things fair the winning team randomly draw knives to see who wins immunity. Evil prevails and John wins. Looks like we’ll get to hear him tell us about that “most hated chef” thing again next week. Wait, “an extra glass of wine?” I thought he had a problem with recreational self-medicating? *Nervous look*

Quickfire over. Padma now drops the bombshell.

Surprise! Um. Not really.
The three returning chef-judges will now become cheftestants. The 15 cooks are shocked! However, I knew it was coming because the good people of Bravo TV decided to spoil the “SHOCK” by revealing this devious plot twist in their promos throughout the day. Also, technically the shock occurred in the Top Chef kitchen and NOT the Space Needle itself. Tom Colicchio would not approve of this title. Not too bravo, Bravo.

After being shocked, the chefs spew venom and curses! Of course no one’s happy about this. Apparently not even Stefan. Hey he’s got nothing to prove. Because when you drive a GT3 Porsche and own eight restaurants, your life is complete. That whole “runner up and losing to Hosea Rosenberg” thingy doesn’t bother you at all. Ok Stefan, whatever gets you through the night.

Elimination Challenge.

To the lament of Lizzie and Crissy, the chefs will remain with their team. The veterans now form team Red shirts.

CJ tells us that he’s 10x the chef he used to be. He just “came back from a stage at Noma, the number one voted restaurant for the past three years.” For your records, that vote was by Restaurant Magazine and carries “just a little” more weight then Yelp. 

The kids today and their phones. Are you guy tweeting?
Each team will serve one dish to the judges and legendary local Chef Tom Douglas. This week’s judges are Tom Colicchio, Emeril Legasse, Gail Simmons and of course Padma herself. I’m guessing Wolfgang’s not around this week because there’s only room for one legend at a time.

They must use local ingredients and will have 47 minutes (the amount of time for the Space Needle resto to rotate around once) to cook and serve the dish.

30 minutes to shop at the Top Chef pantry.

More gratuitous scrambling montage.

Every team is grabbing seafood of some sort except for the Red team. Stefan mentions grabbing eight quail? 

Yellow team cannot identify their fish. Seriously people. I’m no fishmonger but I can tell the difference between monk, salmon and halibut. (Yellow’s mystery fish turns out to be cod.)

Shopping’s over. Time for some beautiful Seattle exterior shots (spoiler alert: It’s overcast) and for the chefs to retire to their swanky Yo’ MTV Cribs style apartment, Olive 8.

Chefs get to relax and bond a little bit. Model chef Kristen tests out the flirting pool by identifying who’s married and who’s not. Because you know, that’s really important in a cooking competition. 

The crew find out that Patrick Jew is engaged...to a boy. “Awws” of disappointment fill the room. I gotta say though, he is the youngest looking 34 year old ever. 

Josie tells us why she’s back (to win?) and how she’s been coined the “Global Soul Chef” (by herself?)

Ok back to cooking.

Because of the space restriction, only two teams get to cook at the same time. So of course the rest of the group hovers around to watch. 

First up, Blue Team and Orange Team.

Blue Team’s got a great thing going. Kuniko’s on protein, Sheldon’s on sauce and Tesar - vegetable. Despite having immunity, Tesar is still constantly micromanaging the rest of the team. Can’t wait to see how he’ll act without that comfort blanket.

Orange Team is a mess. Carla is still doing her best Charo impression while the chefstestant peanut gallery is thankful they don’t have to work with her. 

Meanwhile the team of returning veterans are contemplating using quail as their main protein. CJ feels “really” good about this while Josie is skeptical. You figure as a team who has been through this once they would know better than to change plans five minutes before cooking. Outlook hazy. 

Really? We're talking about fishing?!
Judges arrive and banter about Seattle and the vivacious Gail Simmons wants to go fishing. Emeril as usual, is enthusiastic. Tom looks fascinated. Padma couldn’t care less about singing scallops. (I know I know, it’s all in the editing...I’m sure everyone was tickled by the banter. Also they’re only on their first glass of Hanna wine!)

Blue Team elected to have Kuniko present the dish to the judges and, despite self-proclaiming “not being good at speaking English,” does great job explain their Chili Oil Poached Cod with Dashi and Shabu Shabu Spot Prawns. 

Guess who does the talking for the Orange Team? Yup. You guessed it. Mrs. Pellegino introduces their Poached Salmon with Seasonal Vegetables & Beurre Blanc.

As if she hasn’t gotten enough screen time, Carla decides to cut herself. Medics come and bandage up the boo-boo. Thankfully she’s “all pretty again.” Oy.

Judges really like Blue Team’s dish. Cod’s not too fiery, dashi’s nice and smokey, and the spot prawns are fresh and light. 

Gail said, “The first thing to put in my mouth in Seattle? Not bad.” *laughter ensues* “Wait. That came out wrong.” Oh Gail. I’m just glad you weren’t talking the geoduck.

Orange Team also has a good dish. The under seasoned salmon was counter balanced by the well flavored beurre blanc. All is well with the first round. Judges are pretty optimistic. I think Tom’s just glad he won’t have to go back there and give them the “you’re not going to win with deviled eggs” speech. I concur.

It's Red and Gray Teams turn.

Red Team hits a snag right away. Their cherry broth is not so “rad” and Stefan is used to bigger breasts. Yes Stefan, that’s what happens when you change menu at the last minute. 

Gray team is on a bumpy road as well. Jeffery seared the halibut on both sides and it might be too well done. Actually, you can tell right away that fish is over. He pretty much killed the top sear and it’s still gotta sit under the heat lamp. Don’t expect Jeffery to work at Le Bernardin anytime soon.

CJ presents Red Team’s Quail Breast with Confit Spot Prawns. Cherries & Porcini. 

Jeffery describes the Gray Team’s Pan Roasted Halibut. Mushrooms. English Peas. Wheat Beer with Herb Sabayon
Can you tell I'm over cooked?

Right away judges note that the quail is over cooked, the spot prawn is over cooked, and there’s a bitter note to the broth. Outlook now not so good.

As expected, Gray Team’s halibut is a rock and unexpectedly their English pea sabayon tastes like nutmeg. There are no winners here.

During the interlude we learn that a 22 year old Tom Colicchio almost went all Nirvana and moved to Seattle because of a split up with a long time girlfriend. This endearing tale was highlighted by Tom violently swirling his wine glass. At one point even Emeril looked down and gave the wildly spinning glass a look of concern. Oh Tom it’s ok. We’ve all been there...

Last round.

Yellow Team finally figures out they’re working with cod. However, they manage to lose their mushrooms. It’s ok because they poach the Red Team’s leftovers. It’s still early in the competition. Nobody will call you on that, yet.

Green Team appears to be in good shape. Micah is kind to take a team player role and not be the natural leader he claims to be. They’re humming along. Much like this recap, the final team gets the least screen time.

Kristen Kish presents their Crispy Seared Salmon. Seasonal Vegetables & Spot Prawn Butter Sauce. For the record she would be my team’s presenter for every challenge. 

Danyele “With a Y” explains their Pan Roasted Cod. Mushrooms. Fava Beans. Pickled Green Apple & Garlic Scape Pistou.

Essentially, they’re the same dish. Both with a nicely cooked piece of fish over fava beans, sea beans and mushrooms. Though the Yellow Team’s sauce is too little and too garlicky. 

Things I’ve learned this week: Apples with seafood is a good match, Chef Douglass likes the middle of his fish translucent and Tom is a romantic. *He’s still twirling that wine glass.*

Judges all agree that this was a good start and since they all made similar dishes, this should be easy to judge.

Meanwhile in the Stew Room, the veterans wax poetic about how tough judging will be. Good thing because they’re about to walk down memory lane. 

Judgement.

Chili oil cod. Winner.
Blue Team wins!  It was pretty obvious from the get-go that they’ve got it made. John (who is still wearing those damn glasses on his forehead) talks about how harmonious the team worked together. Smiles all around. Group hug. Kuniko wins by coming up with the idea and cooking the fish. Though not showy, she has led by example thus far. 

The two bottom teams are Red and Gray Teams.

There’s a brief “coming attraction” moment between Josh Valentine and Jon Tesar. They debated over whether or not the veterans have an advantage. Ah *cue The Carpenters* “We’ve only just begun...”

Back at Judge’s Table, it has come down to whose mistakes are more egregious. Stefan’s over cooked little quail breast? Or Jeffery’s rock of a halibut. Between you, me and everyone else watching, chances are they’re not going to go through all this “shock” just to send Stefan packing. Right?

I wish I was driving my Porche...
Alas, pretty boy Jeffery’s over cooked fish has done him in. I couldn't tell how over done the quail was, but I could tell even watching on television (also by Jeffery's own admission that he fired the fish 14 min before serving) that fish  was completely over cooked. It’s back to the beach with them spiffy sunglasses and bow tie for you. I’ll miss your perfectly coiffed hair. Apparently so will Padma. 

Stefan (and the rest of the Red Team) look completely relieved. Consider this your welcome back present. I doubt the judges will be as kind next time. 

Week 2‘s in the bag. Next week?

Thanksgiving special! I don’t know about your family, but expect a lot of turkey, stuffing, tears and terms of endearment shouted across the room.

What did you think? Do you think the veterans learned their lesson? How long will Carla last with her drama act? Will John Tesar get into a fight? 

Personally I'm really glad we got right down to business and started cooking right away.

Oh did I mention Last Chance Kitchen is back??  (YES!) That's the REAL shocker this week!

Have a great week people and I'll see you next week! 

Feel free to follow me on twitter @ChezWu!