Thursday, November 20, 2008

It doesn't matter how many dragon you kill, it's who take home the princess.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Well, the second episode of Top Chef was certainly a tremendous departure from the first, at least as far as the food was concerned. In episode 1, there was nary a dish (besides Ariane's poorly cooked farro risotto) that inspired a negative reaction from Tom and the judges. Apparently, it's one step forward, approximately 25 steps back, because the dishes this week were almost across the board either unimaginative, boring, or plain awful. But that's mostly in the elimination challenge, so let's get back to the beginning of the episode.

Nothing extraordinary occurred in the house after Patrick's departure, other than Ariane feeling emotionally depleted from her trip to the judge's table, Stefan and Fabio each determining that the other is their greatest competition, and the viewers being treated to a gratuitous shot of Dr. Chase's chest. By the way, I would like to mention that I have an inherent distrust of any rail-thin or exceptionally toned chef. There's just something not right about that. It's one of the reasons (besides her strangely large head and penchant for selectively using an Italian accent in an annoying fashion) that I can't quite warm up to Giada DeLaurentiis.

The quickfire was much more successful than the elimination in this challenge. Padma and guest judge Donatella Arpaia (David Burke and Donatella fame) informed the chefs that they would be working to produce an original take on a classic New York dish, which (I found this shocking) New Yorkers spend over 100 million dollars on each year. I was not at all surprised to see Angelina D'Angelo rolling in a hot dog cart, straight from Queens. The chefs seemed a mixture of panic and pleasure. Melissa reeled from her assumption that a real classic New York dish is cheesecake- oh dear Melissa, you have so much to learn. Fabio loves hot dog, but determined you "cannot beat American hot dog playing his own game." Daniel was unfazed, because he is from Long Island, and he has his "New York flavorings" to help him beat the hot dog lady "of all times." Ariane worried, as expected, because she has not made a hot dog since charcuterie class in 1989. I'm beginning to lose respect for culinary school-surely they don't actually have courses where hot dog preparation is a part of training?

As for the final products, I thought that many of them looked delicious. Radhika, the eventual winner (who is still not doing much to break through the Indian barrier) made a most delicious looking lamb/pork/beef dog, kebab-style, with caramelized onions, cucumber, and tomato jam. Hosea's squatty dogs, which looked terrible, nonetheless tasted great. How could they not have tasted great? They were comprised of pork, roasted poblanos, jalepenos, a bit of red wine vinegar, and most crucial of all ingredients, smoked bacon! My mouth is watering as I write! Interestingly, Stefan and Fabio both went for a "panini dog", though Stefan's global dog, a horrific-sounding mixture of Wisconsin cheddar and Irish tartar sauce (what IS Irish tartar sauce, anyway?) did not please Donatella, while she enjoyed the Mediterranean flavors of Fabio's dog. Radhika, Fabio, and Hosea ended up on top, while Jill and Stefan were stuck firmly in the bottom. Jill made the fatal error of not making her own sausage, which does not spell a good future for her in the competition. Not making your own sausage on Top Chef usually leaves you plummeting in the judge's estimation, but actually using a hot dog instead? Her dish looked like a disaster, and probably tasted worse.

The chefs then learned of the elimination challenge: they would be required to create a dish for a three-course New American lunch, which they would be serving to 50 New York chefs in Tom's restaurant, Craft. The twist? The 50 guest judges of sorts were all Top Chef applicant rejects. Immediately, Crazy Carla is concerned. Mean judges, plus she also has to learn a "new kitchen", just when she was getting used to the first new kitchen. How did Carla make it onto this show? Just because of her craziness?

Speaking of crazy, I have never seen bedlam ensue on the show like it did as soon as Padma announced the challenge. The chefs immediately began screaming out the courses they wanted. I believe I heard "I'll do dessert!" and "I want dessert!" several times, which I found alarming. Everyone knows that chefs do not actually specialize in desserts. On this show, if we're lucky, each chef has one or maybe two decent dessert recipes up their sleeve, and none of them are relishing the idea of actually having to use those recipes. Although Dr. Chase had to step aside to calm his own panic, he eventually rallied the forces, and 5 chefs each were assigned to appetizer, entree, and dessert.

Warning signs abounded as the chefs prowled the aisles of Whole Foods. Jill lit upon a ginormous ostrich egg and determined that she would make an ostrich egg quiche, thus scoring points for using an unusual product. I had to agree with Jamie, who felt Jill was "playing it ridiculous." Plus, quiches never go over well on this show. Absolutely never. It's not really the kind of dish that does well with advance preparation.

Hosea made the mistake of purchasing canned crab meat. He felt confident in his dish (always another red flag), so he was willing to go without fresh Dungeness crab. Major faux pas-not only was the flavor from the tin evident in the final product, it just didn't taste (or look) that great. Ariane decided to make a lemon meringue martini dessert. What is a lemon meringue martini, by the way? It looked dreadful, and sent her straight, and deservedly, to the judge's table.

As for the rest of the dishes, they simply weren't spectacular. Eugene's dish had something freakishly yellow, Alex's pork looked undercooked, Leah's presentation was so "80's" and Radhika used an avocado with dessert. Padma actually spit out Ariane's overly sweet lemon meringue. One can only wonder if the sweetness of the dish was due to Richard's snarky unwillingness to tell Ariane that it was too sweet. I couldn't blame the guest judges for not loving any of the dishes, though I was highly annoyed by the footage of the chef who uses neither animal fat nor butter. Seriously? This is why you didn't get to be on Top Chef. I'm just saying...

Only Fabio's really and truly stood out to the judges, and that was mostly because of his strange chemical treatment of the olives (hard to understand with his accent), where he caused them to be liquid on the inside and frozen on the outside. Dr. Chase's chicken and chorizo actually looked delicious, but the judges weren't wowed by it. I shouldn't forget Jamie, who made a chilled corn soup and did manage, along with Carla and Fabio to have a top three dish. I'll go ahead and reiterate that I think Jamie is going to go far. There is a sophistication and professionalism to her cooking and presentation that is unique and interesting. Of all the chefs, she is the only one that really seemed to understand the New American concept.

In the end, it was Jill that was sent crying to her bag o' knives. She gave the "lamest explanation" the judges had ever heard, according to Gail, on five seasons of the show, for why her dish wasn't good. In fact, her inability to speak about her dish and what she would do to change it is the only reason that Ariane wasn't the one to go. Not to be cruel, but Ariane is actually absolutely right in her self-assessment-she doesn't deserve to be there. Thankfully, we know that Jill has plenty of cookin' years ahead of her. I won't be at all surprised to see Ariane back at judge's table next week.

The accent has continued to work its charm on me...I think Fabio might be my favorite. I wouldn't mind hearing the dragon story a few more times.

1 comment:

Hanne Tidnam said...

The Hawaiian guy -- I can't remember his name -- he's totally my favorite so far. Jill excuse was so lame and weird it gave me the idiot shivers. And what the HECK was with the "cherry surprise" at the bottom of Ariane's meringue martini? Blech, it makes your teeth hurt just thinking about it.