Thursday, February 16, 2017

Top Chef 2/16/17--"Cooking Away in Margaritaville" summary

Previously on “Top Chef”: the last challenge before the finale forced everyone to cook with loved ones. Only Sheldon figured it out, as he and his wife threw mushrooms at each other and were generally the best. You were supposed to tell your loved one how to make the dish you were making, so they matched, and Sheldon was the most successful. He won $10,000 and a sous vide machine. The final Elimination Challenge was to cook a dish that represented your journey on the show. Sheldon and Shirley both made Southern/Asian fusion cuisine, which resulted in a Sheldon win. Tesar at least referenced seafood and the complaint the judges had about his dish was something he explained pretty well. Brooke ran out of creativity and just bought a bunch of ingredients representing the challenges she'd done well in, and then crammed them all together. So in a surprise, Brooke was sent home. (click for more)

On Last Chance Kitchen, we had two challenges. The first was Casey vs. Jamie vs. Brooke making protein two ways. Jamie and Casey (after being shocked at seeing Brooke) chose sauteing and braising. Jamie was quickly eliminated, because the more I think about it, the more I think they really wanted to do another All-Stars season but couldn't get enough people so they did this dumb hybrid season, and then got rid of all the rookies. The second challenge was Brooke and Casey both having to make two different dishes, while Tom randomly picked one of them to taste. Leaving the other one for the peanut gallery. Of course we do not know who won, because we have to find out tonight.

The finalists arrive in Mexico and celebrate in the very nice hotel suite. They eventually go to a soccer stadium to meet Padma, Tom, and guest judge Francisco Ruano. Padma talks about the team and then Brooke appears. Of course. Anyway, the Quickfire is to make a dish with goat, because that's the mascot of the soccer team. Winner gets $10,000 and an advantage.

45 minutes. Sheldon loves goat because he is the best. Both he and Shirley mention that usually goat takes a long time to cook. Shirley uses a tortilla press to press dough for noodles. Brooke feels like she has nothing to lose. Tesar only has some of his goat cooked properly so he's trying to find the good pieces to use.

Shirley: braised goat breast with tortilla-pressed noodle, huitlacoche & radish. You will recall huitlacoche is corn fungus. Brooke: goat ribs with chamomile, guajillo & pasilla chiles, mango & papaya salad. Tesar: crispy goat torta with fire-roasted tomato sauce & arbol chili sauce. It's a sandwich sitting in a pool of sauce. Sheldon: braised goat cheek with ancho chile, charred salsa & avocado.

Brooke paired her goat with fruit which is weird but it worked. Sheldon's textures worked for Tom. Shirley had a good idea, but the garnishes were too similar. Tesar had a poor ratio of bread to meat. The winner is Brooke. Yeah, OK. Shirley says she wishes Brooke hadn't come back but you can tell she's not 100% serious.

Elimination Challenge. This involves Patron and tequila. They must make a dish and also a margarita for an employee party. Sheldon worries because he is a beer guy. Since there are 100 people coming they “need” eliminated contestants as sous chefs: Casey, Katsuji, Emily, and Sylva. You can tell there are shenanigans because this is not the last four people from Last Chance Kitchen. Either Jamie told them to shove it, or they just picked out people in the hopes of conflict. There is no way Emily should be here except for that. Anyway, Brooke's advantage is she gets to pick first (obviously she picks Casey) and then she gets to assign everyone else's help. Tesar gets Katsuji, clearly, Sheldon gets Emily, and Shirley gets Sylva. Such a clear strategy but I can't argue. Shirley also gets an advantage, Sheldon gets someone who's vaguely good, and Tesar gets someone he argued with last time in the hopes he goes down in flames. Tom claims Katsuji is good because he gets Mexican food, which is totally true. It's just that they don't get along. As soon as Tom and Padma leave, Katsuji tells Tesar he hated him for a while for throwing him under the bus. So now Tesar has to tiptoe around, which was surely Brooke's plan.

Everyone takes a trip to the Patron distillery for a tour. Sheldon says he's allergic to tequila; if he drinks too much, he breaks out—IN DANCE! Hee. Then they taste and get drunk and silly. Everyone splits up and plans menus on the grounds. Well, except Tesar is still apologizing for how Katsuji got kicked out. Tesar's margarita is going to be really simple.

Shopping still looks like a Whole Foods. Tesar gives Katsuji more responsibility that he might otherwise, so he buys in and is not sulking. Brooke says the tuna isn't good enough so she's going to use coconut? The problem is that they only have whole coconuts so it might take forever to crack all of them open.

Two hours to cook. I think? I'm not sure of the time, actually. Sheldon is using octopus and Filipino-style ceviche. Shirley wants more Mexican than she usually does, which she seems to be doing with cactus and other flavors. Brooke says she's making avocado soup with watermelon salad. So did she abandon the coconut? Casey seems to be cutting up avocados. Katsuji is getting bossy, but Tesar has realized how similar they are and he's handling it without too much trouble. His margarita isn't fancy, but Katsuji is making some kind of candy flavor with apricot and chili for the rim. Shirley wanted to use agave nectar in her dish, but Sylva grabbed vanilla extract instead. Shirley sort of shrugs about it which doesn't seem like the best idea. Sheldon thinks he may have overcooked his octopus, but service is about to begin so he can't really do anything about it.

Shirley points out this is when she left during her season so she's ready to redeem herself. Cocktails are mixed. Blais is about. His hair is so tall today. Sheldon is using tweezers to garnish his cocktails which is maybe not the most appropriate technique at an outdoor party for tequila distillery employees. Sheldon: octopus kinilaw with guava & coconut margarita. Kinilaw is ceviche. Blais and the guest judge ask if they're supposed to stir the margarita, because as Sheldon made them up earlier all the garnish has settled onto the bottom. Blais compares it to a fish tank which seems overly harsh. I've had cloudier cocktails. They love the octopus, although maybe more salt, and the cocktail is mostly fine. Blais says it's out of balance.

Shirley: charred beef with salsa molcajete, cucumber & honeydew margarita. Molcajete is a mortar and pestle so I guess that salsa is smashed in it? Padma and Tom love the salsa but the vanilla flavor is gross. She at least admitted to it. The cocktail is sort of OK but Tom thinks it's too thick, like a soup, and should have been strained. Padma and Tom then go over to Sheldon's station, where Padma likes the kinilaw but Tom thinks it's too sweet. However Tom also thinks the cocktail balances the sweetness because it's so tart.

Tesar jokes with Blais that Brooke thought she was giving him a handicap but at least Katsuji speaks Spanish. Tesar: caldo verde con pollo with Patron silver margarita. He does mention some garnish but it's not on the chyron and the chyron also doesn't mention the rim of his margarita which is whatever fancy thing he was talking about earlier. Caldo verde is a soup with tomatillo and other things. The herbs in the soup were cooked in there, so they've lost some freshness. The margarita is basically booze with a shot of lime. Blais calls it a bold move. OK I think the garnish on the soup is xoconostle which is a cactus fruit, and then on the margarita rim is cherimoya which is also called custard apple. I'm not sure though, because the rim looks dark red, which would fit with Tesar's comment earlier about apricots and chili.

Brooke: chilled avocado soup, watermelon and coconut salad, spicy watermelon and hibiscus margarita. Brooke's dish is excellent but has maybe a little too much coconut. The margarita is not as strong as everyone else's but it balances the soup really well. Padma and Tom head for Tesar's station and declare the cocktail washes out the soup.

Judges' Table. Blais tries to play mind games with Brooke about how making cold soup is playing it safe. Shut up, Blais. He brings up how he's been where they were (WE KNOW) and how she has to think of how to win and not just survive. Blais, I was defending you and there are a lot of people out there who don't like you at all but right now I'm not inclined to do it anymore. Tesar made soup too. Brooke points out that a cold soup has to stay cold so it's harder. Padma and Tom tell her they loved her soup and drink and also Tom loves that she stood up to Blais. Ha! Tesar had a decent cocktail, saved by the cherimoya, but the challenge was to make a creative cocktail. Tom yells at him because the soup was nice, but if you had it after the cocktail, the cocktail had so much alcohol it ruined the taste of the soup. Tesar has some story about how his dishes showcased the tequila, and some random guy appreciated it because it was for the workers and not for himself or whatever. Tom asks if that's more important than this competition, which seems like entrapment. Either Tesar says “oh no, I know I have to please you, the judges” in which case they get huffy like they always do when a contestant says they're cooking to please the judges, or he says “it was for them and not you” so they can label the food “pedestrian” or some other similar insult. I see where this is going. Not that I think Tesar did the best or didn't screw up, but come on. Tesar says they go hand in hand and Tom shuts up.

Sheldon's octopus was cooked very well, but it was sweet. Tom uses that obnoxious verbal construction that is apparently unique to this show and says “it ate very sweet” which makes no sense. It was sweet, Tom. It tasted sweet. Don't do that. The cocktail was thick, because Sheldon says his dish was very refined, so he wanted a more rustic cocktail that was just muddled and not strained or whatever. The cocktail and the dish tasted too similar, and they both lacked acid. Blais loved Shirley's salsa a lot. Shirley explains the vanilla, but somehow manages not to throw Sylva under the bus. She says she liked the flavor, so while Sylva did grab the wrong thing she labels it “a happy accident”. Tom hated the vanilla, and also he says that she needed to use juice in her cocktail. I think she mashed the fruit and didn't strain it? They don't really explain this well.

The winner tonight is Brooke. She also wins some fancy tequila, which Padma says is worth $7500. Damn. Brooke immediately opens the bottle and takes a swig which is hilarious. Padma kicks them out to discuss the loser. Tom liked Tesar's cocktail but it destroyed the dish, and Blais argues it wasn't a cocktail. Just a glass of booze. Shirley and Sheldon had worse cocktails, though. Too much garnish. Sheldon mimicked the flavors in his dish, but maybe too much, and the cocktail tasted too much like the dish. Shirley's vanilla extract was a mistake.

Tom babbles about terroir and pairing food with cocktails, and then Tesar is finally sent home. He's upset and confused, because he thinks he didn't make the worst dish. But he of course thinks he's greater than everyone else because he still cooks, while other chefs his age don't cook anymore. Padma tells the final three they're going to the Yucatan peninsula to a resort.

Next episode: running around, habaneros, cooking without tools in the middle of the jungle, I guess.

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