Thursday, February 15, 2018

Top Chef 2/15/18--"Cooking High" summary

Previously on “Top Chef”: the Quickfire involved cooking a dessert in the hotel that inspired “The Shining”. Also it was supposed to be about a fear of theirs. Or a nightmare they have. Something like that. Bruce claimed to be afraid of seeds. Chris won for making mountains and a little man impaled on trees. For the Elimination challenge, since it's the last episode before the finals everyone had to do the “show us what you've learned this season” thing. Hipster Joe won, by making pasta, actually. Bruce decided not to make pasta, or polenta, but barley risotto, which he then undercooked. So Bruce was eliminated. (click for more)

On Last Chance Kitchen, there were two parts. The first part was where Bruce reunited with the Bear Den (poor Tyler) and all three of them had to make porridge. I'll admit, that was funny. Anyway, Bruce was the loser that time, because Joseph was just a little better. Brother Luck is on fire. The second part was having to make whatever they want, but also feed the peanut gallery. The peanut gallery gets a vote for who goes back into the finale. We of course don't know who won that one.

Chris tells us he applied to this show five times and he's very close. Carrie is cutely excited to show everyone Telluride.

Telluride is gorgeous. Was there a pause? Any time off? Or did we go straight to the finale? Carrie tells us she had to get used to the idea that she deserved to stand with these big names. The final four head for their nice hotel suite and try to enjoy the view. Chris says his mental game is the strongest.

The Cowboy Saloon. Don't know if that's capitalized but whatever. Padma is there with Tom and Wylie Dufresne. She starts talking about saloons and gambling or whatever. Make a “gastropub” dish with sarsaparilla. Sure. They draw knives to pick items off the table: sweeteners, fruit, protein, vegetables. They go around in circles and pick things. Chris has ribeye, molasses, potatoes, berries. Carrie: pork, onions, honey, lemons. Hipster Joe: fish, carrots, limes, maple syrup. Adrienne: chicken, brown sugar, tomatoes, garlic. Winner gets $10,000. Tom explains to them all about Last Chance Kitchen, mainly that everyone has been killing it. Then Joseph rolls in which I wasn't expecting. I thought Brother Luck would be here. They have 30 minutes, but first Joseph has to steal one ingredient from each person. He takes pork, carrots, berries, and brown sugar. Now everyone else only has three items.

30 minutes. They all run outside, where there are stations set up and a random crowd. Also they were supposed to use sarsaparilla, in case you forgot. It's similar to root beer. Carrie doesn't have time for French onion soup, so she's just making the top, bread and cheese and onions. Chris puts sarsaparilla in his gravy for chicken fried steak. Hipster Joe is making cold soup because who knows. At least he knows that his soup better be ice cold or else. Adrienne is worried about her time and getting her chicken done. Carrie makes her bread really crunchy, so that once she puts the sauce on it won't get soggy.

Chris: potato crusted chicken fried steak with sarsaparilla gravy and fennel salad. Hipster Joe: halibut crudo with sarsaparilla fennel soup. Joseph: pork porterhouse with sarsaparilla pickled carrots and sarsaparilla berry sauce. Carrie: “The best part of French onion soup”: with sarsaparilla deglazed onions and beef stock. The Joes whisper about how she's made fancy toast again. Adrienne: sarsaparilla glazed chicken with crispy sarsaparilla chicken skin and garlic tomato compote.

Adrienne's chicken was juicy but didn't taste much like sarsaparilla, and neither did Joseph's dish. Chris's gravy was nicely flavored, Hipster Joe kept his soup cold, and Carrie succeeded with her dish. The winner is Carrie, of course because the Joes were whining about it.

Padma makes a joke about feeling high. For the Elimination challenge, they must make a “high concept”, high-end dish to serve in the highest restaurant in North America. I have no idea what “high concept” means, except that I'm sure it's like saying “avant garde” on “Project Runway”. Which is to say, everyone says it but no one actually explains it and then they don't actually do it. Anyway, this restaurant is at 12,000 feet so it is time for some high altitude cooking weirdness. You must have a baked element on your plate. She releases them to go home and experiment. That's cool, actually. Let them figure some things out.

In the car everyone tries to brainstorm, but mostly the Joes and Adrienne worry that Chris and Carrie will win easily because they do baking already. The hotel is at 8,750 feet. Carrie does have some tricks because she lives here already and has baked at altitude. Hipster Joe wants to make gougeres, which are savory cream puffs. He has maybe never made them before. Chris plans cornbread, which doesn't rise as much so maybe that's a good idea? Adrienne plans some champagne and lobster and some kind of bread she's testing out.

Tom Time! And guest judge Paul Liebrandt, and Wylie. Paul has cooked at 18,000 feet, so maybe he has some tips. Hipster Joe tells them about his gougeres, and the judges ask him leading questions about what he's changing with the recipe. At first he just says he changed the baking time, but they're like, “...and...?” so he adds temperature, and then gives up. Paul says to put more egg whites in the recipe than he would normally, because that'll add structure. Adrienne has some of her bread ready, and they tell her it should be fine, but don't forget when you arrive for the challenge itself you'll be another 3,000 feet up. The bread will dry out as it sits. Joseph used to work for Art Smith, and I guess his job was to make the biscuits. He admits he got his ass kicked and it's kind of endearing to hear a chef on the show say “yeah, I used to suck at this”. They joke with him about cornbread, then head over to Chris who feeds them cornbread. He's frying his quail, which will also take longer to cook up there. Carrie for some reason wants to make beef Wellington. But open? I'm not sure what she's trying to describe, but it sounds like the guest judge tells her to go for it. But if it doesn't work she's making cornbread. They keep cutting to Chris looking exasperated. Carrie's little tart shells or whatever she's trying to do aren't cooking. Was it deconstructed beef Wellington? She worries about going home.

The next day, everyone crams into a gondola and rides up the mountain. Carrie has realized her foolishness so she's going to make cornbread towers or something. We'll see when everyone gets up there. I do see some running happening, which makes me nervous. I'm not really interested in watching people pass out. Joseph makes little quinelles of biscuit dough, then puts them in the oven and crosses himself. Hee. Mostly everyone talks about how they hope this works, and temperatures. Chris and Adrienne talk about elevating Southern cuisine, and how it's the only “true” American cuisine. I guess? But people respect Southern food, don't they? Or is it just that I live close enough to the South that I get hipster fried chicken and Southern food? Hipster Joe appears to be cooking duck breast in a pan on a hot plate. Chris's cornbread isn't baking, and I'm not sure if he just assumed it would take the same amount of time as it did at the hotel, or if he added extra time and it wasn't enough. Of course after commercial it's perfect and there are no problems.

The judges are eating outside on the balcony. I can't imagine it's warm, because at that altitude even in the sun it can't be warm. But here's Gail in a one shouldered sleeveless dress. Poor Gail. Joseph hasn't made Southern food in a while, but he seems pleased with himself. He interviews that he thinks Art would be proud of this dish. “But he'd probably still yell at me.” Hee. Joseph: buttermilk braised pork loin with pea sorrel puree, pepper jam and goat cheese buttermilk drop biscuit. The biscuits are crumbled over everything, I guess? But they actually like the flavors and the fact that he had a lot of textures going on. Good balance of flavors too.

Carrie rambles about how she's not fine dining, but they do chef's tasting menus, so it's kind of fine dining, but not stuffy fine dining. Carrie: wagyu ribeye with foie gras, spring vegetables and honey cornbread. She kisses up to Paul about not making beef Wellington for “the most famous English chef ever”. OK that is patently not a true statement. Come on, Carrie. The cornbread doesn't go with the rest of the dish, but the other stuff is cooked well. It's just not a cohesive whole.

Hipster Joe adds kombucha to his dish because he is living up to the nickname I gave him. I knew it. Hipster Joe: roasted duck with spring peas, cherry jam and kombucha cherry puffs. He's not calling them “gougeres” or “profiteroles” because he's not sure exactly what those definitions are. I feel like the editing wants me to roll my eyes and condemn him for plotting, or for not knowing things he should know, or something. I get the feeling I'm supposed to hear that and be irritated. But you know what? How many times have we seen someone on this show label their dish with a name and then get in trouble because the judges have secret requirements and they didn't do it? Like “coq au vin” has to have red wine flavor or whatever. So calling them “puffs” avoids that whole problem. Sadly, though, they didn't turn out that well. The duck is perfect though.

Adrienne makes vinegar caviar pearls. She's made a whole loaf of bread that looks pretty good. Adrienne: butter poached lobster with mountain bread, champagne beurre blanc and caviar. The bread is close to challah. They really like the balance and that she adapted the bread to make it work. Tom kind of rolls his eyes about how it's not exciting, but he admits it's a fine dining dish.

Chris is frying his quail for maybe two minutes per piece. He mentions how they told him frying things will take longer, so it's not clear if this is actually longer. But I know squab is supposed to be medium rare? I'm not sure how it works for quail. Chris: crispy black pepper quail with corn pudding, butternut squash, maple and bacon cornbread. When they ask if it came out like he wanted, Chris replies that he stands behind it 100%, which is not exactly an answer to that particular question, if you see what I mean. The dish itself is amazing, but the quail is overcooked. It sounds like it's the cooking method that is to blame and not Chris's skills.

Back in the kitchen (which I guess is now the makeshift Stew Room) Joseph jokes about not wanting this to be a one night stand. They giggle about how Paul was there in a black suit with a skinny tie and sunglasses like some Matrix shit. When they get to Judges' Table it'll just be him, and he'll lay into them for five hours and then declare himself Top Chef and kick everyone out. Hee.

Judges' Table. Tom says it's the best food they've had all season. The top three are Joseph, Hipster Joe, and Adrienne. Joseph was focused, and the crumbled biscuit (the “deconstructed” biscuit) was great. I don't think crumbling things is the same as deconstructing, Gail, but sure. Hipster Joe cooked his duck perfectly. His puff wasn't perfect, but the flavors were nice. Adrienne had classic flavors, but they were comforting. Gail admits the bread was a little dry, but it was also soaked in butter with lobster on top. The winner is Hipster Joe. Really? I thought they disliked his puffs too much.

Loser Gong. Chris says today's dish was his favorite. The corn pudding was delicious, and the maple bacon cornbread was great, but Gail says something about refinement. The delicate pieces are lost. What does that mean, Gail? Are you saying Southern food isn't delicate? Are you saying frying quail keeps it from being delicate? I don't know. Carrie rambles about how she had the ribeye, and some foie gras, and wanted to do spring vegetables. Everything was cooked well and seasoned well, but it was just a bunch of stuff on a plate. There wasn't any cohesion or concept for the dish.

This is high praise for the bottom two dishes, and now they're really nitpicking. Wylie says for him it comes down to one chef who tried for fine dining and missed (Chris), vs. one chef who didn't take a risk at all (Carrie). That said the things Carrie actually did were well executed. Chris's dish was clunky, but he did try to take a risk and his dish as a whole made sense.

Tom talks about challenging yourself but then Chris is eliminated. Why though. So are we saying execution is more important than creativity? I mean I guess but eh. I like Carrie but I thought she should go home for not having a cohesive dish. Being on the show was one of Chris's goals, and he's proud of making the final five.

Next week: it is FINALLY time for Rocky Mountain oysters, some kind of surprise and I'm betting family members, Hipster Joe cries.

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