Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Top Chef 9/2/09--"Thunderbirds" summary

Previously on Top Chef: the Quickfire involved a giant craps table and rolling for ingredients. Well, the number of ingredients, but you get the idea. Michael won this by doing some molecular gastronomy whatever with liquid nitrogen and so forth. Then the boys catered a bachelorette party and the girls catered a bachelor party. To make it extra classy everyone had to match their dishes to one of three shots. Ashley was offended but then decided to make two dishes. Luckily one of them was really good. The other was a panna cotta. Jen still pronounced ceviche the wrong way. In the end Bryan won with some weird meringue filled with guacamole and corn nuts. Is this how the season is going to go? Molecular gastronomy everywhere? Because that is boring. In the end Eve’s shrimp weren’t seasoned enough and she went home. (click for more)

Jen is still annoyed at losing, and yesterday was the first time she wasn’t in the top. Laurine is intimidated by the other contestants who didn’t quit school like she did. That sounds bitchy. I don’t mean that she regrets quitting school or anything, just that she did and others didn’t so she feels they know more than her. Preeti knows they need to focus. Jesse has been on the bottom for both Elimination challenges. She needs to do better.

OK, Mattin. You can stop wearing your scarf. It’s gotten old. (Kmanpat: “You’re never fully dressed without a smile! And you’re never fully undressed without your neckerchief! So take it off, hot French boy!“) For the Quickfire there is a giant table of potatoes and Mark Peel. He says he spent a long time peeling potatoes when he started out. They must make an “out of this world” dish with potatoes. Hmm. This could be good or boring. They will have 45 minutes. At least there is a large variety of potatoes.

Someone says they need to season. Ron is making sweet potatoes and snapper. Oh, I love sweet potatoes. Mike is making risotto, but with tiny diced potatoes. And because we didn’t talk to him last week, he makes up for it by interviewing that “risotto” refers to the cooking technique, not the rice. But of course he’s an ass about it, because all of us have personally offended him by telling him risotto is the rice. None of the viewers care that risotto is not the rice. The vast majority aren’t ever going to eat a risotto made with anything but rice. It’s just…I already didn’t like him and now I actively want him to fail. Preeti knows she needs to do better, but she seems pretty frantic. Somehow Kevin tells her she can use the pot of water he blanched something in. Preeti leaves and cuts up her asparagus, and then returns…but the water is gone. She interviews that Ashley had put a different pot on the burner nearby, and Preeti just blindly puts her asparagus in it. Ashley, rightfully, yells at her not to put green vegetables in her water for her gnocchi, but then wanders off. Preeti dumps out the water, which now leaves Ashley with no hot water and 13 minutes left. She curses at Preeti a lot. That kind of sucks, that Preeti didn’t plan her time out and Ashley got the shaft. Kevin is praying the ice cream maker works. Jesse used too much cayenne.

Ash: sweet potato custard with toasted pecans. But it didn’t set up. Bryan: sunchoke and Yukon gold vichyssoise with apple wood smoked salmon caviar. It’s good, but looks boring. Preeti: saffron poached Russian banana fingerlings, asparagus, and tomatoes. It’s very colorful, but they don’t say much. Mike: confit tuna and potato sandwich. The potatoes are underdone and confit of tuna just looks sad and gray. Jen: steamed mussels, Yukon gold and blue potatoes with lemongrass potato sauce. Interesting. Robin: purple and fingerling potatoes, white yams with pancetta, frisee, fennel, and a fried egg on top. It‘s just like breakfast. Hector: sweet potato steamed with fish sauce and lime, purple potatoes and ham (it’s like a purple square), and smashed fingerlings with yeast, yellow chile, slow-cooked egg and cream. Wow. Fantastic. Laurine: veggie potato burger made from mashed potatoes, with a portabella mushroom bun. I think she breaded the mushrooms too. Mattin: poached cod with blue, Yukon, and sweet potato purees. Kevin: bacon braised yam with potato sauce, asparagus, mushroom, and cauliflower. There’s duck fat in there too. Mmm, bacon braised yam. Mike: potato risotto with king crab and mascarpone. It’s salty. HA HA! Ashley: potato gnocchi with hen of the woods mushrooms and homemade ricotta. That means she made ricotta just now, today. Awesome. Eli: yam puree with pistachios, whipped bliss, and bourbon maple syrup. I think “whipped bliss” is just whipped cream. I think. That sounds great. Padma finds a pistachio shell. Oooooo. Ron: sweet potato crusted yellowtail with fennel and leek stew. Jesse: sweet potato soup with ginger, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper. That sounds so fantastic. I like it spicy.

Mark plugs “Top Chef: Masters”, as he was on it, so he understands the time constraint. Eli’s was too sweet, Ron’s fish was slightly overcooked and the yams weren’t flavorful enough. And Jesse’s soup was too spicy. On the other hand, Jen had great mussels, Ash’s custard was delicious (he is shocked), and Ashley’s gnocchi was perfect and the mushrooms were too. So the winner is Jen. Mike claims this is favoritism, somehow. I guess on the planet where he lives, Jen has been winning everything and is everyone‘s favorite person. Jen gets immunity but no money.

For the Elimination challenge, there is a special guest: Colonel Dave Belote, commander of the 99th air base wing. It’s funny to watch everyone shuffle their feet and when he says “Good afternoon” a few people respond, instantly polite. Today’s challenge is to go to Nellis Air Force Base where the Thunderbirds (aerial demonstration squadron) are based, and make a meal for 300 airmen. He tells them that they have been exposed to lots of cuisines, and have high nutritional requirements. Padma tells them they will be working in one giant team, and they’ll have 4 hours, but they won’t know what ingredients they will get, or what their equipment will be, until they show up tomorrow.

Back at the house they have a meeting (Jesus, there’s still 15 of them). Mike starts talking, and I was going to tune him out but he seems to have a plan. He says “we” but doesn’t specify who else it was. Probably they talked it out in the car. His plan is to have everyone but one pair up, so they’ll have 7 teams of two, and then one person to assist whoever needs it. Each team will do one dish. He tells Jen she’d be the one assistant, because she has immunity. If things go well, then she looks good for assisting, but if they go bad, she can’t be eliminated for not having clear responsibilities. Actually…that kind of makes sense. Jen says that’s what her job is now anyway, so she is cool with it. If only it wasn‘t Mike‘s idea. Then the schoolyard pick begins. Preeti picks Laurine, Kevin and Eli pair up (they bond on a “fat kid” level, hee), Mike pairs with Michael, Bryan and Mattin. Ron and Jesse are left last. There are two other teams in there that I don’t know what they are.

Everyone gets up super early because they have to get to the base by 8am. In the kitchen, there are piles of food, lots of cans. A TON of cans. Mattin is worried. And there is Spam. There are no stoves, no pots, just those giant vats that I’ve seen on “Dinner: Impossible”. So it’s the ideal kitchen to cook for 300 people, but not if you don’t know how to work anything.

Much frantic brainstorming. Kevin claims to have been in ROTC, and he has cooked in a military kitchen before. Cool. Jen interviews that she is the executive chef today, and that’s not anywhere near what Mike said. He said she’d be the “tournant”, which is a chef that rotates stations and fills in where needed. It’s not a person in charge. She is taking all ideas and picking out the best ones. Michael says that the military cooks do this every day so they can do it once. Preeti says she decided to be a chef on 9/11. That’s all she really explains it. Let’s just assume that everyone, at least once, says something patriotic. I’m all for that but it gets repetitive. Mike thinks they should have a salad, and Jen says they don’t have one, so he’s making one with shrimp. See, that’s something a real executive chef should have done, if she was really deciding to make decisions, is notice no one is making salad and assign that to someone. Both Eli and Kevin like to cook Southern. Ron has won chowder awards so that’s what he and Jesse are making. He knows it’s hot, but he thinks the airmen will love it. Right now Jen is not doing any work at all. She’s just walking around bothering people. Hector is making chili, which will cool you off by making you sweat. Ashley and Ash are making bread pudding with brioche, that somehow has peanut butter and chocolate. That sounds like it could be nasty. Preeti and Laurine are making a vegetarian pasta salad. Wait…didn’t Mike say no one was making salad? Ron discovers that there are not enough soup vats. Since there aren’t any stoves, they have to share the soup vats and the woks and the grills. Jen is actually doing a good job of planning when people can use what. She promises Hector he can have something for 45 minutes. But then Hector is telling some story and Jen comes over to tell him to shut up and talk about food, which is just bossy. Jesse gets in Mattin’s face about how his team is hogging the pots. Jen is labeling ovens with names. Lots of running about and packaging food. Eli says something foreboding about how they assume the airmen will handle their food well on its trip across the base.

Lunch is in a hanger. Everyone arrives (after a trip in a convoy) and they start getting organized. Someone has done catering because they’re making two identical lines to speed things along. Ash and Ashley don’t have a lot of prep so they plant themselves to refill food and help everyone else. Preeti is getting worried about her simple dish. Eli is worried about if people want clam chowder in Vegas in the summer. Mike and Michael argue about building their dishes, or something. Padma shows up in another short skirt. Short, tight, and shiny. She really has been taking notes from Heidi. Mark Peel is back.

There seem to be families too, in addition to the airmen. Preeti starts serving the judges. Michael and Mike: Greek salad with cucumbers, chickpeas, olives, and olive oil-poached shrimp. Preeti and Laurine: pasta salad with broccoli, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Ron and Jesse: New England clam chowder and roasted corn. Hector and Robin: 3 bean chili with roasted chicken. She says they made up the recipe on the spot. Eli and Kevin: Georgia style braised pork over potato salad. You eat them together, that might be good. It looks like something you’d have at a family BBQ. Michael and Mike: braised pork belly with soy-mustard sauce and peanuts. I think it’s in a lettuce cup, so you’d eat it with your hands. It’s not a big portion. Bryan and Mattin: roasted beef strip loin with mushroom demi-glace and cauliflower gratin. It looks good. Jen interrupts somewhere to tell the contestants to hurry up. Some adorable kid just points at what she likes best.

Time for critiques. The strip loin is still cooked to medium rare. The pasta salad, though, is a little salty, but it’s nice and light and vegetarian. Gail is bored with it. The chili is authentic and very flavorful. Ron and Jesse’s clam chowder is a little thick but is good. Tom and Gail discuss that eating chili in the summer is somehow not as bad as eating cream. The braised pork and potato salad is a huge hit. The pork belly is labeled “super mega delicious” by Gail, and I am just figuring something out, which is that it’s not really pork belly, but regular bacon that they cooked as if it was pork belly. Eh, pork belly, bacon, same thing. The shrimp salad is undercooked, and someone says it’s not really Greek, which is Mike’s fault, so HA again. Finally they get to dessert, so we can see that Ash and Ashley have made chocolate bread pudding with peanut butter sauce. It does look delicious. However, it’s a little dry and dense. Mark says that he would have loved to get this meal as a Boy Scout, and when Tom jokes that he could have earned a merit badge, Mark says it would be his first since he never earned one. How do you manage that? Girl Scouts gave you badges for doing your homework, pretty much. The colonel thanks everyone for their cooking and they get applause. Everyone beams.

Commercial interlude: everyone talks about how cool the base is and how boys like fighter jets.

Padma collects Mike, Michael, Eli, and Kevin for the winners. Kevin says he cooked most of the pork, and that his family cooks competition barbeque. Mike loves it, and it was the airmen’s favorite. Michael says they had slab bacon to work with, and that he stole all of it and kind of pissed off everyone else. Heh. Mike knows Michael, because they’ve worked together, and they each did their own thing. Michael did the pork, and Mike says he knew they didn’t have a salad (lie) so “that’s just my style” and they did two whole dishes! Because we kick ass! Tom makes a really weird face. Then I thought he’d slam Mike for undercooking the shrimp but he doesn’t. Mark tells Michael he’s won. Stupid, I thought Kevin should have won. Whatever.

Padma asks them to send back Preeti, Laurine…and she tells Mike he has to come back. HAHAHAAHA! Mike’s pissed. He goes all the way back to the Stew Room and makes some comment about how “it wasn’t really a team today” or something before he goes back to the judges‘ table. Tom says that it was a team challenge, and that Preeti and Laurine just seem confused but Mike is angry. He goes off on how he decided to make a Greek salad “for the team”, even though 10 minutes ago he was bragging about how he and Michael made two whole dishes when everyone else made one. We all know that he did it so he could be awesome. Mark is like, it was bland though. Mike hems and haws and is interrupted to be told the shrimp were undercooked too. There’s a pause, and then Mike is all, well, I won’t lie, I wasn’t 100% about the shrimp either and Padma jumps on that with “You shouldn’t have served it then.” Oh I am loving this. Gail says it sucked and that’s what he put up for them to judge. Mike claims to be angry at himself and says it won’t happen again. Whatever. Tom tries to figure out what happened with Laurine and Preeti, but he’s not getting the answer he wants, so he interrupts to say “Cut to the chase, who said ‘Let’s make pasta salad’?” Laurine and Preeti just look at each other and they can’t seem to come up with an answer. Laurine says it was flavorful with the canned items they had, and Preeti says she thought it was better than other dishes. Gail is like, um, no, and Preeti asks her if she thinks there’s something inventive about clam chowder on a 90 degree day. Girl, do not mess with Gail. Tom is all, no, and while Preeti is head-bobbing and thinking she’s won, he comes back with “It was a better version of clam chowder than your version of pasta salad.” BURN! Laurine knew pasta salad wasn’t a winning dish, but she thought it would fit in the menu. Padma asks her why she didn’t try to make a winning dish, and she says she forgot about the competition. There’s a horrible pause, and then Laurine acknowledges that was not the right thing to say. I think she was trying to go for “I was so caught up in serving our airmen who protect the country I forgot I was competing against the other chefs.” There’s the usual “who should go home” but no one throws anyone under the bus. Tom tells them he thinks they’re just trying to get by, not to win. No one has admitted to the pasta salad idea.

Man that was good. In the Stew Room Laurine is telling how the judges told her they could both go home and Jesse is horrified, like she’s never watched reality TV before. The pasta salad was sad and bland, but the difference is that Laurine seemed to get it while Preeti didn’t. Gail is offended that Laurine forgot about the competition, and she’s almost defending Preeti, saying that at least she’s standing behind her dish. Weird. Although they do nail people for not standing behind their dishes. Mike was obviously pissed off, but his dish was a throwaway dish. Then there’s a minor argument about the team element, I guess because they let Mike piggyback on Michael for the winners’ group, because he said he made some of that dish, but they didn’t make Michael come back for the loser group.

Mike still looks pissed off. Tom forgets Laurie’s name briefly. Hee. Preeti goes home. She says she knows how to cook, and bring great flavors, but “the competition seems a lot different than it’s been in past seasons.” I’m not sure if that is a dig at the judges or if she’s saying everyone else is better. Preeti finishes by saying she tries to please her customers and not herself. I think. No regrets.

Next week: French chefs! Mattin is probably thrilled! Whoever loses the Quickfire goes home! Get rid of these people, I say. Too many cooks, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another great summary/review!

I wondered why Jesse didn't just add some cream to the soup to cut the heat...wouldn't that have worked?