Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: March 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Finale (Episode 16) Recap: Richard Blais vs. Mike Isabella

Richard Blais and Mike Isabella
The Top Chef All Stars Finale episode 16 was AWESOME. It was the ultimate culinary showdown between Richard Blais and Mike Isabella. And I couldn’t have asked for better guest appearances. After all, who doesn’t love Hubert Keller – and seeing the full cast of Top Chef All Stars was a great reminder of season 8’s beginnings.

And now here is the Top Chef All Stars Finale recap:

The opening scene begins with Richard Blais and Mike Isabella reconnoitering the second part of the Elimination round (Top Chef All Stars Episode 15) between Antonia Lafaso and Mike. According to Mike, it was really close, but Antonia’s flavors were just a bit too strong. Mike is convinced he’s a better cook than Richard and he’s set on taking the win. Richard seems to have some string concerns about whether he can take the Top Chef title.

Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi walk into the room and inform Mike and Richard that there won’t be any twists or turns in their next challenge – and THANK GOD!! My biggest complaint of this season has been that there were so many “twists and turns” it was hard to tell which chefs were actually the better cooks. Many of them were sent home because of a “twist or turn” that caused them to slip. I’ll leave Jamie Lauren’s name out of thi… Whoops.

Anywho, Tom and Padma inform Mike Izzy and Richard of their next challenge: The chefs must create the Restaurant of Their Dreams!! What an awesome challenge – and Richard Blais has Goosebumps. The chefs must create a four-course tasting menu that will prove to the judges without a doubt that they deserve to be “Top Chef”. The chefs will meet Padma in the kitchen the next morning for the details.

Back at their hotel room, Richard refers to himself as the “underdog” and Mike reviews the number of wins they each have and tells Richard he’s wrong (Richard still worries about choking). And for all of us just viewing this now – we know Richard is wrong, but I wish he’d keep his insecurities to himself.

Padma Lakshmi & the TCAS former Cheftestants
The next scene opens in the kitchen and the entire cast of Top Chef All Stars is there!!!  Marcel Vigneron has a crazy satchel hanging from him. Padma tells them that some will be helping Richard Blais and Mike Isabella as their sous chefs, but to determine who that will be…

The Quickfire (They don’t say it’s a Quickfire, but if it looks like duck…)
The former cheftestants will have 30 minutes to make an amuse bouche for Mike Isabella and Richard Blais to taste. Richard and Mike think they actually have a definitive choice in who their sous chefs will be, but the dishes are unlabeled and have to be judged by quality of food and not quality of chef…
  • Richard picks Spike Mendelsohn's ceviche of squid – but seems disappointed to have Spike on his team (Spike calls him out on it).
  • Mike picks Tiffani Faison’s yogurt curry. While Mike thinks Tiff can be tough to work with at time, he thinks her pedigree is top-knotch. 
  • Richard picks Angelo Sosa's chicken wing and he’s happy with his choice – says Angelo Sosa is a thoroughbred… All my gay boyfriends say “absolutely!”.
  • Mike picks Jamie Lauren's pork tenderloin. His expression says “oh shit” but he welcomes her to the team with a smile and keeps an open mind (one of the reasons why I secretly love the Mike Izzy).
  • Richard picks Antonia Lafaso's egg dish as his final choice. Richie has mixed feelings, but he’ll need to suck it up. Antonia is a Super VR Warrior. Nothing’s gettin’ through that girl (yes – I just quoted Jerry McGuire).
  • Mike picks Carla Hall’s tropical salsa as his final choice. Hootie!! It’s “Mikey’s Angels” and he’s soo happy with his girls.

Everyone hugs and the unselected chefs depart. Padma tells Mike Isabella and Richard that they have one hour to plan their menus and will have 5 hours to cook the next day, before opening their restaurants and serving seventy customers, plus a panel of judges.

Mike Isabella and his "Angels"
Mike wants mozzarella and pancetta dishes and Richard decides to name his restaurant “Tongue and Cheek”. Richard gives Angelo the first course and Spike is to take dessert + manage the front of the house…  Really? I would have totally switched the two. Mike listens to suggestions from his girls, but decides to make dessert himself – I would have handed dessert to Tiffani Faison and then had Carla Hall help him with the main dishes, while giving Jamie Lauren the first course – something involving fresh mozzarella. But then again, what do I know?

Is Richard Blais really making Cap’n Crunch ice cream?? No. He decides to make foie gras ice cream instead…  (yes, I’m making a face that involves tongue).

Mike Isabella prepping his Top Chef Finale meal
Tom Colicchio walks into the kitchen to check in on the chefs and tells Mike that nobody “thought he’d get here”. Mike agrees, but says he knew he’d get here. For once, I’m glad Mike stood up for himself. It almost seems like Tom didn’t actually want him in the finale… Tom visits Richard and asks how he’s dealing with the pressure. Richard is clearly going strong.

Richard is thrilled to see his sous chefs collaborating. We see Richard delegating the responsibilities among his sous chefs with ease, while Izzy seems to take more of a micro-managing role.

The judges arrive at Richard’s restaurant, Tongue & Cheek, and among them is one of my favorite chefs of all time: Hubert Keller!! Also in attendance are Lidia Bastianich, Alfred Portale and Bill Terlado. (They’re all fabulous, but I’ve been crushing on Hubert’s cuisine for years).

Richard Blais add final touches...
Richard debates whether to start with an oyster amuse bouche, but decides to go with his instinct and serves away (with Spike playing the not-so-stealthy part of the secret operative):
  • Raw Oyster with Crème Fraiche Pearls & Salsa Verde.
  • Raw Hamachi with Fried Veal Sweetbreads, Garlic Mayonnaise and Pickled Celery.
The judges love both dishes (as Spike reports). At Mike Isabella’s restaurant (Restaurant Iz) Carla Hall greets Padma, Curtis Stone (host of Top Chef Masters – airing next week), Gail Simmons, and Chef Art Smith, as well as some of the former castmates: Marcel Vigneron, the lovable Casey Thompson, Jen Carroll, and Stephen Asprinio.

Mike’s first two dishes are…
  • Spiced Beets with Mozzarella, Truffle and Chocolate Vinaigrette.
  • Halibut with Kumquat Marmalade, Cauliflower Puree and Pancetta Crumbs.

Tom thinks that Mike’s first dish is off to a good start, didn’t like the lag-time between dishes, but loves the second dish. The cheftestants are really happy with the second dish as well.

Back at Richard’s restaurant, he serves:
  • Pork Belly, Black Cod Cutlet, Bone Marrow, Beets, Brussels Sprouts and Kumquat.
  • Beef Short Rib with Mushrooms, Red Cabbage Marmalade and Celery Root Horseradish Puree.
Everyone loves his dishes – including the cheftestants: Tre Wilcox, Tiffany Derry, Dale Talde, the adorable Fabio Viviani, and Elia Aboumrad.

Mike serves his next two dishes:
  • Braised Pork Shoulder with Pepperoni Sauce, Roasted Cabbage and Turnips.
  • Rosemary Caramel Custard and Pine Nuts with Citrus, Celery and Apple.

Mike’s braised pork shoulder blew the judges away – Gail Simmons says “Pepperoni Sauce” a few times with so much affection, but his rosemary caramel custard got mixed reviews: great flavor, but the texture sucked.

And finally, Richard serves dessert:
  • Cornbread with Foie Gras Ice Cream and Whipped Mango.

Nobody is feeling Richard’s foie gras ice cream, so Richard and Spike try to make changes to it for the second round of judges…

The judges switch restaurants and all seem to love the food at both restaurants equally. The second version of Richard’s foie gras ice cream seems to go over well. If Mike Izzy had a spy, he would have been able to correct his dessert as well.

Top Chef All Stars Cast
Richard and Mike arrive back at the hotel and both go through their own personal neuroses before walking to the judge’s table… Hubert Keller joins Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons at the judge’s table.

At this point, i won’t drag out the review any further (they drag out the deliberation for the last 15 minutes of the show – filling it with empty chat, chefs reuniting with their families, and more commercials than any person can bare. The chefs rejoin the judges table, with their former cast mates and families cheering them on, Padma ** finally ** says…

“One of you will take home $200,000… and the title of Top Chef…”

And follows with…

Mike Isabella and Richard Blais
Richard, you are Top Chef.”

Richard Blais wins Top Chef All Stars and sheds tears of joy and Mike Isabella sheds tears of disappointment. Watching this finale leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m happy Richard didn’t choke again. He brought his best to the table throughout the season. But in the history of Top Chef, I can’t remember anyone working as hard as Mike Isabella did for the title of “Top Chef”.

Though Mike Izzy was soft to start, probably because he never thought he could make it that far. As soon as he realized he actually had a chance to take the title, his cooking evolved faster than mold in a petri dish (forgive the comparison – I was a science major). Can’t wait to dine at Graffiato.

More on Top Chef

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Richard Blais may be the Top Chef All Star but we’re still Proud of Mike Isabella

Mike Isabella is a Top Chef
And the Top Chef All Stars Finale is over (finally)! Congrats to Richard Blais for winning the title “Top Chef”!!

But seriously guys, why so much hate for Mike Isabella? His only flaw is that he talks too much and doesn’t know when to zip it. But can anyone say he’s not an amazingly talented chef? And if you move past the hyperbolic chatter and insecurity, he’s actually a good guy that could probably cook circles around some of the best.

Richard Blais may be the new “Top Chef”, but Mike Isabella deserves mucho credit for stepping up to the plate and giving it his all x10. Aside from the verbal diarrhea, I really loved Mike’s energy this season and his will to win. So much so, that I found it really tough to choose between him and Blais.

It’s a given that Mike’s response to Richard’s Top Chef win was less than cordial: "To come in second is tough. I felt like I beat him. I just didn't get the prize." But any other response just wouldn’t be the Mike we know (and sometimes love).

And for those of you who are reading this and thinking “WTF FG?!?”, just take a moment to put yourself in Mike Isabella’s shoes and try to forget all of the crap that has come out of his mouth over the last few episodes. He knows he lost to the best competitor, but have you ever seen any Top Chef contestant’s skills improve that much over the break before the finale?

Mike Izzy may not have a filter, but he did play the game to his best advantage – which is what you’re supposed to do when you’re competing. Aside from stealing Richard Blais’s dish concept in the “Paula Deen Fried Cook-Off” Quickfire, he did exactly what a contestant should do: He brought his best to the table and took the advantages that were offered to him.

Mike Izzy, congrats for making it to the finale. You're a Top Chef in my book!

Stay tuned for the less biased Top Chef All Stars Finale Recap...

Top Chef All Stars Episode 16 Finale Preview: Mike Isabella vs. Richard Blais

Top Chef's Richard Blaise & Mike Isabella
The Top Chef All Stars Finale is finally here!! And there are some AMAZING guests in attendance. Antonia Lafaso’s departure in last week’s Top Chef episode has changed the Top Chef Finale theme from the usual three-chef-showdown to a one-on-one cook-off between Mike Isabella and Richard Blais.

Will Richard Blais take the title with his molecular gastronomy? Or will underdog Mike Isabella use his new-found super culinary skills to blow the judges away?

Mike Isabella thinks he has this one in the bag!
Top Chef All Stars Episode 16 continues where Episode 15 left off and Richard Blais and Mike Isabella only have moments to process what just happened before they’re immediately thrown into their final challenge.
  • Mike says he’s a better cook than Richard is.
  • Richard says he would rather go up against Antonia because he’s beaten her before and thinks he could beat her again. He knows that Mike has come back a better chef (creatively), which was Richard’s strength. It’s clear that the pressure is starting to wear on Richard.

The Elimination Challenge:
Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio want to have a glimpse into Mike and Richard’s future as “great chefs” by each creating the restaurant of their dreams.

The eliminated chefs return to compete in a Quickfire!
The eliminated cheftestants return to play sous chefs for Mike and Richard. And apparently there is a Quickfire in the finale! Only this time Mike Isabella and Richard Blais will be judging the challenge.
  • The former cheftestants much compete in a Quickfire for the opportunity to play sous chef to Richard and Mike. They have 30 minutes to create an amuse bouche.
  • The cheftestants rush around the kitchen in “amuse bouche” preparation while Richard and Mike chill in their hotel suite, talking smack.
  • Mike says his first choice is Jen Carroll because they’re from the same season and they’re friends. And the one person he doesn’t want is Jamie Lauren – not just because she’s “Jamie” but because she’s slow.
  • Richard says “The question is who wants to be there, who wants to work, who’s gonna listen?”. Richard, that’s more like three questions.
  • Both Richard and Mike are acting high and mighty as they head to the kitchen to judge the Quickfire dishes.
  • The cheftestants all clap and cheer as Richard and Mike walk into the kitchen.
  • Mike and Richard must pick their three favorite dishes in a blind taste test, much to their chagrin. And I love that the option to pick favorites is off the table.

Bill Terlato of Terlato Wines and celebrity chefs Hubert Keller and Lidia Bastianich will appear as a Top Chef guest judges alongside Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, judge Gail Simmons.

More on Top Chef

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares: ISO "Hot" Restaurateurs

Chef Gordon Ramsay stoops lower still... Amazing...
It looks like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares isn’t just about the restaurant anymore. According to The Daily Mirror, the Kitchen Nightmares’ star and executive producer has added a number of irrelevant questions to the Kitchen Nightmares contestant application. How much a contestant weighs, as well as their height, eye and hair color are just a few of the questions that have been added. But my favorites of all of them are these:
  • Have you ever had a restraining order filed against you?
  • Does your family have a history of depression?
  • Are you easily upset?

Actually, the one regarding a history of depression seems to be fair.

A friend of mine had filled out an application for Chef Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen (as a joke) and told me that they had similar questions on the application he filled out, which he thought was strange. Considering that Kitchen Nightmare’s is supposed to be focused on the restaurants and not the contestants, asking such personal questions doesn’t seem right.

Moreover, Chef Gordon Ramsay should be focused more on cleaning up his muddied image instead of adding to his laundry list of drama and evil doings.

Are those questions even legal? But then again, does he really care?

More on Gordon Ramsay and Hell's Kitchen:
The Sharks that Gordon Ramsay Killed: The Movie (warning: video contains graphic violence)
Gordon Ramsay Tossed to the Sharks (Warning: Contains graphic photo)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Child the Barefoot Contessa Denies: Michael Symon comes to Rise

 Food Network star Beau MacMillan and Iron Chef Michael Symon
Ina Garten’s rejection of a cancer-stricken child’s last wish is her loss. Enzo is now a hero and celebrity chefs Michael Symon and Beau MacMillan both want to cook with him! According to TMZ, both the Iron Chef and the Food Network star (far more important than the Contessa) stepped forward to fill the nasty void Ina Garten left after she stone-heartedly decided she couldn’t make space in her busy kitchen-life for a little one-on-one cook-off with Enzo.

It’s clear that the world is disgusted by The Barefoot Contessa’s rejection of a wish made by the terminally ill six-year-old boy, Enzo, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. And rightfully so! After writing my last post (and my mother reading it, phoning me and telling me I was a bit harsh), I took some time to really think about the story and analyze my perspective. Was I too harsh? Am I spreading Barefoot Contessa hate?

Not at all! And here’s my personal perspective: I began cooking at the age of five – helping my mother make brownies, making cinnamon toast, etc… And then whipping up Asian stir-fry’s and making my own pies and cookies from scratch by the time I was nine.  As a young child, I loved everything about cooking. I loved to watch “Yan Can Cook” and “Jacques Pépin” on PBS every Saturday morning – more than ABC’s stellar Saturday morning cartoons (Conjunction Junction).

However, if I had been diagnosed with a terminal illness as a young child, my last wish would not have been to cook with any of the celebrity chefs I watched on TV. My wish would have been to spend a day with my best friend at an amusement park (riding rollercoasters) or swimming with dolphins (as Enzo chose to do after Ina Garten rejected him) or maybe even to meet Wonder Woman in person (skipping the picture post for this).

I was born and raised a “Foodie” and I still would have picked other options as my “last wish” than to pick cooking with my favorite chef. My point is this:

Six-year-old Foodie, Enzo, dreamed of Barefoot cooking
Ina Garten may be the busiest celebrity chef in the world, but there is NO WAY that she’s receiving last wish requests from dying babies on a daily – or even yearly – basis who want to cook with her. That’s asinine. She may be participating in charity events and donating money, but that type of charity is for promotional purposes only.

I’m touched by Enzo’s wish. I love that there is proof that children can love the culinary world as much as I did as a child (and still do – obviously). But moreover, I love that celebrity chefs such as Michael Symon and Beau MacMillan (who are FAR more famous than the Barefoot Contessa) will step forward so quickly and make room in their VERY busy schedules to cook with the culinary child-wonder.

Symon and MacMillan have scored major points in my book.

Just as a side-note, I get that the Make-A-Wish Foundation probably receives donations from Ina Garten and doesn’t want the boat rocked. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is not to blame for this story leaking. This publicity monstrosity would have come out with or without the much-loved organization's participation. The Barefoot Contessa’s only hope should be that the Make-A-Wish Foundation stands by her through the fallout of her heartless rejection.

Am I being too harsh now?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Barefoot Contessa Rejects Dying Child's Last Wish

Ina Garten and Enzo (Photo courtesy of TMZ)
Ina Garten, more commonly known as The Barefoot Contessa, has refused to fulfill the wish of a six-year-old cancer patient made through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Enzo was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia three years ago and when Make-A-Wish asked what he would wish for a year ago, the child responded that he wanted to cook with The Barefoot Contessa because it was the show he frequently watched with his mother.

Make-A-Wish contacted Ina Garten with the request last year, but she was unable to make the time due to a book tour. According to TMZ, the organization urged Enzo to pick a different wish, but he told them he would rather wait until she became available.

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted Garten this year, The Barefoot Contessa’s reps gave a “definite no”, leaving Enzo rejected and heartbroken. The Food Network star’s reps told TMZ:

"Despite her demanding schedule, [Ina] participates and helps as many organizations as she can throughout the year, helping children and adults like Enzo with life threatening and compromising illnesses. Unfortunately, as much as she would like to, it's absolutely impossible for her to grant every request she receives."

I get that Garten is a busy woman, but I’d really love to know how many 6-year-old dying children approach celebrity chefs for a little one-on-one cooking time. How frequently does this happen?

I could see rejecting a child’s last wish if you’re amazingly famous and receiving these requests on a daily basis. But keep in mind that this boy chose “cooking with the The Barefoot Contessa” over meeting a sports star like Derek Jeter, a day at Disneyland that included a lunch date with Shrek, or playing a small part in the new Harry Potter film. Six-year-old Enzo picked Ina Garten over Bobby Flay and Paula Deen!

Though Enzo was crushed, he has made a new wish since: Swimming with dolphins! He’s currently taking lessons in preparation of the big day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Top Chef All Stars: One Chef Down, Two Chefs to the Finale

Morimoto, Michelle Bernstein, Wolfgang Puck & Padma Lakshmi
Episode 15 of Top Chef All Stars comes to a close and I feel like I just stepped of a roller coaster ride. But at least this ride was enjoyable. It was fantastic to see Carla Hall again – I didn’t see that coming. And how great was it to have Wolfgang Puck, Michelle Bernstein and Masaharu Morimoto as guest judges?? With the last few Top Chef episodes being such a bust, I wasn’t too sure what to expect this week, but they really didn’t disappoint (too much).

Ok – now I get to vent. Is it completely rude for me to say that I’d like to grab a couple of staplers and go double-time on Mike Isabella’s mouth? It can’t be denied that he’s really stepped up and created some amazing dishes, but his incessant over-confident mean-spirited chattering and his underhanded tactics far outweigh any of the positive aspects of his personality. Couldn’t the Top Chef producers have cut out half of his rude rambling clips?
Richard Blais vs. Mike Isabella

While it would have been wonderful to see Antonia Lafaso make it to the (final) finale, her dishes just didn’t pull through. Mike Izzy won his spot in the Top Chef All Stars finale fair and square, but I really wish he wasn’t so damned unlikeable!

So now that it’s down to Richard Blais and Mike Isabella, who do you think will take home the “Top Chef” title?

I’m rooting for Richard, but I think it could be very likely that Mike Izzy takes the win…

More on Top Chef