Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 3: Master of the House

It was clear from the ads for this week's episode that it was going to be the much anticipated "Restaurant Wars", where the remaining chefs split off into two teams and create a restaurant from scratch in three and a half hours. Fun times!

Quick Fire Challenge

For the Quick Fire challenge, everyone drew knives to be "Team Captains". Jen was the captain of the first team, and after some deliberation chose Kevin. Michael V., the other captain, instantly picked his brother Bryan. The teams ended up as so:

Team Jen: Jen (Saunter), Kevin (Garth), Mike I. (Saunter), Laurine (Daddy)
Team Volt: Michael V. (Garth), Bryan (Daddy), Eli (Saunter), Robin (Garth)

As luck would have it, Daddy's picks were spread out across two teams. Team Jen is also Team Saunter, while Team Volt is Team Garth.

For the challenge itself, each team had to create a dish by taking 10-minute turns. The non-cooking chefs would be blind-folded. And NO TALKING. Craziness!

In a clever move (if it was intentional), Team Jen produced a fish dish that seemed to please the fish-inclined guest chef (Rick Moonen). As there was no single chef winner, all chefs on Team Jen are awarded +1. All chefs on Team Volt were deducted 0.5. In the washup, Saunter picked up 1.5 points, while Garth and Daddy broke even.

Elimination Challenge

As mentioned above, the EC this week was "Restaurant Wars". The two teams from the QF challenge were retained, Team Jen naming their restaurant "Mission" and electing to have Laurine run the front of the house, while Team Volt (stupidly) went for REVolt and (smartly) had Eli run the front of the house. Both Eli and Laurine would also be responsible for a dish (though they would not cook it), as well as managing things out front.

Elimination Winners

REVolt seemed to have gotten all of their mediocrity out in the name of their restaurant. Other than the moniker, Colicchio thought that this was the best effort that they had seen during a "Restaurant Wars" challenge.

Bryan (Daddy, +2): Bryan fought for his ganache as a dessert, despite it flaming out in a previous EC, but the spearmint ice cream he served with it was a big hit. His mains dish also seemed to be served underheated, which was not a good sign. He also had a hand in Eli's arctic char dish, which didn't impress. And to top it all off, he had a bit of bickering with his brother, though it seemed just about everyone fought with the younger Volt. Daddy has to be disappointed that his Big Dog didn't bring home more points, but it's better than nothing.

Eli (Saunter, +2): Eli was something of a revelation running the front of the house. He explained dishes well, was able to joke over the odd mishap, and in general seemed in control of things. His dish (the aforementioned arctic char) wasn't a hit, but he otherwise contributed solidly to the restaurant.

Robin (Garthmeister J., +2): In a smart decision, REVolt decided to also reprise a dish done previously in an EC, though Robin's apple crisp has actually done well. This time they decided to have Robin do a pear crisp. Despite Robin and Michael V. having a little spat, the dessert was well received by the judges. Garth has to be ecstatic here that he has gotten a positive return from Robin.

Overall EC Winner: Michael V. (Garthmeister J., +6): Michael was rewarded by the judges for his chicken appetizer and his cod main (which looked amazing), but if the judges had been privy to all the back-stage goings on it was clear he was the driving force anyway. Interestingly, Colicchio blogged about how he liked Michael V's manner. His prickliness may still cause him some pain, but for now he is racking up points for Garth.

Elimination Losers

Team Jen went with the better name "Mission", but that was it for them. It seemed like Team Jen were just unorganised all over, spacing out the dishes badly, choosing not to have a dessert course... just not well planned.

Jen (Saunter, -1): Once again Jen fails to impress. Perhaps it was the whole team's fault for agreeing to stick her with two fish mains, but it seemed that she was forever behind prep, and was forced to cook clams to order, which was death. In particular her trout was terrible. She could have dodged a bullet by not being sent home, which could have spelled the end for Saunter.

Kevin (Garthmeister J., -1) A rare trip to the bottom of things for Kevin. Despite his excellent pork dish (the man knows pig!) he seemed to really undercook his lamb. This could have been because he was doing two meat dishes at the same time, which spelled doom for Jen also. Having said that, he never looked like being in the running for elimination, and Garth will just have to suck up the negative points.

Mike I. (Saunter, -1) Mike probably should have run the front of the house, using his powers for Good not Evil (similar to Eli running things for REVolt). Mike's Artic char tartare and asparagus and egg are simple dishes (though the tartare was underseasoned), and seemed to almost guarantee that he would neither win, nor be eliminated.

Eliminated: Laurine (Daddy, -1) And Daddy loses another chef! Laurine had seemed on borrowed time, and her performance managing the restaurant was atrocious. When you get called back by the judges to explain the dishes you just served... well, that's not a good sign. In some ways this puts Daddy out of his misery, as he has everything ride on Bryan.

League Table

Garthmesiter J.: 19.0 (+7.0)
Saunter: 12.0 (+1.5)
Daddy: 6.0 (+1.0)

A dominating week for Garth, as he once again picks up an Elimination Challenge win, the Kevin/Michael V. duo performing marvellously. Saunter is still lurking, though she needs Jen to lift her game. Daddy is all aboard the Bryan train, and needs a deep finish to have a chance of taking this thing out.


Pauly and Nicky have gotten the Fantasy Top Chef bug as well! In case you missed it, check out their recap of last week's episode.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 2: Ashes to Ashes

Ah, Top Chef - what would I do without you? In "previous cheftestant news", Dr Pauly sent me along a link to an interview with the man: check it out.

On with the show (recap)!

Quick Fire Challenge

Charlie Palmer, ex-boss of the Volt brothers, is the guest chef. I had actually heard that he would be on the show, and panicked that it might mean that both the Volt brothers would have to be eliminated before he appeared; fortunately this seemed not to be the case (this also means we might see Eric Ripert again, who Jen has/is working with). It's quite possible the Volt brothers will be marked harder than the others, so we'll see how it shakes out.

The actual challenge is to create a pairing with the first product placement that I can recall seeing this year. The product? Some chips I have never heard of, which come in different flavours, and the chefs can choose whichever type they like. Apparently they have had them at the Chef House, so the assumption here is they are not coming to this completely cold.

QF Losers

Robin (Garthmeister J., -0.5): Robin strikes once again, and Garth loses again. Robin made a sweet corn pannacotta with avocado mousseline, paired with the jalapeno flavoured chip. This doesn't sound good, didn't look good... no surprises that she comes up short. Again.

Ash (None): Garth breathes a sigh of relief, as the two bottom feeders once again feed off the bottom - no matter who he chose at the end of the draft, he was boned. Ash, despite vowing to "make his food", makes chilled cucumber avocado soup with crème fraiche, crab, and red pepper, paired with the BBQ flavoured chips. Guess what? Tasted weird, and Ash ends up in the loser's lounge. Again.

Jen (Saunter, -0.5): For the second QF in a row Jen is unconfident, and ends up bottom in the QF with her overdone pork chop. Saunter can't be happy with Jen's QF results, which looked more promising earlier in the season.

QF Winners

Bryan (Daddy, +1): FINALLY Daddy makes some kind of an impact in the Quick Fires, striking paydirt with Bryan's rib eye dish (despite Charlie calling it "safe"). Also safe? The point that Daddy gets to lock up.

Kevin (Garthmeister J., +1): Garth's first pick continues to roll, scoring with his take on a green bean casserole. Of note? All three winners used the onion-flavoured chip. Smart, or just tastier?

Overall QF Winner: Eli (Saunter, +3): And Eli strikes it big for Saunter! This is where Saunter's drafting position and strategy paid off: her final pick (and seventh overall) was Eli. His ability to produce, and perhaps not suck too badly, might pay off healthy dividends. Is it possible he could go deep, as a dark horse? It's not out of the question at this point.

After the Quick Fire, Saunter was the big winner, picking up 2.5 points to add to her lead. Daddy followed, with his single point collected via Bryan's efforts. Garthmeister J. was left with a lonely half point, Robin's suckitude torpedoing Kevin's cuisine.

Elimination Challenge

Ever heard of Pigs and Pinot? No? Well, I bet you wish you had now. This is some annual shindig that Charlie Palmer puts together, and I am pretty sure Daddy has booked for 2010 already. The chefs draw knives for a piece of the pig. Jen gets the wild card knife (card knife? knife card? whatever) and chooses pork belly, because she is not a moron. Pork bellies roooooooooooool. The chefs then do a pinot testing, and take turns selecting Pinots to pair with their dishes. Oh yeah: they have to serve 150 portions of their dishes. I wonder how many bottles of Pinot that is? Eh, who cares, it sounds awesome.

Seriously, dudes. Pigs and Pinot. I'm so there.

Elimination Winners

Bryan (Daddy, +2): Daddy's Big Gun Bryan once again bags a kill, this time with his braised pork ribs. And it looks like Daddy needs Bryan to keep scoring, since it is not clear if Laurine is going to add anything positive to the ledger any time soon.

Michael V. (Garthmeister J., +2): Michael gets his groove back with his braised pork cheeks dish, despite braising it in root beer (which instantly caused Garth to recoil in fear). Seriously, the man scored using root beer. As long as the younger Volt doesn't out-reach himself, he looks solid with his creative choices.

Jen (Saunter, +2): Jen bounces back (again) from her poor QF showing, though this time she did not bring home the bacon (yeah, puns are fun). Her pork belly dish, braising using soy sauce, lifted her out of her pork belly funk. Now let's see if she can be a little more consistent and bring it in both challenges.

Overall EC Winner: Kevin (Garthmeister J., +6): Seriously this man is a machine. He should almost be banned from any challenge involving pork, as he will destroy all comers. At this moment Garth was pretty confident, while hoping that Robin did not screw up (again) or at least was eliminated.

Elimination Challenge Losers

Robin (Garthmeister J., -1): Nope! Robin's dish brined center cut chop was a failure, surprise! I think if we learned something from this dish, it's "if you are not Kevin, braise your pork". I mean, does brined pork sound good? Hells no. However, this week it seems that her dish is mediocre, and not catastrophic, and she stays another week. Sorry Garth.

Laurine (Daddy, -1): Laurine sticks around, despite serving up something that judges described as being like cat food, and furthermore despite Charlie Palmer telling her that she doesn't know how to make the dish ("rillette"). And yes, she sticks around! Yikes. It's hard to tell whether Daddy is happy or sad with this result; losing Laurine means he is down to betting it all on Bryan, but at this stage that might be a good thing.

Eliminated: Ash (None): Despite vowing to make "his food", Ash does not make "his food", and the judges have finally had enough of his junk. Garth breaks something cheap, as it appears that his "Robin over Ash" strategy has backfired, unless the mouthy older chef can pull some results out of her chef's hat. Which does not look likely at this stage.

League Table

Garthmeister J.: 12.0 (+7.5)
Saunter: 9.5 (+4.5)
Daddy: 5.0 (+2.0)

Right now Garth and Saunter have opened up a gap on Daddy, but this is due more to each of them picking up an Elimination Challenge win. If Bryan has won this week's challenge instead of Kevin, there would be a logjam on the leaderboard. Having said that, Saunter and Daddy have to be hoping that one of Garth's big horses, Kevin or Michael V., take a spill as they are beginning to produce. It appears from the promos that once again the Volt brothers are getting into it, so the question is: will a big name go down?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 1: Sleepers With The Fishes

After preparing for Nationals, going to Nationals, attempting to recover from Nationals, and so forth, it's suddenly Wednesday again - and Wednesday means Top Chef! Last week was the first week of our hotly contested Fantasy Top Chef, which means it's time for a recap! Exclamation mark!

Quick Fire Challenge

The Quick Fire challenge used a fancied up slot machine, where the chefs were given a mood, a flavour, and a type of cuisine. The biggest surprise? Apparently not many of the chefs are comfortable with Asian food, which I found strange.

QF Losers

Robin (Garthmeister J., -0.5): For some reason Robin decided to use curry oil for her Middle Eastern cuisine, which was the death stroke for her middling dish. Already Garth is beginning to regret picking her over Ash. Maybe.

Eli (Saunter, -0.5): Eli made another of those damned ceviches, and deservedly got punished. Seriously, enough with the ceviche. Sorry Saunter.

Jen (Saunter, -0.5): The biggest surprise in the loser category, Jen's scallops did not impress. Jen had explained that she was feeling really ill, so that could be an excuse, but still: Saunter can't be happy with that result from the overall #1 pick.

QF Winners

Mike I (Saunter, +1): The chef we love to hate comes through with his Asian mushroom salad, despite professing he doesn't do the Asian thing. Saunter fist pumps, as her second pick delivers the goods.

Michael V. (Garthmeister J., +1): The consistently high-scoring Volt brother got a nod with his yoghurty seaweed cracker thingy. Is it a surprise that Michael gets points for an Asian-style QF? Lord no, it would have been a shock if he hadn't.

Overall QF Winner: Kevin (Garthmeister J., +3): The outstanding Kevin takes home a QF challenge, with his char-broiled pork salad.

After the Quick Fire challenge Saunter was left with 0 points, her two losers offsetting her one winner. Daddy managed to whiff on both the losers and winners, and was upset that his stable of chefs appeared to be middling nobodies. Garth was the big winner, picking up 3.5 points as his big guns came to play... but will Robin continue to cause problems?

Elimination Challenge

The Elimination Challenge was another affair where chefs were partnered up to prepare a dish on short notice using specific ingredients, using their house kitchen. This presented some interesting situations, where the fantasy owners were concerned about who their horses were paired with. Notably Saunter was panicking, as the Michael I./Robin combination looked sure to cost her, and Garth was worried that Ash would drag Michael V. down.

Elimination Winners

Bryan (Daddy, +2): Daddy gets on the board as Bryan comes through once more. His and Laurine's halibut dish is a hit.

Laurine (Daddy, +2): As Laurine was partnered with Bryan, there was a great chance the dish wouldn't suck, and the format of this week's EC lets Daddy double-dip with their top finish.

Kevin (Garthmeister J., +2): Kevin and Jen being partnered almost guaranteed they would finish in the winner's circle, there's just too much talent on display here. Garth hits paydirt again with Kevin.

Overall EC Winner: Jen (Saunter, +6): Jen atones for her QF failure with a big EC win. It looked touch and go whether Jen would win for her sauce or Kevin would win for the beef, but the sauce has it! Saunter leaps into the points lead, and only has to sweat to see if she receives any negative points, or perhaps even loses a chef.

Elimination Challenge Losers

Michael V. (Garthmeister J., -1): Garth's fears come true, though it was due more to flaky electrics rather than Ash's mediocrity. A big sigh of relief for Garth that his star isn't eliminated.

Ash (None): The un-owned Ash doesn't punish anyone for having him in his stable, so Garth dodges a bullet here. At Judge's Table Ash simultaneously puts the focus on Michael as the star of the show, putting the Voltaggio in danger of elimination, while almost talking himself into getting the boot.

Eli (Saunter, -1): Eli seemed to do some serious damage to his dish, made in conjunction with Ashley), as he appeared to over-season the gnocchi. He also wussed out of cooking the prawns, which was simultaneously weak and smart, as that seemed to seal the deal for Ashley. Eli is the first chef to score negative points in both challenges. Sorry Saunter.

Eliminated: Ashley (Daddy, -1): And BOOM! Daddy is the first to lose a chef, his avowed sleeper, and his second round pick at that. From here on in Daddy has got to pin his hopes on Bryan going deep, and Laurine blossoming.

League Table

Saunter: +5.0 (+5.0 for this week)
Garthmeister J: +4.5 (+4.5)
Daddy: +3.0 (+3.0)

Saunter gets off to a strong start, with Jen overcoming an early hiccup to validate her being picked as #1 overall, though Saunter does have cause for concern with Eli. Michael I., on the other hand, might be hanging around for a while. Daddy has reason to be upset, losing his number one pick, and needing Bryan to outperform any possible negative scoring from Laurine. Garth must have a lot of confidence in Kevin right now, but there's a possibility here that Michael V. goes into an emotional tailspin, especially given the previews of tonight's show. And exactly how much is Robin going to cost him?


For those wondering about Nationals, my team ended up playing horrendously on the first day, mathematically eliminating ourselves from contention. I didn't do much in the first game besides getting my nose smashed, though it only seemed to have caused me to bleed everywhere as opposed to incurring any real structural damage. In the second game I did kick a goal, but we were busy getting trounced at the time.

On the Sunday morning we had one more game against our arch-rivals New York. Naturally we absolutely destroyed them, knocking them out of the competition. I kicked two goals, and had a hand in another, but also managed to get crushed a couple of times. Looks like I have either badly bruised ribs, or perhaps I even managed to crack a couple of them. Good times! As the season is over I now have time to heal up, get fat, and think about whether I'll be coming back for another year. Right now March just seems a long way away.

Friday, October 09, 2009

US Footy Nationals 2009

I haven't quite gotten around to posting about the first week of Fantasy Top Chef, but it will be coming. In the meantime, Saunter and I are about to head to Mason, Ohio (?) for the 2009 US Footy nationals. My team is seeded #1 in the country, and hopefully we can go one step further than our loss in the final last year.

If you're a little more curious about my team, we were actually featured in an article in the Washington Post (both print and online). If you're curious, check it out:

Go Eagles!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sent Back to the Kitchen

No recap of Fantasy Top Chef shenanigans here; prior to the episode being aired Daddy alerted me to an emergency work situation which would prevent him from attending, and then we noticed that for some reason there wasn't a new Top Chef episode this week. Weird! No reason given for the one week hiatus, and a quick check of the online schedule reveals that next week is a new episode. It did give Saunter a chance to get up to speed with the most recent episode (though she could have probably done that next week anyway), so it wasn't a total loss.

So now I have another week to begin worrying that Michael V. or Kevin will be an early casualty, or that somehow Robin is going to torpedo my enter stable of chefs...