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Top Chef: Las Vegas, Episode 4 – The Chef of the Century


First of all, many thanks go out to SusanF for a great pinch-hit performance last week. I must admit to being quite jealous as you got to write about a really cool episode, complete with Misogynist Mike (MM) almost going postal on the judges. I was dying to call out Ashley for going crazy the previous week about having to cook for a wedding challenge even though she as a lesbian is unable to marry. And yet, cooking for the military warranted not a peep from her. Four words, Ashley – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If you are going to be issue-oriented, at least be consistent.

Anyway, that off my chest, I can move on to this week. Oh yeah, Susan, you are right, Padma has kickin’ legs!

This week was all about two things – 1) an awesome twist to the Quickfire and 2) an all-star French chef guest crew. Both made for great television.

First, the twist. What we had was a new take on the High Stakes Quickfire introduced for the Vegas theme. Instead of a cook-off to determine a cash prize for the winner of the Quickfire, we had a cook-off to determine who was going home after the Quickfire. Awesome. That is really high stakes. I remember criticizing the show for having elimination Quickfire during Season 4’s Finals, which led to Antonia’s departure. I stand by that because of the placement of that elimination – Antonia deserved better as a finalist and earned the right to be judged on a standard elimination challenge and not the insanity connected with the Quickfire. But this…very cool, and it led to a whole lot of worry on the faces of all the chefs.

The second part was also very cool because all of the chefs and judges totally geeked out on us based on either cooking for or eating with Chef of the Century Joel Robuchon. That’s right, there is a Chef of the Century. I wonder if he got a plaque for that. Even Tom not only admitted to being excited to sit with Joel, but he even wore a tie for the occasion. When informed whom they would be cooking for (or in Kevin’s case, eating with), the 13 chefs became visibly giddy. Mattin (Flais, if you recall – a French guy with Richard Blais’ hairdo) even skipped a bit during the dinner. It was fun seeing Padma sort-of flirt with the guy and Gail become giggly when Joel issued stellar complements for the Cheftestants.

All in all, I loved this episode and am excited that Top Chef is off to a good start, even if all they have done is eliminate Cannon Fodder chefs who had as much chance of winning this as Congressman Joe Wilson has in being a Good Will Ambassador. First a governor who has an international affair on taxpayer dollars and now a Congressman heckling the President…stay classy, South Carolina!

The Food

Quickfire – Cook Snails. Basically, that was it. But try to wow Daniel Boulud who has probably made more snails than any of these chefs will in their entire combined careers.

Ron (Kingpin, because he looks like Michael Clarke Duncan) – Escargot Provencal with caramelized shallots, Pernod and fresh herbs

Jennifer – Escargot with grilled ramps, Brussels sprouts, chanterelle mushrooms and yuzu. Boulud actually says something for her and complements the acidity of the yuzu. Don’t get used to hearing anything from him.

Jesse – the ELT – Escargot, Mache, fried tomato. Ugh. She really can’t escape the “fog of self doubt” that she is “swimming around in.” That and the crappy ass cooking is really hurting her.

Laurine – Sautéed escargot, lemon risotto, spinach, parsley pesto and garlic butter.

Hector – Caribbean (natch) escargot with pickled mushrooms. I can think of few things less appetizing to me. Perhaps if he added mud, solid waste and a swift kick in the groin, it would it be worse.

Robin – Bagels and lox – Poached escargot, marmalade, gooseberries, and rye crostini. So…nothing like bagels and lox.

Flais – Fava bean crostini with escargot sautéed in a piment d’espelette and anise

Ashley – Escargot mire poix soup and salad.

Kevin – Escargot fricassee with mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and candied bacon jam. That’s right, you can combine the words candy, bacon and jam into something magical. He educates us that the trick to cooking snails is to boost the background flavors because snails basically have no taste of their own.

Bryan – Escargot with red wine risotto, spinach emulsion and marcona almond froth

Michael (Hawk, because of his uncanny resemblance to Tony Hawk) – Escargot and chanterelle mushroom Bolognese lasagna.

MM – Sautéed escargot over potato garlic puree, spring onion and Ouzo broth. He is one of the few chefs with experience in cooking snails because of his Greek heritage.

Eli - Snails with Mushrooms, Sunchokes, and Truffle-Banyuls Sauce. He calls Boulud a Bad Mofo. Except he didn’t abbreviate.

Boulud’s Favorites – MM, Kevin and Jenn, with Kevin winning, earning immunity and, as we learn later on, exemption from the Elimination Challenge and a seat at the All-Star dining table.

Boulud’s Rejects – Ashley, Jesse and Robin. Tom gives the three of them a chance to earn their slots with a 20-minute amuse bouclé cook off.


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