Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 6: Odd Man(?) Out

After weeks of competition we have our final four, and it's exactly who we expected from early in the season. Somewhat surprising, as you would think that someone would get shafted somewhere, but Kevin, Bryan, Michael and Jen got though unscathed. Now they just have to get through each other. On a train.

Quick Fire Challenge

Really. A train. In Napa. That's where the next challenge is held, as Guest Chef Michael Chiarello tells the chefs they need to create a dish (on a train) featuring grapes. Did I mention they have to cook on a train? Because they do. But if they win? They totally get a Prius (which is not a train). Pretty swanky prize if you ask me!


Quick Fire Losers

Kevin (Garthmeister J., -0.5): Kevin goes for a dessert, preparing a honey and fromage blanc mousse, glazed grapes, olive oil, and sea salt. It seems the grape got lost in there, somewhere, which does Kevin in. He may have been better server cooking a hunk of pork, and then just putting a pile of grapes next to it. "Here you go, the pork is fucking awesome. Also: grapes." Should be noted that Kevin overcome motion sickness to get the dessert out. Way to man up.

Bryan (Daddy, -0.5): Bryan's dish is roasted hen, bacon, Brussels sprouts, Concord grape reduction, ruby quinoa, and arugula. There seems to be a lot of "not-grape" ingredients here, and you may have noted that one of the ingredients is "bacon"... guess which taste wins? That's right, not grape, and Bryan also does not win. Sorry Daddy.

Jen (Saunter, -0.5): This was extremely confusing. Chiarello tastes Jen's sautéed chicken livers, steamed clams, macerated Cabernet grapes, wild mushrooms, and tendrils and then promptly announces he's stealing the recipe for one of his restaurants. Jen goes "it's all yours", because that's a sweet deal right? One chicken liver recipe for one Prius. Except she doesn't win.

Wait, what?

QF Winner

Michael (Garthmeister J., +3): Despite not having a recipe that Chiarello wants to steal, Michael wins. His dish? A grape leaf stuffed with "couscous," served with a vinegar-glazed grape and scallop kebab, using a grape branch as the skewer. So apparently the challenge was "use as many grape parts as possible" rather than "make a great dish featuring grape". Sorry Jen! Read the competition rules next time, as they are clearly printed inside Chiarello's mind. More points for Garth, and more Prius for Michael.

Elimination Challenge

Do you know what a "Crush" party is? Apparently it's an excuse that wine-related people use to get drunk at the end of the harvest (or some similar-ish time... like whenever they want to get hammered). Anyhoo, the chefs are commanded to create two dishes, one meat and one vege, for 150 people, using local products.

EC Winner

Bryan (Daddy, +6): And there are some points Daddy needed! Pity it's a few weeks late, but good job. Bryan's meat dish: fig-glazed short ribs, celeriac purée, wax beans, and wild arugula. His vege dish: goat cheese ravioli, delicata squash purée and bronze fennel. The judges loved the ravioli, but seemed to think that both dishes were underseasoned, and wanted more "figginess" from the glaze. This all makes sense, since Chiarello says the winner seasoned the food "as close to perfectly as possible". And the winner is Bryan.

Wait, what? (Again).

Seriously, Chiarello seems to be nuts. The only rationale I can think of for using this "seasoned as close to perfectly as possible" nonsense is to further emphasize why the eliminated person got eliminated. Which we will get to. Shortly.

EC Losers

Michael (Garthmeister J., -1): So, who thought Michael would produce a straightforward dish? No one? Well, everyone is correct. His meat dish was turnip soup with foie gras terrine, poached pear, and glazed turnip. He vege dish was vegetable pistou, heirloom tomato coulis, 63 degree egg, and fennel. Michael's turnip dish looked amazing, and apparently it tasted great, though the proportions were off. The vege dish wasn't a hit; there were complaints about the veges being too fine, and the egg not working out. Also: I think Gail kind of hated Michael.

Kevin (Garthmeister J., -1): The dishes in question: grass-fed brisket with pumpkin polenta and marinated root vegetables (meat) and roasted beets and carrots with carrot top puree and San Andreas cheese (vege). Despite my haranguing Kevin to always use meat, it was his vege dish which was the star and the brisket which let him down. The judges' initial responses (meat was ropey, meat was "tinny" - I mean, that sounds BAD) seemed a bit of a head fake, though that has to be balanced by the fact that they all adored his vege dish. But hey, for some reason I thought tinny, ropey meat might get someone eliminated at this stage.

Eliminated: Jen (Saunter, -1 for being a loser, +10 for 4th place): Strange. On one hand, Gail almost instantly complained about the saltiness of her duck (grilled duck breast, braised duck legs, squash purée, and foie gras vinaigrette), but then everyone claimed to love the "duckiness" of the dish. Her vege dish seemed to be taken well (chèvre mousse with honey mushrooms, braised radishes, and basil), though mostly because Chiarello has never eaten cheese and basil together, despite being a professional chef. Seriously, what the hell is up with Chiarello? The way the show was edited, it seemed the death knell for Jen was that she was originally planning to grill the duck over coals, but the coals were too cool; thus instead of being rewarded for realising she was in trouble and going for a great Plan B, she was shafted. And thus explodes Saunter's last chef, netting her 10 points for finishing in 4th.

But worry not, my munchkins, I think I have the answer for this bewildering episode (other than Chiarello being insane): poor editing. Reading the blogs of Tom and Gail , it was clear to them that as soon as they tasted the food that Jen was going home. Given that info, I have to think that either the judges were really reaching for criticism of the other chefs, or that the editors tried to disguise the outcome as much as possible. After all, if Gail takes one bite of Jen's food and goes "well, she's going home", who stays until the end of the episode?

BUT! (hey, another "but", awesome) this still doesn't explain Chiarello's "seasoned the food as close to perfectly as possible" comment, even if they were trying to emphasise the reason for Jen getting the boot. Just very strange all round, without including the rest of the Guest Judge's random actions.

League Table

Garthmeister J.: 40.5 (+0.5)
Saunter: 21.5 (+8.5)
Daddy: 13.5 (+5.5)

And Garthmeister J. officially locks up 1st place! Even if Bryan wins out that only adds 56 points to Daddy's total, bringing him to 69.5. The two runner-ups would receive a total of 53 points for Garth (20+35 for 2nd and 3rd - which would be split between the two - minus one point each for losing), bringing him to 93.5. That means with the finale still to play out, our leaderboard is set: Garth takes 1st, Daddy takes 2nd, and Saunter takes 3rd. This also means that we are all free to cheer for who we like in the finale, though I have to wonder if weeks of cheering Kevin and Michael on will get in the way of Garth embracing Bryan fandom...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 6: Higher, Faster, Stronger

Oh, we're almost there. Will we see the final four be the same chefs identified from about week 2? Or will the Dark Horse Eli gate-crash the party? At least Robin got the boot, after dodging the axe for almost the entire season.

Quick Fire Challenge

The guest chef this week is Gavin Kaysen, who represented the USA in the "Culinary Olympics" aka the Bocuse D'Or. I have never heard of such a thing, but apparently it's a "pretty big deal". Apparently in the competition Kaysen made a ballotine: a protein-in-a-protein-in-a-protein-in-a-protein-in-a-protein-in-a-protein, or something like that. Yes, the obvious thought is of a turducken, the turkey/duck/chicken creation that John Madden used to talk about every Thanksgiving (aside: I wonder if the pre-Thanksgiving timing of this episode was coincidental? Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's coincidental).

QF Losers

Note: since there are only four chefs left, there is one winner, and all the rest are losers by default.

Michael (-0.5, Garthmeister J.): Arrogant as ever, Michael decided he would do a terrine (basically layered pressed meat), rather than a ballotine. Apparently Chef Kaysen is not going to let any other chef out-arrogant him, and shoots down Michael instantly for not making the correct dish. Face!

Kevin (-0.5, Garthmeister J.): Kevin's dish featured catfish, shrimp, and scallop. Did you pick out Kevin's failing? That's right, he used seafood. FAIL. Apparently his catfish was also a little dry.

Eli (-0.5, Saunter): Eli's dish was a bit out of left field for me: bacon-crusted breakfast sausage with a six-minute egg. At first blush this seemed a bit like the odd-dish-out, but apparently Kaysen liked the concept... just not enough to make Eli the winner.

Bryan (-0.5, Daddy): Pop quiz: would you like a rack of lamb and some Merguez sausage wrapped in caul fat? I dunno, I wouldn't want to commit to it before tasting some. Apparently it was well executed, but still ends up with a big L for Bryan and Daddy.

QF Winner

Jen (+3, Saunter): Again bemoaning her recent crapitude, Jen decided to make a command decision to return to her roots: seafood. Upon tasting the calamari, scallops, and salmon dish Padma says "Welcome back,", and Kaysen welcomes Jen back to the winner's circle.

Elimination Challenge

For the Elimination Challenge the chefs are informed they will be competing in a cut-down version of the Bocuse D'Or. They will have to produce something called a "regal presentation platter", with a protein and two garnishes. I only wish I knew what that was. The judges? A bunch of Bocuse D'Or related folks, including the son of the founder... and also Thomas Keller. No pressure!

EC Winner

Kevin (Garthmeister J., +6): In a bit of a shock, Kevin takes home the prize in a contest you thought would favour the more fancy-pantsed chefs. Not so! The K-man does this thing, cooking great food, and even decides to experiment with sous vide to up the difficulty rating. Kevin obtains $30k(!), a chance to compete to represent the US in the real Bocuse D'or, and nabs Garth another 6 points.

EC Losers

As there is only one winner, everyone else is a loser.

Bryan (Daddy, -1): Daddy loses points, which is the last thing he needs. Frustrating, as Bryan probably would have taken home the prize if he had time to properly finish his dish. The elder Volt definitely did seem flustered, but even in defeat he showed the class that could cause him to loom in the finals.

Michael (Garthmeister J., -1): Probably the odds-on favourite to take this EC out, Michael managed to flounder by going for a Mediterranean theme that did not quite match the components. Making a dish that doesn't come together is rare for Michael, and he certainly didn't seem happy about the outcome. No need for Garth to worry at this stage; Michael is sure to punching on going forward.

Jen (Saunter, -1): Jen had an extra half hour to cook, the reward for winning the Quick Fire, but it wasn't enough to allow her to win the challenge. She continues to go the fish route, being smart and playing to her strengths, but it still wasn't enough. Nonetheless, encouraging signs for Saunter.

Eliminated: Eli (Saunter, -1): The valiant Eli finally goes down. He seemed a little overmatched in this challenge, and his concerns about being sloppy were not unfounded. Saunter 's hopes of having a second chef sneak into the top four are dashed, and she is left to pin all her hopes on Jen... a dicey proposition at best.

League Table

Garthmeister J. : 40.0 (+4.0)
Saunter: 13.0 (+0.5)
Daddy: 8.0 (-1.5)

After the dust settles and the final four is announced Garth has pretty much locked up the trophy, depending on whether the final episode has three chefs (as expected) or goes heads up, but it looks over at this point.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

UPDATE: Casting Call for the Luckbox Last Longer Challenge

UPDATE: It looks like I will be joining the brothers Penner, in the team provisionally named "Geek Nation". You guys are going to get out-coded so badly.


God Bless the kind folks at PokerStars, and God Bless CJ (who I have never met, actually) for organising the Luckbox Last Longer Challenge. I see the teams are signing up, which is great, except for one thing... I'm not in one yet! I am not on The FaceBook or The Twitter, so don't know exactly who out of the remaining tournament attendees are still unattached.

So! If you are:

a) intending to play the WPBT
b) not yet committed to a Last Longer team
c) would like to ensure that your team is at least 1/3 Australian
d) don't mind if at least 1/3 of your team is not very good at poker

send me a note in the comments, or by alternative technologies (and by alternative I mean not The FaceBook or The Twitter), and we'll see if we can get this party started.

Not convinced? Check out my additional live tournament poker credentials!

  • Finished in 50th or so of 209* entrants in the $1000 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) w/Rebuys at the 2007 WSOP**
  • Finished in 4th place in a charity tournament at the Hard Rock in 2008 that featured a humongous list of Pros***
Not yet impressed?

* Yes, "50th or so". Poker rewards those with a keen mathematical mind who show attention to detail.

** WPBT event is not a 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball event, so don't expect me to just magically finish in the top quarter of the field. Just saying.

*** Please note: I crippled myself when 4-handed in a battle of the blinds, when I managed to get it all-in against Chip Jett with Q7s. Sure, Chip had 66, but still... ever had a tournament director announcing your action at a final table, and having it sound like this: "And Garthmeister J. is all-in! Chip Jett calls... Garthmeister shows Q7 suited". No? Want to live vicariously through someone who has?