Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Top Chef 11/18/09--"Culinary Olympics" summary

Previously on “Top Chef”: a room service Quickfire was sad because there were no crepes. Robin’s blintzes don’t count. Eli won, and then everyone was supposed to be inspired by casinos, and that sort of went well, but they let Michael win and he made chicken wings. I’m sure they were good, but…chicken wings. Robin finally went home, after she tried to make clear sugar in colors and then panna cotta. NEVER MAKE PANNA COTTA. A public service announcement from My Monkey Could Do That. (click for more)

Somehow this is the last challenge in Vegas before the finale, but aren’t there still 5 people? So are they going to take 4 people to the finale location and kick on out? Everyone says how they have made it so far, etc. Eli says Richard, he of the fauxhawk, is his mentor. Sigh. That figures. Then he says he wants to win for Richard and compares himself to Inigo Montoya. Bitch please.

Padma greets them with Gaven Kayson, who has won a James Beard Award. Padma says that 4 of them will head for Napa Valley to fight for the title of Top Chef, and am I missing something here? Because I distinctly heard her say 3 or 4 weeks ago that 3 people would be competing in the finale. In addition to winning that award, Gaven has competed in the Bocuse D’Or, which is a cooking competition from way before Food Network came along. That is the real deal. Michael likens it to the Olympics, which I think is about the best way to describe that. It’s a competition in classical French cuisine. For the Quickfire, the chefs will be recreating a dish Gaven made for that competition. That took him 4 months to perfect. I believe he calls it “chicken ballotine”, which is a roulade with crayfish and chicken livers and two layers of chicken. These chefs will be doing something similar, which is to make a 3-layer roulade of something, all layers of protein. There will be no immunity but a big advantage in the Elimination challenge. Jen makes a comment about turducken, which is delicious and also immediately what I thought of.

90 minutes, and go! Bryan has a plan with sausage and lamb. Michael smarms that this challenge isn’t about making a ballotine, but putting 3 proteins inside each other. Whatever. He has bacon, turkey, and chicken. Kevin thinks Michael and Bryan are doing way too much, and it’s too risky. Eli says something about making Scotched eggs and maple syrup. You need 3 layers. I don’t know. Kevin thinks he and Eli have balls, because they’re making homestyle food for Top Chef. Good point. Jen says she’s never made this before but since she’s strong in seafood she thinks she’ll be OK. Michael mentions how Jen has been flailing, which she has, but then he’s like, “there isn’t that much more for her to do” which is just toolish.

Eli: bacon-crusted breakfast sausage with a six-minute egg center. It is a brown lump. Michael: “poultry terrine” chicken with turkey and bacon mousseline. “Terrine” is not “ballotine” or even “roulade”. Layering and wrapping are different. Jen: calamari steak, scallops, salmon, shiitake, shiso, and rice noodles with shiso vinaigrette. They ask her why she did seafood and she says it’s her strong point. Padma says “Welcome back.” Bryan: rack of lamb and merguez sausage wrapped in caul fat. There are also 4 sauces. Kevin: cornmeal fried fillet of catfish with scallop and shrimp. Bryan shows himself to be a bigger man than his brother by saying that Kevin’s food is simple but simple can be great if done correctly.

Gavin tells Kevin that his fish was a little overcooked, which he doesn’t think is totally true. Bryan’s dish was great. Eli’s concept was good, but I notice there is no praise of his actual food. Jen didn’t overcook her calamari, and then Gavin totally calls Michael on making a terrine and not following directions. Michael interviews that he never was told to make a ballotine. Um, I can quote Padma for you, which is when she said “make a protein, inside a protein, inside a protein.” Also he says that he would have made one that was just as good as Gavin made for Bocuse D’Or. Right. Jen wins. It’s giving her a boost but she knows she’s not in the clear yet.

Elimination challenge: Bocuse D’Or! Ha ha! Everyone will make a “presentation platter” with one protein and two garnishes, probably on a giant silver tray. The garnishes must be intricate and show techniques and they can’t be just vegetables. They can pick lamb or salmon, and they will really have a mirror platter. Awesome. They’re going to get their asses kicked. 4 hours to cook tomorrow, and Jen will get 30 extra minutes. Oh and also there will be 12 judges, including some chefs who are on the American advisory board for Bocuse D’Or, plus Thomas Keller. Awesome. Taste, creativity, and execution are the criteria. Schadenfreude is rampant in my house right now.

Everyone goes home and Michael goes right to bed. Of course, because he thinks he is great. The rest of the chefs watch some DVD’s of Bocuse D’Or and the crazy fans and also what the final dishes look like. Crazy. Kevin asks how to sous vide his lamb, and I want him to shush, because don’t do that! Bryan knows that if he is competitive and shuts Kevin down, when everyone knows he has the answer, then he just looks like a prick. So he’s helpful.

The next morning everyone gets to work. Eli says it’s intense in the kitchen. He is going to make sausage wrapped lamb loin, carrot puree, and tomato-piquillo canapé. That carrot puree better have gold in it or something. Tom brings in Thomas Keller to freak them all out and mispronounce Bocuse D’Or. Also to encourage them. Michael says he’s done some culinary competitions. He is making salmon with cauliflower chickpea tart and zucchini tzatziki, which he has chosen because it’s harder to do. Jen is going to serve salmon and caviar, shrimp flan and truffle, celery root and shiitake. She’s stressed a bit. Bryan is pushing the envelope with crusted lamb loin, lamb shank crepinette (like sausage) and orzo au gratin. Kevin is trying to make poached lamb loin, sherry-glazed beet and asparagus in sunchoke cream. Michael is bored by Kevin’s food, but whatever. I wish I had a chef to cook for me on his days off. Hush.

Tom time! Bryan talks to him about braising his lamb shanks and gratin. Mmmm. Kevin is taking a different approach, which Tom points out. Oh, Kevin. You’re killing me. Michael and Jen seem to know where they are heading. As does Eli. Tom then interviews about everyone. Well, not the brothers. Then he tells the chefs that whoever wins the challenge will get $30,000. Damn. Everyone freaks out just that little bit more.

The judges show up while cooking is still going on. Kevin says he won’t do elaborate presentation, but instead worry about his flavors. He goes out with his giant platter, to discover Jerome Bocuse. The son of the person who STARTED THE WHOLE THING. Damn, but Top Chef has some pull. His platter is very simple: just the loin, with a beet tartlet and a little dish with the asparagus. As he plates (they make you plate at table, just for more stress) he says he picked lamb because of sustainability, and Thomas Keller asks if the lamb is from a sustainable farm. Ooh, burn. But it is. The vegetables are delicious, but they think it’s “elementary” for the quality of chef he is. Michael has all his food in bite-size pieces on the platter. It looks very pretty but also like a trio of appetizers. Sadly he described his dish as having “Mediterranean” flavors, but salmon and caviar don’t really fit, and his flavors themselves aren’t really there. Then someone finds a bone, so he’s pretty much screwed. Bryan freaks the hell out, because he’s behind. Jen is helping him out, and she’s worried about him. He can see mistakes in his platter, and in interview when he’s saying this he starts muttering about them. Hee. He also has whole lamb loin on the platter, and then little bites and the orzo gratin has sheep’s milk cheese. I just like the little dishes with food in them. However his lamb is too rare. They can tell he had a great concept but ran out of time. Eli’s platter has taller dishes with the carrot puree (with a FOAM). He is plating and talking at the same time, and saying “um” a lot. And not really making eye contact. It’s undercooked, and there is raw fat which is gross and no one is even eating it. Jen’s dish looks pretty good, the salmon especially. She cooked it from the bottom up, so the bottom is well done and the top is more rare. Some people get an undercooked piece, though. The whole thing is random, somehow. I think that they can’t see where she was going and they don’t think she took the time to think it out. All the chefs come back in so that Thomas Keller can tell them someone will get a spot to compete in Bocuse D’Or in 2011. Holy crap. They’d do that? Back in the kitchen the chefs clean the kitchen, which is nice, and everyone talks about how awesome this experience has been and how much they want to win.

Commercial interlude: in the Stew Room everyone is friends and that was 30 seconds of my life I can never get back. Thanks, Bravo.

Padma collects everyone, and they file in to the Loser Gong. Michael says his Mediterranean theme just came together and he has this tone of “I am just such a genius that things just fall into place.” Tom points out that if he is making “cauliflower couscous”, it’s still cauliflower. Something this big, you can’t play around with stuff like that. Michael kind of doesn’t react to the bone issue, but I don’t really expect him to anyways. Bryan tells the judges his lamb was supposed to be medium-rare to medium, and he didn’t want to cook it any more because of the marbling. They know he ran out of time. Kevin’s dish was too simple, they think, but he knows that if he had done a lot more he couldn’t have gotten the balance he wanted. Tom doesn’t think Jen cooked the fish as slowly as she thinks she did. The hotel pans aren’t thick enough. It wasn’t cut perfectly, so some were perfect while some were underdone. Eli’s sausage was a good idea, but it had a bunch of fat in it, and he didn’t cook it enough. Tom tells everyone he loved to watch them cook and they did a good job.

Back it the Stew Room Kevin knows he didn’t use enough technique and he let himself down. Gail (oh yeah, Gail is back) says that she could imagine how Eli’s dish would have been, sort of, but a very big part of it wasn’t any good. Jen’s dish was inconsistent. That’s about all they say. Kevin’s dish was too simple for competition, but it was cooked correctly. Michael’s dish was very elaborate, but his garnishes were weak. And they still are annoyed by the salmon bone. Bryan also had a lot of technique, but he couldn’t execute it properly. If he had, he would win hands-down. Bryan is irritated too, but Kevin points out that you could tell where he was going with his dish.

The winner tonight is Kevin. Really? Kick ass. I didn’t think they were going to do that. They give him a jacket and some books, in addition to his money and the spot on the team. He says he’s going to keep trusting his instincts. Good, I like Kevin. Tom tells the remaining four what they did right and what they did wrong. Eli goes home, which I think is the right choice. Although I am tired of Michael. Eli is pleased with having gotten this far, and the four left are fantastic chefs in his opinion, so he’s OK with it. Then he claims not to be reactionary, except he was with regard to Robin. I think he really is upset though. I’d like to point out Inigo won.

Next time: Padma has bangs, there is the Wine Train! I love the Wine Train. Then they say they can only bring 3 to the finale, so I guess they bring someone to Napa Valley only to kick them out last minute. That sucks.


fablady said...

gee I like Michael!

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