Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 5: Finally!

A bit tardy with the review of last week's episode, but I am a tardy man. From the starting 17 we are down to 6, and amazingly one of these six is Robin. Given the overall talent level of this season, this is some kind of craziness. Could this be the week she goes home? Please say yes!

Quick Fire Challenge

The chefs head to the Venetian, and are blind-sided by Padma and Nigell Lawson calling the kitchen and demanding room service, in this case some breakfast in bed. Aren't they fancy! Yes, Padma and Nigella are being very fancy indeed. The extra wrinkle is they only have half an hour, so there isn't much room for screwing up.

QF Losers

Robin (Garthmeister J., -0.5): Seriously, every time I write about the losers I can just type in Robin's name without thinking. She is continuously scattered, ill-prepared, and amazingly annoying. This time her crap dish is blintz with goat cheese, caramelized pineapple, and blueberries. I'm pretty sure she said at one point this is her specialty, which makes sense, since her other specialty is sucking. Right now Garth is just praying she gets eliminated before she loses too many points for him, and also causes him to shoot his TV.

Bryan (Daddy, -0.5): Bryan misfires on this one, with his four-minute egg with vanilla buerre fondue, crab, asparagus spears, and corn polenta. The consensus here seems to be "you screwed yourself with the vanilla, dude". Bryan has seemed a little shaky at the moment, but maybe the pressure is getting to everyone (except Robin, who is going to be crap no matter what). Daddy not only doesn't need Bryan causing his total to go down... he really needs Bryan bringing home wins.

QF Winners

Kevin (Garthmeister J., +1): This dude will not quit with the awesome food. This time it's steak and eggs with crème fraiche, aged cheddar, and green onion. Of all the dishes I saw, this is the one I wanted to eat. Kevin + meat = win. Ignoring of course last week, when apparently Kevin - meat = win also. So solving this parallel equations, we... sorry, I can't concentrate, too hungry.

Overall QF Winner: Eli (Saunter, +3): Eli! The big man is making his run, taking home the gold for his fried egg Reuben Benedict with Thousand Island Hollandaise sauce. Points for originality there! Can Saunter bank on Eli being a contender, in case Jen continues to flame out?

Elimination Challenge

For the elimination challenge the chefs all draw knives, getting the name of a casino that they are meant to base a dish on, to serve at a party for 175 people. I was intently watching to see if anyone would get the Imperial Palace, but apparently they didn't flash the big bucks, as they didn't make the cut. The breakdown went like this: Michael (New York, New York), Robin (Bellagio), Bryan (Mandalay Bay), Eli (Circus Circus), Jen (Excalibur), Kevin (Mirage). Seems to me the odd ones out are Eli and Jen, with the "Tier 2" casinoes. On the other hand, I have no idea what I would be making if I had the Bellagio or the Mirage to work with.

Elimination Winners

Bryan (Daddy, +2): Bryan's escabeche of halibut with bouillabaisse consommé, pine nuts, parsley coulis, and garlic chips was good, but not quite good enough. And is it just me, or do a lot of the dishes Bryan has been cooking involve garlic chips?

Kevin (Garthmeister J., +2): Somewhat surprisingly, Kevin does NOT win a challenge. His wild Alaskan sockeye salmon cured in salt and sugar with Napa cabbage and cucumber was a hit, however, particularly the broth component of the dish. I think the issue here was that Kevin didn't use red meat. Maybe I have to adjust my formulas.

Overall EC Winner: Michael (Garthmeister J, +6): Frankly, this isn't fair. If Kevin doesn't win a challenge for Garth, it's Michael swooping in. The dish that scored for him this time was a boneless chicken wing confit with curry and fresh pepper juice and a blue cheese disc. This is a "Buffalo Wings" remix, which is somewhat confusing, as the casino was "New York, New York", not "Buffalo, New York". I wonder what that casino would have, anyway. A lot of fake snow, empty steel factories, and a bunch of "AFC Champion" flags?

EC Losers

Jennifer (Saunter, -1): Once again Jennifer strikes out, somehow messing up her Excalibur-inspired "sword-in-the-stone" New York strip with a red wine reduction, beets, truffles, and herbs. She continues to fall apart, to Saunter's dismay.

Eli (Saunter, -1): So much for the comeback. The weird thing is that Eli seemed really confident overall, but then proceeded to produce this: aramel apple peanut soup with popcorn and raspberry froth. I mean, seriously. How does this sound like a good idea? Eli seemed to have got hung up on the challenge parameters, got fixated on a bad idea, and then promptly imploded. To be honest, I was astounded he wasn't eliminated for this train-wreck of a dish.

Eliminated: Robin (Garthmeister J., -1): Oh happy day! Robin goes down, finally! Her downfall was she made a panna cotta, with intent of making a glass-like garnish, mimicking the Dale Chihuly sculpture in the Bellagio, but she totally screwed up the glass and didn't use it. In addition, she totally screwed up the panna cotta. (Side note: has anyone on Top Chef actually made a panna cotta that anyone liked?). Despite her failure of execution, I still really thought Eli was out of here... but I am glad the judges stole Robin. Oh yeah, it cost Garth another point, blah blah blah, DING DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD.

League Table

Garthmeister J: 36.0 (+7.5)
Saunter: 12.5 (+1)
Daddy: 9.5 (+1.5)

Garth continues to streak ahead, riding his big horses, while finally getting rid of his ballast. Saunter now has to be concerned about Eli and Jen; can the bounce back? Again? And same old story for Bryan: Daddy needs winners.

Garth is actually getting close to taking the title outright, without the competition completing. If eliminations go his way in the near future we may be able to crown an Inaugural Top Chef Fantasy champion!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef Update Week 4: Whatever, Whatever

Last week Top Chef decided to have this "special" with chefs of the last five seasons cooking and whinging at each other, which they obviously did since I hadn't written up a summary of the Fantasy Top Chef action. Let's amend that, shall we?

Quick Fire Challenge

As part of the corporate tie-ins (this week: TV Guide), each chef drew knives for the name of a TV show, for which they had to produce a spin on "TV Dinner" for Padma and guest chef Paul Bartalotta.

The chefs were as follows: Robin (Sesame Street), Michael V. (Cheers), Jen (The Flintstones), Eli (Gilligan's Island), Bryan (M.A.S.H), Mike I. (Seinfeld). Somehow Mike I. claims to have never seen Seinfeld, which he really should have been instantly eliminated for. Foreshadowing?

I kind of wish they had The Wire in here. What would be your TV dinner then? A fifth of cheap scotch and some crack?

QF Losers

Robin (Garthmeister J., -0.5): At this stage I should just pencil in Robin's name until she gets eliminated. Her burger is dry, and that's the element of fail for this most annoying chef. Garth once again can't believe he didn't pick Ash.

Jennifer (Saunter, -0.5): Jennifer strikes out again in a Quick Fire. Right now we don't know whether Jen is going to get her act together, or end up being eliminated on any given challenge. She's been adrift for a few weeks now, as have Saunter's chances of taking out the league.

QF Winners

Bryan (Daddy, +1): Daddy snares another point from his sole remaining horse, Bryan, who scores with his meatloaf, mashed potato, asparagus, and apple tarte tatin. Though Daddy needs Bryan to hang around, he also needs the big man to score.

Overall QF Winner: Kevin (Garthmeister J., +3): Domination. To be fair, I think whoever drew "The Sopranos" had a leg up on the competition, but his meatballs with polenta, roasted cauliflower, and roasted pear scored big time.

Elimination Challenge

The Elimination Challenge was a classic bait and switch. The chefs were told that they were going to use Tom Colicchio's restaurant, Craftsteak, so naturally they all get psyched about what meat they are going to cook. Which is then squashed by guest judge Natalie Portman, who is extremely hot, and also a Vegetarian.

Cue the sad horns.

Elimination Winners

Michael V. (Garthmeister J., +2): Michael again goes with the craziness, serving asparagus salad, Japanese tomato sashimi, and banana polenta. His dish confuses, yet delights, and someone refers to him as "Picasso", bringing the "someone-refers-to-Michael-Volt-as-Picasso" count to 2. This guy is genuinely pissed he didn't win outright though, and is definitely shaping up as this season's villain.

Eli (Saunter, +2): Eli continues to blossom, serving confit of eggplant, creamed lentils, spring garlic puree, and radish salad with wild herbs. He won an important coinflip with Jen and got to use the eggplant he wanted, which definitely paid off. The question for Saunter is whether Eli is starting to edge Jen as the top chef in her stable?

Overall EC Winner: Kevin (Garthmeister J., +6): Yes, it's Kevin, once again. This time he wins for a non-meat dish, but apparently he and his wife go meat-free every Lent. Religion, paying off for the big man! To be honest, his duo of mushrooms (morel and Hen of the Woods), smoked kale, candied garlic, and turnip puree looked pretty unappetizing, but he hit a home run with the taste. Kevin is singlehandedly ruunning away with this competition for Garth.

Elimination Challenge Losers:

Robin (Garthmeister J., -1): Cue Garth shaking his fist at the sky and yelling "Robin!" Once again this chef is bad enough to be in the bottom three, but not bad enough to be eliminated. This time her key failure was getting over-excited about all the produce, not knowing what direction to go in, and deciding to do things she had never decided to do before. OK, maybe that's three things. What can I tell you, she sucks.

Jen (Saunter, -1): Jen continues her death-spiral, serving charred baby eggplant, braised fennel, tomato coins with wild coriander and verjus nage, which appears to be more of a side dish than a main meal. Saunter has to be panicking now.

Eliminated: Mike I. (Saunter, -1): In something of a shock, Mike I. gets the boot for his whole roasted leeks with onion jus, baby carrot puree, and fingerling potatoes with fresh radish and dill. He clearly screwed up his leeks, and it probably wasn't a good idea to begin with.

League Table

Garthmeister J.: 28.5 (+9.5)
Saunter: 11.5 (-0.5)
Daddy: 8.0 (+2)

Garth continues to ride Kevin's momentum, despite the ballast of Robin. All of a sudden Saunter's stable of steady contributors has been torpedoed, with her relying on Jen to turn it around and for Eli to continue his emergence. And Daddy? All Bryan, all the time, though he needs some big points and a deep run from his main man.