Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef Seattle Recap Episode 14: "King of Alaska."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Top Chef Seattle Recap Episode 14: "King of Alaska."

On week 14 of Top Chef Season 10 in Seattle...

Final 4.

Actually, final 6 if you’re counting the winner of Last Chance Kitchen and Save A Chef.

Geez the show give people more chances to come back every season. Not to mention the returning chefs from previous seasons. Soon it'll be like Oprah. “You get a another chance! You get another chance! EVERYBODY GETS A CHANCE!!!” 

The cruise ship reaches its destination, Juneau Alaska.

Right away we get down to business.


Charleston IS the new Brooklyn
Greeting the chefs at Tracy’s King Crab Shack is our lovely host Padma and Sean Brock, owner of Husk in Charleston. This restaurant has gotten so much attention it’s becoming one of those destination restaurants. Meaning it’s worth a visit to South Carolina from where ever you are JUST to eat at this place. 

Also, if you’re ever in Juneau you have to stop by Tracy’s King Crab Shack. It’s been written about and praised by everyone from Food and Wine to Conde Nast. Chances are every king crab you’ve had before is previously frozen and not fresh like it is at Tracy's. 

The Quickfire is a straight-forward challenge. Make a dish highlighting the Alaskan King Crab. 30 minutes. Winner gets five grand.


Lizzy’s feeling the rustic-ness of the setting. A shack by the river surrounded by beautiful mountains will do that to ya. She’s making a crab frittata. Good choice. Crab and eggs go really well together. If done correctly, the creaminess of the egg can really highlight the flavor of the crab.

Josh has gone mad. He actually thinks he does the same type of food as Sean Brock at Husk. That’s as ludicrous as Dan Quayle comparing himself to JFK. Anyway he’s gonna pull the “country boy” card and make succotash.
ALL the crabs!

Brooke’s keeping it real simple with a crab toast. To class it up she’s making some compound butter with Dungeness crab meat. Smart. Simple is always the way to go.

Sheldon’s the real smart one. He’s making a miso soup with Dungeness crab innards or crab fat as I like to call it. I can’t believe the other chefs didn’t think to use this. Crabs (and shrimps) are one of the few ingredients out there that come with their own sauce! He’s also going to smoke some asparagus tips with a pine branch. He got the idea from the great Rene Redzepi of Noma, recently named the “Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant magazine. Had CJ stuck around the whole season, we would have heard that name invoked many many many times as he would have kept reminding us that he staged there for a spell.

Times up.
Sufferin' Succotash! (C'mon you knew it was coming)

Crab Frittata with Cherry Tomato, Garlic Oil & Fried Capers.

King Crab, Dungeness Crab “Miso” Pine-Smoked Asparagus & Charred Corn.

King Crab, Sweet Corn & Leek Salad on Toast with Dungeness Crab Butter.

Butter Poached King Crab with Succotash & Bacon.

With the exception of Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi who basically told everyone they sucked (in a nice way,) the guest judge always says something like “Overall it was pretty good...but” right? 

I think in the future the guest judge of the Quickfire should take the challenge on themselves so these chefs (and the audience) can see (either before or after) what the judge would do. I say that because I’m always sitting there thinking what these awesome (guest) chefs would come up with. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see what Sean Brock would make with these crabs?

That's a lot of capers.
Ok. Lizzie’s frittata was a bit overcooked, and there were too many capers. Took away from the crab. Probably not gonna win.

Josh thought he was being clever by serving Sean succotash. Big mistake. Unnecessary usage of bacon (go figure.) Oh and the broken butter sauce didn’t help. Yeah, still think your food is similar to Sean Brock’s? *waves head*

Sheldon scored high with the usage of the crab fat. He kept it simple and interesting. Funny there were no mention of the smoked asparagus. Guess that was part of what made it interesting.

Sean really didn’t want to like Brooke’s dish because it was too easy. Yeah it was basically crab and butter. However he can’t help it, cuz it was super delicious.

Winner? Sheldon.

A bit of a redemption after last week's poor showing. Good to see him bounce back.

Elimination Challenge.

This week’s Elimination Challenge involves two of the Alaska’s oldest culinary traditions: Fish and Bread.

This is why the show is good. Because you do learn things about food, people, and traditions. 

I had no idea that bread, especially sourdough, was such an important part of Alaskan food culture. Padma tells us that early pioneers used to carry sourdough starters in their packs. What Padma didn’t tell us is that these pioneers carried the starters close to their body to keep it from freezing. Also as you all know, sourdough is extremely popular in San Francisco. It was these gold prospectors who first brought sourdough bread to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush, and it stayed ever since. 
The "wet" stuff

Obviously, the fishing industry is the heart and soul of any seaside town and Juneau is no different. The main fish here is of course, salmon.

For the challenge the chefs must create a dish using both sourdough and salmon.

Tomorrow they’ll pick up their salmon and then they'll only have 3 hours to cook. The even tougher part is they are cooking for people who grew up eating and cooking the same thing. So critiques will be harsh.

Padma warns, “You’re serving them ingredients they’re probably used to cooking themselves in a million different ways, kinda like serving succotash to a southerner (gesture towards Josh) So you’ll have your work cut out for you.”

Ouch. Bacon boy. Haha.

Tonight, they mix their dough.

Frankly, none of them are excited about baking bread. Baking and cooking are two very different beasts. Cooking is more like jazz improvisation while baking is a science experiment. Cooking you can change things on the fly, with baking, the margin of error is slim.

The foursome retreat to the Jorgenson House, a lovely bed and breakfast in Juneau. Imagine a cozy country home complete with fireplace and old timey furniture.

They do the obligatory “walk around and talk about how nice things are” scene when in a moment hard to describe with words, Sheldon jumps out from a curtain and scares the bejesus out of Brooke. She was genuinely scared, like literally curled up in a ball with tears coming out. Ah...priceless.

Forget Boudin. Get your SF bread here instead.
In the kitchen waiting are four tubs of sourdough starter. A starter is basically the “mother” mixture of a bread. Each starter dough has its own distinct flavor and characteristics. As long as it’s maintained correctly, a mother dough can last a long time. The Boudin Bakery in San Francisco is said to have used the same dough for over 150 years.

These starters are only 30 years old. They’re brought in to help the chefs bake their bread. They’d have to take parts of the starter and work in addition flour and water to achieve the final dough. That’s where the trick comes in. They’d need to know the ratio of how much to add...etc.

The chefs need to work their dough tonight and let it rise and rest overnight to be baked tomorrow.

Sheldon grinds up some green tea leaves and chives to mix into his dough much to Brooke’s chagrin, “Of course he somehow works that Asian ingredient into a sourdough bread.”

Don’t hate sista! Add some of your own flair into it. Where ever you’re from.

See. Josh is gonna put some olives in his bread. Actually he’s gonna do two kinds. An olive one and a regular sourdough. The regular is going to be blended into a soup as a thickener and the olive one will serve as a crouton.

Check it out. No bacon! Way to start thinking outside the box Josh! Kudos.

Lizzie’s going to make individual rolls and stuff salmon into them. Kinda like a sandwich I guess.

After kneading, they wait for it to rise.

You know what’s not interesting? Watching people waiting for the dough to rise.

Thank goodness Sheldon plays the ukulele. How else are they gonna fill an hour-long show?

"Sorry Charlie." Oh wait, that's tuna.
I had almost forgotten what the prize was until Top Chef producers so brilliantly work in their sponsor, Green Mountain Coffee, who will provide a trip for 2 to Costa Rica for the winner of this challenge. Thanks Green Mountain Coffee!

Next morning the chefs head out to the docks for some fish. These are literally fish straight off the boat. It really doesn’t get fresher than this. Damn.

There a quite a few different types of salmon: King, sockeye, coho and chum to list a few. Each with their own flavor and texture. 
This is where their experience comes into play. They really need to know which fish is most suited for their dish in order to execute it perfectly.

Sheldon is going with chum and sockeye. He plans to make a pea soup and top it off with smoked chum.

Poor Lizzie. Being on the docks reminds her of her pops, who recently passed away. *Tears* Big hugs for her.

Fish in hand, they head to Gold Creek Salmon Bake and start cooking.

Josh comes up with the idea of mixing some of that sour starter into his soup. 

“It’s risky, but it kinda fits the whole theme of my entire Top Chef experience.”

Really?! I’m sorry. Wasn’t that you who used bacon or pork belly at almost every challenge? And when there are challenges that doesn’t call for bacon (like making sushi) you decide to force it anyways? You’ve been about as risky as a grown man running around with scissors! Hm wait.

Sheldon’s making a pea soup with a seafood broth as base. He’s never made pea soup before. I don’t understand why people come into this competition and make things they’ve never made before. I understand they don’t want to be boring but at this level they should bring the tried and true dishes and ensure victory. But hey, I guess if the technique is there then it doesn’t matter as much. Like I mentioned before, cooking is like jazz. Improv away!

Brooke’s also doing a seafood broth. She’s gonna poach some sockeye salmon and serve it with mustard seed caviar. Damn this girl is good. Using the mustard seed that way gives the dish some texture and extra zing. Color me amazed.

Lizzie is doing a citrus and beet glaze for her salmon. She’s gonna serve it inside individual rolls with poppy seed butter. That sounds like a good plan as well. Crunchy crust on the outside and silky salmon on the inside. Poppy seed butter sounds interesting, especially paired with salmon. 

Here comes Tom for the show and tell.

Wow. Sheldon must have ESP or something. When he told Tom he was making (pea soup) Tom confessed to have had a craving for pea soup! I think that’s a Top Chef first. Talk about a confidence boost.

Alright time's up and here comes the crowd.

Ok they weren’t joking about bears in Alaska. Apparently some bears wondered into the camp area and one of them is in the tree! Who says bears can’t climb trees. 
Photo courtesy Eater.

Insert Tom/bears joke here. Oh wait Tom already did that. 

“I actually...(bears) that’s my fan club, my fan you know.”

Bravo Tom. Way be ahead of the game.

Time to eat.

This week’s judges are Hugh Acheson, Sean Brock, Emeril, Gail, Tom and Padma. Big crowd this week! 

Here are the dishes.

Sockeye Salmon & Seafood Broth with Mustard See Caviar & Dill Sourdough.

Smart move with the mustard seed and dill sourdough. Dill and salmon is a natural pairing so this definitely worked. Everyone loved the seafood broth. When done correctly, who doesn’t love a seafood broth!

Green Tea & Chive Sourdough with Smoked Salmon & Pea Soup.

Um...that bread is gray.
Um yeah. Green tea and chive? Padma didn’t like that combination and I don’t think I would either. To incorporate 3 distinct flavors into one bread might be hard to pull off. 

Sean didn’t like the way Sheldon mangled the salmon with thongs. The revered Chef Thomas Keller always preached to not use thongs because it tears at the flesh of the protein. Sheldon should have listened. #protip 

Also, master chef and part time comedian Hugh Acheson thought the soup was too thick and compared it baby food. “A good baby, healthy baby. Well flavored baby.”

Seriously. He should have a show of his own. Get on it Bravo execs!
Oh oh. Apparently chum is a trash fish. Nicknamed “dog” salmon because the natives used to feed them to their dogs. The judgey locals are berating Sheldon for using chum. However, some say that if chum salmon’s caught in the ocean and is salt water fresh, then it’s actually pretty tasty when smoked. But once they hit fresh water the flavor changes and it becomes much less tasty. #protip

Skip the Quarter. Head to Frenchman Street!
During the interlude, Emeril tells us when Hurricane Katrina came, his chef took the restaurant’s mother dough home with him and fed it the whole time. Three months later when they reopened, the “mother” was intact and came home with him. Speaking of which, do try to visit New Orleans when you get a chance. It’s one of the greatest cities we’ve got and it still could use your help in tourism dollars and support. Thanks. #Protipofthehat

Roast Garlic Sourdough Soup with Sockeye Salmon & Black Olive Croutons.

Salmon’s well cooked but Tom’s not sure if the garlic soup might have overpowered it. However he won points for working the crunchy black olive croutons into the dish instead of just serving a piece of bread on the side. Looks like his “risky” move might have paid off.

Citrus & Beet Glazed Salmon Slider with Poppy Seed Butter & Pickles.

Pacman ate Pinky the Salmon!
A slider huh? She decided to not to do soup because everyone else is doing soup. Once again, she does a little pickle thingy on the side. And as usual, everyone loves her pickles. It’s a great way to introduce acid into a dish. 

The bread is also spot on. You can hear the subtle crunch on those little slider buns. The bad news though, is the salmon. Apparently the she didn’t marinate the salmon with  the citrus/beet and merely glazed it on after cooking. The judges can’t detect and taste the citrus and beet flavor at all. Trouble could be on the horizon.

So with only 4 dishes to discuss, we need to fill some time. So how about letting the judges get some feedback from the locals? *Yawn* Yeah, the locals had nothing interesting to add. So I won’t bother either.

Time to judge.

It’s not looking good for Lizzie. Tom praised her for the bread but questioned her for lack of seasoning of the slider. Even though she tasted all the components, she failed to taste the sandwich as a whole. Mistakes like that could be fatal, especially since she decided to so something as simple as a slider. 

Mixed review for Sheldon as well. Sean thought while the salmon was cooked well, the smokiness made it too bitter. The good news is that even though chum is usually reserved for the dogs, the locals thought that Sheldon managed to make the chum delicious.

Despite Gail’s salmon being slightly overcooked, Brooke’s dish appears to be ahead of everyone else’s. Sean loves the combo of the bread dipping into the broth. Yeah, there’s something magical about seafood broths. We could be looking at a winner here.

Emeril loves garlic soups. Now that’s a shocker (sarcasm.) I remember watching his “Emeril Live” show and where people literally cheered and applauded for garlic. He’d always ask the audience, “You think we put enough garlic in? (applause) Nah let’s put some more in! (thundering applause)” Ah the good ole days when Food Network cared about cooking.
The Bible (one of them...)

So Emeril’s on Josh’s side. But he might be the only one. Everyone else thought the garlic flavor was too powerful, and the salmon got lost in all that bold flavor. Here’s a #protip, blanch your garlic in milk a few times to get rid of the pungent taste and that’ll mellow it out. I learned it from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook and trust me, anything he has to teach is worth doing.

The winning dish was the one that really showcased both ingredients. And almost all the locals agreed that the winning dish belongs to...

Brooke. She gets to romp around Costa Rica to drink some fair trade coffee!

She’s really on a roll lately. Think about it. Her dish made the most sense. It was in a way, a refined clam chowder bread bowl. Right? There’s a reason why San Francisco is known for their chowder bread bowls. The flavor of the sea must match well with sourdough. That’s why this particular bread is so revered around these parts! Bravo Brooke.

Bye Lizzie! We'll miss your accent and your food!
On the flip side, the losing dish was just too bland and too simple.

Lizzie committed couple of crucial Top Chef losers’ sins: lack of seasoning and lack of imagination. Those two combo will send you packing in a heartbeat.

She’s been a force to be reckoned with from that tortellini from the opening episode all the way til now. And she did it with zero drama and zero controversy. Hell she never even bad mouthed Josie! A brilliant and strong showing.

Good luck in Last Chance Kitchen!!

Well, we’re down to 3. Finale can’t be too far away. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle and introduce the winner of Last Chance Kitchen and the surprise on everyone’s face when Save the Chef winner is announced. (Surprise because while the chefs know about Last Chance Kitchen, they have no idea about Save the Chef.)

Thanks again for stopping by and checking us out. Please leave some comments and as always, go follow me on twitter @ChezWu!

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