Saturday, January 31, 2009

"He can't quiet the creative monkeys."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

I’m quite sure the producers (or at least the one madly in love with Jeff) are drowning their sorrows this very minute, knowing there will no longer be an opportunity to ogle Dr. Chase’s bare, Miami-sculpted chest in the morning. Perhaps they’ll have to ask Fabio or Stefan to remove their shirts now?

Hosea and Leah are still reeling a bit from the repercussions of their not-so-innocent hookup. I give Hosea a lot of credit-he seems to be making every effort to bring the relationship back to its innocent friendly start. Perhaps it’s easier for him to ignore the awkwardness because he’s becoming terribly distracted by his supposed rivalry with Stefan.

The seven remaining chefs marched into the Top Chef kitchen for the quickfire, greeted by Padma and Scott Conant, the chef/owner of Scarpetta Restaurant in NYC. As usual, everyone knows him. In case you had not figured it out, Scarpetta is an Italian restaurant. I know this because of my many readings of Patricia Cornwell novels in my early teen years. I distinctly recall the protagonist, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a troubled forensic pathologist, often drowning her sorrows in bowlfuls of pasta and full bottles of wine. But I digress. Stefan is sure of Fabio’s success, because Scott Conant is Italian. Obviously.

For the second time, the chefs are forced to cook for and about a holiday event/ celebration that has not yet occurred, because we know by now that the show was filmed in the summer. This time, instead of Christmas, it’s the Superbowl! Padma reminds the chefs that it’s coming right up (yes it is Padma, in SIX MONTHS!), and that they’ll be playing a game of “football squares” as their quickfire challenge, unveiling a chalkboard filled with organized blank squares. I wasn’t aware of this game myself, and the game board looked to me like an office pool. I stand corrected, however. It is indeed a football game.

Needless to see, all of this hullabaloo was merely yet another device for product placement-after each chef randomly selected a food group, which was an interesting concept, we discovered that all of them would be working with oats, because it’s the Quaker Oats challenge. Not so interesting. None of the chefs seem worried about their food group, with the exception of Fabio. He doesn’t see any reason to eat vegetables at all-“There is no reason to eat vegetable when there is meat and fish around.”

Carla, the oats girl, is so excited. It’s probably because Quaker Oats has given her a lifetime supply of oatmeal for her proclamation of love for the bowls of oats she devours 4 times a week. Jamie, who is completely and utterly back in my good graces now, decides to go against the grain (Ha!) and make a savory fruits n’ oats dish. Before I even heard what she was planning to make, I was giving her a mental high five. It would have been a piece of cake to figure out a fruit and oats combination, even for the most inexperienced home cook. Jamie is challenging herself! Her coconut- and oat-crusted shrimp with nectarine salsa and avocado crème fraiche sounded and looked amazing. I would so eat at her restaurant. Hosea’s issues with Leah may very well have caused him to turn a corner-he’s totally upbeat and confident about his wienershnitzel. Dr. Chase, as usual, is making far too many dishes. Fabio fried eggplant in a breading of thick oats-it looks a bit much, even for someone like me who loves battered, fried, and crusted things.

Scott Conant did not enjoy this eggplant roll, Dr. Chase’s three course, very brown, fried meal, or Leah’s uninteresting branzino. Apparently, oat flour is the only thing that doesn’t go well with bacon. Make a mental note! Stefan’s strangely and sparsely accessorized banana dessert, Carla’s asian tofu, and Jamie’s shrimp were the best dishes, and Stefan came out on top. Of course, this causes any errant thoughts Hosea might have been having about Leah to disappear instantly, because he’s now concerned about Stefan’s increasingly inflating ego.

Padma sends the chefs to the stew room to pick up a “present” while she prepares the Top Chef kitchen for the elimination challenge. They scream with joy upon seeing a second white Top Chef chef’s jacket emblazoned with their names on the back and the number 5. For season 5, as Leah had to be reminded. I’m not sure why they were so excited. Little gifts on this competition are never a good sign! We learn that Dr. Chase used to play football, until his size became an issue. It’s not uncommon for him to claim knowledge of a sport, because he obviously knows everything. Leah starts spouting off about Tom Brady-badly done, Leah, badly done! Your boyfriend is REALLY not going to forgive you if you keep up this behavior!

In the approximately two minutes that it take the chefs to run to the stew room, find their new coats, and run back, Padma has miraculously transformed the counters in the Top Chef kitchen. There are seven football helmets, each belonging to a professional team, sitting neatly atop a spread of regional ingredients. So far, I’m liking this challenge. I’m all about regional ingredients. Padma calls it the “Top Chef Bowl” and brings out the competition-seven chefs from previous seasons. I would hesitate in calling them “All-Stars.” A handy reference list, should you not be obsessed with this show and watched every previous season at least twice, as I have:

• Andrew, Season 4: Best known for saying quirky, strange things, Andrew was lucky to last as long as he did. He was eliminated largely because he didn’t follow the rules of a challenge, using ingredients that were not allowed.
• Spike, Season 4: Spike is a popular former Top Chef, despite being brash and arrogant. He made a few gems throughout his season, but most of his dishes were fairly lackluster. His butchering skills were excellent, but he was eliminated because of a poor decision-do not use frozen scallops! Also, he likes hats.
• Nikki, Season 4: A prime example of a chef that somehow managed to escape the judge’s table without being eliminated episode after episode, despite not truly performing on par with the other chefs. Oddly enough, she owns a successful restaurant in Soho. I’m not really sure how that works, unless the menu never changes and she has simply cooked the same thing so much that it’s great. Who knows?
• Camille, Season 3: I have practically nothing to say about Camille, because her time on the show was little more than an episode. I seem to recall some experience with pastry, that still brought her down in the end?
• Josie, Season 2: Another bold contestant, Josie was well-liked on her season, though she didn’t go particularly far. A trio of bad salads was her final demise.
• Andrea, Season 1: Oh, Andrea. So sweet, so ill-prepared for this show. She managed to come back for an episode or two after one of the contestants had to leave unexpectedly, but it was no surprise that she didn’t make much of the second chance. She’s not really the Top Chef type, more of a basic home cook. She also talked quite a bit about bodily functions and the importance of roughage in your diet.
• Miguel, Season 1: Of all the chefs selected for this “All-Stars” Top Chef Bowl, Miguel is most deserving of the description “all-star.” He went quite far on his season. He’s remembered for being funny and for making the best dish for the weird fetish party challenge. Everyone liked him. Except for maybe Tiffani, but that’s not saying much.

Padma explains that the chefs will be each be competing in a head-to-head cookoff against a former contestant. They will have 20 minutes to prepare a dish honoring the regional cuisine of one of the following NFL football teams: Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, NY Giants, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49’ers, and Seattle Seahawks. I would have been ALL OVER the Cowboys, of course ☺

As the winner of the quickfire, Stefan gets to select his NFL team AND opponent. In what was surely a demeaning moment for the chef herself not to mention awkward for all the chefs, Stefan (wisely) selected Andrea. This was not a bad decision on his part-based on what we have seen, Andrea was certainly the weakest chef. It’s not a popularity contest! It’s TOP CHEF! It remains to be seen whether or not his selection of the Dallas Cowboys was wise.

Predictably, Dr. Chase selects the Miami Dolphins, Jamie chooses the 49’ers, and Leah takes the Giants. Carla ends up with the Saints, Hosea picks the Seahawks, and Fabio is forced to take the Green Bay Packers. Bless his heart. At least he knows cheese! He is Italian, after all!

The chefs fluttered about the kitchen for a few minutes, studying their ingredients and attempting to come up with a great dish. Jamie feels bereft of inspiration and virtually ignores her competition. Dr. Chase makes small talk with Josie, who tries to ignore him. Stefan attempts to seduce Andrea, though a plastic cup of Budweiser is a pathetic attempt at romance. Hosea criticizes Miguel as he valiantly attempts to debone a ruby red fillet of salmon. Spike is completely cool and collected, while Fabio is seriously doubting himself. They try to lighten things up by tackling each other while wearing their team chef coats and football helmets.

The next day, the chefs head to the for the competition, which is taking place at the Institute of Culinary Education. A raucous crowd of culinary students and formerly eliminated chefs awaits them. Padma strides out to the test kitchen in a ref’s uniform, which I am quite certain was NOT authentic and was probably purchased in one of the many “adult” shops around the corner of 6th Avenue and West 4th Street. Oh Padma, the levels to which you’ll stoop! She explains the complicated scoring system, and then the Top Chef Bowl begins.

I’m alarmed immediately when I hear about Nikki’s chicken livers. Blech. Even if I didn’t already know about her weak background, I would have predicted an easy victory for Leah. Hosea makes an AMAZING looking salmon roll with a ginger-blackberry sauce. It not only honored the region, what with the fruit and fresh berries, but it was unique. I wish I could go to there, and have his salmon roll right NOW. Despite a panicky start, Carla manages to triumph over Andrew with her gumbo n’ grits. Andrew should probably have spent less time trying to wow the crowd with his pathetic Southern accent.

Stefan somehow got distracted by Andrea’s loveliness while cooking-I can’t come up with any other explanation for his defeat. Perhaps he had too many components on his dish? How else does Tex-Mex chili beat out roasted pork and NY strip steak? For the record, this was a ploy on the producers' part! There is absolutely no way that Andrea’s dish was better. Stefan could beat her on his worst day, recovering from the flu, with his hands tied behind his back. And I don’t even particularly like him.

Jamie was victorious over Camille, who made a strange mixture of mushrooms, miso, crabmeat, and sweet potatoes. Jamie’s cioppino and sourdough toasts looked delicious and fresh. I appreciated Scott Conant’s comments about Jamie’s cooking ethic, and I really hope that she does make it to the finale. She’s a great chef.

The final two showdowns proved to fill the remaining two spots at judge’s table. The good doctor’s ceviche with sangria had "too much going on", and Fabio's venison was terribly overcooked. I sat in nervous apprehension while the judges deliberated, because I felt that I simply could not bear if Fabio was sent home, and though I hated to admit it, he probably deserved it. Overcooking a protein is a far greater culinary sin than having a dish with too many components. I suppose the argument could be made that Fabio had less desirable regional ingredients, while Dr. Chase should have been able to easily devise a great dish with the Miami ingredients.

While I liked the general concept behind the challenge, the judging process seemed completely arbitrary and ridiculous. For receiving the vote of the majority of the judges, a chef obtained 7 points for their team. If the testers in the audience liked their dish best, they got 3 points. Any chef who did not come out on top against the “all-stars” would be subject to elimination. Not only did that take away the authenticity of the challenge-what would the judges have done if the Season 5 chefs won each time?-but it took away the truly competitive element of the show. The chefs should be competing against each other, after all, not former contestants. I can imagine a challenge where the chefs had to PARTNER with them. I do not enjoy the feeling that I (and the contestants) have been used and manipulated for the purpose of better television.

Thus, my final thoughts on the episode are that it was a poorly developed challenge that certainly did not give the chefs even chances of winning. I’m fairly certain, also, that Fabio’s personality had a lot more to do with his remaining on the show rather than his cooking. No matter how disappointed I would have been, I know that Jeff deserved to stay. Oh well, at least he has Cameron waiting for him back at Princeton-Plainsboro.


The Raj said...

Fabio's venison was overcooked not undercookd. Tom mentioned how the venison was "already dead"; that Fabio didn't need to "kill it again".

Katie W said...

Thank you for pointing that out! I was aware that he overcooked the venison-I'm not sure what I was thinking as I typed out my post. Perhaps I was remembering Leah's fish? Oops!