Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Top Chef DC 9: Winning the Battle, Losing the War

Ah, Restaurant Wars. How will the teams shape up? Who will be forced out the front? What retarded names will they come up with for their restaurants? I can't wait!


Quickfire Challenge

Tag team cook-off! You might remember this one from last year, when the chefs are divided into two teams, and then take shifts cooking a meal, except the "yet to cook" team members are blindfolded. Yay! The chefs draw knives for team leaders, who then take turns selecting their team members.

Team Kevin: Kenny (no. 1 pick overall), Kelly (eschewing Angelo), Amanda.

Team Ed: Tiffany (shocker), Angelo (a save, since Kevin could have picked him), Alex (lowest overall).

And who is the Guest Chef? Nancy Pelosi, a James Beard winner, and owner of the restaurant Actually I'm Just a Fucking Politician, So Too Bad If You Wanted a Chef or Someone Who is a Food Expert. At least she doesn't give us some retarded ethics lesson like Congressman Doogie Howser from a couple of episodes back.

Quickfire Losers

Team Ed (Daddy -0.5, Saunter -0.5, All-Star -0.5, Saunter -0.5): Let's be clear: this is Alex's fault. For some reason, despite going second, Alex seasons the fish. What the hell? Seasoning the fish should be done just before cooking, which Angelo does, not realising that Alex has decided to do it already. It's also worth mentioning that Angelo thinks the station looks like a bomb-site... perhaps some foreshadowing for disorganisation during Restaurant Wars, hmm? Anyway, Chef Pelosi thinks that the dish (red snapper, wilted greens, and Maitake mushrooms) is too salty. Thanks Alex.

Quickfire Winners

Team Kevin (Saunter +1, Gracie +1, Garth +1, All-Star +1): Team Kevin seemed to do a good job of leaving little sign posts along the way of what the previous person wanted done by the next person. Having the prep-beast Kenny go first was a solid idea, and Kelly had a nice and tidy station, so she could finish the dish off with a minimum of confusion. Chef Pelosi enjoys the sautéed shrimp, angel hair pasta, mustard sauce, and basil, saying it reminds her of San Francisco. Nice try, Chef Pelosi.


Elimination Challenge

Restaurant Wars! The teams will take over some restaurant called Redwood (never heard of it) to do their cooking. It looks like the restaurant has two different eating areas, but the teams will have to share the kitchen. And we have a real Guest Judge: Frank Bruni, who is a renowned attack dog of a food critic, formerly of the New York Times.

Alright, enough preamble. Team Ed names their restaurant for "EVOO" (i.e. Extra Virgin Olive Oil), which is such a douchetastic name that Angelo had to have come up with it. Team Kevin goes for "Twentyone 21", which I at least don't actively hate. Apparently that's the address of the Top Chef house, so at least it has something to do with anything.

BTW, if you're curious about the Top Chef house, here's an article about it being sold recently, including photos and a link to a Google map. It's just around the corner from the Hilton used as the main Top Chef kitchen, and a reasonably short work from the Disco Finery Mansion.

Elimination Challenge Finalists

Angelo (All-Star +2): No surprise that he is the Executive Chef for Team EVOOdouche. The thing is, the kitchen seems really unorganised, and not running smoothly at all, with Angelo generally losing his shit repeatedly. I'll talk about this a little later, but instead of having one of the chefs out the front of the house you could have them in the kitchen - you know, actually cooking. That would allow you to have the front of the house run by a Guest Judge, or at least someone who could give the judges some inside info, to help determine how well the kitchen ran.

The food: As a starter Angelo serves a tomato soup, with squash, and olive crouton, which the judges like. As the third course, he apparently co-authors a dish with Ed, a seared rib eye steak, crushed walnut potatoes, and balsamic fig reduction. Once again, this seems to be a little end-around the rules, with no one chef being responsible (or at least, being named responsible) for this dish, though every chef was "named" responsible for at least one dish. Fucking Team EVOOdouche.

Another thing you might have noticed? No desserts from Team EVOOdouche. Savvy move, or more rules dodging? At this point I'm going to blame the format: I think the teams should be forced to make a dessert, pure and simple. So not producing a dessert just seems like a safe decision, which doesn't get penalised. I'm looking at you, Top Chef Producers.

At this point I'm just going to mention that EVOOdouche was meant to have Mediterranean influences, but this didn't seem to have made an impression on the cuisine, which the judges duly note, and then apparently disregard. Like the kitchen disorganisation, deplorable front of the house etc. etc.

Tiffany (Saunter +2): Tiffany kind of got screwed over by Team EVOOdouche's attempts to find something for Alex to do that he wouldn't mess up. After he was screwing up butchering the lamb, he got sent to prep Tiffany's fish. And he screwed that up too, leaving scales and bones in for Tiffany. Despite these setbacks Tiffany produces a starter and a main. Her starter is a crudo of black bass and yellowtail snapper with lemon-caper relish which the judges think is (wait for it, wait for it) too salty. ALEX!! Is it possible he seasoned the fish after he fucked up the prepping? Her main is striped bass, stewed spinach, chorizo, and littleneck clams, which while overcooked seems to redeem her overall performance.

Alex (Saunter +2): Let's be clear: Alex should somehow have been sent home, and Saunter will be grateful for the points. Team EVOOdouche clearly seemed to violate the spirit of Restaurant Wars, ensuring Alex did as little as possible in the kitchen, and sending him out to the front of the house where the real damage (i.e. damage to the food) could be limited.

But! I hear you say (actually, no you probably don't): that's not Alex's fault! Well, it's not his fault,exactly, but then again he also completely fucked up everything he was given to do. He fucked up butchering the lamb chops, so was taken off that. He was then sent to prep Tiffany's fish, which he also fucked up. And the front of the house? Holy Christ, did he fuck that up. Bossing around the waiters, not even having them taste the food, making bullshit demands. And when he said that "all my employees love me" I had David Brent (from the original version of The Office) flashbacks.

And that's not all: Alex wasn't around to meet the Judges, he messed up the descriptions of the dishes, the courses took forever to come out, and he didn't bother to say goodbye to the Judges. Just terrible. The thing is, Team EVOOdouche did manage to limit the amount of damage Alex could do, and thus managed to avoid being the team up for elimination.

I wonder if after this debacle the Produces deign to change the format of Restaurant Wars, ensuring everyone is in the kitchen with perhaps a ringer in to run the front of the house. In his blog Colicchio says he has been begging the Producers for years to modify to this format, and maybe this episode is the catalyst for it.

Anyhow, the dish which is allegedly Alex's is the third course: pan-seared lamb chop, English pea puree (ha!), smoked bacon, and Parmesan foam. Surprise, the judges don't like it.

What is also interesting is that in the Stew Room, the chefs from the losing team absolutely tear into Alex, with Kevin getting top Insane Rage honours. I so wanted to see a fight; that would have been better than watching Alex trip into a kitchen bench over and over.

Actually, screw it.

Elimination Challenge Winner

Ed (Daddy +6): Despite his questionable team selection (being fortunate to get Angelo despite passing on him initially, though the producers may have mandated Kenny and Angelo not be together), Ed managed to put together the winning group of chefs. His slow-baked turbot, eggplant caviar and black olive jus was also pretty tasty, garnering top honours for the challenge. Nice points for Daddy here.

Elimination Challenge Losers

Kelly (Garth -1): Kelly seems to do a great job at the front of the house, or at least managed to do the complete opposite of Alex. She produces one of the starters, a chilled sweet corn soup with Maryland blue crab salad. Unfortunately the restaurant is meant to be big on seasonal food, and corn isn't in season. The judges also think the soup is a little thin. Kelly also produces a dark chocolate ganache tart with blackberry chocolate chunk ice cream (dessert, *gasp*), which seems to be a spin on what she produced for the pie-related Quickfire earlier in the season. The judges seem to like the tart, but think the ice cream is ordinary. Nonetheless, Kelly has run the front of the house well, and produced two dishes. Quite the load, especially compared with the "efforts" of Alex.

Kevin (Saunter -1): Kevin produces a pan-roasted halibut, fennel marmalade, and tomato-fennel emulsion, which seems to be the overall hit of the losing team. To be honest, I don't have a lot more to say about Kevin except that it would have been neat if he put Kenny on Angelo on the same team. Kevin has a real chance to go deep in the competition if he keeps it together.

Amanda (All-Star -1): This was the consensus (and by "consenus" I mean "everyone except All-Star and the judges") person-who-should-have-been-eliminated. To be fair, Amanda was wrestling with a wood oven she was unfamiliar with, but that's not a reasonable excuse. She's shown getting dishes rejected by Kelly for being overcooked, which Amanda gives weird excused for (it was because she let it rest in the wrong place, grass-fed beef is weird, etc.).

Again, this is all stuff that would be noticed if there was a Guest Judge, or at least an outsider reporting to the judges, running the front of the house. I understand that the producers seem to be going for a simulation of a restaurant reviewer eating at a restaurant (backed up by Frank Bruni being the guest judge) but you can't have it both ways if there is a chef out the front of the house - chefs normally cook, not serve as a maitre d'.

Amanda's dish is officially grilled strip steak with roasted sunchoke and Maitake mushrooms. The judges complain that it's cut too thin so it can't form a nice crust. Bruni thinks it was over-cooked and under-juicy. The saving grace? The sauce. This seems eerily similar to the beef bourginon that Amanda messed up last week: meat was ordinary, but the sauce was good. Either way, she lives to cook another day.


Kenny (Gracie -1): And we have our first casualty: Gracie, who now has all of her chefs eliminated. In his blog, Colicchio defended this decision, and even stated that he knew it probably hurt the show. He also claimed that Amanda had one weak dish, while Kenny had two. His beet salad with warm chorizo-citrus vinaigrette, a starter, was described as "busy"; not exactly damning, but perhaps they felt more strongly about it than that. His crisped aged goat cheese on strawberry-rhubarb relish, however, does not go over well. It's huge, it's soapy, and the crust is salty. Pretty clearly this was the dish that got Kenny sent home.

Having Kenny sent home is a real shame for the show at large, and I'm wondering if it will have an impact on the viewing audience. The decision was pretty universally disagreed with, and is definitely going to affect the rest of the season adversely for everyone not named Angelo or All-Star. If nothing else, it's going to be a very interesting beginning to the next episode, as everyone reels from the decision (no doubt continuing to rip into Alex), all while Angelo looks like the cat who swallowed the cream.


Points Table

Saunter: 29 (+3)
Daddy: 23.5 (+5.5)
All-Star: 21 (+1.5)
Gracie: 10.5 (-1.5) (ELIMINATED)
Garth: 10 (0)

With Kenny's departure Gracie is the first person eliminated from Fantasy Top Chef, and unless Kelly is eliminated shortly looks destined to come last in the competition. The big winner was All-Star, who avoided having Amanda get eliminated, while having Angelo's biggest apparent rival eliminated. Daddy gets a much needed points infusion and adds to Ed's resume for a spot in the top few. And Saunter? Her three chefs are intact, and she even got a positive contribution from Alex.

The question remains: can anyone stop Angelo? Can Saunter gather enough points to hold All-Star off, if Angelo takes the whole thing down? Or can a surge by Ed or Kelly be enough to see Daddy or Garthmeister J to the top?

And what happens if Angelo somehow gets eliminated in the next few episodes?!?!?!??!?!??!?!??!?!!


I wanted to update everyone on the Bravo competition, with "Duck Fat" (who I believe is Donkey Puncher) and "supershua" holding down equal first position. HOWEVER: I have noticed people have eliminated chefs still in their teams. Make sure to alter your line-up to only include chefs that are still alive, to ensure you get points!


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