Category Archives: Cooking

Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 6 – You Had Me At Lamb-Stuffed Squid

For those who don’t know, my reference is not to Jerry Maguire, but to a great Ron Swanson/Andy Dwyer exchange as they discussed lunch options. Why the NBC synergy this week? Not just a huge love for Parks & Recreation, but because this week’s Top Chef centered its Elimination Challenge on the return home to the Pacific Northwest of Parks & Rec actor Chris Pratt (also in the new Zero Dark Thirty, and last year’s Moneyball), and his wife, comedic actress Anna Faris. I find it very hard not to think of Andy’s antics when Pratt is on screen, as that show is home to some of the best comedy you will see on TV these days.

And needless to say, we all need some nice comedy these days. I know I sure do.

Anyway, the task at hand is to talk about reality TV – and some delicious food. The Pratt/Faris family will be gathering for a huge party to celebrate the couple’s announcement of her pregnancy. The chefs had free reign as to what to use and cook, but they had to use the likes and dislikes laid our by Pratt and Faris during the few minutes of prep before the challenge.

Bottom line – the couple loves local Seattle cuisine and they are super adventurous with their eating habits. That is to be commended, but it sure makes it easy for the chefs to put together a menu and be creative. This is a good thing for them – especially after last week’s artisan debacle. It is less of a good thing for the viewer because it doesn’t really present that much of a challenge for them. However, whatever drama-less dynamic coming from the challenge was lessened by the fun which was had by the actors and their family.

We also saw how chefs should treat their Quickfire wins, even if few of them do so week in and week out. But first, let’s talk about the challenges some more

Quickfire Challenge – Padma and nice old lady great the chefs. She is Marilyn Haggerty, from the Grand Forks Herald. Who is she? Well, she is a small town food writer who wrote an infamous and viral column praising the authentic Italian cuisine of the Olive Garden. And now here she is with Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef. She seems like a nice granny – but seriously, maybe some folks should not be writing about food. You know, folks who can’t tell a tamale from a taco perhaps.

The challenge is to make a holiday dish using the chefs’ own heritage and traditions. However, the lot of them could only one knife. That led to the chefs finding creative ways of cutting – a grater, a pizza cutter, a spatula, scissors, etc. Micah called the knife an extension of the chefs’ arms – which is true, but also is the plot of Edward Scissorhands.

Lizzie has the tradition of beaches and fake snow for Christmas since she grew up in the Southern Hemisphere. Micah and Josie are both making tamales – although Micah’s come from his Blaxican or Mexigro heritage. The Thumb has decided not to use his own heritage for his dish but that of his two-time ex-wife. Brooke and Eliza are going for some traditional Americana – and Brooke is worried that it will be too safe of a choice. OTV’s family has the tradition of having the first up – often the men – make breakfast food on Christmas. The Latex Salesman is making a waffle – and OTV sarcastically expresses amazement that a Belgian would be making waffles.

Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 5 – The One Where No One Could Cook

This episode goes to show you that even the best of the best have really bad days sometimes. You know those days in your job when nothing goes right and disaster seems to follow disaster? Well, our merry band of chefs had one of those days right there in Pike’s Place Market. It was so bad that Tom had to disgustedly march into the Stew Room and take the $10,000 prize off the table – no one made a dish worthy of victory. And in addition, instead of one elimination, both members of the losing pair would be sent packing. They were just that bad.

Now, I’ve made my share of terrible dishes before. Because, you know, I’m just not good. I also remember my mom accidentally seasoning her mushrooms with cinnamon. We all make mistakes. The interesting thing is that the chefs didn’t seem to think it was the same kind of disaster that the judges felt it was. Is that the arrogance that comes from being a great chef? Perhaps. But they had to know this wasn’t their best effort. Unless they were failing to taste as the food was being made, they had to know the taste just wasn’t right.

I think what made it worse for Tom and the judges was that the artisans who made the key ingredients were there for the tasting. It was like a parent being embarrassed by their usually well-behaved children during a public outing. The judges felt bad that the artisans did not have their creations properly respected, and they were pissed that they just had this happen on their show. The result was a nobody’s safe feeling as the Judges Table was delayed for a day.

When the dust settled, we had a case where someone cool or interesting was going to be sent knives a-packin. The duos of Thumb/Brooke, CJ/The Wiz, and OTV/Monkey were chosen as the worst of the worst. That meant that one of the returning chefs would go, good-looking Brooke, or the two hotheads who had garnered so much attention early on. Personally, I thought the hotheads were safe all along – I just couldn’t see that building rivalry being snuffed out so soon. The show had built up the Real Housewife early on before she was cut, I couldn’t see it happening again. So, I was resigned to the fact that we would lose a returnee, and stunningly the first one cut would not be Josie.

Where did it go wrong? The challenge was to take some unorthodox artisan snacks and incorporate them into a meal. Thumb and Brooke had rose petals to use – something very sweet and delicate. They chose to make duck and include cabbage – however, the sweetness of the cabbage, coupled with the sweet main ingredient, just made it too much. Thumb made the cabbage, and thus became the main reason the dish failed. That makes a few challenges so far where Thumb has faltered – a stark contrast to his season where he dominated more often than not.

CJ has played this season with far more confidence than he did in Season 3, and it has not served him well. He’s also found himself in the bottom more than the top. This time, when given the spicy dill pickle as his team’s ingredient, he totally misread the challenge. He thought Tom would ding him for not making a burger, because it is the traditionally best way to highlight a pickle’s flavor. Of course, everyone else – including The Wiz – saw the fallacy here. Tom would see it as a safe, copout dish. The Wiz had suggested making a soup – but CJ, and his burgeoning confidence, shot it down instantly. The Wiz let himself get walked over, so he is also at fault here. The result? Tom hated the decision to make the burger – “How freakin’ original!”

The battling boys of OTV and Monkey amusingly would up paired together during the pair-ups for the Quickfire, and thus had to continue working together during the Elimination. They both, independently of each other, decided to tone it down a bit and try to work together. They each deferred to one another; they each chose to back down from their instincts simply to avoid conflict. And as a result, their dish sucked. Monkey made some awful grits and served them to grit-expert Monobrow. OTV didn’t care for the cut of meat but didn’t speak up, and as a result, the meat wasn’t good. These two may annoy, they may yell and scream, but that’s who they are. It is that passion that makes them who they are, and in turn, what makes their food so good. Absent that passion, they have mediocrity.

In the end, CJ and The Wiz got the axe, and as much as I enjoy CJ’s wit, he really did have it coming. The Wiz seems as if he could have been fun over time, but we never really got a chance to get to know him. I am pleased for him that he is newly sober and hope for the best for him, but as far as good television is concerned, I’d rather keep the others. Even if it means more weeks of Monkey’s stupid forehead glasses.

Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 4 – So Much Salt In My Mouth

Nothing against this episode – but it was pretty dull. I mean, that Elimination Challenge was creative. I liked the concept of putting the chefs in the position of cooking meals they served at Arnold’s. No Fonz though. But in execution…well, not so much.

I can say that the Tesar Show is going to get very tiring. We pick up this episode with the Stew Room argument between Tesar, CJ and OTV. It is nasty. Tesar uses a heinous insult against OTV – he compares him to a blogger. Hey now! That’s a low blow – not only to OTV, but well, to me! He also insults the entire state of Oklahoma. Tesar claims to hate being called the Most Hated Chef in Dallas, but boy, he sure brings it up a lot. The man is just irritating from his attitude to those damn glasses on his friggin’ forehead. He’s also very talented and is likely going to be with us for a long, long time.

I also need to make a correction to my column from last week. I was wrong – there is a Last Chance Kitchen again this season. They just delayed starting it for a couple of weeks. However, it is even worse than last year. The winner of the LCK not only returns to the competition, but does so for the Finals. The Finals!!! Even Survivor didn’t go that far with Redemption Island. How fair is that to the chefs who actually cooked well enough all season long to NOT get eliminated? Top Chef not only bulked up LCK, they also added Save a Chef – where fans vote each week among the defeated chefs. The one with the most fan support competes in the last LCK challenge. So, the Last Chance Kitchen is really the Second To Last Chance Kitchen.

Bad ideas, Top Chef. There is a reason Survivor ditched the idea after two seasons. Just watch the backlash that would happen should a chef who got ousted from the show, then LOST the LCK challenge, managed to come back because enough Bravo viewers liked them, and then won the championship. Way to seriously diminish your brand, Top Chef.

But that’s not where we are right now. We are doing Quickfire Challenges with slabs of beef, and Elimination Challenges with retro menus. We are joined by Naomi Pomeroy – who we affectionately remember from Top Chef: Masters. And we call her Beast – because that’s her restaurant, and a super cool name to have.

Quickfire Challenge – Beast tells them to cut some meat off of a slab of beef hidden behind Curtain #2. For safety sake, only two at a time will hack away at this carcass. As Tesar said, beef is beef and steak is steak. Not really sure what that means, but it feels profound. And delicious. CJ is making tartare and is actually chomping away on pieces of raw meat as he finds his cut. Less delicious. Brooke and The Wiz want to avoid failure again – good plan. Lizzie is trying to use the pressure cooker and failing, and we are serving our meats.

Eliza – Grilled Flank Steak with Cherry Cognac Reduction, Asparagus, and Potato Cake – Padma found the pairing of asparagus and cherry to be interesting. And it doesn’t appear to be in a good way.

Tesar – Braised Oxtail, Potato Gnocchi and Roasted Vegetables and Celery – Beast said the meat was very tender.

OTV – Beef Shoulder Meatballs with Creamy Polenta and Pickled Shallots – Beast likes the acidity.

Papa Smurf – Kalbi Round Steak with Tomato Cardamom Broth and Fennel Salad – Beast wanted more cardamom, but it had good flavors.

Brooke – Grilled Hanger Steak with Smoked Onion Figs and Cauliflower Puree – Beast said this is a hard cut, and it was a bit too rare.

The Wiz – Hispanic Crudo with Charred Tomato Sauce and Cilantro Radish Slaw. – Padma is not pleased with prep method.

Kish – Top Sirloin Tartare with Mustard Sabayon and Carpaccio Salad – She grabbed the first piece she found so she could start cooking.

Micah – Oxtail Polenta with Truffled Romanesco Cauliflower – Beast complements the butchering.

Real Housewife – Sirloin Medallion Wrapped in Bacon, Asiago Risotto with Marsala Sauce – Beast likes the flavor and the sauce.

The Thumb – Braised Top Round Ravioli with Marjoram and Aged Parmesan – Beast likes the flavors.

CJ – Top Round Tartare, Raw Juniper and Kohlrabi – Padma found it to be very nice.

Camba – Grilled Hanger Steak with Brown Butter, Parsley and Radish Salad – No comments.

Lizzie – Braised Foreshank with Turnips and Dill – Beast noticed the pressure cooker issues.

The bottom trio is Lizzie, Eliza and The Wiz. Tough meat, bad pairing, and under-seasoning take care of it. On the top – CJ, Tesar and OTV…the battling trio. CJ’s got perfect knife cuts, Tesar gets praised sauce and OTV had a perfect meatball. However, Tesar’s early success continues and his immune again.

Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 3 – I’m Looking Forward to Having Your Kroppkaka

I complained about this during my Survivor column – why is Bravo putting a brand new episode on the day before Thanksgiving? I had to watch this episode after spending three bucks on Itunes – and view it on my laptop in the bathroom of my hotel room so as to not disturb my sleeping family. Thanks Bravo. Now I associate turkey dinner with hotel shampoo.

Because this was their Thanksgiving episode – thus the reason they chose not to skip it despite the holiday. I understand that, but still. Taking notes in the dark could lead to some very interesting translations in a moment.

That being said, I liked this episode. I dug the Tom vs. Emeril Thanksgiving dinner challenge – it was a cool idea and was probably a lot of fun for the chefs. I also very much liked the dumpling Quickfire challenge. And not just because I love dumplings and now have a goal to eat all of these new dumplings. It was cool to see how different regions of the world do a different take on stuff wrapped in noodle.
As for the show drama – well, it is hard to really get a sense of things with so many chefs left.

Seventeen chefs roaming the kitchen is a lot to keep track of for the viewer. So many of the personalities are either shunted to the background or remain overshadowed by the aggressiveness of Tesar, the insanity of the Real Housewife, and the familiarity of CJ and The Thumb. The big moment of drama came when CJ and the Thumb went to taste the Real Housewife’s soup and she went all crazy on them. The Thumb told her to calm down and called her “honey” and “sweetie” in the process. She went off on him – and correctly stated that if she were a man, he would call her chef.

Personally, I think The Thumb wouldn’t call a man “chef” either because that would put them on equal footing as him. And his ego just won’t accept that. His sexism may not be from his opinions on women – but his opinions on all non-Thumb people. Calling a female chef “honey” is just one way he exerts that dominance. The Real Housewife had every right to be offended there – we have learned through this show about how testosterone dominated the professional kitchens are in real life. Did she go overboard? Of course. That’s who she is. CJ merely wanted to taste the soup as he had assumed a leadership role and stuck his super long neck out for the team. However, his sheepish “I only wanted to taste it” moment was certainly worth dealing with the shouting.

Meanwhile, coming off her win last week, Yagi Bear had a rough episode. She lost track of time during the Quickfire and failed to plate her dish. With this in mind, and with her almost burned sauce last week, she may have overcompensated during the Elimination Challenge. Plus, she spent a lot of time helping others, as Josie pointed out to the judges. However, she failed to properly cook her potatoes as a result – they were in fact, raw. These were contrasted with Lizzie’s mashed potatoes on the other team – a simple dish that she correctly stated would send her home if she didn’t do it perfectly. She did and earned a top spot – losing to the Real Housewife’s CJ-tasted soup – while Yagi Bear fell to the bottom. Josie’s Quickfire win saved her skin as her uncooked turkey may have sent Dana Cowin and The Hat (see Top Chef: Masters recaps for that reference) to the hospital. Looks like I will only have the Real Housewife’s accent to worry about this year as Yagi Bear fell by the way. Judging by the lack of a challenge on Bravo’s website between JJ and Yagi Bear, it seems Last Chance Kitchen went the way of Survivor’s Redemption Island.

Last bit – Tesar called out Yagi Bear’s failure to taste her uncooked potatoes, and felt the wrath of CJ and the others. The Most Hated Chef in Dallas seems ready to become the Most Hated Chef on Bravo very soon.

Quickfire – Make the international dumplings. The chefs have to rush to the giant board and remove a magnet for each region for dumpling creation. CJ’s long reach enables him to land the pierogi, while Micah waited too long and got stuck with Kazakhstan – which he apparently think is as made up of a place as Oz, Narnia and Utah. Sorry – any state that gives Mitt Romney 75% of the vote has to be made up.

I refuse to talk about the product placement – however I will talk about what should have been the product placement – the skintight black leather pants worn by Padma. Thank you, Bravo. You can have your Kindles. The challenge is a good one – make a wrapper, stuffing and sauce. I always like when they test the chefs on simple foods and see what happens. The big things – Yagi fails to finish, and Brooke can’t find flour so she has a half-finished dumpling. How can they run out of flour in the Top Chef kitchen?

Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 2 – Survivor Comes To Top Chef

Welcome to Seattle. Officially. Here we go – Feature. Showcase. Cash. Title. On the line. We have 15 chefs who survived the cut and they are filing in to the Top Chef Kitchen for the first Quickfire. I am sure nothing unexpected will happen…

Guess what! It does. How did I not know that Top Chef was going to pull a Survivor and bring back past contestants to compete with new ones? Was this public? Am I THAT clueless? All of these are possibilities. And yet, here we are. What surprised me is that even after CJ, Finn and Josie were brought in, I never thought this would be what was going on. I even thought – boy, that’s a random collection of past chefs. What I don’t understand is why these three? I can understand Stefan – Finn, as I called him way back in Season 4, since he’s Finnish (I’m so clever) – since he arguably got robbed of the title that season when Hosea benefitted from the genius of Richard Blais and nabbed the win from Finn.

But CJ and Josie? CJ had a respectable sixth place finish in Season 3, but Josie went out in 11th place in Season 2, eliminated before the immortal Michael Midgley departed. It’s almost as if the producers threw a bunch of names in a hat and pulled this trio out. Glad to see CJ – who I liked a lot in Season 3 – but I don’t think anyone was clamoring for his return. And most fans have long forgotten who Josie was in the first place. CJ is hard to forget – not often you get to see a giant.

So, anyway, these three join our 15 and we have 18 chefs this season as a result. To refresh – joining Finn, CJ and Josie: the good-looking crew of JJ, Micah and Kish. The potential villains – Tesar, The Wiz and the Real Housewife. The beard and moustache of Old Timey Villain (OTV). The English impaired Yagi Bear. The man in the Red Hat – now to known as Papa Smurf. The Belgian who has so many potential nicknames – I am sticking with Latex. And the rest of the ladies – Lizzie, Hipster, Brooke, Eliza and Camba.

A lot of good nicknames and last names this year.

Anyway, with so many chefs there is very little room for anything other than the challenges. The non-cooking parts of this week’s episode basically focus on the reaction to the returning players. Just like Survivor – they ain’t happy about this twist – especially OTV. It did seem that Josie was starting to be accepted into the fold mid-episode, but I assume most of the conflict will be between Finn and the group. Just like in Season 4. If anything, Finn seems to have become more arrogant over time.

Quickfire – CJ, Finn and Josie judge with Padma. And, may I say so, so nice to have you back, Padma. My TV was lonely without you. The task was to group into five teams of three and make a shellfish dish in 20 minutes. The teams all seem to race for the geoduck. Or as it is pronounced, gooey duck. No idea why we don’t spell it that way – so much cooler. The reason for the preference – it cooks quicker. Smart reason. Tesar instantly shows that he lacks political correctness by saying he chose Yagi Bear because she was Japanese and must have good knife skills. He also started to strategize while Padma was still explaining. DUDE! Don’t interrupt Padma. Nobody puts Baby in a corner. Padma stops and tells him “excuse me, I’m not finished.” You’ve been warned.

Brooke foreshadows a bit for the Elimination when she notes the contrasting styles within her team – especially with Latex. The Wiz works with John Elway – and as a Dan Marino fan, it makes me not like him. The teams scramble, and Hipster barely finishes, so no plating issues this year.

Top Chef: Seattle – Premiere – Don’t Let That Omelet Intimidate You

Welcome back to Top Chef – assuming you didn’t get your fix from Masters, which just ended about a month ago. But anyway, it’s not like Bravo lets this series breathe or anything. So we are back – with Top Chef: Original Recipe, Season 10. While the season will be in the Pacific Northwest, we are not going there this week for the premiere. Instead, as with Season 9, we will have Top Chef: The Trials first. Instead of 29 chefs gathering in one location to cook in shifts for judgment, with some landing “on the bubble,” this year there are 21 chefs divided into groups of four and spread out among Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills and Atlanta.

It seems our four regular judges this season – Tom, Monobrow, Emeril and Wolfgang Puck – are putting the potential chefs through a test in order to weed out the better chefs. I said this last year, I like the drama that comes with these trials, but it just seems like a waste of chef talent for future seasons, and kind of mean to these poor aspiring chefs. However, that’s what we have, and these four tasks were a lot of fun.

Three of the four gave the chefs a basic task in order to see what they could do with it – a salad, an omelet and soup. Meanwhile, Tom was more interested in makeup. He put his group to work in his restaurant in order to see how they perform under pressure. While the other three tasks were good, Tom’s was really creative. I loved his idea. They structured the show around Tom’s task – starting there, and then sprinkling the drama there throughout the episode, before closing with Tom’s decisions. I’ll get to Tom’s task last and start with the more traditional glorified Quickfires.

Viva Las Emeril At Emeril’s Table 10 restaurant, we meet the five chefs, who are given the task of making soup in an hour. Emeril says soups are simple, but involve creative seasoning, with depth and passion.

Josh Valentine – He’s got a handlebar moustache and a full beard, and resembles a 1920s silent film villain.

Jeffrey Jew – Yep, he’s gay. His last name is also Jew. I can imagine he’s led an interesting life.

Stephanie Cmar – Very cute. Awesome last name. And a jaunty ponytail. I love the jaunty ponytail.

Tina Barbeau – Heretofore known as Marge Simpson thanks to her hairdo.

Kristen KishYowza. Um. She pretty. She and Ponytail are also buddies. And close buddies. So close that they work together, live in the same building and got matching spoon tattoos. Ponytail dismisses the immediate lesbian rumors. Kish is a former model – and yeah. I believe her completely.

The five scramble to make their soups. Marge is going for a heartier soup as she sees the others going for purees. JJ is trying to make a gazpacho, but Emeril is skeptical that he could chill it enough in one hour. He puts the soup in a shallow pan and shoves it in the freezer, and prays. Old Timey Villain has a pregnant wife at home, and should he make the cut he will ensure that he will miss his daughter’s birth. That’s one understanding wife he’s got.
Ponytail – Cauliflower Soup with Corn, Lobster and Pea Tendril – Emeril wanted more cauliflower flavor.

Marge – Shellfish and Chorizo Soup with Croutons and Garlic Mayonnaise – Emeril comments on the garlic, but the delicate shellfish was not overpowered.

Kish – English Pea Broth, Lemon Peel, Apple and Seared Scallop – She explains how she poached it three times to kill the bitterness. He thinks the scallop was perfect.

JJ – Chilled Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho, Peppers and Ceviche – Emeril loved the presentation, and it showed great depth. JJ is Chef #1

OTV – Roasted Corn and Coconut Soup with Mussels – He’s never made this dish before; he wants to push it. Emeril found it sweet and was waiting for the chili flavor.

Emeril tells the roommates that only one of them has made the cut – ouch. Ponytail gets the boot, and she feels like shit, but is happy for her buddy. That makes Kish Chef #2. In fact, her soup was one of the best Emeril has had in a while. Also joining Ponytail in elimination…Marge. Two hairstyles down. That makes OTV Chef #3

Top Chef Masters 4 – Finale – Go Big Or Go Home

Season 4 comes to a close with, in my opinion, the correct outcome taking place. CC and Kerry did not have to go through any pointless Quickfire this week, but instead had ample time to plan a menu based on four letters. Each course would be inspired by a letter each man will write – presumably during the planning stage of the meal. They are given a helper – a chef buddy of Kerry’s (Nick) and CC’s chef de cuisine (Manfred) – to assist in the meal. The meal would be judged by an all-star panel of critics.

Which immediately led me to believe that somewhere down the road, Bravo is developing Top Critic. Twelve of the nation’s best critics compete to see who can be the snarkiest, who can turn a phrase better (ie – quilt of flavors), and who could be the most pompous in their opinions. Although, no one would beat this guy. Or if you want to expand it to movie critics competing – this guy.

Anyway, the chefs’ four letters would be a love letter, an apology, a thank you, and a letter to themselves. As the episode developed, it became clear what each of their strategy would be. Kerry basically chose to barely skirt within the parameters of the challenge, and just went flat out for a safe, delicious meal. As a very talented Master, that should be no problem for him to accomplish. Meanwhile, CC decided to forego the safe double, and swing for the fences and try to knock it out of the park. The dishes he put out were bold, to say the least. If he was going to win, he was going to do it the hard way.

Interestingly, the first three letters the chefs wrote were very similar in theme. Both wrote their love letters and their apologies to their wives. The first being obvious, and the second because each of them are essentially married to their restaurants. Seems like an occupational hazard with chefs and restaurant owners. The thank you letters are each going to parents or grandparents for instilling a love for food at a young age.

The big differences between the two menus are the self letter and the food. Kerry’s letter to himself is basically just an excuse to make some high class food. CC’s letter has a theme of it being his last meal – so it’s an excuse to make his favorite foods. I think that resonated a LOT more for the critics. The food that Kerry made were all standard stuff – steaks, seafood, short ribs, etc. Meanwhile, CC made hearts, tripe and fried eggs. Bold, bold, bold.

The differences come down to the shopping plan too – Kerry goes to Whole Foods and heads right back to the kitchen to use the six hours more on prep and cooking. CC heads to Whole Foods, 99 Ranch (I think I heard that right) and Butcher Block (again, I think I heard that right) to get all of his specialty meats and other supplies. He gets back and has only three and a half hours to cook. Kerry also failed to get everything he wanted – such as lobster – and CC rubs it in a bit that he should have branched out more.

During prep, CC breaks out the hearts, the stomach, and even the blood. He’s making blood sausage as part of his “Last Supper” that he would want as his final meal. And CC officially becomes really weird. More so.

The Critics: In addition to Senor Sweater, Ruth, Stone, Lam and Katniss (welcome back), we have John Curtas of Eating Las Vegas. Known as Bowtie from this point forward. Jane Goldman of Chow – our friend the Rachel Maddow cousin. Alan Richman from GQ – which is awesome to me, a loyal subscriber to GQ. Not Michael Ian Black – Alan Sytsma from Grubstreet is back. So is the female henchman from Austin Powers – also known as Karen Brooks from The Mighty Gastropolis. Lesley Bargar Suter of LA Magazine rounds out the group, after apparently visiting Missy Franklin and borrowing all of her gold medals.

Top Chef Masters 4 – Episode 9 – Where We Learn That Food Has To Be Delicious

That’s right. The age-old mystery of whether food needs to be “hard” or “delicious” has been solved. I know that longtime viewers of Top Chef – and those who have eaten for all or most of their lives – have wondered this. Gee, this sandwich before me…it is rather soft and spongy. But it tastes rather good. I wish it was hard, but it is so delicious. I am just torn. It’s like Sophie’s Choice.

But lo! Worry no more, fellow eaters. Kerry has solved it. As he told the young’uns who formed the basis of this challenge – more on that later – food doesn’t need to be hard, it needs to be delicious.

Oh, wait. He means “hard” as in difficult? Oh. Hang on.
The second age-old mystery of whether food needs to be ANYTHING other than delicious has now finally been solved by the Puddy look-a-like on Top Chef Masters. Amazingly, it seems that delicious food is the most important thing. Who knew? I thought that complicated recipes and preparation was what we needed to have – but as it turns out, tasting good was the key.

Now I know what I’ve been doing wrong all these years.

In all seriousness, this week we have the final elimination before the Finale. Where the final three remaining Master Chefs will be presented with an opportunity to wow the first class food critics with a dazzling display of their culinary skills, imagination and technique. In order to prove which one is the Master of the Masters.

What? You said the chefs would be judged on a dish that none of them actually cooked? A dish where they were not even permitted to touch the food? One where high school students cooked the meal? That can’t be right – the next thing you’re going to tell me is that all season long, a random of collection of D-List celebrities and random people in Vegas will be judging the Quickfires, determining who gets immunity for the challenges, and doling out thousands of dollars to charities in a seemingly random pattern. But that can’t be right.

And yet…here we are. The funny thing is that this week they actually presented a Quickfire without wheeling in Wayne Newton. This is a repeat of the Quickfire from last Masters’ season where the chefs are set at a workstation divided by a barrier which prevents them from seeing a mystery partner. They have to cook a dish, and at the same time, instruct the mystery person to cook the identical dish. The challenge would be judged on its taste and how similar the two dishes are to each other. The last time we saw this challenge they were paired with a loved one. This time – they are paired with a critic.

Great. Challenge. Slightly less great because of the really terrible accents Lam, Bert and Ruth put on, but still it’s great. Basically, the interesting parts are that Kerry cannot hear Ruth very well, regardless of her fake Russian accent. Bert’s southern accent doesn’t seem to hinder CC. Lam and Ruth are both much slower than their partners in prepping the meal. In fact, Lam is so slow that Lorena had to ditch the pasta from her dish and go with greens.

But the biggest revelation is that CC has nicknamed Bert much better than I ever have. While I still say that Bert not only reminds me of a Muppet, but he especially reminds me of Bert down to the facial expressions. However, Mr. Sweater? I love it. CC – you get full credit for it right here, but I am totally stealing it. Mr. Sweater…it even sounds like it could be a Muppet name.

CC/Mr. Sweater – Prawns with Sautéed Celery, Thyme, Pine Nuts and Chili Threads – The Sweater doesn’t have enough celery on his version, but Stone says he can’t decide which is better. Sweater tells him to shut the front door. But he actually says it.

Lorena/Lam – Swiss Chard with Sautéed Chicken, Onions and Parmesan Cheese – Stone mentions that Lorena’s is soupy. It seems it was supposed to be. Lam’s is not soupy. Stone likes the salty dish – and it is beautiful – but it needed the pasta.

Kerry/Ruth – Sautéed Chicken, Swiss Chard, Bacon, and Parmesan with Rosemary Cream – Ruth’s is a mess as she made half the chicken by mistake. It’s tender, but there’s a whole lot of it. Stone thinks her chicken might even be better than Kerry’s.

Top Chef Masters 4 – Episode 8 – Ok, Who Brought The Mime?

The Final Four. And as we learned from the preview for next week, there is a Final Two Finale coming soon. That means the three remaining chefs, plus Lorena, because for some reason they think she’s half a master, file in to see Stone for the Quickfire. I’m going to jump right in to the Quickfire because while the main challenge was an interesting visual, I was rather underwhelmed by these two challenges and the whole episode. None of the food really made me go wow – and the only real drama came from whether or not the all-of-a-sudden target of derision Lorena was going to be sent home, or if for the second week in a row, a mid-season favorite would bite the dust.

As it turns out – it was not Lorena. And it was the correct decision from what I could see.

Anyway, Stone has divided up the room with tape a la a classic I Love Lucy episode. He has also brought in a Vegas oddsmaker to judge the cooking competition. Aw hell. This is getting ridiculous. Look, we got lucky with Dita’s surprising culinary skills, but this stunt judging for the Quickfires is just getting embarrassing. Johnny the Greek, or whatever this guy’s name is, is just, well, forgettable. So, they divide into pairs where one has to stay on one end of the kitchen with the pantry, and the other on the side with the burners. Of course, CC and Yeo are randomly put together – as usual – and Kerry and Lorena are forced to work together. Lorena puts it well, or at least as well as she can, “They finish each other’s sentences, it’s like heaven…and I’m running around like a chicken with a head.” I am sure she means head cut off – or else she’s used to some really weird chickens.

The bottom line – Kerry and Lorena don’t work well together. She is making a dish which depends on rice, but was unable to cook it since Kerry had the burners. Just like the incident with Yeo a few episodes ago, Kerry is focused on doing his own dish and did not seem to make much time for anyone else’s. As a result, her rice was undercooked and had to go back on the fire. And then it failed to make the plate. Let’s remember that – one of the two dishes was unfinished.

Johnny Avello – the aforementioned oddsmaker – gets to taste the dishes.

CC – Berber-Style Duck with Dates and Pine Nuts – Johnny says the spice and sauce was good, but he and Stone didn’t like the fat on the top of the duck.

Yeo – Nori and Wasabi Crusted Tuna with Ginger and Scallion Vinaigrette – Stone likes the taste.

Kerry – Shrimp Farfalle with Herbs and Yellow Tomato Beurre Fondue – Stone thinks it is really creamy, and Johnny likes the “tang.” Hmmm…

Lorena – Seared Salmon Filet over Salsa Verde and Arugula Celery Salad – Johnny likes the salmon, but that’s all there is. Stone thinks it was the beginning of a good dish, but it missed the rice.

Remember, one pair had an uncompleted dish. Johnny said they were both magnificent, but the winner of the challenge was Kerry and Lorena. Really. Because, that’s what the oddsmaker said. Glad we have him judging a food competition. When does the grand prize slots winner from New York, New York get a chance to judge?

Elimination Challenge – There is apparently a group of people who do an underground dining, sort of flash mobby kind of thing, where they show up at a secret location and eat a gourmet meal. The Final Four are being assigned the task of cooking for this event – the Diner En Blanc – which is essentially a high end picnic. For 300 people at the Plaza of the Venetian. Oh, and for some reason, they are all dressed in white. It is a much less dangerous mob of hundreds of people dressed only in white than others. Each chef has to make three dishes which serve 75 people. CC calls it a giant art project.

Kerry believes the whole thing is won and lost in the prep time. Perhaps true. Lorena is once again making a Latin American dish. I love Lorena, but she is becoming another Ilan. Granted, Bayless was similar with Mexican food and I didn’t bitch. I guess it’s a fine line with the one note – and she is skirting way too close to Ilan rather than Bayless. She is also making a chicken salad – ask Grayson about chicken salad and Top Chef. CC looks at all of the individual bags for the picnic and thinks he’s making his kids’ lunch. CC must have a lot of kids.

Judging the competition are Bert, Ruth, Lam, and the two partners of the event, Aymerie Pasquier and Sandy Safi. Lorena leads off.

Lorena 1 – Huancaina Style Potato Salad with Aji Amarillo and Cilantro – Lam thinks the potato is smooth. Some guest thinks it is “stupid good.”

Lorena 2 – Jerk Chicken Salad with Mango and Caramelized Pine Nuts. – Ruth says it is too sweet, but Lam likes the mango part of it.

Lorena 2 – Jalapeno Chocolate Mousse with Berries and Whipped Cream – Aym thinks it was too sweet, but he’s French, what does he know about desserts? One guest wants to scrape it with their finger.

Top Chef Masters 4 – Episode 7 – Sugar Ray is Sweet Enough

Look, it’s just never going to be on time this season, is it? Let’s just level with each other, loyal readers, I can’t get Top Chef posted promptly. If it were a Quickfire, I would have failed to plate several times in a row. So, let’s just face facts – I won’t be winning any Quickfire competitions, but I hope the finished product is worth it, and so I avoid elimination each week.

This week presents an odd twist on the usual format. The chefs wind up going head-to-head a lot as the show’s Vegas theme moves over to the sports arena. What sport do people associate with Las Vegas? Boxing. Of course, the most corrupt sport of them all (and that is saying something) would be associated with the city known for legalized gambling. However, the chefs were not being asked to beat each other senseless with their wisks and spatulas. Although, that would be a cool challenge. Instead, they battled with prep skills at first, and then the show did the Full Iron Chef by putting them in an actual ring to compete one-on-one with a common ingredient.

In the end, we have an elimination of one who I expected to be right there for the championship and the development of an unexpected plotline for the Masters version of this show.

But first, Quickfire Challenge – Stone brings in the Final Five and tells them they will be racing with prep work. The chefs will have to separate 18 eggs, grate two pounds of parmesan cheese and butcher some beef down to eight ounce fillets. The trick here is there is no scale to be used and the fillets must be eight ounces, with a half-ounce cushion on either side. The two quickest to finish will make a meal out of the ingredients. The winner gets five grand and immunity. A rare Final Five immunity. The interesting part here is that these five are all super-skilled, but really, how often do they do the menial work they hire staff to do?

CC is of course working on a different speed than everyone else. Kerry sees the flaws in CC’s speed – by cutting his fillets too precisely and too quickly, he is in danger of coming in too small. If he came in too big, he would have the ability to trim. You can’t reattach meat. Which I believe is an ancient Confucius proverb.

Well, CC doesn’t stop for anyone. He powers through and goes to Stone to check. And, lo and behold, his meat is too small. (Stop it, folks, no giggling) He is disqualified. The other chefs can continue prepping. Yeo is next to finish – the teacher is just as fast as the student – and she too is under weight on the steaks. She is out. So, it is between Takashi, Kerry and Lorena to make the two spots. I wonder what would happen if they all DQed. I could go for some DQ right now, btw. Takashi checks and makes it through and will cook for immunity. Meanwhile, Yeo is chanting Kerry’s name to root him on. This is the first we see of perhaps how deep the animosity towards Lorena goes. And it is puzzling to me. How often do you see the Masters actively rooting against one of their own?

Well, Yeo’s chants pay off and Kerry indeed finishes next. He and Takashi have 15 minutes to cook. The big thing here is that Takashi essentially throws the kitchen sink into his dish – in just 15 minutes – including cooking potatoes. Kerry is stunned and rather skeptical that he could pull this off. Stone judges the two dishes, along with Lorena, Yeo and CC.

Takashi – Sautéed Beef Tenderloin with Sunny Side Up Egg and Provincial Vegetables – Stone loves the presentation. CC thinks the veggies were cooked nicely, but he wanted a runny egg. Lorena agrees. Yeo was impressed with the taters.

Kerry – Beef Fillet with Parmesan Crust and Wilted Arugula – CC said something about brown butter, and I am not entirely sure what he was talking about. Lorena likes the cheese crust.

At the reveal, CC tells Takashi he liked the eggplant and Lorena wanted more parmesan. Yeo loved Kerry’s arugula, Lorena thought the meat was perfect, and CC thinks he went safe with that brown butter nonsense again. As it turns out, less is more and Kerry finally wins a challenge. And it is a big one as he sits out the elimination challenge.