Thursday, August 12, 2010

Top Chef 8/11/10--"Restaurant Wars"

Previously on “Top Chef”: everyone had to cook Ethiopian food, or at least “Ethiopian-inspired” food, for the Quickfire and also Marcus Samuelsson. Tiffany won, which is cool because it wasn’t Angelo, who said he used to work in an Ethiopian restaurant and he totally knows what he’s doing. Then everyone was supposed to cook the foods of different countries. However, Kevin knew nothing about Indian food but made something delicious and ended up with the winners. So it wasn’t an absolute requirement that you make authentic food. He didn’t win, though, Tiffany made tamales and won with those. And she won $10,000. Alex was in the bottom but instead, Stephen went home for mushy rice.

Amanda says her buddy Stephen went home and she’ll miss him. Then she includes herself in “the best of the best”. Kenny is irritated that he is in the middle.

There are red and blue aprons and blindfolds waiting for the Quickfire. It’s the tag team cook-off! There is no more immunity, but the winning team will share $10,000. And probably have the opportunity for double or nothing. They pick knives, and Kevin and Ed end up with the picks. Kevin takes Kenny, Kelly, and Amanda, while Ed takes Tiffany, Angelo, and gets stuck with Alex. Ed knows he, Tiffany, and Angelo are on the same page, but who knows where Alex is.
Kenny and Tiffany take the first leg. Kenny starts some prawns, while Tiffany breaks down a fish and leaves the head so they know what fish it is. Amanda and Alex are second. Amanda immediately knows where Kenny was going and what she needs to do. Alex seasons the fish and Tiffany thinks this is too early. Third is Ed and Kevin. Tiffany and Alex have a whispered conversation where they hope Ed can see the salt on the fish so he doesn’t salt it again. Kevin knows what he is doing and what he is supposed to be doing. Angelo and Kelly are last. Angelo has no idea what to do because the station is a wreck. He salts the fish again. Kelly is just fine.

Padma brings in Nancy Pelosi to taste the dishes. Seriously? How did they swing that one? Blue team (that’s Kevin, Kenny, Kelly, and Amanda): sautéed shrimp, angel hair pasta, mustard sauce, and crispy basil. It looks really good. Nancy says it reminds her of home, San Francisco. Red team (Ed, Tiffany, Angelo, and Alex): roasted red snapper, wilted greens, and maitake mushrooms. It is salty. So what I think happened, is you’re supposed to salt and pepper proteins like fish right before you cook them, and that is what most people do, so Angelo was not expecting Alex to put salt on the fish 25 minutes before it was going in the pan. And it’s not like he can taste it to find that out until it’s too late.

Nancy of course awards the Blue team the win and the money. Padma kicks her out. Tiffany blames Alex for the loss. Now it is Restaurant Wars! These are your teams! 3 course menu, two options for each course, each person must be responsible for a dish. Tiffany worries about having Alex on her team. The guest judge will be Frank Bruni, who is a very tough food critic. The Terlato boys show up to say they’re providing wine and prizes, I think. They’ve done that before.

Half of each team goes to Whole Foods and the other half to Restaurant Depot. Alex asks Tiffany what they’re doing, and she’s just like “worry about your own list”. He does have to know what she’s planning, but she’s fairly rude to him. I know he’s annoying and all and I don’t much like him either but this kind of thing backfires. Angelo and Ed in the other car decide to put Alex in the dining room, which can’t be much better than having him in the kitchen. Kevin thinks they should be a team even if they don’t like Alex. Plus you can’t just decide to stick him there when he’s not even in the car. 45 minutes for shopping, $1000 at Restaurant Depot, $1500 at Whole Foods. We watch shopping for a whole like, 45 seconds. Just long enough to see that Tiffany and Alex have no list, because they didn’t have time to make one, so they’re just putting stuff on the cart.

2 hours to prep today. Red team has to make the menu. Angelo says he just naturally fell into the role of executive chef. First course for the Red team is tomato soup, or crudo of black bass and yellowtail snapper (Tiffany). Second course: striped bass and clams, or slow-baked turbot (Ed). Third course: sautéed rib eye, or lamb chop. It looks like Angelo has told Alex to prep all the proteins, thinking this will keep him busy. The Blue team has put Kelly in the front of house role. She’s nervous, and is planning for her dish to be a cold soup, so she can get it all set up before she goes out to the restaurant. Not a bad idea. First course: chilled corn soup with crab salad (Kelly), or warm beet salad (Kenny). Second course: strip steak (Amanda) or halibut (Kevin). Third course: chocolate ganache tart with ice cream (Kelly), or crispy goat cheese (Kenny). I put names where the contestants assigned dishes. Shockingly, Kenny has put himself in charge of his team. Angelo decides Alex is screwing up the butchering so he takes over with a bunch of cursing. As the Blue team is packing up all their stuff, Alex is still butchering. Red team is flailing somewhat.

Angelo tells us his team’s restaurant is “EVOO”, pronounced “E-vooooo” and not “Ee-Vee-Oh-Oh“, but all I can think of is stupid Rachael Ray. Thanks, Angelo. He says something about Mediterranean flavors but I’m still irritated. There is a small fight about grill space. Everyone is all in each others’ way. Kelly is nervous about leaving. Alex is too slow for everyone, and Tiffany discovers that Alex left scales and bones on her fish. Really? That’s sad. Kevin calls 3 hours left, and I’m too lazy to go look at how much they started with. Kenny’s restaurant is “2121” which is the address of the Top Chef house. Blue team is getting along very well. You know what? They didn’t get the chance to double their money. Amanda, however, is using a wood-burning grill and has to learn where the hot spots are and all that stuff. Angelo is getting agitated and Kenny has noticed. Then for some reason Angelo says to Alex that there is no talking in the kitchen during service? Alex says that they don’t trust him and that’s bullshit, except even I know to take the scales off fish.

Alex and Kelly meet the servers and talk to them about whatever. You’ll notice that they stopped making them design and decorate their spaces. “Hell’s Kitchen” quit with that too. No one really cared and they never made it a big enough part of judging. Alex tells some waiter how to clean things and that he wants new tables or something. He’s a big jerk but at least he admits it. Blue team brings out their dishes to let the servers taste the food. Amanda says if they are as excited about the food as the chefs are, that will translate to diners. Alex feels his descriptions of the food are good enough. Kenny notices that Alex is pretty rude to his servers. Yeah…I wouldn’t work for him.

I think they also stopped letting people pick what restaurant they wanted. Both of them seem full. Right away a Red team server forgets to put 3 crudos on a ticket. Alex gets them, Angelo is still freaking out, some poor waiter gets yelled at.

When the judges show up to the Red team side, Alex is busy explaining about the crudo to that table, so no one is around to greet the judges. I’m sure they’ll try to complain about that, but Alex probably should be reassuring guests. It’s not like he was wandering. He babbles about the Mediterranean concept for a while. Angelo is not doing as well as he wanted but he knows he has to step it up for the judges. The first course comes out. The tomato soup is advertised as “confit of tomato” and comes with a squash and olive crouton. The crudo looks pretty good. It also has a Meyer lemon-caper relish. And a “summer salad” which is just micro greens. That’s what Alex says when Tom asks him what that is, it sounds better than “micro greens”. Gail says the crudo is too salty. Angelo’s made the soup, which goes over well. Tiffany complains about Alex “pushing tables to the right time”, and I’m not sure what that means but it sounds like he’s messing up the flow of food out of the kitchen. The judges are bitching about their second course so I guess it’s slowing them down. The striped bass comes with a fennel salad, chorizo, clams, and stewed spinach. The turbot has eggplant caviar and black olive jus. Frank especially likes the turbot. Tiffany made the other fish dish, and it was a good dish after her first course. Third course comes out fairly quickly, or at least we don’t hear whining. Sadly Alex calls the lamb chop a pork chop. Someone did that on “Next Food Network Star”, they had shrimp and called it tuna, or something ridiculous, but they got around it by joking that that was silly, one is huge and one was tiny, tuna are so small! So everyone laughed and no one seemed to care. Anyway, the lamb chop has an English pea puree, smoked bacon, and parmesan foam. The rib eye has crushed walnut potatoes and balsamic fig reduction. The lamb was cooked well. They seem to like the walnut potatoes, maybe? But that dish is not terribly Mediterranean. Frank complains about the lack of service and that the back of house didn’t monitor what Alex was doing. And they’re irritated by the pork/lamb thing. They all bail for the Blue team’s restaurant.

Commercial interlude: Amanda’s beef is getting sent back because she’s overcooking her meat. It’s grass-fed, I guess, so she says that’s why she can’t handle it. I don’t know, I don’t cook meat that often and certainly not grass-fed beef.

Kelly is around to greet the judges, of course. They are excited about dessert. The corn soup is as described above, but we can see that their restaurant is not “2121” but “Twenty-One 21” which somehow is more annoying. The beet salad has a warm chorizo-citrus vinaigrette. The soup is tasteless, and since Kelly had described their restaurant concept as seasonal and local, they nail her for non-seasonal corn. The beet salad has too many things going on. Second course time. The strip steak has roasted sunchokes and maitake mushrooms. The halibut has fennel marmalade and tomato-fennel emulsion. The steak is cut too thinly, but the sauce is good. The fish is pretty to look at, and I think it sounds fantastic. The judges love it. Last course! The goat cheese has a strawberry rhubarb relish. And the chocolate ganache tart has blackberry-chocolate chunk ice cream. Oh, that is a difficult choice. The tart is wonderful but the ice cream is tasteless. The cheese is horrible. Some random guy complains that cheese on salad is not dessert. Both restaurants had good dishes and poor dishes. Kelly was much less nervous than Alex and they seem to like her better. Both teams failed to stick to their stated restaurant concept. Ed says Alex came back and told them everything was awesome, which he doesn’t fully believe.

Padma collects the Red team first, which confuses Amanda because she says she’s never been this confident going into elimination. Kevin promises to lose it. So we’ll see if he does it, because the Red team wins. Stupid. They do start off by telling Alex he was super nervous, and he swears he was awesome everywhere but their table. Angelo’s soup was great, Tiffany’s bass was crispy, Ed’s turbot was perfectly cooked. Angelo also admits that Alex had the idea for the lamb, but Angelo and Ed executed it. They liked that too. The winner is Ed. He’s also won a trip to the Terlato vineyards in Napa, and a double magnum size bottle of wine.

Loser gong! Kenny starts talking about how he’s shocked because the other team flailed a lot in the kitchen. Gail says they don’t care about that. Kelly was charismatic if slightly clumsy. They tell her her soup was too thin. Frank says something about Kenny’s beet salad and compares it to Hamburger Helper? Even Kenny looks confused. Kevin did a good job with his fish, though. Amanda overcooked her beef, and claims to be shocked even though she seemed to know it was happening to all her beef. She apologizes, and then Tom is like, we all think so, but I think she was trying to say she didn’t think she overcooked it, not that Frank somehow can’t tell overcooked from perfect. Kenny didn’t execute his cheese course properly. Kenny still says that his team all cooked their dishes, because Alex never actually cooked any of the lamb that was supposed to be his dish. He throws them under the bus and says Alex didn’t even conceive that dish at all, because his team wouldn’t let him and they didn’t trust him. Kevin says Alex should go home.

They all get back to the Stew Room and then they all start ganging up on Alex, saying he didn’t do anything and he should go home for that. And Kelly started it, which I didn’t expect at all. Kevin is the loudest though. He says that Alex’s group even threw him under the bus by sticking him out in front of house. Angelo starts trying to defend his team, but Kenny says that everyone was supposed to be responsible for a dish, and Alex was not responsible for coming up with any dishes. Alex says he did what he was told, so whatever.

Kelly’s soup was too thin and tasteless. Amanda’s one dish was not done properly, and she only had that one dish. Kevin, however, was responsible for only one dish that happened to be delicious, and Tom doesn’t want to send him home for that. Kenny’s two dishes weren’t that great, but he was a good leader and they’ve sent home poor leaders in the past. They bring up Alex, but since that team won everyone is safe.

Tom praises everyone in addition to telling them what they did wrong, except he isn’t that nice to Amanda. Then they send Kenny home. Wow. I didn’t think they would do that. He’s kind of shocked too.

Next week: the CIA, and that’s the real CIA, not the Culinary Institute of America. Also Angelo buys puff pastry, and Wylie Dufresne.

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