Category Archives: Cooking

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 8 – I Think Something Bad Happened To Babe

I hope you don’t have a problem with dead animal carcasses, because if you do, this is not the Top Chef episode for you. Avert your eyes, vegetarians, vegans and veggiesauruses. We have some pork.

I’ll get to the Dr. John Quickfire in a few, but let’s talk about that pig. Out comes a big ole dead pig and for those of us who do not want to know where bacon comes from – blissful ignorance tastes a lot better at the breakfast table – this is the time to turn away. Because we also forget what these chefs are able to do – butchering. The elimination challenge was to take apart this pig and have the chefs serve a dish from the animal. The catch – all of the animal must be used. This is a boucherie – the consuming of the entire beast. Of course, I also think this is a Klingon tradition that I once saw Worf teach his son, Alexander. But we’ll go with the boucherie thing.

The chefs went to town on the 300-lb. pig. The most disturbing part? Watching Cap, Nick and Justin just twist off the head. Whoa. And then have BB and Nick “decide to split the head down the center” because she thinks brains make a good ragout. Excuse me for a minute…

…ok, I’m back. We won’t talk of that again.

The important things to know during prep – Justin and Carlos are both making tacos. Bad idea, Justin. Louis is putting popcorn in his dish. Um…ok. Cap is choosing to buy his ramen noodles rather than make them. The 20-year-old me who created a ramen/tuna dish back in the day approves of this choice.

The chefs arrive at the outdoor cooking location and Justin gets all mama grizzly on his grill. I think part of it may be the cool Spaceballs: The flamethrower he gets to play with. Cmar freaks out, again, about an alligator on the loose. She thinks it may eat her face. I think it looked sleepy. Cap is making a Cay-asian dish. BB is going sweet and sticky. Justin is on fire. Uh oh.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 7 – …And All That Jazz…And Bad Voiceovers

This week, our Top Chef friends finally decided to bring jazz music into the mix for a season set in New Orleans. That’s like having Top Chef: Nashville and wheeling in Trisha Yearwood midway through the season. Oh well. Both challenges had a musical theme – and one had a complex, fun theme but was inherently unfair, while the other was pretty simple but kind of boring in the end.

Mixed in to cooking and music was a bizarre sideshow as Nick required a visit from the Top Chef Medical Staff. It seems the Philly chef contracted strep throat and is actually forced to skip the Quickfire Challenge. That’s something that I cannot remember ever taking place before – fans, please let me know if a chef has had to skip a Quickfire before. What was odd about this was the Padma voice over that came with the revelation that he was not at the kitchen. She didn’t say this at the time – because it is really obvious that the audio is different. I mean, they might as well have just had a computerized voice say it. Or hire Gilbert Gottfried to read it because it was that obvious she recorded it later on. It said that Nick needed to be ready to go for the Elimination Challenge the next day or he’d be forced to forfeit his slot in the competition. It’s just so odd to me that something so simple of production value would be so badly done.

For the very fun, but strange Quickfire Challenge – famous New Orleans jazz musician/chef Kermit Ruffins comes in to judge. If you did not watch this episode and are relying on the pitter patter of my laptop keyboard, then just close your eyes and imagine what you immediately think of when one says the words, “New Orleans jazz musician.” And that’s Kermit.

The challenge is a fun one – as it makes a nice play on the improvisational nature of jazz music. The chefs play musical chairs. They walk around a huge table that has workstations set up all around the table. The workstations are eclectic – with various proteins, veggies, tools and cooking devices set up. When Kermit stops playing, you set up and start cooking. However, at three other points in the challenge Kermit will re-start playing. And the musical chairs begin all over again. This means you will likely wind up at another person’s dish. And the final stage is essentially just completing the existing work and plating.

I liked the creativity and it was certainly a challenge that appeared to be lots of fun to compete in. However, I feel that having someone win immunity based on where they randomly wound up in the final stage – while failing to reward those who essentially prepared the dish – was rather unfair. Perhaps not have immunity on this challenge and give a cash prize to the chefs who worked on the winning dish. But, alas, that was not to be. In fact, I was wondering, do you take a chance and sabotage the early rounds, knowing that the odds are vastly against your fate winding up in front of whatever horrible mess you left. Nobody did this, but I wonder how many really thought about it.

Chung starts off with bacon, tofu and a microwave, so that gives you a sense of the randomness of the workstations. Sara gets duck and mussels, Justin gets quail and flounder, Boo Boo (BB from now on) starts a French-style dish. After the first shuffle, Cap winds up at BB’s station, BB gets Sara’s and so on and so forth. Huskey is the first to consider not doing much in the early rounds as he just sautés veggies at Cmar’s frog leg station.

Amazingly, the second shuffle puts all of the chefs back at t heir first station! Cmar and Justin are puzzled by what the other chefs did to their dish, while BB is very pleased with Cap’s contribution. At the last stage, only ten minutes are left. Louis has Cmar’s frogs, Justin gets Chung’s microwave and tosses the horrible couscous paste he inherited. Carlos has BB’s and finds it too salty, so he adds cucumbers. Huskey gets Sara’s and is basically just adding sauce and plating it.

Justin, with Chung, Vega, Chung – Tofu.
Cap, with Carlos, Carrie, Carlos – Steak.
Sara, with Carrie, Justin, Carrie – Trout.
Huskey, with Sara, BB, Sara – Duck.
Vega, with Louis, Cmar, Louis – Pork Chops.
BB, with Cap, Sara, Cap – Liver.
Cmar, with Huskey, Carlos, Huskey – Chicken and clams.
Carlos, with BB, Cap, BB – Redfish.
Chung, with Vega, Louis, Vega – Shrimp.
Louis, with Cmar, Huskey, Cmar – Frog Legs.

On the bottom, Louis’ frogs and their lack of spice, along with Justin’s microwaved tofu. Stunning, with that one, of course. On the top, Carlos with BB’s crispy fish, Huskey with Sara’s really great dish, and Vega with Louis’ juicy pork (shut up, you guys). Interestingly, BB had her hand in two of the three winners. She is absolutely the clear-cut front-runner this season. No doubt. Huskey wins the immunity, but I think Sara and BB should have gotten something as well.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are put into teams and have to create a pot luck menu for Kermit and his jazz musician buddies at a jazz club. Vega has never heard of potluck meals. I am certain that will NOT be foreshadowing of the outcome in any possible way whatsoever. We also get a second horrible voiceover about Nick.

The teams are:
Chung, Louis, and Sara
Carrie, BB, Cmar and Carlos – now that’s a powerhouse foursome.
Vega, Huskey, Cap and Nick

The get to eat at Kermit’s before heading out to ship for the challenge. Nick is on the phone with Cap to put in his input. Sara can’t fund broccolini, Louis thinks veggies are…zzzzzzzz….snrk….oh, crap, I fell asleep. Boy, was this shopping and prep section more boring than ever this week? I mean, just thinking about how Louis’ veggies could be the most….zzzzzzz…..

Crap, it’s morning already. Boy, am I late.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 7 – Where The Chefs Disappoint John Besh

This was not a very good episode for the remaining 13 chefs…well, except for Nina. However, it doesn’t seem that she ever has a bad episode, unless being dragged down by Big Easy Mike. She does not miss him after his departure, she says about him, “I’m sorry Boo Boo, you’re a douche.” I’m sorry, Nina, but the amount of Boo Boo references we’ve had so far…I just have to…I can’t resist…ok, new nickname!

So the chefs are hanging out on Casa De Chefs and Padma and Besh wander in clad in jeans and boots. Please, just reflect with me for a moment…Padma in jeans and boots. Cmar says Besh literally wrote the book on New Orleans that she read before the show. The chefs are told to pack a bag and come with them. Padma wouldn’t have to ask twice to get me to pack a bag for an overnight. In fact, I have a bag already packed just in case such an occasion should arise.

They are being taken to the farm, and Iowa Carrie is thrilled. The chefs are shown a local veggie – the Creole Tomato and told they have 20 minutes to put together a dish that highlights the local fave. Vega laments that the Quickfires keep getting shorter – and that one will soon be only a minute long. I want to see that challenge. Justin informs us that this kind of tomato has a thin skin and a high acid level. Huskey is making a toad in the hole with tomatoes – and I kind of love that choice.

However, others are having big problems thinking of tomato dishes. Cap has the sun bugging him. Cmar cannot figure out any tomato dish that works. Bene can’t believe that he’s dealing with having to make another tomato dish. Nick is confident because there is a Philly tomato that is rather similar. Boo Boo and Vega are both making a cold tomato soup – but the heat has been a major issue. Boo Boo has a ton of ice – but I am unsure how that ice survived all of that heat.

The judges join them:
Bene Soup. Besh loves the balance.
Carlos Poached tomato. Besh is fascinated by the raw flowers in the dish.
Cmar Steak and tomatoes. She knows he’s disappointed. She calls it a blind date gone bad.
Boo Boo Soup. Besh is amazed she kept it cold.
Nick Tomatoes and Melon. Padma thought it was fresh and refined.
Justin Tartare. It is a lightly sautéed squash blossom which makes it work.
Cap Seared tomato. It didn’t cook enough.
Louis Tomato Seed Bouillon. Besh thinks the juices are great.
Huskey Toad in the hole. Padma thinks it is really good.
Vega Roasted tomato soup. Padma said it tasted better than it looked.

Here’s Carrie’s in case you were wondering – no judging for it.

And Sara’s.

And Chung’s.

On the bottom, Vega’s messy dish, Cmar’s too simple dish and Cap’s very safe dish which failed to elevate the tomato. On the top, Boo Boo’s chilled soup, Carlos’ elevated tomato, and Louis’ top flavors. In the end, Boo Boo earns the win and immunity.

For the Elimination Challenge – They are going to be cooking at Besh’s restaurant in his tiny kitchen. And for some unknown reason, other than the amount of money they gave Magical Elves to be on the show, the dishes will need to feature Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Um…ok. They can use no other dairy products, not even butter. Um, this just sounds like a bad idea. And they wonder why the resulting dishes were not up to par. The chefs draw and find out which course they are preparing, and learn that the winner will take home ten grand.

At La Provence, the tiny kitchen seems to be an issue, as is the limited pantry. Cap imagined the headline of a Top Chef trampled for baby squash. Sara is getting nervous from her recent poor outings, Cap is creatively slicing his veggies – I am sure that will not be an issue later on. Louis is making a creative dessert, Bene is confused by chicken, and Chung is overcooking blueberries. Nick has no yeast, so he elects to make a good ole Jersey Shore funnel cake.

Besh is doing Tom’s walkabout. Not really sure why. Sara is having trouble stuffing her lamb, while Cap is busy butchering the hell out of his. And we are off…

Vega Snapper.
Huskey Veggies.
Carlos – Beets and Carrots.
Nina Zucchini Blossoms.
Sara Lamb stuffed.

Besh liked the depth of Carlos’ flavors. Gail thinks Vega needed to do more, and she also loved the floral notes of Boo Boo’s. She adds that Huskey thought outside of the box, but the oyster is too salty. Sara’s is undercooked, but nicely seasoned.

Bene Chicken Breast.
Carrie Braised Chicken.
Justin Duck Breast.
Cap Seared lamb chops.

Carrie’s is too dry, but Besh thought it was gutsy. Gail thinks the sauce is too soupy. Tom can’t believe how bad Bene’s is, and Gail thinks it was pretty clueless. Cap’s meat is not consistently cooked through. Justin’s is not focused and flavored.

Louis Graham Cracker Mousse.
Nick Funnel Cake.
Chung Egg Custard.
Cmar Peach Mousse.

Cmar’s custard is busted. It’s not good. Nick’s cream cheese is featured and Besh found the cake to be a pleasant surprise. Chung’s is overdone and lacked enough sweetness. Louis’ is featuring a soggy graham cracker.

On the Big Brother screen, Besh praises Nick’s and Padma thinks Boo Boo was awesome. Gail is a fan of Justin’s. But that’s all the praise we get.

Cap’s is badly cut, but he claims it was on purpose. Tom thinks Cap and Bene made a bad family meal. Padma didn’t like Sara’s balance of flavors, and Tom thinks there is a story behind how badly Cmar’s sauce broke apart.

The winners were Boo Boo, Nick and Justin. I thought Nick would earn the win, but Boo Boo gets the back-to-back wins. Bene, Sara and Cap find themselves on the bottom – and I was a bit surprised that Cmar was not one of them. Sara knows she didn’t do well, and Bene explains that his veggies steamed too much. Cap’s plating was sloppy and had an execution problem.

In the end, Bene gets the knifing and is sent to LCK to cook with canned veggies. There, he battles with Booth and becomes the latest to fall to the Aussie beauty.

Quickfire Hits
• Summer Camp With Knives is going to one day be a low budget slasher flick, isn’t it?
• Cmar left her shirt on when swimming. The other women didn’t. I don’t have a joke here, just an observation. Either she’s embarrassed to disrobe on TV, or she burns at the first sign of sunlight.
• Carrie teaching them all little nature tricks…nice moment.
• I never would have imagined that Boo Boo, Cap and Bene would be a little friendship circle. And they were making s’mores!
• If I ever plan on producing a movie based on John Besh’s life, I am totally casting Gary Cole in the lead role.
• Padma went there with a “Travis-ty” joke. Even I wasn’t going there.
• Extra scene – what farm animal would the chefs be. Really. That’s what it was.

Next week – We have jazz.

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Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 6 – Aranchiphobia

In the aftermath of Booth’s exit last week after Captain Vietnam and Sara failed to ace the Vietnamese food challenge, they are a mess. Sara is in immediate tears, and the next day as Big Easy Mike is ominously foreshadowing later events by sharpening his knives as Cap calls his mom.

And that’s how the episode begins. With a call to mom. It ended with a little bit of redemption for Captain Vietnam.

But first – To the Quickfire Kitchen!!

We have a repeat of a cool challenge – the everything is wrapped in tin foil challenge. You pick what you think is going to be helpful, but whatever you pick is yours to use. It’s a great idea and a fabulous use of product placement. The twist this time is that the chefs are on two teams and will not be the ones picking the items.

Enter Gail and Padma…and their moms. Um…ok. Kind of random, but let’s go with it. Renee and Vijaya will have five minutes to shop for the teams. Renee is completely Gail’s mom – same personality. Padma is a bit more of an extrovert than her mom appears to be, but mom still seems pretty cool. Plus, she gave the world Padma, so she holds a dear place in my heart. Huskey notes that Renee is really fast shopping. His mom shops slowly, so this challenge would be a bit of an issue.

The moms also have to pick out equipment, as that too is wrapped. The chefs get the expected random hodge podge – baking soda, eggs, mustard, strawberries, leeks, lamb, pineapple, okra, etc. The teams divide up the ingredients among themselves and have to create three dishes out of the mess. Nina, Huskey and Bene get the leftover stuff and decide to make soup. Carlos has a coconut crème sauce that his mom made when they were poor. Carrie is desperate for a whisk – she has to improvise. Cmar is using really stinky cheese and is making it work. Nina is lamenting having to put beans and cherries together.

Team Simmons
Sara/Cmar – Sara’s down to the wire cooking of the lamb
enabled it to be cooked properly.

Big Easy Mike/Justin – Team New Orleans’s fish had some sake included in it.

Carrie/Chung/Louis – Carrie said her arm almost fell off making the sabayon but she made it work.

Team Lakshmi
Carlos/Cap A spicy Asian/Mexican mashup

Nick/Vega The fish dish got some yummy sounds.

Nina/Huskey/Bene – Gail was worried the soup had too many ingredients.

As it turns out, Gail loved the Asian/Mexican dish. She was impressed with Nick and Vega and had some issues with the soup. She loved Team Big Easy’s flavors, had issues with the lamb and liked how Carrie managed to do it without a wisk.

However, Team Lakshmi earned the win and split ten grand seven ways.

Elimination Challenge – Glee’s Lea Michelle is throwing a Halloween party. Presumably, this was taped before the Glee tragedy occurred, or else the party would seem to be in some poor taste. Lea is a super fan of the show – and proves it with some of her critiques later on. Cmar is a super fan of Lea and wants to hang out. But not in a creepy way. Cmar is starting to grow on me quite a bit.

The chefs are paired up based on where they were standing. Big Easy Mike and Nina get joined up from across the room. This would prove to be some fatal standing positions later on.

Lea follows a vegan lifestyle. Nina thinks God put animals on the earth to be eaten. I wonder if she owns a dog. Personally, I think animals evolved into what they are today, as did we, and such a thing as the food chain developed. Lea has made a choice not to eat them. Because humans can choose things. Because we have an evolved brain. Just saying.

However, she is not really a vegan as she adores cheese, as she repeatedly reminds the chefs. Amazingly, the judges were surprised later on at the amount of cheese served. Clearly, they didn’t see the footage. She doesn’t like sweet things – clearly, she is sweet enough. She loves all veggies, but not beets. Remember that. She loves Italian food and Mexican food. Someone, presumably Carlos, asks if she likes Mexican men. Perhaps, but only with ample cheese.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 4 – Captain Vietnam and The Adventure of the Italian Shrimp

Sorry for the delay – as I said in my Survivor article…things got in the way. It’s been quite hectic on my end and could continue for a bit. I will do my best to be as prompt as possible.

Also, I was driving around the great State of Maryland checking out various takes on our home state cuisine. As you know, we are known for our crabs. I found this one place near Hagerstown that made crab with prune juice, shallots and a touch of Tabasco sauce. Fried up and served in a pita. It was so good; I stole the recipe and entered it into a Taste of Maryland contest, and called it authentic Maryland crabs. I can’t believe I didn’t win. I mean, I had it in Maryland; it had to be good, right?

Not that anything like this BS story could happen in Top Chef, of course.

Wait a minute…

This week we were introduced to a brand new culinary superhero – or supervillain, depends on your line of thinking – Captain Vietnam. Or that could be a Communist Party creation extolling the virtues of the state. This version of Captain Vietnam’s secret identity is Travis – the as of now quietest member of the cast. I can’t say “who” anymore when mentioning him – he is now Captain Vietnam. He’s also engaged me on Twitter a few times – and I will add, I love that and wish more Survivors or Chefs would do it. I get a kick out of it. So, Cap, take what I’m going to say with a grain of salt, but no lemongrass, because I know you and your fellow chefs are super-talented, but I can only mock what I see on TV.

And this was kind of fun to mock.

Emeril and Baohaus owner Eddie Huang came to visit the Chef House and informed the lot that there was no Quickfire this week (twice now), and gave them a crash course instead on the prominent Vietnamese population in New Orleans. This sub-culture has grown bigger over the years – if I recall, a few years back the city elected a Republican Vietnamese Congressman. Cap was thrilled by this – he’s a Vietnamese expert, based partially on his boyfriend (I think ex, but that’s neither here nor there). He and Sara are psyched to cook their favorite cuisine and have been paired on the same team as well. The challenge is make a Vietnamese dinner as a team, with at least one dish highlighting shrimp. This is code for – if you make the shrimp and screw it up, you’re going to LCK.

The chefs go on a tour of the city and various Vietnamese restaurants, shops and the shrimping docks. Cap confidently tells us that he can give a crash course in Vietnam himself, no offense to E & E. He tells them all about the things he loves about the cuisine. He talks about the use of romaine, which Sara disputes. He assures her they do and that all the noodle bowls in Denver use it. That should do it – I remember reading about the Battle of Denver in 1971 in my Vietnam War studies. Gripping.

More to the point, Cap tells a story of going to Central Vietnam and chowing down on a dish that involved shrimp, tomato sauce, lime, Thai chili and other ingredients. The others are skeptical, or so it appears. Booth reveals her Thai experience – including being on an elephant reserve – and never hearing anything about tomato sauce. Bene is happy – his Italian background lends itself to this dish. So, they latch onto his recipe and are eventually tied to its fate.

The problem is – and I am sure Cap will defend this – the rest of the chefs involved, especially E & E and Tom, think it’s crazy. Why use some obscure dish when showcasing Vietnamese food – why not make something more traditional to show how much you get the nuts and bolts of that style. I’m sure there’s a regional way to make a great pot roast in Italy – but if you were doing an Italian food challenge, most likely pasta or tomato sauce would be more of a way to go. Tom chides him at Judging that you can find a McDonalds in Paris, but it doesn’t make it French. Well, maybe the fries.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 3 – Quit Copying Me!

This week has the unruly bunch of 17 chefs whittled down to 15 thanks to the regular elimination and a special Elimination Quickfire Challenge. We also got our annual visit from show sponsor Food & Wine Magazine editor Dana Cowin – when will they just make her a regular judge already! In addition to Dana – sadly, there is no Zuul – we have a visit to a super famous New Orleans restaurant…Commander’s Palace. How famous is it? Emeril worked there. That should be enough.

All in all, this was a fairly blah episode. There was little drama in the eliminations – neither chef was all that dynamic so far, although the Quickfire Elimination was slightly surprising. His performance thus far was hit and miss. Plus, the challenges weren’t all that exciting. Sure, Zuul’s annoyance over certain trends are interesting to Zuul, but why should I care? And, being annoyed by bacon? By eggs? What’s wrong with her? That’s like being annoyed with Kate Upton’s overexposure in the media. Sure, she’s been everywhere. But look at the woman! Let her be everywhere!

And the Elimination Challenge was good on paper – recreate from taste one of the Commander’s four dishes – but in execution…not so much. Put it this way, the challenge was so messed up that the dessert wound up winning. On Top Chef! That never happens. I don’t know – even bad episodes of Top Chef are still interesting and fun, but this was not one for them to submit to the Emmy board next season.

Quickfire Challenge – Zuul doesn’t like eggs on top of other things, kale, things that are smoked (a great $25,000 Pyramid category, by the way), and bacon. BACON! She wants the chefs to prove to her that these trends should continue. Oh, and don’t make kale chips or a kale salad, BRET! The chefs have 30 minutes – immunity and elimination are at stake.

Booth goes for scallops and misses out on all of them. She has to use a pork loin instead and frets that it will be done in time. It barely gets done in time. Big Easy Michael goes smoke crazy and bothers Big Easy Justin as a result. Chung goes against something “yolky” and goes for a soft, fluffy scrambled egg instead. She is assuming this is Zuul’s issue with the egg on top. Cmar is making candied bacon, sweet potato pasta and is using bacon fat to coat the pasta. Wow. Bret is making kale salad. Sigh. Slurping Turtle is making crispy kale. Double sigh. Nina is putting a scotched egg in soup.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 2 – Tyler Florence May Be Calling His Lawyer

Having just watched the Great Food Truck Race – mainly because they came to my town and my son and I bought food from the eventual winner – this episode became interesting. Food trucks – once considered one of the lowest forms of dining out – have become a bit of a phenomenon. Here in the DC area, they are everywhere. And they are delicious, providing a wide array of cuisine and treat options. Tyler Florence’s show on the Food Network pits teams competing for their own food truck – and was a hoot to watch and take part in – even if their stop in my town was edited out of the Finale.

Top Chef’s challenge this week was to cook out of a food truck for some of the Habitat for Humanity volunteers who are still rebuilding New Orleans from the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. There was a lot of screen time dedicated to Katrina, including Tom in shorts walking by some gutted houses. To me, there isn’t enough TV time dedicated to the disaster. It’s been over eight years and the city is still not back to normal. That’s a national tragedy and one we, as a people, do not take ownership. That said, I can’t recap all of the moments shown on the show. Let’s put it out there – New Orleans is still suffering. Katrina was as much of a shameful moment for our nation as we have seen in decades. The volunteers are doing phenomenal work. And it would be amazing if our leaders would understand that disasters of this magnitude need years of attention, not weeks.

Ok, that’s my Katrina stuff.

The best part about this episode was not the copyright infringement against Tyler Florence, but the unexpected downfall of the arrogant. In the first episode, Pink made it clear that he thought he was all that and more. He had the looks and the talent and was going to blow this competition apart. And he wore pink pants. This week, during the Quickfire, he got snippy in his confessional about the 80+ year old judge, the Queen of Creole, Leah Chase who did not care for his dish. Note to chefs – yes, you are confident in your talent, but let’s not be disrespectful to the culinary giants and legends that you encounter along the way. If the lead singer of Train was on and criticized your gumbo – then feel free in mouthing off.

Later, Pink was teamed up with his Philly buddy Nick, last week’s almost eliminated Vega and Bret – who looks to me like every sleezy accountant/cheating husband to ever appear in an 80s movie. They chose a surf theme for their food truck. Because of all the surfing in Katrina-stricken New Orleans. They nominated Pink to be the face of the truck and to interact with the customers and take orders. Why? Because he’s Pretty in Pink. Sorry, I had to get in the pink jokes, and get this party started. In order to fully maximize his massive charm offensive on the Habitat workers, Pink pre-rolled his salmon rolls. Very often on Top Chef, those pre-prepared meals are a bad idea. That was the case here – it fell apart, it got soggy. It was just a mess.

Now, personally, I expected Vega’s second consecutive poor showing to earn her the boot. Her comments to Tom during Judges Table about the dish not being anything special was a massive red flag. Contestants should never say that about meals they prepare on this show. Heck, they shouldn’t say that in their restaurants. However, those salmon rolls must have been really badly made because Pink was sent packing and over to LCK to do battle with Ramon, and likely a couple of more contestants as they get eliminated.

Meanwhile, as the ego and rolls of Pink got knifed by the Judges, Carrie was on a roll of her own. But for her, this one was a winning roll. She served up a risky gumbo to the Creole Queen when she combined her Iowa roots with her husband’s Trinidad roots and it resulted in a pea green gumbo. To hers, and our, surprise, Creole Queen loved it and Carrie earned herself some immunity.

She didn’t knead it. See what I did there? She chose to make dough for the empanadas for her truck – a bold and risky thing to do in a food truck – but with immunity, chefs are free to make such moves. The judges flipped over the empanadas – and it came down to her light and flaky crust, or Slurping Turtle’s delicious filling. The crust did it – and Carrie pulled the double victory for the week. And somehow I think Masters Champ Doug’s dog charity got more money. Not sure how that happened.

Quickfire – Cooking for the Queen of Creole and the Queen of Top Chef, the chefs have to make gumbo. But because it takes so long to do it right, they get to leave the Stew Room and go home to start crock potting it. They cram in the kitchen and in whatever outlets they can find and start cooking. The theme of the gumbo is for them to be inspired by their own heritage. Slurping Turtle isn’t actually sure how to make gumbo – amazingly this doesn’t hurt him much, as he is going with an Asian-Italian combo. Carrie’s Iowa roots have her cutting corn. Pink is going Polish with beets and potatoes. Or as it is known everywhere else…borscht. Justin is doing traditional dark gumbo. Michael has dumped his first batch and started over in the middle of the night.

Michael Chicken and a six-pack of beer.

Chung A Chinese/Mexican combo.

Booth Asian, thanks to the Asian influence in Australia. Makes sense.

Slurping Turtle Gigantic prawns and Padma double entendres.

Justin N.O. theme.

Vega Puerto Rican gumbo with plantains.

Bret A New England vs. Miami battle. As a Dolphins fan, I know which one will win.

Carrie Iowa/Trinidad and an interesting look.

Carlos He went with chipotle and bone marrow. Good for him the Queen of Creole said the marrow reminded her of dear ole mom.

Pink An ugly Polish dish.

Nina Yucca and plantains. Hello, St. Lucia.

Louis – Who? He went with Moroccan. Yum.

Sara She went with a Shanghai approach.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 1 – I Am The Swamp Queen

Season 11! And only one week after Masters ended. So…more food writing from me. Yay! In this case, we have the usual madness of a first episode of Top Chef. Too many new faces running around, super excited about being on the show and then BLAM! Overwhelmed by the reality of the challenge and the big hitters they have to cook for.

My lady Padma is back and with a pretty flower in her hair to kick things off. You know the drill – Food & Wine Magazine. Aspen. $125,000. Title of Top Chef. Go.

We meet several new chefs early on – the rest get sprinkled in as the show goes on:
Sara – She’s pretty cute in an unorthodox kind of way, with a big ole head wrap around her head. She’s another Wolfgang Puck disciple.

Jason – He and his pink pants are proud to lay claim to being Philadelphia’s sexiest chef. And to posing with no shirt on. Sigh. He says, not me, he says that he gives a d-bag kind of first impression. Yep. Pink pants, folks.

Nick – Pink pants’ buddy from Philly.

Jamie Booth – Oh my. A hot blonde Australian who can cook. At last, we straight guys have our answer to Curtis Stone. And lesbians. We can share her, ladies.

Bene – He is looking to be the first Top Gay Chef. Are we sure he’d be first? He was Odette’s sous on the recent season of Top Chef Masters. And wasn’t around for very long.

Shirley Chang – She has cooked for a lot of big names – Mario Batalli, Jose Andres, Thomas Keller. And she can’t stop talking. And is also cute. Nice crop of good looking chefs this season, guys, really.

Justin – He is a local chef. He and Michael won the online competition that Padma hosted to join the show.

Aaron – we don’t get much from him except his stubble. And that he’s nervous about fellow Chicago chef Carlos who just won the Michelin Star.

Stephanie Cmar – She failed in the play-in rounds to get on the Seattle season. She’s back and has things to prove to Emeril who cut her in Seattle.

Lots of good last names for me to use for nicknames. Thanks for that.

No Quickfire to start the season, but Tom tosses them all Mardi Gras beads. No one takes off their shirt. Sad for that. To a point. At least Pink kept his on for once. The beads contain instructions on what protein they’ll be using – gator, frog or turtle. Welcome to the Bayou! The two online winners get immunity for some reason.

Top Chef: Masters 5 Finale – 50 Shades Of Trout

Another Top Chef ends as another one begins. Masters closes its fifth season one week before the flagship embarks on its 11th season. To be honest, this was a decent season of Masters, but it kind of went down with a bit of a whimper at the end. It was an ok finale, but was mostly pretty slow. It began with the Top 3 eating. Yep. Stone made them a nice meal and they sat and chatted. We get a glimpse of some of their obstacles – Doug and his skydiving choice in Ep 1 (remember that), Bot and his Season 6 defeat in the Finals against his brother, and Jen getting eliminated and storming back. They enjoy a nice meal of spot prawn, ravioli and a lemon crème dessert. Snore.

The Final ELIMINATION CHALLENGE – is to construct a meal representing the course of their career. For a random reason, we are having a wedding theme – Old=early inspiration. New=current inspiration. Borrowed=someone who influenced. Sous=dish made by sous chefs to symbolize relationship. That was the challenge in the final Sous battle which Graeme won.
$10K for the charity which is more than Bot’s won during the season. Paul was worst – and no help in first day of prep. Doug wants to beat him. That would be illegal.

We get a glimpse into menu planning. Bot made Chicken Chesapeake for his eventual wife at age 18. Bot married well, judging by the photos. Jen’s got this new paella gnocchi which sounds amazing. Doug does the smart thing and calls ahead to Whole Foods to get his order in since he has no sous chef for prep. He also chooses a rather simple menu – again, a smart move given his disadvantage. Bot is borrowing a beef dish from former boss Charlie Palmer. He later adds one of his brother’s dishes – but I thought a smart move would be to make the dish that Michael beat him with on Season 6. But Bot never asked me.

Meanwhile, Jen is bossing around Superman’s dad. Don’t mess with Kryptonians, Jen! She is also making a dish from her former boss Wolfgang Puck. It’s a duck dish. Somehow, Jen, Superman’s dad, the judges and the production team manage to resist calling it Puck’s Duck. I am not going to let that opportunity slip by.

Doug manages to get to the kitchen first – wow. Jen continues to tempt fate by clashing with Jor-El. And prep is really boring. The next day, Doug asks Paul if he read any pastry books on the day off. Snerk. Amazingly, we see a clip from Season 6 Finale pitting the Voltaggio boys against each other…and Doug as a judge!

Speaking of judges – the gang is all here for the end.

First course
Bot – Reinterprets first dish for his wife
Doug – Remembers being a Cornell U. barback – his first job
Jen – Remembers her Stepdad Stan’s potato pancakes

Critics reaction:
Bot – Gail felt the love. Goldman loved the crab and the rough quinoa texture.
Doug – Dr. Sweater worried about the minimalist nature, but it was filled to the brim with complexity. Ruth felt 7 years old again.
Jen – Ruth thought the apples transformed it.

Second Course
Doug – He made ocean trout from Japan days
Bot – He made Black cod – a tricky fish
Jen – The gnocchi

Critics’ reactions:
Bot – Grubstreet’s Hadley Tomachi said he did the best job with an amazing puree. Goldman thought it was a perfect black cod.
Doug – Lesley called it 50 Shades of Sea Trout. Um, fish with bondage? Master Sweater said the noodles were dry but fantastic
Jen – Ruth is not dreaming about it, but Senor Sweater loved the crisp exterior

Third Course
Bot – He made two things – the Palmer stuff and Michael’s seaweed potatoes
Doug – Went with his old job at the Four Seasons and inspired by NYT review. Ruth’s. Way to kiss up to the critics, Doug. Let’s see if that pays off.
Jen – Puck’s Duck

Critics’ reactions
Bot – Goldman felt it was more Palmer, less Bot. He did love the potatoes. Grub didn’t like Volt’s flavor in his mouth. Ewww.
Doug – Gail said it was grey and overcooked.
Jen – Lam thought it was very 1992, but loved it. Goldman said it was pure Puck. Not pure Jen.

Last Course
All three had to do their take on the desserts created by Graeme, Paul and Jor-El.
Bot –
Doug –
Jen –

Bot – Goldman said it looked like Superman’s lair. Jor-El must have helped. Sweaterman liked Graeme’s original more, Bot’s version was more refined but not as tasty.
Doug – Sweater said it was soupy. Gail liked the flavors.
Jen – Grub felt too much was going on.

Lord Sweater, Ruth, Gail and Stone judge the end.. Doug gets praise, but not overwhelming praise. Padawan Sweater and Stone each give Jen much praise – but her literal translation of Jor-El’s dessert was a ding. The huge praise from Ruth and King Sweater on Bot’s first two dishes made it seem very likely for him to win. The King said the cod was the best cooked fish he ever had! Gail’s comments about him being weighed down under all the Palmer meat must have held more sway than I thought. Doug’s was overall solid, Bot’s factory churned technique was a strength, and Jen’s warmth was felt.

Winner – Doug. A bit surprised by that. Poor Bot. I thought Bot had it. There are many happy puppies now. And Doug jumped out of the plane in the final scene. Nice touch.

That’s a wrap on Masters Part Five. Next up – Top Chef: New Orleans with Tom, Padma, Emeril and the gang.

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Top Chef Masters Season 5 Ep 9 – Teacher Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

That’s right, I’m quoting .38 Special. Sue me.

We have our Final Four – Doug calls this the hardest thing he has ever done. And from such an accomplished chef, it pretty much tells you how difficult this show is for these chefs. And at this point – we only have nitpicks separating them all.

Let’s get into it – why don’t we?

Final QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE – Making a great burger. Doug is confident with is Top 25 burger ranking in Food and Wine Magazine. Jen rightfully points out the important detail of meat vs. bun ratio. Burke also boasts about his best in NYC burger. He also thinks he got screwed in the ketchup challenge by Lemony Snicket. And that’s a really odd sentence. It sounded like Doug said he had a shrimp burger in McDonalds in the Far East, but that just cannot be correct. Bot is going old school – in his final attempt to EVER win a Quickfire. Doug’s shrimp burger ain’t working, it’s rubbery. Ah, maybe it was McDonalds!

Sang is the judge. And I wonder if anyone bailed at the last minute because, what would have happened if he didn’t lose last week? Unless it was just always going to be the fifth place finisher. The alternative is that they bumped someone to add in Sang because they liked his humor. If so, then expect to see Sang hosting Top Chef: Condiments any day soon. We flash back to TCM Season 1 and Sang joining Spike and others judging burgers. And here he is again.

Burke – it looks like a totem pole, says Sang. He normally doesn’t like seafood burgers, but this one is juicy and “not off-putting.”
Jen – She put in ketchup and he cringed. However, there was much flavor and her sriraccha ketchup won him over.
Bot – Sang felt the meat was very meatloafy.
Doug – He can’t really taste the shrimp

Quickfire Dishes:

Sang jokes that he didn’t actually have any delicious burgers. He puts Bot and Doug on the bottom, and Jen and Burke on the top. Jen gets another win – five grand for women and the season lead over Sang for total cash won.

The Sous Chefs had to cook a dish conceived for them by their Masters. Bot’s sous Graeme and his SpikeHawk win the challenge and earn Bot immunity and a spot in the Finals. However, he will go all out in the ELIMINATION CHALLENGE because they are paying tribute to four special LA Unified School District teachers.

Emily Crush – a special ed teacher who inspired one particular special needs student.
Carlos Lauchu- who teaches the AP test to middle schoolers and gets them to pass.
Stacey Joy – a lifelong teacher of fifth grade in South LA who always makes do with no resources.
And Jeffrey Austin- a history and government teacher who tries to teach kids to be strong citizens. They each get assigned a teacher and must cook a special dish for them. The pairings are Doug/Emily, Bot/Carlos, Jen/Stacey, Burke/Jeffrey. Jen is inspired because like Stacey, they each have known their passion since childhood. Burke is going for 60 souffles and Doug thinks that gives him titanium balls for taking on such a challenge upon a challenge. Bot feels inspired because like Carlos he tries to enlighten people with new ideas and flavor profiles.

Added bonus – the teachers had no idea they were the guests of honor. The challenge is judged by Dr. Sweater, Gail, Stone and Alan Richman from GQ. I still say Adam Richman would be much more fun. At least there would be a lot more food.

Doug gets Burke to help him plate and presents roses to Emily, and one to the kid, Camille. He made a super fancy dish for her. Lt. Sweater found it luxurious and felt like a celebration. Gail said it was beautiful, and Stone felt it was a bit rich on rich on rich.

Bot says Carlos inspired him because he teaches kids to change minds and do things differently. Richman felt the texture was so perfect, and Gail felt it was scary how Bot made this relatable.

Jen’s meat is rare. Bot and Doug both know it. She tried to take a simple dish and elevate it, like Stacey does with her classroom. Big Mama Sweater thought the granola on top was good, but the lamb was undercooked. Gail was ok with the undercooked meat, but not all of the imperfections. However, Stacey was overwhelmed. Her mom was a lamb chop aficionado, and she hasn’t touched a bite since losing her in 2010. Damn.

Jeffrey may have expected tacos and bacon as a dish representing him, Burke made soufflé because while Jeffrey mentors and inspires, so did Burke’s profs in culinary school and he still remembers the day he learned how to make this delicate dessert. Captain Sweater found little springiness. Stone admired the chance taken, and Jeffrey really appreciated the challenge and the risk taken on his behalf.

Elimination Dishes:

Clearly, Doug and Bot were the winners, and Jen and Burke fighting for survival. Bot wins his first challenge of the season – he overwhelmed them all. It came down to Jen’s undercooked meat and Burke’s risky but unfulfilling dessert. As always, dessert kills on Top Chef and Burke’s gruffness takes a fourth place finish. He had kind words for the chefs on the way out – tantamount to him saying, “kids today” – but still, he respects these guys and knows they are the future. He can now go back to romancing Colombian ex-strippers.

So it is Jen/Bot/Doug in the Finals. Bot becomes the second person in Top Chef history to make the Finals in two different seasons – the first to do so on two different versions of Top Chef. Blais won his second time around – will Bot do the same?

We get 15 minutes of sous challenge on TV this time – but since I decided early on not to include the goings on in these columns, not starting now. I’ll just say that Graeme’s dish won, and he gets 10K, while Paul loses and puts Doug in the hole for the Finals. One hour of non-sous cooking for Doug. Sang will be happy.

Quickfire Hits
• Stone calls out that it is 60 seconds to Burger Time and I flashed back to one of my most addictive video game that I used to play with my mom.
• Doug, upon seeing Sang judging his subpar burger – “He has a great palate…I have no chance. He’s an idiot, but for a number of different reasons.”
• Emily staged a friggin royal wedding to make that little girl happy. A staged wedding!!
• Can we talk about Punk Rock Jen? Which, incidentally, is the newest hot toy for girls this Christmas.
• Has anyone ever combined he words “elevated” and “porridge” before Jen in this episode?
• Listen Carlos, the woman who felt that something robust equals “you in a bowl” – she is not just your “friend.” Who are we fooling?
• Stone to the chefs after the emotional meal – “Go on, get back and clean the kitchen.” HA!
• Extra – High School Gail photos. Watch what happens.

Next Week The Finale – the sous prep a meal to be included in the final menu and the Final Three gets their own sous to pitch in for the win.

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