Monday, June 21, 2010

Top Chef Recap I: Mr Colicchio Goes to Washington

Ah yes, it's here. Top Chef once again hits the airwaves, and once again I will be throwing down some thoughts ahead of the Fantasy Top Chef Draft, to be held some time between episode 2 and episode 3 of this season. My fellow competitors, Gracie, All-Star, Daddy and Saunter are composing their Big Boards as we speak, ready to try and wrest the Top Chef Fantasy trophy from yours truly.

As a quick reminder, come and join us at Bravo's take on Fantasy Top Chef. We have ten competitors and counting: click here to join the group (passcode is "Quickfire4267"). First prize is an Aussie Tucker pack (contents TBD) unless you are Jules, in which case you get a Seppo's Food Bag. Scoring in the Bravo game doesn't start until this week, so get in there!

Alright, enough pre-amble. Let's get down to business!


Quick Fire Challenge

We begin the new season on a roof top in downtown DC (the roof, it seems, belongs to the Newseum in DC). It all looks nice and swanky, a little cocktail party for some random staffers from The Hill. All the chefs stand around "getting to know each other", aka "trying to outdouche each other", with special awards going to Angelo and Tim in this department.

But, it's a trap! Padma and Tom show up, and it's on, once again, in a "mise en place" challenge. Who got forgot last season, when we got to enjoy Preeti cutting herself open as she didn't know how to prepare mussels?

This season the "mise en place" challenge is worth $20k, immediately pissing off every other contestant on every previous season of Top Chef. The stages of the challenge are "peeling potatoes", "brunoising onions", and "breaking down chickens", with chefs being eliminated after each stage. The final four chefs are required to produce a dish using the three ingredients they prepared along the way.

Let's talk about peeling potatoes. In the episode all the chefs use knives to peel their potatoes. I assume they weren't allowed to use peelers (or no one had a peeler in their knife rolls). Back in the day, I worked as a kitchenhand (lovingly referred to as a "Dish Pig") as my job during University. This means I have peeled a lot of potatoes. And given the option, I would use one of these bad boys:

The glorious Y-Peeler, allowing me to destroy innumerable numbers of 40-lb bags of potatoes, not to mention carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips (though seriously: fuck parsnips). Get one of these and make peeling vegetables as easy as possible.

The chefs on hand make (mostly) short work of the "mise en place", with Kenny in particular blowing through each challenge in an insanely short amount of time. Interestingly, from reading Tom Colicchio's blog, there were chefs who turned up to the challenge with unsharpened knives. This blows my mind.

Quick Fire Losers

This goes to everyone who didn't make the final four, though special disdain must go to those who thought that having blunt knives was a good way to start off the season. As soon as the $20k figure was mentioned they must have felt even dumber than they were already.

Partial credit goes to Tim, Kevin, and especially Kenny, who destroyed everyone in the "mise en place" and finished runner-up with his dish.

Quick Fire Winner

Angelo: Backing up his douchey ways, Angelo comes through with his roasted wing & thigh, curry onion jam, and potato noodles. Apparently the roof top was windy, and all the chefs only used a low burner, with a "significant time constraint", but Angelo's dish looked pretty tasty. To celebrate, Angelo tells the camera that he wishes to be the first ever Top Chef contestant to win every challenge. It's almost refreshing to see that he is a douche to the bone.


Elimination Challenge

The Top Chef producers decided to have the season during Spring in DC, which is a good decision for the weather alone. Spring in DC means cherry blossoms, and as part of the celebrations the chefs are instructed to produce dishes for 300 folks at the Festival kick-off party. In addition, the dishes are meant to reflect where each chef comes from. Bad decisions ahoy!

The chefs are divided up into groups, with each group created by one of the four Quick Fire finalists choosing competitors one-by-one. This is a nice way of creating tension as people assume they are getting dissed (which they are) when they are picked early. Sow those drama seeds, so we may reap them at our leisure!

Elimination Winners

Kevin: Hailing from the Mid-Atlantic, Kevin produces lamb with lemon and pistachio marmalade and spring onions. Lemon and pistachio marmalade sounds pretty good to me, and I love the hell out of lamb, so I'm all for it.

Kenny: The demon of the "mise en place" challenge, Kenny from Colorado is also proving he can cook. His dish was cinnamon-coffee rubbed trout, black bean mole, goat cheese polenta, and quinoa. When I first saw/heard that dish, my first inclination was to assume that it was way too busy with too much going on; at best it would be an ambitious miss, and at worst be a cacophonous mess. Instead Kenny ended up top of his group, proving he may be someone to keep an eye on.

Alex: Alex claims heritage from both Russia and California. This was inspiration enough for him to come up with deconstructed short rib borscht. The first Elimination Challenge of a Top Chef season is not where I expect to see someone bust out a "deconstruction", let alone a "deconstructed borscht", let alone a successful one. Out of all the dishes, this is the one I wanted to taste most. I salute you Alex, and am beginning to hope that you go far in this competition.

Overall EC Winner

Angelo: Mr Douche, from Connecticut, goes 2-0 on his quest for the perfect Top Chef season, wowing the judges with his Arctic char with pickled shallots, tapioca, and bacon foam. Things I am not surprised to see this early? Bacon, and foams. All credit to Angelo for busting out these proven judge pleasers this early, and I look forward to him producing some combination of bacon and foam for the next ninety seven episodes.

Elimination Challenge Losers

The group challenges, where a winner and a loser from each group are picked, are somewhat unfair. Get saddled with a tough group, and you might be tarred with the Brush of Loserdom, despite the fact that you may have produced a decent dish that just fell short of the mark. Alternatively you might produce a great dish, but just get edged out of the top four. Extra credit must go here to Arnold (Thailand and Tennessee), who received a shout-out from Gail on her blog for his kaffir lime and thai basil cake, which was not only a dessert (gasp!) but also tasty.

Tim: Tim, from Maryland, was the only member of the final four from the Quick Fire challenge who did not also make the top four of the Elimination Challenge. To be fair, from reading inbetween the lines it seems he was in the strongest group. Eric Ripert scolds him, but more in disappointment rather than disdain. (Quick aside: Eric Ripert! Beats the hell out of Toby the Annoying Brit as the fourth judge. Also: I live within walking distance of Riper's West End Bistro, which I should visit).

Stephen: Being from Ohio, Stephen decides to prepare potato-encrusted ribeye (so far so good), but decides to deep fry it (so far so bad). Like Hector from last season, Stephen learns the hard way that there is no better way to ruin a good steak. Stephen also proves that other than not sharpening their knives, there are some Top Chef contestants out there who steadfastly refuse to watch previous seasons. Good job!

Jacqueline: Jacqueline declares herself a pate master. She decides the best way to show off her New York-dom is to prepare a chicken liver and port wine pate, which she has made "hundreds of times". Her first mistake is to attempt to save time by not straining the pate, ensuring it has a horrid texture. To her credit, she realises that this is an error, but it doesn't stop her from doing it anyway. Her second mistake is to present the dish as being "low fat", which immediately puts all the judges off her dish. Her third mistake is to complain at Judge's Table that she didn't have her recipe handy. Despite all these mistakes, she lives to fight another day.


John: There will be some who are unhappy that John, the hippy dippy freakshow from Michigan, was the first to go, as he was clearly the most likely contestant to produce "trainwreck television". Everyone else will be happy that he is the first to bite the dust, reducing the amount of Top Chef nightmare-fuel by an order of magnitude.

Despite winning multiple James Beard nominations, John stumbles immediately out of the gate. Like the plucky and fabulous Arnold, John decides to go for one of the Top Chef "Kisses of Death": dessert. He produces a maple mousse napoleon, which contains two fatal ingredients: pre-made puff pastry that sucks, and a distinct lack of maple.

It is clear from the Whole Foods montage that John was always intending to use pre-made pastry, which is somewhat confusing (if you forget that he is clearly batshit insane). Declaring at Judge's Table that the pre-made pastry let him down was also not a smart move, as all it proves to judges is that you made fuck-all, and that the fuck-all tasted like "not maple", despite his declaration when presenting his dish to the judges that "maple flows through the trees" (or something like that) in Michigan.

My theory is that John came up with the "maple flows through the trees" line, and figured that the awesomeness of that line was enough to impress the judges, neatly forgetting that his dish should a) be good, and b) taste of maple. For that he, his knives, and his dreadlocks, are sent home.


So far so good, though all 16 of the remaining chefs haven't had enough chances to shine. With one episode to go until we make our draft picks, hopefully we'll have a chance to see more of the so-far unseen chefs. Right now Angelo would be the consensus number 1 pick; will anyone be able to unseat him?


  • we have a set of 3 different Y peelers and my wife absolutely loves them......she honestly thinks they are the best thing she has in the kitchen.

    Kids don't seem to like skins on anything, so she is using them daily.

    By Blogger jjok, at 11:22 AM  

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