Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Top Chef 1/7/09--"Focus Group" summary

Previously on Top Chef: the contestants had to make a one-pot meal, and some people take that to mean “as long as you clean the pot, you don’t have to cook everything at once”. Sad. Ariane wins something again, much to Jamie’s irritation. Then everyone pretended it was Christmas and made hors d’oeuvres based on the 12 days of Christmas, except there were only 11 contestants so it was TOTALLY LAME. Well, maybe not totally, but come on. Even though one of the fridges failed, Hosea came from behind to win. Tom was dissatisfied with the quality of the dishes in general, so he yelled at everyone and then told them that because everyone chipped in to help with the fridge crisis, everyone is safe. Except that Lee Anne’s blog says that when the fridge broke, the producers decided right then that no one could go home because the broken fridge “unleveled” the playing field. So most people (aside from the contestants) knew before the food was served that no one would go home. I’m guessing a future episode will have pairs, and both members of the pair will go home. (click for more)

Fabio makes Spam and pork and beans for breakfast. Ew. Eugene is pissed he was in the bottom 3 but can’t really do anything about it but improve. Melissa wasn’t expecting the pressure. Hosea, on the other hand, is all smiles from his second win. Stefan still feels superior. Jamie is grumpy because she wants to win for her fans. Not for herself?


In the kitchen this morning is Jean-Christophe Novelli who will have his own show “Chef Academy” on Bravo. They’re just going to follow him around, it’s not a competition show. He’s a pastry chef so Radhika is expecting a dessert challenge. Padma starts talking about diet-conscious customers and calorie counts, and introduces the “Diet Dr. Pepper Quickfire”: create “the ultimate sweet treat” with no sugar. Can I just say that while I enjoy Diet Dr. Pepper, it in no way equals a cupcake? Also I heard a rumor that California may start requiring restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus, which just ruins the dining experience. I know I’m eating too many calories. Go away. However, I do like this challenge, as my dad has Type II diabetes so I like to see people getting creative.

Jeff is used to making desserts without sugar. Jamie tells people not to touch her oven and makes some napoleons with fruit and mascarpone. Carla tries to freeze bananas. Hosea has roasted peaches and figs and yogurt, which sounds good, but Stefan says it looks nasty. Ariane makes a crepe with Dr. Pepper? Radhika makes bread pudding. Eugene describes lumpias, which are like banana egg rolls. Carla realizes everyone is using the freezer so her bananas don’t freeze. At one point the freezer is left open which is pretty ignorant. She sautés the bananas instead.

Fabio: granola and oat tart with eggless pastry cream and fresh berries. The cream isn’t cooked enough. Oops. Fabio thinks it’s because he’s Italian. Jeff: frozen cherry and white fig yogurt (which the judges have to scoop themselves, lame) with baklava spring roll. Eugene: mini blini “burger” (ice cream sandwich, maybe?) with banana lumpias “fries” and strawberry star anise dipping sauce. Melissa: baked dessert burrito (with fruit inside) with Greek yogurt sauce. Radhika: bread pudding made from whole wheat challah with sautéed white peach and honey roasted cashews. Leah: crepe with whipped ricotta, strawberries, and balsamic reduction. Stefan: sugar free chocolate mousse with with cherries. He tries to joke with the judge who ignores him. Hosea: roasted green figs and white peaches brushed with honey and balsamic. Jean-Christophe asks if he tasted it and then just nods, which is not a good sign. Ariane: whole wheat crepe with caramelized pears and toasted almonds. With over whipped cream. Jamie: ricotta, mascarpone, peach, nectarine, and cherry napoleon on puff pastry. Carla: baklava with a chocolate disc with fried bananas. She explains the failure of the frozen bananas.

Carla had bland bananas, Ariane’s crepe was boring, and Jamie’s cheese overpowered the rest of the dish. On the other hand, Radhika’s dish was good, Leah’s balsamic was lovely, and Jeff’s dish was well done. Radhika is “just over” everyone else so she wins immunity.

For the Elimination challenge, Padma explains that Toby Young, who is a British restaurant critic, is filling in for Gail for the rest of the season. Fabio says he’s bad-ass. Tomorrow they’ll have a “special” challenge in his honor, but mysteriously tonight they’re off the hook. They should know by now that’s a fat lie.

Back at the apartment people kind of are worried about Toby Young. Eugene gets his phone call home and talks about missing his family. Nothing else happens so I guess they really did get the night off. Huh. Usually “take the night off” is code for “surprise challenge”.

In the morning everyone hangs out in the apartments, worried, except for Radhika. Tom shows up, and Fabio’s first thought is that the house is messy. Tom explains that they want the new judge to learn about them food first. They’ll be tasting blind, the judges and some other foodie guests, 12 in total. The chefs will be making a family-style meal, and the best part is that they can make whatever they want. The downside is that since no one went home last week, this week two people will be going home. Since Radhika is immune, that means you have a 1 in 4 chance of going home. The kitchen is small, so they will cook in shifts. Everyone draws knives for shift assignments, except Radhika, who chooses to cook with group A. The group without Stefan. Hee. Group A is Radhika, Jamie, Hosea, Eugene, Melissa, and Fabio.

30 minutes and $100 for shopping. Melissa heads straight for ahi tuna for tacos. “Family style” to Eugene says whole fish. Jamie complains that she doesn’t get Eugene’s dish and daikon should be served cold and blah blah. Why are you so worried about other people’s food?

At the site Jamie stakes out a spot for herself right next to the stove. 2 hours for prep. Hosea has halibut wrapped in bacon. Everyone gloats about how quiet it is without Stefan. Radhika is making bisque that she says everyone comes to her restaurant for. Fabio makes pasta and sous vide lamb.

We get a break for Group B shopping. Jeff says he always does family style, but then he mentions small plates, which I don’t think is the same thing. (Kmanpat: “Not the same thing at all. One is large plates that you pass around, and one is small plates that you get a lot of. *sigh*…cute but stupid.“) Carla is strolling slowly and trying to hear her inspiration. She wants to make something vegetarian, but she’s afraid if she doesn’t make a protein the judges won’t know she can cook protein. Tofu counts, doesn’t it?

Back to Group A cooking. Jamie is making scallops again, but searing them this time. Fabio complains that this is “Top Chef” and not “Top Scallop”. Oh, honey, the Miami season? Scallops everywhere. Eugene doesn’t think anyone else has the balls to make his dish. Hosea interviews that Melissa isn’t going outside her comfort zone. Fabio’s lamb is still pretty raw, because he was overconfident and never checked his lamb. But there are only 5 minutes left so he is kind of stuck.

The commercial interlude today shows us Fabio trying to set up a pasta roller and failing. Along with tootling “Italian” music. People kind of shake their heads. Wow, that was exciting. I guess Hosea and Leah didn’t flirt enough this week.

Everyone sets up and explains their dishes to the waiters. Hosea wonders who the “foodies” will be that are eating with the judges today. Cut to Group B, who supposedly wandered up the freight elevator and came out into the room where the judges are. So each group gets to taste their competitors’ dishes? You know they’re going to try to guess whose dishes are whose. How will they keep them from doing that? Also Group B gets to meet Toby early. Leah interviews that Fabio told her Toby is harsh. Group A appears to find their competition sitting at the table. Hosea thinks they’ll be pretty harsh. Back into the kitchen they get to watch a live feed while people eat. Oo, spying!

Radhika: curried crab bisque with lemon-scented crab salad. Stefan says it’s “against [his] taste buds” and they’re numb. Are you a wuss? Toby says he has found the weapons of mass destruction and they are in this bowl. That was almost a Tony Bourdain level of snark. Carla pees her pants a little. Hosea: bacon-wrapped halibut with roasted vegetables and a beurre blanc sauce. Carla likes it but feels the vegetables upstaged the fish. Toby agrees. Jamie: seared scallop with fennel, garlic, oranges, and olives. Everyone seems to like it. Fabio: rack of lamb with cheese ravioli and mushroom sauce. Everyone likes the ravioli but the lamb is undercooked. Oops. Eugene: crispy red snapper with tomato, basil and daikon fettuccine. Stefan says he eats radishes cold. Look you, daikon is not like a European radish. Toby found the whole thing boring and not cooked properly. Melissa: ahi tuna crudo tacos. Not good, needs salt. Toby thinks it tasted like cat food. Ouch. She knows she can do better.

Group B gets to cook, now more worried about Toby. But they know what they have to beat. Jeff is making 3 small plates. Oh, he doesn’t get it. Stefan is making duck dumplings. Leah is doing something with fish and bread. Ariane has skate wing, which is kind of cool. She knows they weren’t nice so she thinks the other chefs might not be nice either. Carla has scallops too.

Group B realizes that the first group probably watched them eat too. Jamie thinks she is better than everyone in this group. Stefan: duck breast with braised cabbage and bread dumplings. The dumplings are dense. Stefan thinks they know it’s him. Fabio and Tom defend him, though. Jeff: trio tapas. Oysters, seared tuna, and avocado sorbet and grilled peaches. There is too much going on, and it’s not one dish. However, Toby compares it to a Tom Cruise cameo (in “Tropic Thunder”, no less, which I just saw and although I dislike Tom Cruise he was hilarious in that movie). Ariane: skate wing with pineapple and cauliflower puree. They like this a lot. Leah: seared rouget fish encrusted in bread with fried beans in chorizo sauce. Toby loved it. Carla: seared scallop on top of risotto with gremolata topping. The gremolata is very garlicky but the scallop is pretty good.

Tom liked Group B better, and Toby thinks the standards are high. The chefs may be figuring out the mistakes they’ve been making.

Back in the Stew Room everyone owns up to which dish was theirs. Melissa is particularly worried about going home. Padma comes to collect the winners, but since she doesn’t know who made anything she has to describe all the dishes. Ariane, Stefan, and Jamie get up to follow her. Tom loved Stefan’s dish, it was cooked perfectly, and was wonderfully German. Jamie wanted to redeem herself after last week, and she knew fennel and orange work well together. It was very well refined. Ariane likes skate, and she cooked it well and was creative with pineapple. The winner is…Jamie. Well, at least now maybe she’ll be quiet about it.

Loser time. Melissa, Eugene, and Carla. Only 3? Those are bad odds. Jamie calls them out by name, so I guess they figured things out. Carla wasn’t happy with her dish, and Tom bugs her for making her risotto a garnish? I guess? She says she doesn’t want to wow them with pizzazz but with flavor. If she had put the gremolata in the risotto it would have turned out better. Everyone agrees. Melissa tells them she enjoyed this challenge and she liked to see people critique her food as they ate. In terms of changing things, she would make something else entirely. Tom was bored with fish tacos. Toby claims he could smell it, but Melissa didn’t think it was that bad. Eugene wishes he had done something simpler. He says he likes daikon and tomato together, and maybe he shouldn’t have taken the chance, but Tom says it’s not really taking a chance if he’s tried it before. But he does get points for presentation, even if the fish was overcooked. Toby calls him on “taking risks” because everything was mild. When asked if they have anything to say, Eugene tells the judges he has a better idea of what they’re looking for, Melissa has more to offer, and Carla claims that without her scallops her risotto is perfect.

Today the judges are looking for who to save. Toby thinks Eugene needs another chance. Tom is somehow offended that the fish was ruined, that it gave up its life and then got overcooked. Melissa’s dish was really her, which for Toby is exactly why she should go home. Carla used a scallop when she didn’t need to, and it shows a lack of confidence.

Eugene is wildly creative but his skill level needs to catch up, Melissa had a lack of imagination and creativity, Carla over thought and overworked her dish that could have been great. Melissa is out. And Eugene is out too. Really? Wow. Eugene has really learned a lot, and Melissa (in tears) is afraid that everyone will think she is uncreative and boring. Eugene is in a better place than Melissa; at least he seems more calm.

Next week: Hung! Live pigs! Live chickens! Stefan and Jamie argue!

1 comment:

diane said...

I am so with you on Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, I hate him, but I really thought he was great in that. =D