Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guest Post: Saunter's Fantasy Top Chef Draft Notes

With the Top Chef Fantasy Draft so early on in the season, most cheftestants have not yet seen the spotlight. There is no way to tell who is generally good (save Angelo, unfortunately) and there may be critical faults that haven’t shown thus far. That being said, I spent a lot more time studying up for the draft, digging around to get a little more background on the picks. The following are my notes that I used in the draft. Who knows if it will help, but it will at least be amusing to look back at once we do know more about the cheftestants. I’m happy with my picks, as no matter where one was in the draft, you never know everything about the chefs you chose.

These notes on the cheftestants are in order from first to worst, including those eliminated in the first two episodes:

Kenny Gilbert - 36 - Decent, with variety and leadership - Won First Speed contest, Elimination 1
His cuisine ranges from American Regional, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Native American, Moroccan and African. Chef de Cuisine at the young age of 23 at The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, FL. Good at teamwork/training. Makes very complex dishes.

Angelo Sosa - 35 - Preppy - WINNER QF1 & EC 1, WinQF2 (w/Tracey)
Worked at Jean Georges, Dune and Spice Market, where he served as Executive Sous Chef. Shortly thereafter, he was invited by Alain Ducasse to create a special seasonal menu at his Paris restaurant Spoon Food & Wine. Owns a sandwich shop. Says it’s a mental game and is good at it. Knows what judges want.

Kevin Sbraga - 31 - Won First Speed contest, Elimination 1
A self-proclaimed “beast in the kitchen” with unrivaled knife skill. Winner of Best Meat Presentation at Bocuse d’Or USA. This African American, Italian chef declares he’s the “Barack Obama of the cooking game” and wants to prove that “he can.” Seems Gangsta.
Has watched previous seasons. Clean and simple American “with french technique” while having fun.

Timothy Dean - 39 - Looks good - Won First Speed contest, lowest E1 (strong group)
12 years working on and off with the late, great chef, Jean-Louis Palladin; worked alongside other notable chefs including Alain Ducasse, Roberto Donna, Guenter Seeger and Patrick Clark
“Plans to stay true to the game” has flavours and philosophy of food. Has studied previous seasons.

Alex Reznik - 33 - Good, won Elimination 1
Works Las Vegas at the legendary, five-star restaurant, Lutecé. During his tenure as chef at multiple Bally's/Paris resort restaurants, Alex met famed nightlife entrepreneur, Ivan Kane. The two discovered a shared philosophy for great food and impeccable service. Alex's philosophy is to marry local, seasonal ingredients with classic French techniques to create honest, Californian bistro cuisine. A bit cocky about tasting and replicating dishes, but could be good in challenges.

Lynne Gigliotti - 51 - Assistant Professor, Culinary Institute of America - Meep!
she teaches Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean. Single-handedly built her catering and consulting business from a party for 10 people into a half a million dollar upscale & @Watergate - good for challenges like wedding/tastings. Interested in Sustainable agriculture and seafood.

Kelly Liken - 33 - Chick with Cowboy boots - Winner EC2 Lunches
STUPID - A small town girl at heart, she has passed up on offers from heavyweight chefs including Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud to stay in Colorado where she feels grounded. Kelly cooks seasonal American cuisine with a strong commitment to locally sourced organic ingredients. Physics major. Has seen the show. Wants to cook with her heart. Has to remind self to “be me”. Can’t handle the heat?

Arnold Myint - 32 - Bow-tie gay - Not really.
Inspired by his mother who has run a successful restaurant for over 30 years. Mixologist and event planner. From Thailand and Burma. Has 3 restaurants. Failed at acting, so he became a chef. WTF.

Tiffany Derry - 26 - Sassy - Could be the annoying stick-along
A native Texan, definitely flaunts the “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude. She began working in the kitchen when she was 15 at IHOP. Soul - Homey with a Twist. Needs to taste good.
She competed in ACF competitions to help pay for culinary school. Dijon, Creole mustard, champagne vinegar, kosher salt and Creole seasoning are the five ingredients she always has on hand. She could be too dependent on these items. Doesn’t think she can cook with garbage...

Andrea Curto-Randazzo - 39 - Not really.
Has worked at a few restaurants and had honuors from CIA and a few magazines. “Don’t know what the judges are looking for” and thinks more of herself than she can actually do.

Tamesha Warren - 24 - Thin black - Her age could be problematic
Worked at the Jean Georges restaurant in NYC and was honored with gold and silver medals from the American Culinary Federation. Interested in playing with molecular elements, Tamesha cooks modern American food with French and Asian. “Good palate?”

Ed Cotton - 32 - in low
Worked at many restaurants across the country. “Believes cooking is in the blood.” Down to earth and passionate about cooking.

Amanda Baumgarten - 27 - Could be good in low bit ep2
Worked at four different Michelin-starred restaurants including La Tante Claire and Le Gavroche in London and Melisse and Patina in L.A. From there, she went onto become Executive Sous Chef of Paperfish before joining Ford’s Filling Station as Executive Sous Chef. Amanda is a gifted butcher with a distinct sense of flavor and style. Great for challenges. Has messy plates without much thought in ep1, and used cooking sherry in ep 2.

Stephen Hopcraft - 40 - Potential, but can he handle the heat? No sharp knives, meat too thin. Loser in EC1
Playful twist on classic dishes to create cutting-edge food. Has twitches/nerves in interview. Thinks his own self will be his undoing.

Tracey Bloom 33 - Fat. Looks pretty fail - NO (won QF2 with Angelo)
She’s said to be a pastry chef “Modern American” - whatever I like to eat. Local Produce.

Jacqueline Lombard - 33 - ditz says “we’re already tight, good friends” - Loser in EC1
Has a “chic, seasonal and sustainable approach to her work”. More about tasting and reviewing than cooking. Educator and event planner. Doesn’t memorize recipes and acts like the blonde she is.

John Somerville - 42 - Creepy Hippie - NO
His philosophy is “spreading the infectious spirit of cooking!” Only ever worked in the same fail restaurant in MI. Passion and Palate. “Knows what good food tastes like?!” Bold, concentrated flavours, allowing ingredients to “sing their own song”. No culinary school training.

Fantasy Top Chef DC: The Draft!

With two episodes of the newest season of Top Chef, it was time for our intrepid contestants to draft their teams for Fantasy Top Chef glory. As a reminder, here is the scoring system:

Win Quick Fire: +3 points
Place in Quick Fire: +1 point
Bottom in Quick Fire: -0.5 points
Win Elimination Challenge: +6 points
Place in Elimination Challenge: +2 points
Bottom in Elimination Challenge: -1 point
4th place overall: 10 points
3rd place overall: 20 points
2nd place overall: 35 points
1st place overall: 50 points

Saunter did the honours, and picked names out of a hat to set the draft order:

1. All-Star
2. Gracie
3. Saunter
4. Daddy
5. Garthmeister J.

Drafting was snake-style.

First Round

No. 1: Angelo (All-Star). All-Star makes the no-nonsense pick, selecting the consensus favourite. The only "slip-up" for Angelo so far was in the most recent Elimination Challenge, which appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to rid himself of a perceived rival. Time will tell if such nefarious tactics are his undoing.

No. 2: Kenny (Gracie). Kenny has been considered the second best chef ever since he blew through the competition in the mise en place that kicked off this season. He has had good showings in all but the last Elimination Challenge, which may not have been his fault.

No. 3: Kevin (Saunter). Kevin got off to a good start, being a finalist in the mise en place, as well as having one of the top dishes in the Elimination Challenge. Saunter is hoping he continues in that vein and remains a contender.

No. 4: Ed (Daddy). A dark horse pick! Ed has not yet made much noise, but his background suggests he may be a contender. Notable for being picked last in the first Elimination Challenge (when the idea was to pick the weakest chefs first), so he at least has the respect of his competitors. Received some criticism for his spiced sweet potato dish in the last Elimination Challenge, but the "not for kids" angle may indicate the judges secretly liked it.

No. 5: Timothy (Garthmeister J.). Garth was all ready to scoop Ed up in this position, but instead selected local boy Timothy. Tim did well in the mise en place quick fire, but stumbled in the first Elimination Challenge. Obviously Garth sees some potential, and is looking for more.

Second Round

No. 6: Kelly (Garthmeister J.). It took until the second round before one of the two Elimination Challenge winners got taken! Kelly is shaping up to be one of the villains of the season, and Garth is looking for her to stomp all over the competition on the way to many more victories.

No. 7: Tamesha (Daddy). Something of a surprise, Tamesha has not yet managed to make her presence felt, but Daddy obviously feels she has what it takes to make a deep run here. It appears from the early episodes that she doesn't feel that comfortable in a team environment, so perhaps the solo challenges will be where she can strut her stuff.

No. 8: Alex (Saunter). Alex appears to have won a few admirers with the deconstructed borscht from the first Elimination Challenge. He was notable mostly in the second episode for being afraid his fingers were going to be cut by his partner. Saunter is hoping that Alex didn't play his trump card first up, and is able to bring more to the table.

No. 9: Stephen (Gracie). Perhaps considered another surprise to be selected this early, Stephen has not yet been on solid ground, being in the bottom of the judging too often for many people's liking. But Gracie stays true to the MGM Grand, and hopes that this sous-chef from Seablue can turn it around.

No. 10: Amanda (All-Star). With his second selection All-Star picks someone who was much further down others' draft boards. Perhaps taking a shine to Amanda's hard-headedness, All-Star hopes she can channel her competitiveness into positive results. The fear is that she will stay wedded to a poor decision like her sherry-braised chicken, and there will be no Jacqueline around to take the fall instead.

Round 3

No. 11:
Arnold (All-Star). Rounding out his alliterative team of chefs, All-Star selects Arnold. Arnold has so far performed admirably, while not setting the world on fire, and could definitely be the type of contestant who sneaks up on everyone. A solid third pick for All-Star.

No. 12: Lynne (Gracie). Lynne has been somewhat of an enigma thus far, though she was part of one of the better groups in the last Elimination Challenge. Gracie hopes that Lynne's background as an assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America at least assures that her technique is sound.

No. 13: Tiffany (Saunter). Tiffany appears to be one of the "nice guys" in the competition, though it still has not been determined whether she will be able to hold her own on the culinary battlefield.

No. 14: Andrea (Daddy). Daddy was a little surprised to find Andrea at fourteen, as both he and Garth had her higher on their draft boards. While not yet making a real mark in this competition, Daddy considers Andrea to be a worthy third chef for his squad.

No. 15: Tracey (Garth). The final chef available, Garth selects Tracey by default. Another of the potential villains of the show (despite opening up about a child at home), Tracey hasn't done much besides realising that she should let Angelo take command if she is paired with him. Time will tell if the lucky last pick will prove to be a winner.

So, to recap, here are the Fantasy Top Chef players and teams:

Team All-Star: Angelo, Amanda, Arnold
Team Gracie: Kenny, Stephen, Lynne
Team Saunter: Kevin, Alex, Tiffany
Team EAT (Daddy): Ed, Tamesha, Andrea
Team Garthmeister J.: Timothy, Kelly, Tracey


Finally, I neglected to give a rundown of the Bravo fantasy game. So far we have 12 contestants, with Bobby Bracelet pacing the competition, mainly due to Amanda's shenanigans. It's not too late to enter: go here, and use the passcode "Quickfire4267".

Monday, June 28, 2010

Top Chef DC Recap 2: Getting Schooled

This week was the last episode before the Fantasy Top Chef Draft, giving us all one last glimpse at our potential team members. Would someone rise up to take the number one spot from Angelo? Could we see something that could tip us off to potential sleepers, or a dark horse that could make a deep run?


Quickfire Challenge

For the Quickfire Challenge we are introduced to the week's guest chef, Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass (which makes me wonder how many staff there are actually in the White House Kitchen). The challenge? The chefs are forced to pair up to make a sandwich within half an hour. Sound easy? Not so fast, tubby. In this challenge the chefs are forced to don a Siamese-Twin Apron (meant to symbolise bi-partisanship in Washington), which only allows each chef to use a single arm. The winning pair obtain Immunity, so it's definitely worth winning (if perhaps not work $20k). The chef pairs are organised by knife-pull, and off we go!

We are then treated to a little montage of chefs struggling for control of the direction of the sandwich, and struggling for control of the apron. Good luck for those pairing chefs who have one left-handed and one right-handed chef. We are also treated to Alex fearing for his fingers, as opposed to Arnold showing complete confidence in his partner.

Quick Fire Losers

Stephen and Jacqueline: Once again we find Stephen and Jacqueline on the bottom, this time for showing lack of creativity. Perhaps both of the chefs were chastened for their "out-there" choices in last week's Elimination Challenge, but that only back-fired. Not good signs for these two early.

Lynne and Tiffany: It appears the sin for Lynne and Tiffany was presenting a sandwich with a lack-lustre texture. I guess they can take solace that their sandwich at least tasted OK?

Quick Fire Finalists

Ed and Kenny: The boys produce an Ahi tuna sandwich with asian slaw, which nets them a runner-up. Once again Kenny shows he has some chops, if falling just short of a win. This is the first rumblings we have heard from Ed, though we can't be sure if he is taking advantage of Kenny's skills.

Quick Fire Winners

Tracey and Angelo: During the challenge we were treated to Angelo mentioning he owns a sandwich shop, so if he doesn't win he should just give up. Naturally, he wins the challenge, with his flounder sandwich with spicy sriracha mayonnaise. Obviously this dude does not look like he needs immunity, but he gets it anyway.

You may notice that I didn't mention Tracey - that's because she cleverly kept the fuck out of Angelo's way. Bonus points to her for admitting she has a crush on Captain Douche, and enjoyed the opportunity to be crammed into the same apron. The immunity may do her some good, and let her get her sea legs in this competition.

Elimination Challenge

This week's Elimination Challenge is an entertaining one; break into teams of four, being responsible for creating a tasty and healthy school lunch for 50 school kids. The hitch? Each team gets the school budget of $2.60 per kid, for a grand total of $130.

The Quick Fire winners get to choose their partners, and Angelo picks Kenny and Ed to be on their team. Given that Angelo and Tracey have immunity, this does seem to be a transparent ploy to put Kenny in the potential firing line if their team's lunch sucks.

Predictably each team seems completely unable to meet their budget, and immediately have to begin compromising. There is also a time constraint for shopping which adds extra pressure, and we see the strong-willed/stubborn/arsehole chefs running rampant over their weaker-willed/simpering/loser team-mates.

Elimination Finalists

Andrea, Alex, Tim, and Kevin: this team managed to produce picnic coleslaw with yoghurt (replacing most of the mayo), grilled apple cider BBQ chicken, mac and cheese with whole wheat crust, skim milk, and low-fat cheese, and fresh melon kebab and orange Chantilly dipped in whipped yoghurt. All of these chefs look somewhat competent, and kudos to them for pulling together a lunch that really seemed to come together as a theme as well. Allegedly the mac and cheese was the weak link, though that seemed to be nit-picking. Right now I could believe that any of these chefs could go deep and do some damage in this competition.

Lynne, Arnold, and Tiffany: this team spent a lot of time bitching, mostly about the eventual winner, which was somewhat amusing. But give them credit for putting the drama aside and creating tasty dishes of black bean cake with crispy sweet potatoes, roasted corn salad with cilantro-lime vinaigrette, and caramelised sweet potatoes with sherbet. Arnold in particular seemed intent on letting the judge's know that their team was all in it together, helping each other out. Tom, on the other hand, was vocal about his desire to see each chef take ownership for his or her dish.

Overall EC Winner

Kelly: Let's get this straight: Kelly wanted to do her dish, and fuck everyone else in her way. She was also determined to let Tom and the other judges know that she was responsible for her dish. Her reward: taking it down with her pork carnitas tacos (using oats for her home made tortillas). She definitely may have made an enemy or two from her team, but I think Kelly is comfortable being the villain. Let's see if her will-to-win is enough to get her further in the competition.

Elimination Challenge Losers

Tracey, Angelo, Kenny, and Ed: That's right, Angelo didn't win this one. However, Tom out and out says that he thinks Angelo tried to sabotage his own team. Unfortunately for the douchemeister his evil plan is foiled when Kenny and Ed show themselves to not be crap enough to fail. To be fair, Angelo wasn't able to find a whipping gun do to finish his celery stick/peanut butter... thing, but that was a pretty shoddy dish. The major issue seems to be that the whole lunch isn't healthy enough, lacking in vegetables - something that Kenny and Ed should have highlighted since they knew Angelo and Tracey had immunity. Ed seems to be the one in the firing line for his sweet potato puree, but the issue seems to be that the judges thought that it might be too spicy for children; this appears to be code for the fact that they kind of liked it. Fortunately for Ed, the other team is full of fail, and he is in the clear.

Amanda, Stephen, and Tamesha: First let me say that Amanda is fucking lucky to still be here. As soon as she said that she wanted to make sherry-braised chicken, her team was DOOMED. Not only did the sherry crush the team's budget (forcing a number of compromises) but as it was the cornerstone of her dish you knew she wouldn't give it up. Add that to the fact that she was serving a dish featuring sherry to children, and then managed to make it look like ass, and it is a minor miracle that she is still here. Stephen's rice looked dodgy as well, though more incompetent than anything, and I fear he is not long for this show. Tamesha made a bean and tomato salad and just looked angry the whole time. No one on this team impressed me, and to be honest, only Tamesha looks like doing anything at all, and that might be a reach.


Jacqueline: Let's get one thing clear: Jacqueline got hosed. Having said that, let's get this second thing clear: she deserved it. From the first two episodes it seemed she was out of her element. Given her performances running up to this Elimination Challenge, you would have thought she would have fought tooth and nail for her dish. Instead she was steam-rolled by Amanda and her sherry chicken, forcing her to produce a chocolate and banana pudding that didn't feature any chocolate since they ran out of money. To make up for the bland and starchy pudding Jacqueline decided to add a shit-ton of sugar, which flies in the face of the whole "healthy food for children" angle.

Good riddance to her - if she wasn't gone this week she was gone shortly thereafter. But Amanda should be thanking her lucky stars.


So, with two episodes in the books how will our Fantasy Top Chef Draft go down?! All I know is that it's fortunate that no one will be saddled with Jacqueline. But I'm sure as hell not going out of my way to cook sherry-braised chicken any time soon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ivey vs Chen vs Me

As those of you of a poker persuasion might know by now, Phil Ivey has just managed to snag bracelet #8 in the WSOP $3k HORSE tournament, taking down Bill Chen heads up. What you might not know was that at one point I was seated between these two during the 2-7 Triple Draw event this year. That day Chen was the victor, busting Ivey with his wheel (23457) vs Ivey's smooth 8 (23458).

I did not win either tournament.

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?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fantasy Top Chef II: This Time It's War. And you can join in!

Friends, it is that time once again. Forget the World Cup, our true national past-time is upon us: Top Chef! This year our intrepid contestants are in... Washington DC! I for one am looking forward to spying local landmarks, as well as identifying new eateries to hit.

Along with a new season of Top Chef comes a new season of Fantasy Top Chef, the trail-blazing geekathon for pathetic foodies such as myself. This time around we have slightly tweaked the set-up; rather than just myself, Daddy, and Saunter, we have added in All-Star and Gracie! Our current plan is to hold the draft after the second episode, giving us all a chance to get a little acquainted with the new chefs before making our selections. There are 17 chefs to start with, so hopefully there will be 15 remaining when we make our picks, allowing us to choose 3 each. Scoring will remain the same as last season, pending any last minute alterations.

But! This doesn't mean that you, you food-loving fantasy-enjoying internet denizen you, can't join the party. This season Bravo have come up with their own Fantasy Top Chef game (don't worry, I have contacted my lawyers). Sure it includes such categories as "Shown at Whole Foods check-out" rather than just food-based categories, but hey!

I have created a private group: "Disco Finery Diners". If you wish to join the group, head to this link, or search for the group name. The passcode for the group is "Quickfire4267". You will have to register, but the good news is that you don't actually have to fill out any of the personal info, just leave it blank (if you wish), and move on.

Each week you pick 3 chefs that you think will score the most, so make sure to get those picks in before each episode.

An Aussie Food Prize Pack will go to the winner (contents of Aussie Food Prize Pack to be determined, depending on distributors I can find online and the current state of food importing laws). So, get cracking!

UPDATE: It looks like the first episode will not be scored in the Bravo Fantasy Top Chef Game. From their Dashboard page: "Take note that the first episode of the season (Wednesday June 16th, 9/8c) will NOT be scored. This gives everyone a chance to get in on the action and to learn a little about the chefs before the game begins."

You may still be able to choose some chefs for the first episode, just for the hell of it. Not sure at this stage.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

2010 Garthmeister J. WSOP Recap

My 2010 WSOP jaunt is already over. The early scheduling of the limit Triple Draw event meant I was in and out of Vegas before most had decided which World Series events they were going to play. In some ways it was good to get in early and getting to meet with the crew covering the Series before they were well and truly jaded. In most ways it's bad, as I no longer have a summer trip to Nevada to look forward to.

Enough preamble. How did I do? Instead of embarking on a multi-thousand-word blow-by-blow excruciatingly-precise overly-hyphenated re-cap, let's break this thing down by gambling category. It will still be multi-thousand-word, naturally.

NLHE SnGs: -$955

To be fair, the folks at the Rio have done a fine job organising the gargantuan convention space this year. The Amazon Room is still being used, but they are also using The Pavilion, which happens to make the Amazon room look small (really). In doing so they have also increased the size of the throughways in the rooms themselves, improving the ability for players and railbirds to move around.

The Amazon Room is used mostly for hosting events that are in the their second day or later. The Pavilion is divided into a few areas, hosting Day 1 of most events, plus a large section for cash games, and another section for SnGs.

The SnGs are legendarily soft. Coming in several price brackets, usually from $125 up to $525, they go off 24 hours a day. Immediately upon landing in Vegas on Saturday afternoon (May 29) I met up with CK and headed to the Rio. After looking around and getting somewhat acclimatised, I decided to kick off by playing some NLHE SnGs.

I played two $175 SnGs on Saturday, two $175 and one $275 SnG on Sunday. In three of the five SnGs I busted when I lost a coinflip with 4 remaining. This was extremely annoying as the payouts for the $175 SnGs was three $500 lammers, plus $120 in cash, making it very conducive for a three way chop. In other words: I managed to bubble in three of the five tournaments by losing coin flips. In one other SnG I had a very similar situation; with 6 remaining I was in late position with AKo and isolated an all-in shorty. Unfortunately the dude to my immediate left woke up with Aces.

Oh, the last SnG? The $275 edition? I played like a donkey. Enough said.

All in all I dumped $955 in these things, only recouping $20 on a last longer bet. Are these things juicy? Yes. Is my SnG game rock-solid? No. If I played these things for the long haul, do I believe I would be profitable? Yes. Do I think I would be more profitable doing other things? Probably. Is it fun asking questions of myself? Yes.

O8 SnGs: +$345

Spoiler: they don't just run NLHE SnGs at the Rio. On Sunday afternoon, the $1500 O8 event was running, and the Rio started offering $175 O8 SnGs. I had no real intention of playing in one of these, until I was stuck in the SnG registration line and the floor was trying to sell two last seats in one. All of a sudden my hand was going up, and I was sitting down to join a table which easily had the oldest aggregate age of anywhere in the entire Pavilion (and perhaps Vegas itself).

As can happen when one is rusty at O8, I found myself bleeding chips early. Two missed pots later, and I found myself holding 175 chips (from a starting stack of 1000), with 9 people still remaining. So it was time to pick my spots, be aggressive, and get lucky. And that's how I ended up chopping three-ways while holding the slight chip lead. The decision to chop was an easy one, given that the start time for the $1500 O8 event was fast approaching, the blinds were huge, and I had come back from 175 chips.

Craps: +$120

One game I seriously jones for when I get to Vegas is dice. It is the one table game I think about as I fall asleep in the days before a trip to Sin City. I avoided learning the game for years, afraid I would like it too much, and it seems I know myself a little too well. Fortunately it appears it hasn't turned into full-time obsession; during this latest trip I only played two sessions, early on in my time in Vegas. I guess I just needed to get it out of my system.

My first session was late on Saturday night, once I had finished up with SnGs. I got a lift from Katkin (who was also about at the Rio) to the MGM, figuring it would be a fun time since it was Fight Night (for UFC 114). It was a solid move, as the casino was still buzzing, and I had to shoe-horn myself into a craps table. It was a fruitful first session, as I finished up $175 when I finally called it quits at 4:30am.

My second session was on Sunday night at the Rio. I had finished donkeying out of my $275 NLHE SnG, and then had grabbed some dinner with F-Train After dinner I realised I was not in the mood for poker. The craps tables came calling, and I answered. This was not a wise move initially, as I was $500 in the hole at one point. But then came the rally, and by the time I was pulled away to the Hooker Bar by AlCantHang and CK, I was merely down $55.

At that point AlCantHang and I proceeded to tie one on. No surprise, really. The only real surprise was when I started knocking back Jameson shots, to go along with the SoCo and Budweiser. This meant I was easily convinced to head to the Gold Coast for my next gambling adventure.

Pai Gow: -$200

This is, at best, an estimate. AlCantHang, myself, and some random drunk dude found ourselves at a $10 Pai Gow table. I was pretty well sloshed at this point, and began sucking down Greyhounds at an alarming rate. I was "that guy" - messing up my bets, slurring all my words, unable to concentrate on my cards. I couldn't even remember to squeeze my cards, Speaker-style.

I wasn't actually sure whether I left money on the table, or just got up once I lost what I had bought in for, but post-event analysis with Al confirmed that I decided it was time to leave once I had given away my last chips. At that moment I lurched to my feet, informed Al that "I had to go", and made an unsteady bead for the nearest exit.

Next thing I know, I'm stumbling next to the highway in the bright sunshine. Maybe it was 7am, maybe it was 8am, maybe it was later... I have no idea. I realised it was a ways to the strip, and I decided going back was not an option. No, it would be a better idea to try and flag down a cab on the highway (I learned after the fact it is illegal for cabs to stop in this situation). Eventually a town car stopped for me, and I gratefully hopped inside and overpaid to be taken back to my hotel.

I woke up in my room at 2pm the next afternoon, wearing only my socks. Such things happen after an AlCantHang bender.

Blackjack: -$415

I have a strange relationship with blackjack. It is probably my third-favourite table game, but sometimes I get the urge to play. Of course, if Bobby Bracelet is involved, I am in like Flynn (and then we lose). But then the mood strikes me, or I need to kill some time, or need to wind down, and I find myself at a table.

The Hard Rock now has a crazy mix game every Monday night, hosted by Scott Fischman. This seems to be the latest incarnation of the floating mix game (formerly at the Wynn) that CK introduced me to in January, 2009. After having dinner with CK and a few of her Vegas associates in Monday, I headed off to try and get a seat. Unfortunately the game was full, so I put my name on the list and headed to a blackjack table.

And was summarily punished. It is never a good thing when the dealer is asking if you are sure that you wish to continue, as you are pulling out more money. At one point I was down $500, before once again beginning my rally. Just as the tables were turning, a seat came open at the mix game, so I had to be happy with recouping $285.

My second session of blackjack occurred during the early hours of Thursday. I was still wound up, and needed to relax, so decide to hit the tables at Aria. I immediately set about hitting 20s like it was my job, and was up $500 in half an hour. Unfortunately, I was still wound up. A smarter man would have picked up at that point, and headed to a bar instead, but I am not that man. Instead it took me another 2 hours to blow through my profits and initial stake in a horrendous run of cards. The good news? I was unwound by then.

Mix Games: +$1335

As you might have guessed, this was my biggest positive line item for the trip. As I was sitting down at the Hard Rock on Monday night I had already been kicked in the face by NLHE SnGs, and narrowly avoided similar eviscerations via craps and blackjack. The Hard Rock game is 8-16, and the rotation was as follows: 2-7 Triple Draw, A-5 Triple Draw, Badugi, Baducey, Acedugi, Razz, Stud 8, O8.

The two games I had never played before (but had been given a quick explanation by CK) were Baducey (spelling varies) and Acedugi (aka Badacey). These are split pot games, dealt the same as triple draw (five cards, with three drawing rounds).

In Baducey half goes to the best 2-7 Triple Draw hand, and half goes to the best four card Badugi hand, with Aces being high. This means the best Triple Draw hand is 23457 (as normal), but the best Badugi hand is 2345 (all of different suits). Acedugi is similar, with half the pot going to the best A-5 hand, and half going to the best normal Badugi hand (Ace low); the best Triple Draw hand is A2345, the best Badugi hand A234.

As far as I know, Baducey and Acedugi are both reasonably new variants, but I found them both interesting, and both generated large pots. All positives, in my book.

At any rate, after 2.5 hours the game broke, and I was up $160. Not quite making up for my blackjack misadventures, but a solid step in the right direction.

My next mix game session was a surprise. Tuesday was the day of the Limit Triple Draw event, and despite my best intentions I didn't get a lot of sleep. After a solid breakfast I headed off to the Rio, figuring they might be spreading some Triple Draw SnGs, which might be fun. As I made my way through the SnG area I ran into a friend of a friend who was grinding some NLHE SnGs. He informed me that there was a 10-20 crazy mixed game going, and everyone at the table "looks like they have been up all night".

I sat down at the table at approximately 11:30am. The rotation at that time was 2-7 Triple Draw, A-5 Triple Draw, Badugi, and Baducey. Gold! Within half an hour I was up $600 after hitting a few big pots. My high water mark was +$900, though I finally left at 2:30pm, up $675. I wanted to get some lunch and chill out before the tournament, though I was glad to make some scratch and know that the Rio was spreading exactly the type of game I wanted to play.

When I cruised through the same area of the Rio later that night, I saw the game was still running, but was now 15-30 (a little high for me) and with people who looked like they knew what they were doing. Still, this was the game I wanted to play, though I decided against it that night.

On Wednesday I was back at the Rio around 3pm. There was a list of interest for the crazy mix at 20-40 with about 12 names on it. I asked the guy running the board about it, and he said the list of names was "old" and the game probably wouldn't be getting up. I thought that was kind of weird, and wandered off down the hallway, not sure what to do with myself. I chilled out for a while, thinking about maybe playing a SnG or two, but didn't feel a strong urge for anything in particular. I eventually wandered back to the mixed game area, where the 20-40 game was just starting. Success!

After two or three hands of 20-40 the table collectively agreed to bump the stakes to 30-60 so we could pay time ($7 per person per half hour) rather than having to pay rake. I decided to damn the torpedoes and go for it; 20-40 was the highest I had ever played, so why not go for 30-60? I figured that if I blew through the $1000 I had sat down with I could decide then whether to buy in again, or whether to go and do something else.

The rotation we were playing was the same as the previous day, plus Razz (which has been added late on Tuesday before I left). As it turned out, I felt very comfortable at the table. My high water mark was again +$900, and this included a fold by me in a $1k Badugi pot where I would have taken it down (word on the street was that it was a good fold in the situation, the smarter word on the street was that I shouldn't have been in the hand in the first place).

As it got later I made a couple of mistakes, the table got tougher, and I got legitimately unlucky in a couple of pots. I decided to pull up stumps after 6.5 hours, up $350. It was a very gratifying session, playing the highest stakes I have ever played, against a table of pros, and holding my own.

The next day I returned to the Rio and played another 3 hours of 2-7, A-5, Badugi and Baducey at 10-20. It was another comfortable table, and I booked $150 before heading off to the Hard Rock for Michalski's 1/2 NLHE/PLO game.

NLHE/PLO: -$50

I had played Michalski's NLHE/PLO game last December, which had been a good time. The game runs every Thursday night, and is pretty fun. They have "splashed pots" (where they add $50 to a pot every hour or so), and allow you to run it twice, amongst other things. This night we had some issues with the floor, but overall it's still a nice chance to play a game you don't see spread often. The table I was playing on had some young pros, plus CK, Katkin, Toothless Bob, and Michalski. I bought in for $200, and managed to dump off that buy-in when I couldn't get one of the young pros to lay down his 9 high flush.

My second buy-in went down the toilet in a "splashed pot". Flopping the second nut straight is always a dodgy proposition (even I, a PLO donk, know that much), but with my stack and the extra $50 in the pot I figured it was worth doing it. When my opponent potted it on the turn I figured I was dead, even announcing "this is where I ship you all my money", and so I was and so I did.

Down $400 I pulled out another $200, and then proceeded to double up after I made Michalski lay down a better hand and getting called by a draw that didn't get there. I then got it all in against Michalski and won outright after we ran it twice. When the dust had settled after 6 hours, I was down $50, and I was ready to eat, sleep, and fly out of Vegas.

2-7 Triple Draw (Limit) tournament: -$2500

If you have been reading carefully, you may have realised I did not make the second day of the event. In fact, you may have known way before this, as I actually decided to use Twitter (@discofinery).

For some reason the tournament staff moved the event from the Pavilion to the Amazon room. I happened to be in the Amazon room before the tournament, and saw it happen, else I would have been as confused as anyone else. In the Pavilion itself there was no indication of the move, prompting many folks to turn up late.

Initially only two other folks had turned up, Amnon Fillipi and Bill Chen. Awesome, I thought: we're three-handed, and not only are the other two pros, but pros I have heard of. Just before the tournament started a "Team Pro" from PokerStars arrived at our table, but I had no idea who he was.

We began five-handed, with the one seat being a stack being blinded off. As this was the case, it was no surprise that we remaining players began by playing very quickly. Bill and Amnon seemed like good guys, and we shot the shit a bit as we played.

In the first hour I hit two wheels and two 76s, which was a very nice start. Unfortunately they were the only 7s I would hit all tournament. After the first two hours the stack being blinded off got picked up (as per policy), but sitting down to my immediate left? None other than Mr Phil Ivey. Phil was evidently still playing in the 5k NLHE shootout, but on break, and was none too happy about anything. As soon as he sat down the tension table ratcheted up several degrees, only to return to normal levels once he headed back to the shootout table. He soon came back, finishing 2nd at his shootout table, and he was pissed.

At the dinner break I had just over 10k, which was a reasonable start. While waiting in line for some food I happened to be standing next to two very young couples, who were talking about Ivey.

"Actually, I'm playing right next to him," I said as nonchalantly as possible. One of the girls flipped open her phone and gasped.

"Hey, that's you!" she said, showing me the photo she had taken of our table. I assured her that I was going to be in a lot of random photos of Ivey.

After the break Ivey seemed more relaxed, right up until he was busted by Bill Chen. Replacing Ivey? None other than Todd Brunson. Todd seemed in good spirits, and we had a bit of a chat. I then won a hand against him while holding an extremely rough 9, at which point he began ordering doubles of Grey Goose. It was at about this time that I entered a stretch of not getting any playable hands. I finally had one hand where I thought I had won a pot against Brunson (I was sure my smooth 8 was good, but he had the same hand), followed by a monster pot where I missed my 2357 draw twice. Before I knew it I was all-in with an 87, losing out to Fillipi's 86. I busted halfway through Level 6. Running into Fillipi the next day, he informed me that Hoyt Corkins has taken my seat, and proceeded to tear up the table by hitting 7 after 7. This didn't make me feel better.

It's never fun to bust from a tournament, particularly when you know that the next time you can play a live tournament like this is in roughly 365 days time. All in all it was a fun experience, and getting to play against pros like Ivery, Brunson, Chen and Fillipi is definitely worth the price of admission.

Somewhat in a daze, I headed off to the Hooker Bar, and had a couple of beers with AlCantHang. Having collected myself, I decided to head back to the Amazon Room to see how things were going. Standing outside the room? A very agitated Todd Brunson. He related to me a completely horrible floor decision, which had caused him to lose it. He got on the phone with someone, and finished up by announcing he was going to the bar.

"You coming?" he asked me. Abso-fucking-lutely.

And that's how I ended up drinking until 5:30am at the Hooker Bar with Todd Brunson and Steve Zolotow, with cameos from Gavin Smith and Tom "Donkeybomber" Schneider.


As I said to someone randomly over the course of the week: "It appears I have a leak, and that leak is No Limit Hold'em". It was fantastic to find exactly the type of mix game I wanted to play, and very gratifying for me to be a winning player in the albeit small sample size I played. Once I found the mix game at the Rio, the urge to play anything else dissipated.

I still love to play the Triple Draw event, and will still look to do it again next year if everything falls the right way. Failing that, I may still try and get out to Vegas to play in the mix games.

And who knows, I may still be able to zoom out to Nevada later this summer to try my hand once more at the fabulous games that hardly anyone plays. Not to mention getting my revenge against blackjack...