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!

Train.


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...

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