Category Archives: Cooking

Top Chef: Boston – Ep 3 – Peanuts! Popcorn! Giant Baseballs In Soup!

Before we talk about the latest episode, the one that took place in The Ballpark That Must Not Be Names, one thing that I need to bring up first. I do this every once in a while in these pages because I feel the need to point out the obvious from time to time. The people on these shows are real people performing tasks in high-pressure situations while dealing with fatigue. They are greatly edited for full entertainment purposes. Bloggers like me get to be snarky and have fun with recaps of these shows because we truly love the programs. I treat these columns the way I would treat hanging out with friends, having a few drinks and joking around with each other. Harmless fun occasionally punctuated with inappropriate or rude humor.

It’s one of the things I love about Twitter when it comes to these columns – especially on Top Chef. The chefs get into this and really pay attention to all of these little articles. This week, I had a few responses and retweets for my previous two Boston columns. I especially got attention from Ron, formerly known as BFG. I say formerly because he called me out for poking fun at his weight. Very fair point. I only did so because it seemed as if he and the other chefs were doing the same thing, and the BFGs (Steve and Dave, Amazing Race 4) was one of my favorite teams. A subtle reference, I grant you, but no harm meant. Ron requested a new nickname (Kats jokingly mentioned Ron’s Twitter handle – angry chef – but honestly, he doesn’t seem like an angry dude to me).

I want to say for the record – I love, love, love, love that Ron and I had this exchange on social media. I would love it if more chefs, or Survivors, were that interested. I think he knows now that I wasn’t going for insults, and I promised to give him another nickname going forward.

And then the guy goes and gets his butt kicked off the show! I mean, c’mon, what are doing to me? I spent the last couple of days trying to come up with new ones – There’s all of the oyster-related humor (his last name is Eyester). There’s former MLB second baseman Ron Oester. There’s the giant map of the Philippines he has on his forehead by his eye. There’s the fact that he has this Rorschach test above his eye and his name is Eyester. I was thinking about doing deep sci-fi humor and bringing up the Trill from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and their facial marks. I was thinking that he was the “before” picture to former Top Chef Finalist Kevin (he lost to Voltaggio).

And then he loses and I am stuck with a one-episode nickname! Do I have the time for all of this? Actually, I do, but that’s not the point. So, for the sake of time management and the fact that I am already 511 words into this blog, we will go with a good “Watchman” reference and call him Rorschach. Considering both met similar fates in their pop culture milieus. Death and packing knives being similar in this analogy.

Anyway, moving right along. Also throwing me a curveball this week was the almost elimination of the guy I said could be the biggest Top Chef Villain ever. Aa-hole got a lot of attention early – including some psychoanalysis on why he acts like such an a-hole. He is the product of a broken home. Of course, tons of people are products of broken homes and don’t act like a-holes. My former roommate James (not really, see Ep 1 recap for explanation) is also from a similar self-taught, broken home background. He’s not an a-hole – at least not yet. The only weird thing about him is the Patrick Swayze tattoo. However, it does permit me to dig out this video clip.

Anyway, Aa-hole also has a chip on his shoulder about the size of Rorschach’s Elimination Challenge entrée. The chip is so huge it can be seen from space. It’s bigger than Kim Kardashian’s, er, empire. (That’s what you thought I’d say, right?) It’s bigger than the plot holes in “The Dark Knight Rises.” I’m telling you, folks, dude’s got a chip. He didn’t go to culinary school and wants us all to know about it. Great. Got it, buddy. He says that if his mom had the money for a CIA education, he’d be Bobby Flay. The worst part is, he just outed Bobby Flay as a CIA agent.

So, with that chip we see Aa-hole and the others enter into another Sudden Death Quickfire. This time, Ming Tsai has arrived with a whole lot of tea. In case you haven’t heard, there was a tea party in Boston once. Now we have a TEA Party everywhere and we are worse off for it. But this Tea Party was a good one. The challenge? Make a dish with some random flavor of tea. The winner gets immunity, the loser faces elimination.

All in all, it was a fairly cool challenge. The chefs had no idea what tea they would get so they had to react on the fly to the sometimes-bizarre flavors. Gregory wanted fruity and floral – which would have been a horrible name for a gay florist in a 1970s comedy. Speaking of Gregory, he also requested a nickname and suggested an existing one for him – Gumby Gourmet. Fine by me, but I’ll just shorten it to Gumby. Dammit.

We have gunpowder spearmint. We have monkfish cheek. We have some NY/Boston ribbing. We have Rebecca and about 14 different flavors of tea. We have Melissa speaking. Wait, was she on this show the whole time? We have James making a dish from 1982. We have Rorschach spraying his mole sauce all over James – it is unclear if it in response to 32 year old dishes. Rorschach also lets us know that it is always good to have two breasts. I would add that four is a Penthouse Forum letter.

Melissa – Seared duck breast with toasted nut oolong tea-infused jasmine rice – Ming likes the rice a lot, and it tastes the way it smells, which in this case is a good thing.
Kats – Toasted brown rice tea broth with brown rice crusted tuna – Ming likes the strong flavor.
Katie – Golden honey black tea panna cotta, Asian pear with brown butter tea crumble – Ming mumbles something about the flavor, and says he makes something similar, but as a soufflé. He assures her that a soufflé in 45 minutes would not have been a good idea.
Gumby – Tuna Crudo With Strawberry White Tea and Coconut Ming is not a big fan of fish and fruit, but this worked.
Rorschach – Chocolate and salt herbal tea-crusted duck breast with polenta and balsamic-glazed mushrooms Padma hates this tea flavor, but loves the essence of it in a dish she didn’t hate. I think I got that right, either way it is such a backhand complement that it might have backspin on it.
Aa-hole – Seared monkfish cheeks, Asian pear and mint salad with gunpowder and spearmint tea gastrique That fish is dead. It’s an ex-fish.
Adam – Pineapple and burnt citrus “iced tea-viche” and toasted pine nut gremolata – He made “tea-viche” and deserves to advance just for the pun. Regardless, the exotic qualities came through.
James – Crispy skin trout with quinoa in buerre blanc and Asian pear tea salad – Ming comments that he hasn’t had this dish in years. In fact, it reminded him of seeing ET in the theaters for the first time.
Rebecca – Lemongrass and pomegranate rooibos tea-infused cake with strawberries and apples – Ming says that the tea was used very subtly. So subtly, that it was barely there.

That’s all we get to see. Let’s presume the others made dishes with Asian pears.

The successes? Melissa (who?), Gumby and Rorschach. And earning immunity? Gumby. Remember that near-miss later when Rorschach serves a soup the size of Rhode Island.

The failures? James, Rebecca and Aa-hole. I thought Rebecca could be in trouble here because she had gotten more screen time in these ten minutes than she had in the first two episodes combined, but it is Aa-hole who is up for elimination. Uh oh – Top Chef’s finest villain could be gone before he started his crime spree!

Remember when Aa-hole bragged to Blondie that he could cook her under the table? Well, now is his chance. Instead, to the surprise of everyone, his anti-culinary school hang-up trumped his anti-Blondie hang-up. He chooses Katie to battle with his show life on the line. They have 30 minutes to cook something where the only heat they have is boiling water. Good challenge. They both go for it – he makes a spring roll with a shrimp wrap and she goes for fresh pasta and a sauce made in a plastic bag. Both dishes appear to be creative and well executed. Ming dings her on lack of salt and him on raw peanuts, but the degree of difficulty of his dish saves him.
Aa-Hole – Cucumber, Carrot, Mint and Raw Peanuts Wrapped in Pureed Shrimp Noodle
Katie – Saffron Hand-Cut Pappardelle Pasta, Smoked Mozzarella, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

Top Chef: Boston – Ep 2 – It’s Just Chicken!

One thing about Top Chef over the years – there has not been that many pure reality show villains. Sure, there have been some chefs who have pushed the envelope on villainy – but mostly it’s been a pretty tame show that way. We had Marcel, Stefan, Heather, just to name a few that have come across as chefs to root against. Most others have just been walking egos or annoying ticks that have been fun to root against. But in Boston…we have a budding villain.

Enter Mr. Aaron Grissom. He has all of the qualities and most of them came out this week. He’s the guy that says that you’ll know when he’s being an a-hole. Because his natural assholery is so natural that he has to be a Super A-Hole for him to actually notice it. By they way, Super A-Hole would probably be a horrible Marvel movie.

He also has the massive ego that goes with being a villain – but it isn’t offset by some amusing buffoonery. He thinks he’s Emeril Lagasse and so far he’s been overly Guy Fieri. In addition, these personalities do not work well with others. And so when presented with a group challenge – it crashes and burns badly.

That said, most chefs on this show (and designers on Project Runway) are used to being King or Queen of the Kitchen. Everyone jumps when they say to jump. So when you have three of them telling each other to jump, either they all jump and reach the goal or they all stand still defiantly and accomplish nothing.

Guess what happened with Aaron’s team?

It’s not as if Blondie is all that much better – but at least in this case she was in the right. It started with what seemed to be an innocuous argument in the Stew Room about molecular gastronomy and it’s effectiveness. That will come up again later on.

Top Chef: Boston – Ep 1 – Sudden Death Quickfire Is Now A Thing

Welcome back, Chef fans. I’m sorry I chose to pass on Top Chef: Duels. There are only just so many Top Chef shows that I can recap. It makes me hungry every time. I’m trying to stay somewhat in shape, Bravo. Stop tempting me with delicious treats! That’s one reason. Another is that I can only come up with so many jokes about kale.

But here we are for another season. Food & Wine Magazine spread. Aspen. $125,000. And the title. Of Top Chef. Boom! We are in Boston. Home of every sports team I despise. I look forward to a lot of clams and beans this season. I would very much like to see the characters from “Good Will Hunting” show up. And not just because that would be funny. It would mean Robin Williams was still on this Earth.

We jump right into the action with a Quickfire. Padma is there as usual. And, yes, Padma is still stunning. And now 100% fewer Gere’s involved. Joining the Lady of the Quickfire is former Top Chef Winner Richard Blais – one of my favorite Top Chef contestants ever. I ate at his burger place in Atlanta. Amazing.

They go around the room and introduce about half of the contestants. I have a hard time keeping up with the names. We have the kosher Mexican-Japanese chef – who I instantly want to root for because…KOSHER MEXICAN-JAPANESE! We have a Voltaggio apprentice. A big fat dude with personality. A vegan disciple of Masters winner Floyd. A blonde woman who won some made up best chef award. Mike Isabella’s apprentice from DC. And a giant afro.

The new twist on this, and several other Quickfires this season, is that the loser is marked for elimination (TM Amazing Race Season 10). That chef then challenges another to a cook off, if he/she wins then they are ok and no harm done. If they lose, they are out. So, one of these chefs is getting the boot right off the bat. Ouch. The challenge? The World Famous, Often Imitated, Never Duplicated, Mise En Place Relay Race. Take apart three Lab-stahs (Good Boston?), shuck 20 oysters, filet a basket of mackerels, and take apart 21 little neck clams.

There are just too many new people here to keep track of, but we’ll see what we can do. Adam and Blondie battle over the lobsters on their team. Gregory, who makes me think of Carlton from the Fresh Prince, wants the mackerel, but so does DC George. I wonder if that becomes an issue? Volt apprentice Mei Lin smokes through the lobsters. Adam was super confident but he’s also horrible at it. He’s in last.

Afro lady, named Joy, has trouble with the oysters. She calls herself Shaky McGee. And so will I. Blais makes the obvious mackerel joke when BFG Ron smokes his way through them. Boston native Stacy has shucked thousands of clams in her career, so she’s fine. Kosher Mex Katsuji doesn’t know how to open the clams, so he repeatedly slams them on the counter and thus completely blows his team’s lead. They barely avoid last place. That belongs to DC George and Carlton’s team. DC George took the longest of them all while shucking the clams so he is in trouble. Isabella is preparing the jokes as we speak.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 15 – Uncle Emeril And The Last Day In The Big Easy

Top Chef’s New Orleans season lurches to a close this week as we re-connect with the chefs next week in Hawaii for the two-part Finale. It’s funny, I took notes during this episode. Then, of course, my insane life got in the way, and as I sit down to write this column I realize the episode left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. I watched it. I was entertained. Good food was cooked. An elimination made. But nothing actually jumps out at me as a point to bounce a column off of – the episode was just kinda there.

The Nick as a villain angle? Meh. I killed that last week. Chung as the underdog and frontrunner – a hard combo to achieve? Well, I guess. BB as one of the best chefs in recent years who hasn’t really done anything on screen to be remembered for? I mean, she’s good. Really good. She’s rarely been on the bottom in any challenge this season. Even this week when she made a rare error, it didn’t cost her a thing. Carlos? What has he done this season other than annoy Nick and cook Mexican food regardless of the challenge?

I could focus on Padma’s hotness. That’s a great fallback position. I could comment on how cold the Quickfire room must have been because its effect on Gail was noticeable. That was fun for me at least – perhaps not for Gail. Tom and Emeril? They’re always great. Tom is amazing on this show – and Emeril seems to have found his role finally. He’s essentially become the Paula Abdul of this show. How? He’s become Uncle Emeril. The chefs look at him as their ally. He’s become the Good Cop. It’s a role that suits him. Just the way Puck embraces being hard on the chefs – Bourdain too. Emeril seems to relish being Uncle Emeril.

We even got a “kick it up a notch” from him this week.

The challenges were solid – a two-part Quickfire where they indulge Gail’s love for amuse bouche. One bite on a cocktail fork. And a second part where Tom’s love of veggies are exposed. And where Tom reminds us of the amazing challenge from a few seasons ago where we watched him cook a Quickfire meal in 8 ½ minutes. The Elimination is a variation on an old Top Chef theme – how did the host city inspire you? A solid theme challenge – but one that didn’t produce a lot of interest this time. Carlos cooked Mexican food. Of course. BB made her rare error – and in fact, the dish didn’t even need the element she forgot to add. Nick made an overly complicated dish and barely survived the week. And Chung continued her hero’s journey through the bayou by continuing to find her voice and cease being a Shadow Chef.

So we head to Maui next week for the Finale – and something I have hated before on the show. They are doing a double elimination heading into the final showdown. Ugh. I don’t like double eliminations at this stage in the game. Early on, when there are about 200 chefs in the game, that’s fine. But in the Final Four? It feels unfair. It may not be unfair, but it feels that way to me. Just do a Final Three for the title at this point instead of taking down two next week. That feels better to me. In fact, I would like a moratorium on double eliminations until they start choosing to not eliminate a chef because of a nitpick. Using Cmar’s elimination as an example – why cut someone who did well when you don’t have to? Keep her and tell the chefs that two go in the next Elim. If it happens again? Take out three the next time. Just adjust on the fly.
So, we have a Final Three – and a fourth to join them soon. I would say Chung is the frontrunner right now – but we have the Finale dynamic about to come into play. Perhaps if they played it immediately – meaning no weeks/months long delay between New Orleans and Hawaii – which is what they normally do, then her momentum would mean something. However, the fatigue that could be dragging down the others will be gone. The rust will be there – another reason a double elimination stinks – and I think all of the success Chung has had to get her here factors in very little.

I would put BB as the likely winner – with Chung a close second. I think Nick’s tendency to get in his own head is going to hurt him badly in the Finale. I don’t think Carlos has the skills the others have – and he’d have to branch out from Mexican food to get there. Louis is the interesting one – if he beat Carlos in the final LCK to get back, that’s amazing. But the winning streak to get him there would potentially have given him Chung-like momentum. But he loses that as well. But lets see if Carlos’ mahi mahi (Mexican style, of course) or Louis’ yellowfin tuna gets them in the game.

I guess we’ll find out shortly – perhaps Kish and Steph will have another woman in the Top Chef Ladies Room soon during winners’ get-togethers. I am sure they happen all the time too.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 14 – The Shadow Chef And The Fake Villain

So, I’m mad at Top Chef right now. I would love to blame the lateness of the column this week on my anger at Top Chef, but that would be a lie. I’m just crazy behind on everything in my life. However, I am going to go with a portion of my lateness as being part of the fact that I hated this last episode. And that makes a few episodes in a row where I’ve had a gripe. C’mon guys. You’re too good for this.

First item. Stop fabricating stupid rivalries. It is clear that the show is editing it to make Nick look like a villain. But really, this is ridiculous. The “rivalry” between Nick and Carlos is moronic in the first place, but really, if you had to pick a side, how could it not be Nick’s side? Carlos called him out for no reason to the judges. Carlos used his knife and didn’t clean it. And now, Carlos seemingly started to move Nick’s pots from the burners. Nick is a bit of a hothead and bubbled over. Does that make him a villain? No. To me, I am amazed he didn’t snap earlier if you factor in the pressure of the show and the lack of sleep that comes with it.

And as for the oven incident – the show tried very hard to make it seem as if Nick was implying sabotage, but at no time did we see Nick accuse anyone. He just said that he didn’t know how the heat was set so high on the quinoa. Haven’t we all done something like that before? We’ve all accidentally set a timer incorrectly, or an alarm, or chosen the wrong setting even though we were certain we did it correctly.

It is poor form for these shows to try incredibly hard to fabricate a villain – and to me, incredibly unfair to the person on screen to have that happen to them. There are enough times on these shows where someone chooses to Johnny Fairplay things and embrace villainy. But there are tons of other cases where the editing is done and the contestant is surprised to learn how they are portrayed. Granted, Nick’s Philly buddy seemed as if he would be the villain this season before his early exit – and maybe the two combined would have been too much. But from what I have seen this season – Nick is no villain. He just wants to win. And is there anything wrong with that?

The other thing that bothers me is the Roy Choi Quickfire routine. Roy Choi the Boy (go to my column from the last time he appeared on the show – the nickname makes sense) is the King of the Food Trucks and someone who made something of himself after a life of poor choices. He is a great role model for down and out chefs everywhere. The Quickfire is for the chefs to make their own take on a po’boy sandwich – a New Orleans staple. And that’s great; he wanted them to tell their story in this sandwich. However, I didn’t get a sense of how clear it was made to them that this needed to be straight from their souls – in 20 minutes.

Anyway, Nick made fried shrimp, Chung had catfish, BB made fried mahi mahi, Huskey went with lobster and Carlos was inspired by the Mexican taco. The Boy told them they all messed it up. They didn’t find their souls in the sandwiches. In 20 minutes. He slammed all of them – Carlos’ lacked flavor, Nick’s was too salty, Huskey’s Korean flavors were not found, Chung’s was pedestrian and BB’s didn’t pop.

Chung earned the default win and immunity. That’s another thing that bothered me. With all of the crap sent to Nick last week, now we are giving a pass to the Final Four based on a pedestrian dish? What if Chung was horrible in the Elimination – would she be pressured to give up immunity? At least last week’s immunity win for Nick was based on an excellent dish. Grrrr.

Anyway, all that being said, I would have just shrugged off The Boy’s outbursts as a diva moment or something – until Jon Favreau came out to present the Elimination Challenge. He is working on a new movie called “Chef.” In it, the hero losses his voice and cannot connect with food anymore, so he gets a food truck and travels with his son to find his voice again. Hmmm. Interesting.

I am throwing the penalty flag here. It is too much of a coincidence to me that an Elimination Challenge based on finding your voice, showing your cooking soul, and showcasing a turning point in your career comes on the heels of The Boy’s scolding of the chefs for not showing their souls in the Quickfire. It feels really contrived and done to elicit drama and accentuate the Elimination Challenge. It just left a bad taste in my mouth – and I wonder if that’s what really happened. The chefs seemed universally surprised by the criticisms they got at the Quickfire – and all of that combined makes me think that they would have been scolded for effect no matter what. And I don’t like that kind of skepticism.

I prefer to think that these shows are as legit as possible. I know that they are TV productions and some liberties are taken with things from time to time. But don’t Real Housewives it for me – let drama happen naturally, don’t force it down our throat with staging and editing. Is that what happened here? No idea. But it sure came across that way.

Quickfire Challenge – Does it really matter? They all were below standard and Chung won.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 13 – To Quit or Not to Quit

Let’s discuss the most important thing that occurred during this episode. No, it was not the ludicrous discussion about whether or not Nick should elect to quit the competition to save Cmar or Chung. But yes, we will be discussing that. No, much more important…

Yellow dress on Padma. Holy moly! I had to watch the Quickfire all over again because I had no idea what was going on because that yellow dress had all my attention. Yowza!

But anyway, enough of my unhealthy obsession about he stunning host. This week came down to a dynamic inherent to all competition reality shows that incorporate immunity. What happens if you want to get rid of the immune? Unless you are on Survivor and can trick Erik or Brandon to give it up, you can do nothing. You adjust. Many contestants on these shows have been axed despite not deserving it. This is just one way of having it happen.

Nick said it best – he earned it in the previous challenge. So despite his dishes dragging his team down, he earned immunity. He didn’t do anything malicious to Cmar or Chung, he took big risks that failed badly. The ladies also didn’t push him to not make those choices nor did they seem very concerned during prep. Cmar mentioned the bad bird nest, but didn’t push very hard. Plus, even without the drain hair, as Tom called it, I am sure they still would have lost based onto the rest of Nick’s dishes. No doubt about it. The other team was solid, but unspectacular and so that win for BB and the team was a bit muted. Nick was just that bad.

But no friggin way does he volunteer to go home. No. Way. Even suggesting it on the part of the judges was ridiculous. Why even have immunity otherwise? Immunity is earned in order to protect yourself from this kind of screw up. Sure it sucks for the other two, but that’s the rules of immunity.

There were certainly other options. One easy one to avoid the dynamic of one bad immune chef and two teammates who don’t deserve elimination is to not do three on three challenges. Another is to not allow for immunity this late in the competition. Another is to not eliminate Cmar or Chung if they don’t deserve it. Have an American Idol/Project Runway save for Tom. Eliminate two chefs next week. The show has done this before – and in my opinion, not often enough. Cmar didn’t deserve to get cut. She knows it. Nick knows it. Tom and the judges know it. And we know it. So don’t cut her. Don’t put it on Nick that she’s out – the judges chose to do it. Next time, don’t knife someone who didn’t deserve it when the only one who did was immune.

At least we got a break from the Nick/Carlos madness for a week. Sadly, it seems to blow back up next week over moved pots. Sigh.

In my defense of Nick I have sadly overlooked the tragedy of Cmar’s departure. She turned into one of my favorite chefs from any season. That wit deserves its own show. The Cmar Show. I’d watch it. I am going to miss her going forward and I hope she gets a second chance to be on a future season.

Meanwhile, we are down to five chefs. Which means one from Nick, BB, Chung, Carlos and Huskey is winning this – or Louis, as he still remains viable after defeating Cmar and continuing his run through LCK. Personally, I can’t see anyone other than BB or Chung winning based on past performance and editing. But who knows. This odd season rolls along – lots of likable chefs and solid challenges – but kind of dull. The chefs are nice, but not as charismatic as a lot of past seasons. Now with Cmar and her dry wit gone…well, not really all that excited about the end game. I hope the show picks up, but right now New Orleans ranks in the bottom half of Top Chef seasons. At least in my opinion.

Quickfire Challenge – World class French chef Jacques Pepin joins Padma and her amazing yellow dress to do a skills competition with the chefs. They have to properly prep artichokes, julienne some veggies, make their own cherry tomato, skin and filet dover sole and make a butter rose. The need to make a sauce – and do it all EXACTLY as Pepin shows them how to do it. As we know, immunity rides on this.

Carlos is not classically trained, and is at a disadvantage. Nick knows his stuff – and shares with us the anger with which he cooks these days. Unemployment does that to a person. BB forgets to turn on her stove. Cmar is freaking out – but she always freaks out. Carlos’ plate looks as if a tornado hit it, and has no tomato. Chung is happy, and thinks Pepin is like her grandpa. Huskey’s is a “hot mess” – and he has no sauce, and from what we have seen so far this year, saucing is his specialty. BB ran a lot but got a plate done. Cmar’s is a bit scrambled, and she had all kinds of trouble with the fish. Nick’s is neat and tidy, and is the only one to even start the butter – even if he ran out of time.

Huskey, Cmar and Carlos get the bottom. Nick and Chung the top. BB is obviously third – but not good enough to be singled out, and not bad enough to be below the other three. Nick earns the win – mainly for the tarragon in his sauce – and as we know, really, really, really needed this win.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 12 – Knife Etiquette and Other Issues

So, I guess we are getting more and more of the Nick and Carlos saga going forward. Any regular to this column knows how much I love the chef rivalries from past seasons. And when I say love past conflicts, I mean I really don’t like them at all. They usually feel manufactured and blown completely out of proportion. And really, really overdone by the editing team. It is usually done when there is nothing of much interest going on in the episode to force something to put in the promos and the teasers. It’s Bravo-ification of the show – too many of the network’s core viewers expect the Real Housewives kind of “drama.” Top Chef isn’t about that – or at least, I never felt it was. I enjoy this show for the cooking. For the food. For the regions of cuisine they showcase. For the guest chefs. For the sheer incredible challenge of putting these tasks on the plate in time. I think that’s why the chefs like the show – and why there are so, so many chefs that want to come back and be on the show again. And on Masters. Etc.

So, Top Chef. Just the food. Come on.

Because it happened, I’ll have to talk about it. Nick essentially forgave Carlos for the whole sandbagging incident last week. And then Carlos needed one of Nick’s knives to properly cut his fish for his sashimi. Amazingly, he asked Nick. After the last episode, it is rather ballsy to ask the guy for help after you fed him to the wolves just a few hours previously. And then Carlos is shown in a confessional dinging Nick for not looking out for the needs of others.

Needs of others? This is a cooking competition. Nick and Carlos can’t be co-winners of Top Chef, there is only one winner. Nick was under no obligation to help one of the other members of the Final Seven. The fact that he chose to give Carlos a knife shows just how generous he, and most of these chefs, are during these competitions. That knife was a special knife, and Nick told him so. Carlos chose to not clean the knife after service – or even after use – despite knowing the attachment that the knife had to Nick. Wouldn’t all of you clean it first and hand it over right away? Isn’t that the unwritten rule of borrowing things?

In fairness, I am assuming the vast majority of this bad behavior is the creation of the editing room. Who knows when, and in what context, Carlos said that about Nick. It could have been back from the first day. So, keep in mind, as always, that the context of my reality show criticisms and jabs found in these pages are all taken with a big grain of salt. I’m sure Carlos is a lovely human being. But he’s not being portrayed that way on this show.

Ok, enough of that crap. Carrie sure got into a slump at the worst possible time, didn’t she? Carrie started off so well this season – she seemed as if she may go very far, and I guess she did, but would up petering out in the end. Amazingly, this week was the first time she found herself facing the music of Judges Table. And, it was the last. Granted, she would have been there last week without immunity, but still.

I must say that the show will miss Carrie and her unbelievably pretty eyes. I was rooting for her once she got to LCK, but she became the latest to fall victim to Louis during his improbably run through LCK. I say improbable because he got such little attention while he was on the main part of the show, that I didn’t expect him to get through LCK. Granted, he still may not get back in the game, but still, I’m surprised at how well he is doing. He’s only three wins away.
This week was about seafood. Pairing them. Something about that is complicated, I guess. Here’s where my lack of culinary skills come out and shine through. I really didn’t get it. Two kinds of fish, in a dish, just sounds delicious no matter how you slice it. Especially if you are using Nick’s knife. Carrie got the boot for putting one of hers into a fritter. My only question…really, fritters are friggin delicious. What’s wrong with that?

Somewhere, Tom and John Besh are not reading my column and just shaking their heads at my ignorance and questioning how anyone could allow me to write about anything involving cooking.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 11 – Sandbagging On Campus

This week the show sent the chefs back to college – Louisiana State University to be precise – to serve as the lunch ladies and lunch dudes for the school’s freshman orientation. As those young adults begin to learn things at college, we the viewers learned about the latest Top Chef rivalry which appears to be emerging. Nick vs. Carlos. And judging by the previews for next week! this is not a one and done clash.

My take on this first skirmish is that I fall on the side of Team Nick. As the eight chefs each found a workstation in the cafeteria, Nick claimed one of the ovens for his purposes. It seemed most of them were doing something similar. Nick was using this oven to keep his plates warm when Carlos announced that he needed an oven. He asked Nick and Nick refused him. He could have been accommodating, but he was not required to be. We are down to eight – it’s time to buckle down and win this thing. I have no problem with Nick saying no.

What I do have a problem with was Carlos telling Tom and Emeril that Nick took his oven. Not only is that not true but it planted a seed with the judges that Nick was not playing fair and gives Carlos an excuse if his dish failed. It is the Top Chef equivalent of a low blow in boxing or a chop block in football. Really uncalled for and not cool. Nick was understandably upset and confronted Carlos about it in the Stew Room. Carlos denied intention, and perhaps that is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the damage was done.

I was surprised that we didn’t see Carlos explain to the judges that he misrepresented the oven incident. He was in the Top Three – Nick in he safe middle – it wouldn’t have hurt him at all to come clean. And at the time he had no idea if Nick was in the middle or bottom, so an explanation could have set things straight. Not only did he, in Nick’s words, sandbag his fellow chef, he didn’t make it right when he had the chance.

Top Chef has a very short list of “villains” – I wonder if Carlos is on his way to joining it.

The other interesting dynamic which emerged was one of the more timely moments of immunity that has been seen in a while. I believe that if not for her impressing Questlove with some squab drumsticks, then Carrie was going to be departing thanks to her truly awful idea of serving broccoli to college freshmen. I really don’t know what she was thinking. At least Justin had the excuse of never going to college – but even that is thin, as I am sure he has encountered teenagers before.

Both of them were confined by their choice to serve cold dishes, but there was a lot of wiggle room there. Carrie volunteered for the tough gig because of the immunity, but that was no reason to mail it in. A cold dish could be anything. There were no dietary restrictions and no concerns about healthy requirements. They could have made a horrible 1500 calorie Chili’s style taco salad. Not blanched broccoli or bland cold shrimp.

Carrie was very lucky. Next time she wins immunity I hope she remembers to be bold.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 10 – There’s No Place Like Home

This was one of those weeks where it really sucked to get knifed out of Top Chef. Similar to two weeks ago when Louis was ousted, no one did anything really wrong this week. A couple of small errors led to Bottom Three status, but even those dishes were good, or had some substantial elements of being good. And for a challenge where each chef had to dig deeply into their emotions to find the dish that they crave when they go home – it is at least a small consolation that something so personal was not completely mangled.

Getting right to the end – Cap is the one who made the biggest error, and so he is the one who takes the fall this week. He went down home and put together some country biscuits which reminded him of his days with his dad. The problem – the butter he used was too hot and the biscuits didn’t cook properly. They were raw in the middle. Cap did his best to cover it up – he put the gravy right on the biscuit and served jam on the side – but you can’t slip that past the likes of Tom and Emeril. And so Captain Vietnam falls a bit short of his goal.

I gave Cap some crap early this season due to his very quiet early edit, and then his clashes with the guest host during the Vietnam episode. However, he grew on me as the season progressed. Plus he was cool with the criticism and interacted with me on Twitter about it. He showed he had good humor about his involvement on the show – and as it went along, I began to find myself rooting for him.
Oh well – good luck, Cap. I now need to find a second favorite on the show, since Cmar still clearly has the top spot sewn up.

Hubert Keller joined Padma in greeting the chefs for this week’s Product Placement Quickfire Challenge. He’s a longtime friend of the show – and former Top Chef Masters contestant. Let’s be honest about one thing – I can never understand a word he is saying, so this may be a problem. With Final 9 immunity on the line – and ten grand from a certain donuts chain – the chefs have to make a dish which features coffee. Pretty straightforward. Cmar wants to win so she can replace her stuff which is “old, broken and kind of sad looking.” Never change, Cmar. Chung wants to win because she needs air conditioning in Vegas. Oh boy, that’s a valid point.

Nick has used coffee before and knows he has to balance it out with other flavors because coffee will overcome the entire dish. Carrie is trying to make a crepe in 30 minutes and is struggling. She will later give up the plan and improvise in the last five minutes. Cmar continues to doubt herself during Quickfires and is making a self-proclaimed weird dish. Huskey is making risotto. Silly, silly Huskey. Only BB is immune to the Risotto Curse. And speaking of odds-on favorite BB, she thinks Nick is her primary competition. Hmm. Game on, I guess.

I’d give you the dishes – but the Bravo website has elected not to post them. Not sure why.
Cap – Salmon. We get nothing from Padma or Q-bert.
Carrie – She turned it into custard. And Q-bert liked the crunch
Huskey – Risotto. Nothing.
Carlos – Spongecake. Q-bert says that was tough to do in 30 minutes.
Nick – More salmon. With a whole mess o’ coffee. Oops.
Chung – Tenderloin. Oh, they like it.
Cmar – Crepe. With bacon and coffee jam. She gets a double interesting from them.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 9 – The Most Lopsided Restaurant Wars

This is the episode that every season of chefs wants badly to reach. It is the Survivor Merge of Top Chef. It is the most fun the chefs have all season – even if it is also the most work they have to do. But if you are a professional chef the one thing that you want to do the most is open a restaurant. So the challenge of doing so in a 24-hour period must be loads of fun.

Now on Top Chef, most of the time, the two sides are…how do I say this…competent when it comes to this challenge. Usually there is a small fatal flaw that decides who wins this thing and everyone goes home happy.

Not this year.

The presumed Dream Team of BB, Justin, Sara, Carlos and Chung turned into a rather bad dream. I mean, it was like Freddy-Krueger-Haunting-Your-Mind bad. It was so bad that the VIPs with Danny Meyer hadn’t even had their entrée yet when the Judging Team came over after finishing their meal with the other group. Simply put – Sara was probably the worst front of the house person in the history of Restaurant Wars. The only way it could have gone worse for her was for her to fart uncontrollably or manage to set herself, or a judge, on fire. It was really bad.

Just as bad? Justin’s management. I know that Sara did not train the staff with his revolutionary new ticketing system (patent pending), but really, why even risk things by installing a brand new ticketing system. Just do things easy – the way most waiters know how to operate. That front of house was a mess, and that kitchen was a mess. The whole thing was a mess. It was pretty embarrassing to watch. I think the chaos even reduced Carlos to a blubbering idiot as his dish clearly suffered from the madness around him.

Really, really bad.

Not really bad? The other team. Not only was the food good – mostly – but also it was the complete opposite dynamic as the other team. Nick was the model of the perfect executive chef. The team knew what they were doing, there was a plan, and they all dug his leadership. In addition, Cap probably had his best episode yet. His front of house should be used by future Top Chef contestants as the proper way of doing the job. Simply put – it was perfect. It was made even more perfect (is that possible?) in comparison to the full body vomit performance that Sara was putting on next door.

I felt that either Sara or Justin could easily get booted for the disaster. I felt that either Nick or Cap were truly worthy of the victory. It was really tough to figure out. Usually the executive chefs win or lose this challenge – but the front of the house performance was just so good and bad on each side that it could be argued the other way. The judges seemed to be having trouble too.

In the end, Nick’s delicious dish coupled with his stellar leadership gave him the win over Cap’s kick ass service. Meanwhile, the judges decided that the front of the house issues are what caused much of the terrible delays in bringing the food out to the guests. In addition, Sara’s dessert was a disaster making matters even worse for her.

To review the challenge – David Chang returned to the show to judge the contest and told them that opening a restaurant meant that you planned on everything going wrong. No kidding. Danny Meyer – the restaurant guru who helped during last season’s Restaurant Wars – was back to take part this season along with some product placement VIPs.