Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: November 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 8: "Piggin' Out."

I don't think you know what a "gooch" means.
Sara thinks she’s a gooch. Don’t google that, or do. Either way, I won’t talk about it on here.

Her interpretation of a “gooch” is that she’s bad luck. Because every team she’s been involved in has been mediocre or on the bottom. Um. Maybe the real reason is you’re not a good cook and you pay more attention to your hairdo than your food? Wait. She doesn’t like being on the bottom. Ah. I’ll just leave that one alone.

Wait. Someone just said that Patty, who was kicked off last week, has only been cooking for three years?? C’mon producers, what’s the vetting process here? I swear instead of finding the absolute top contestants, some of these people are literally cast as fodder. #RedShirts
Ensign Patty.

Quickfire time.

Standing next to Padma is none other than New Orleans’ musical icon, Dr. John! 

Talk about having lived a full and fascinating life! During the early days, Dr. John sold drugs, ran a whorehouse, and was been in and out of jail. That’s all before he became a six-time Grammy winner and an inductee to the Rock and Roll hall of fame.

I’m sure some day there will be movies made about him.

What’s this? Someone on the show knows who Dr. John is? Brian recognizes the good Dr. from his recent collaboration with The Black Keys. Of course. He’s also wondering why Dr. John is here. Um. He’s only one of the most famous people from New Orleans?? #FacePalm.

This week’s Quickfire challenge? Make hot sauce.

When Dr. John speak and we need subtitles. You know why? Because he’s just that cool. Us mortals aren’t cool enough to understand him on our own.

Kids. Couple of words to learn this week. 

The man's so cool he's got his own language.
Let’s start with “hip-tang.” What does that mean? According to Dr. John, it has to have a “flavor-nicity of the highest order” mixed in with “tang-a-nicity” to make a killer sauce. 

“Hit it. Can’t quit it,” he preaches.


Who wouldn’t want eat something with a little “hip-tang?” Assignment of the week. Use the phrase “hip-tang” at your workplace as much as you can. Instant promotion!

45 minutes. Winner gets immunity. Go.

This is an interesting challenge. Every culture has their own hot sauce. And it’s not, ‘make a dish that does well with hot sauce.’ It’s just the sauce. Like Nina said, “Nowhere to hide.”

Not Hip.
Carlos is pretty psyched. Since he works with hot peppers often, he feels confident about presenting the proper amount of flavor and heat. A lot of other chefs are combining tropical fruits with their peppers. Meanwhile, Justin is adding fermented anchovies. See, that’s super smart. Fermented anchovy means instant umami. And that’s “flavor-nicity” right there!

Although there are no apparently sponsors for this challenge, all of the empty bottles look a lot like they’re from “Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce.” Hopefully the local company, Bruce Foods, got some $$ out of it.

Time’s up.
No Tang.

Both Padma and Dr. John have some accompaniment in front of them so they’re not tasting the sauce as -s. Padma goes with plain white crackers. Dr. John appears to be chasing hot sauce with some cajun rice.

Lesson from this Quickfire. Don’t make hot sauces that are TOO hot. It will bombard the taster’s pallet with too much heat. Balance is key.

Both Sara and Nina’s hot sauces are too hot. They fell to the bottom alongside Nick’s sweet and sour concoction. Don’t blame the guy though. He had his first ulcer at age twenty. So he probably avoided dealing with spicy food. With that said, god knows why he decided to become a chef. Talk about an ulcer-inducing career. Oy.

Now let’s see who’s got the “hip-tang.”

Brian’s green jalapeño with lime and yuzu, Justin’s umami driven anchovy, and Carlos’ habanero mango hot sauce are all pretty “hip.” But there can be only one. And that’s Brian’s hot sauce. He was smart to use jalapeño. It provides just enough heat while the yuzu added the “tang” factor. He gets immunity again. Hope this isn’t a team challenge, cuz whoever is on his team should expect minimal effort.

Elimination Challenge.

In walks another New Orleans icon, Donald Link, wheeling in a whole ginormous pig. Donald Link is the owner of Herb Saint, Cochon, and Cochon Butcher. He was one of the first chefs to return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, cooking and providing free meals for everyone who needed it. Much like John Besh, Chef Link kept his restaurant group in New Orleans to provide jobs and awesome food to the local people. He’s a true champion of all things New Orleans.

The piggy who went to the market...
Alongside Donald is local artist/butcher/chef, Toby Rodriguez. If you’re a Tony Bourdain fan, you might have see Toby in an episode of No Reservations where Toby took Tony to a small hole in the wall and they feasted on stuffed turkey wings and okra smothered shrimps and crabs. Oh and he threw Tony a REAL boucherie. 

A boucherie is a cajun tradition where a community would come together to slaughter and prepare an whole pig. Since there were no refrigeration back then, the community would break down into groups and every part of the pig would be used and preserved. Some would make ham, other would make boudins. The important thing is that every part is cooked and used. 

This is what happens when you get eliminated. (j/k)
Today’s challenge. As a team, break down this 300 lbs hog and throw their own boucherie. Tomorrow they’ll have 5 hours to cook. Though each chef will be responsible for their own dish, as a team they must use every part of the pig.

As a demo of what kind of dishes are served at a boucherie, Toby and his chefs will make some traditional dishes for the cheftestants tonight. Wow. What a treat! This dinner alone is worth surviving 8 episodes in!

The chefs gather around the hog and start divvying up who gets what. Right away Sara tries to be leader and suggests a “cohesive” menu - only to be immediately shut down by Justin who thinks they need a more “diverse” menu so not everyone’s doing the same thing. #womp.

It’s already a mess. These guys can’t even work as a team to decide who gets what, let alone butcher and portion out this damn thing. So it comes down to experience. Apparently both Justin and Nick have butchered over 10 whole hogs before so they get to take the lead. Usually at this point someone confesses to have “never done this before.” Apparently either they’ve learned to lie, or finally too embarrassed to admit to it at this point.

Good ole Sara’s playing armchair butcher, questioning every move. Nobody likes her. 

Finally, the animal is broken down and portioned off. Surprise! Carlos is guess it, tacos! You know, just in case you forget where he’s from. Then comes the actual surprise, Justin, the local chef is also going to make tacos. That’s really smart because you know, regardless of expectation, this still is a New Orleans themed season. So maybe you want to use your local experience and appeal to the crowd. 

Travis is making ramen, with store bought noodles. Brian, with the immunity asks, “like spaghetti?” Haha. Nice dig. #EyeRoll #ItsNotRamen
Real Cajun food.

With shopping done, the chefs comes home to find Toby and his team have taken over the house’s kitchen. They’re making some of the most amazing looking dishes we’ve seen on this show so far. Smoked tasso wrapped in goat cheese, backbone stew, boudins, all look super delicious. Let’s just cancel the rest of the season and give the Top Chef title to Toby. This food looks by far better than anything the cheftestants made this season. 

Next morning, it’s time to cook. Let’s head off to The Bayou Barn.

Sara is bitching about this being an outdoor cooking challenge. Hey it’s a boucherie! What did you expect? Cooking demo complete with swap-outs at William Sonoma? Psst.

The Bayou Barn is an outdoor catering/events facility. That means they’ve got lots of nifty outdoor cooking gadgets. A standing smoker, giant charcoal grills, and a “china box” are all ready to go. 
Top Chef

“A minute and forty seven guys!!” shouts Brian the immunity calmly while drinking some iced-tea. Not so fast. There’s actually an hour and forty seven minutes left to go. Yeah. We can tell he’s taking this week seriously.

Every week someone decides to make something they’ve never made before. Even though Stephanie’s got arguably the easiest ingredient, pork belly, she decides to go off the reservation. She’s going to make a pork “brodo” (soup) with crispy pork skin. Good luck. Making something for the first time always works out well on Top Chef.

I'm gonna start a fire!
Louis the Loner tells us he’s not very social and basically has no friends. However, he’s made more friends these few weeks than he has in years. This is making him all warm and fuzzy and he would love to stay longer. That my friends is what the editors call “foreshadowing.” Chances are Louis is in trouble. That and he’s making freaking popcorn. 

Apparently there’s also a boucherie tradition in China. Because Shirley remembers going to grandma’s house where they did the same thing, breaking down and sharing a whole pig. She’s going to make dumplings. 

Oh oh. Looks like Justin’s going to burn the whole damn place down. His open fire grill is getting a little out of control and with cooking pork breast, low and slow is usually the key. Scorching is usually not the recommended cooking technique. He might be on the hot seat. Get it? Heh.

Time’s up. Here what these guys came up with.

Brian - Porchetta with Oyster Mushrooms.

Yup. Dude has immunity and really wanted to go outside his comfort zone. So he make a pork belly roll with some sautéed mushrooms. Way to go out on a limb dude.

However, even Brian can’t screw this up. Donald Link said this would be something he’d make if he was in this challenge. 

Tom and Hugh Acheson tried to cut in line. Got totally shut down. Ha.

Not exactly Boucherie food.
Sara - Pork Dim Sum with Crab & Shrimp Har Gow (dumpling).

So apparently Sara still thinks her expertise is Asian food. However, seems like she decided to focus on the food this week. Both Tom and Hugh thought it was pretty good. Good thing. I’m tired of her bitching about how bad she is.

Justin - Wood Roasted Pork Breast Taco with Pork Liver Salsa Verde.

I’m not sure where Justin got his taco technique from. Usually the proteins in tacos are cut into small, bite sized pieces so it’s easier to eat. But Justin decides to serve the pork breast in slices. Not a smart move. Oh oh. Perhaps it was the flames, but Donald Link thought the pork was dry. 
Boucherie via Mexico.

Carlos - Pozole Verde with Fried Chorizo Tacos.

Now that’s a smart move. Serve a hearty stew with a size of crispy crunchy taco. You don’t find a land war in Asia, and you don’t try to out cook tacos with a Mexican! Carlos shows Justin how to properly cook/serve a taco. 

Shirley - Jiaozi Dumpling with Pork, Grilled Kidney & Crispy Pork Fat Salad.

Jiaozi dumplings are essentially Chinese raviolis. They’re savory and always boiled in water. To serve them with something crispy like cracklings is the perfect play on texture. Soft meaty pillows of meat alongside crispy strips of pork skin. We might have a winner here. 

Louis - Slow Grilled Pork Leg with Spring Onions, Shitake Mushrooms, Melted Corn and Popcorn.

Some whispers to Tom that this is the “best one.” Tom totally disagrees. Hugh found it confusing. Melted corn served with popcorn. I guess calling it “avant garde” would be putting it nicely.

Stephanie - Pork Brodo with Braised Pork Belly & Summer Vegetable Pickle.

Stephanie is not confident about her dish. On paper this dish sounds delicious. However, neither Donald or Padma liked it. Congrats Steph. You just screwed up one of the winningest ingredients on Top Chef.

Travis - Cajun Style Pork Ramen with Pork Bone Broth & Collard Greens.
David Chang would CUT you for this.

Earlier Travis tried to sell this dish as “Asian-Cajun.” To which Donald Link mockingly said, “Ca-sian.” Immediately Hugh asks if the noodles were handmade. Nope. And of course Hugh then shares sarcastically with Tom on the “difficulty” of making ramen noodles. Tom rolls his eyes in disdain. 

Carrie - Crispy Trotters with Snap Peas & Pickled Onions.

Crispy trotters is one of those super delicious things that most people won’t eat because of what it is (pigs feet). You’re missing out. Think of it as the best tasting chicken nuggets ever. Only it’s pork. Crispy on the outside and warm and tasty on the inside. Tom and Hugh agrees that this is going to be a tough one to judge because there are so many good dishes.

It's head, but Tete sounds better.
Nick - Tete De Cochon (pig’s head) with Summer Beans, Lemongrass Vinaigrette & Wheat Berries.

Dude deserves props for pulling off this dish where it take a lot of work. He had to cook down the head, take the meat off, and roll the whole thing into a torchon. Though Donald Link thought it was super heavy, Nick balanced it out with the bright and crunchy veggies.

Nina - Braised Pig’s Head Ragu, Roasted Corn & Mustard Greens.

Though Nina had told Tom earlier that she wasn’t going to use heat, a last minute tasting caused her to reconsider. She add some cayenne peppers at the end to give the dish some pop. Good decision because both Tom and Hugh really liked the dish.

"I'm hopeful this season will get better!"
During the interlude Stephanie tells us what a nervous wreck she is. Nobody cares.

Back in the stew room. The flat screen of doom beckons.

What?! Tom just said that this was the best food he’s had in 11 seasons. The chefs in the stew room can’t believe it, the other judges probably don’t believe it, I certainly don’t believe it. 

The judges all like Shirley’s dumplings, Carlos’ pozole, and even Brian’s porchetta. On the flip side, Justin’s dry taco, Louis’ bizarre popcorn dish, Travis’ poor excuse of ramen, and Stephanie, who couldn’t bring flavor into braised pork belly. 

In a game of “one-upmanship” in front of the Judges, Shirley tells the judges that she and her mom used to travel three days to grandma’s house to make those dumplings.
The thrill of victory.
Carlos says people used to ride the bus for four hours just to have his mom’s pozole. Nina’s dad kicked the British out of Saint Lucia. 

The winner? Carlos with his comforting pozole with the chorizo tacos. Tom tells all three of them to keep cooking like this. Looks like Carlos is starting to find his stride. 

Time for the axis of bad food.

Justin, Louis, and Stephanie are called in. 

Sassy Hip-Tang.
Justin is defiant. He’s surprised that he’s here. Padma, being the pretty “mean girl” she is, immediate strikes back by telling him that his pork was “very bland and very dry.” This is an escalation from her earlier statement, “Justin’s meat was a little dry when we had it…”

Don’t be petulant with Padma or she’ll cut ya! #Protip

Tom quickly steps in and tells Justin that ALL the food was good and his portion of Justin’s meat was well cooked. So maybe this was just an issue of consistency. Ha.

Agony of defeat.
Stephanie’s problem is that her dish tastes unfinished. Tom needed more texture, more flavor, more something. At this level of competition any little mistake could sent you packing. Or better yet, serve the judges some popcorn.

Louis with his overly sweet, nonsensical popcorn dish gets the cut. He just tried to be too “cute” with this challenge. When Donald Link says he “hates” something on your plate, you know it’s time to go. So long Louis. Even though you worked for Thomas Keller, the only thing I’ll remember about you is that Thomas Keller is a great chef. 

Judging by the reaction of the stew room, I think people thought hoped it was going to be Stephanie. No worries folks. Her time will be up soon.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 7: "Jazz Hands."

Nick is sick. He is probably sick and tired of nonsequitur challenges that are sponsor driven rather than embracing the city of New Orleans. Or maybe he just had some soured Philadelphia Cream Cheese. 
How I feel about this season.

Nope. He’s got strep throat and is contagious for 24 hours. He’s forced to sit out the Quickfire challenge, and if he doesn’t recover in time, he will have to forfeit the competition. Unlike real life, where cooks calling in sick is unheard of, Nick cannot compete today.

The rest of the gang enters Top Chef Kitchen and finds Padma next to Kermit Ruffins, one of the most colorful and beloved musicians of New Orleans. Kermit is the essence of New Orleans jazz: joy and happiness. He also founded the jazz quintet, The Barbecue Swingers, and he often cooks barbecue for guests at their shows. Ever feel bummed out? Put on one of his albums, pour yourself a sazerac and get happy. 

Unfortunately, as unprepared as this season’s cheftestants are about New Orleans food, they are equally clueless about New Orleans culture. Walking in, Sara actually said, “Oh  there’s musical instruments!”

Seriously. Maybe to get ready for a season in New Orleans, god forbid you research a little bit about the city’s jazz culture or at the very least watch a few episodes of Treme? #FacePalm

Most of you have no idea who I am...
With Kermit in the house, obviously this challenge will involve music. Improvisation is a key skill to have both cooking in the kitchen and playing jazz on stage. I’ve often told people that cooking is improv. You have to constantly adjust to how your ingredients respond, much like jazz musicians must adjust to their fellow band mates. 

This week’s Quickfire is kind of like a game of cooking musical chairs. The chefs will start at one station and rotate when Kermit starts to play his trumpet. When the music stops, they’ll resume cooking at the station in front of them. No one knows how many rounds, or how long Kermit will play each round.

30 minutes total Quickfire length. Winner gets immunity. Let’s party.

The first song is “Treme Second Line (Blow da Whistle),” a Kermit classic. The chefs awkwardly “dance” their way around the stations. Some of them timidly wave their “jazz hands” around. Two minutes later, the music stops and it’s time to figure out who’s got what.

Even though chances are they won’t end up where they started, everyone is putting their best foot forward and pushing 100%. Sara’s searing duck breast, Justin’s stuffing baby quails, and Nina’s butchering fish. Moments later, the music starts again.

While Kermit plays “Drop Me Off in New Orleans,” the chefs once again awkwardly scurry around the station. I think at one point Stephanie’s doing the “robot?”
Wave it like you just don't care...

What the chefs are annoyed by is the literal “time” spent on moving around while Kermit plays. What is normally a 30 minute challenge is now 30 minus however long Kermit decides to play. 

Music stops. The chefs now openly asks each other what their original plan was, so they can decide either to stay the course or go another way. For the most part people are playing along and trying to make a go of it. All except for Brian.

Dude has no idea what to do. Realizing he’s probably not going to end up here in the end, he’s just gonna randomly sauté some vegetables. Slacker.

Here we go again. Probably due to time/editing, Kermit plays the same song very briefly. The chefs find themselves back where they first started.

Funny in just a few minutes, they find their original station/vision has gone off into a completely different direction. As usual, people like Patty and Brian made things that are completely not useful.
I'm crying on the inside.

Others, like Nina and Justin actually return to a well-managed station. Both feel confident that if they stayed put, the finished product will be a tasty one. But of course…

Another quick rotation and Louis find himself in the aftermath of Brian’s BS efforts. Nothing is done, and basically there’s bupkis to present. Meanwhile Justin learns the real meaning of “improv” when he had to throw away Patty’s gross goopy couscous salad. 

“Thanks everybody, for f*%king me over with this gross salad,” he says, annoyed.

Time’s up. Let’s see who took advantage of other people’s hard work and who got screwed.

Marinated Tofu Salad with Crispy Bacon & Cucumbers.

All the sadness.
Rosemary Okra, Rendered Pork Fat, Confit Potatoes with Frog Legs & Queso Fresco.

Asian Inspired Steak & Potatoes with Soy Reduction.

Trout with Cabbage & Pepper Slaw & Deep Fried Cannellini Beans.

Duck & Mussels with Flavors of Asia.

Pork Chops, Tamarind Sauce, Shaved Red Onions, Mint & Jalapeño.

Liver with Serrano Chilies, Celery Salad & Coconut Curry Mustard Sauce.

Braised Chicken & Clams with Red Bean Sauce, Green Apple & Red Onion Slaw.
Ok I was wrong. More sadness.

Pan Seared Redfish with Cucumber Slaw, Red Beans & Butter Sauce.

Shrimp Boil & Herb Salad with Parsley, Ponzu & Olive Oil.

On the bottom. We’ve got the two “victims” of this challenge. Justin’s behind the 8-Ball because he landed in front of the tofu station. Not to mention, he had to throw most of the previous cooks’ efforts away because it was terrible. Also Louis, who inherited the mess of a frog leg station that slacker Brian left him

Apparently the Karma Police took the day off because the top dishes belonged to Brian, who spent more effort dancing instead of cooking, and Patty, who pretty much sunk Justin’s chance of winning by making bad couscous to go with tofu. The winner - Brian, who at least acknowledged and thanked ‘everyone else’ who worked on the dish. 
Yeah. We know where you put it.

Instead of a lesson in improvisation, we got a lesson on how to ride peoples’ coat tails. Oh well, best laid plans right? 

Elimination Challenge Time.

This week, the chefs will group together and prepare a cohesive potluck style dinner for Kermit and his musician friends. So basically, it’s another team challenge. The difference is they get to pick their own team. 

Wait a minute. Now this is a new one. Patty has NEVER heard of the term potluck before? The lack of basic knowledge with this season’s chefs is beyond comprehension. Potluck??

Since Nick is out sick, the team with only 3 chefs will either take him if he’s better, or have to compete without him. Call it punishment for being sucky and not being able to find a fourth person to join your team. Or we can be honest and just call them the kids who didn’t get picked. I’ll give you 3 guess on who those cooks are, but you’ll probably get it on the first try.

Gray Team.
Patty, Brian, Travis. Yup. The bottom of the barrel. Poor Nick. I don’t know which is worse. Having to go home for strep or getting sent home cooking with these yahoos.

They’ll have 2 hours to cook at the Top Chef kitchen and 30 minutes to finish their dishes at Kermit’s Speakeasy. Tonight, they get the privilege to have one of the greatest experience in New Orleans - Thursday Night at Vaughan’s with Kermit Ruffins. 

Kermit’s been doing this Thursday night gig at Vaughan’s since the early 90’s and it was one of those “must do’s” in New Orleans. Sadly, he recently decided it was time to end that gig and focus on other ventures. So these chefs should feel very grateful to have seen one of his shows there. 

The Green Team consists of Carrie, Nina, Stephanie, and Carlos. Easily the strongest team. Nina aside, Sara and Carlos both have had good showings so far. They’re focusing on an Italian theme, complete with dessert. 

Green Team.
The Blue Team’s got Shirley, Louis, Justin, Sara. Justin aside, this is obviously the “B” team. Shirley as usual, would not shut up. Justin’s rethinking why he’s on this team.

And we have the Gray Team. Um yeah. The leader and best chef of this team is home sick, giving directions to the rest over the phone. Despite Nick’s strict directions, Travis buys fish without smelling it. On paper, all four of them should have their bags packed and ready to go. Odd are not in their favor.

After shopping, the gang get ready for tonight’s party at Vaughan’s. Of course, Sara does what she does best, no not cooking, she gets her hair nice and big. It’s her speciality. Nick is still recovering so he’s left literally alone playing solitaire. 

Vaughan’s is one of those quintessential no-nonsense divey bars located in the Bywater area of New Orleans. Up until recently, Kermit literally packed the house every Thursday night. If you show up early enough you might get to taste his famous barbecued turkey necks and red beans and rice. Tonight, the chefs gets to experience the magic. 

Unfortunately, we only get a very quick look at Vaughan’s. As per this season, the producers glosses over yet another iconic New Orleans experience.
Best. Time. Ever.

Next morning, Nick is cleared to cook, and off to the Top Chef kitchen they go.

However, since he missed the first day he now feels the need to over compensate. Actually, he probably didn’t trust the Three Stooges and decided to do everything himself. Hell, I wouldn’t trust Patty enough to cook Thanksgiving Dinner, let alone an elimination challenge on Top Chef. 

You know who else I wouldn’t trust? Brian. Brian sees that Nick is taking on too much but hell, does doesn’t care. He says because he’s got immunity he’s “not too worried about it.” This is the worse kind of person to have in the kitchen. One of the best compliments chefs give one another is “I would go to war with this guy.” Frankly, I wouldn’t want this guy on my Pictionary team, let alone cooking.

I'm telling you. Last season was much better.
Almost time to eat. Guests and a local who’s who of musicians start to arrive. This week we have Gail, Padma, Tom, and Sue Zemanick, executive chef of Gautreau’s and Top Chef Masters contestant. Sue has multiple James Beard Award nominations and is regarded as one of the best Chefs in the country. 

Kermit says he was the king of potluck. It was common knowledge that he used to cook before and in-between sets of his shows, giving out free food for his fans. Apparently the city stopped him from doing that because they “were having too much fun.” As someone who’ve been to one of this shows, I can concur that if there can be such a thing as “too much fun,” it would be at one of Kermit’s shows. 

Here comes the food.

Blue Team:

Protip. Don't serve Tom okra.
Justin - Hominy Grits with Brown Shrimp, Roasted Okra, Fava Beans & Smoked Bacon.

Louis - Grilled & Pickled Vegetables with Crispy Sunflower Seeds & Mustard Vinaigrette.

Shirley & Sara - Glazed Beef with Charred Onions, Melon Pickles & Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette.

Blue teams gets good feedback all around. The highlight is Louis’ pickled and grilled veggies. Many guests, including Tom, says they’ve never had that combination before. The glazed beef was tender, grits are full of butter, looks like they’re going to be ok. I’m surprised they served Tom okra! It’s one of his least favorite things to eat!

Meanwhile the Gray team is struggling in the kitchen. The fish was portioned too thin, and in the last second Patty forgot to throw on the chili threads for the watermelon salad. Leaving off a component is a big no-no.

Gray Team:

 Watermelon and Cheese.
Brian & Travis - Togarashi Fried Chicken with Bee Pollen & Ponzu.

Patty - Tomato Watermelon Salad, Szechuan Pepper & Goat Cheese Espuma.

Nick - Barramundi & Red Drum Fricassee with Zucchini, Truffle & Yuzu Kosho.

Travis & Brian - Caramel Glazed BBQ Ribs, Dehydrated Potatoes & Peanut Gremolata.

As expected. Gray team kinda tanked. Although the fried chicken was crunchy and tasty, everything else had problems. The rub on the ribs tasted burnt. The fish was bland and overcooked. The watermelon salad lacked eat. Tom says if you’re going to do a savory watermelon salad, you need some spice or else it’s just sweet. #Protip.

Green Team:

Baby Artichokes.
Stephanie - Fried Baby Artichoke, Preserved Lemon & Anchovy Aioli.

Nina - Semolina Gnocchetti with Sausage.

Carrie & Carlos - Summer Tiramisu with Nectarines, Pistachio & Cheese.

Green Team knocked it out of the park. #Protip for future Top Chef contestants. Tom Colicchio likes artichokes. Especially if you prepare them correctly and don’t EVER use the tinned stuff. Yes he can taste the difference. 

Nina’s just coasting at this point. And by coasting I mean she can see that she’s taken a look around and there’s no need to be daring and risky. She’s made this gnocchi before, so hell, why not just do what works! Even though Tom notes she’s done this before, it’s still tasty and judges still like it. 

Last week I was sad. Now I'm just angry.
However, it’s not obvious to the chefs. Back in the stew room, every one is nervous. Sara says, “I’ve learned to feel like sh&t all the time until they tell me not too.” Yeah, guess that mean she’s been feeling that way for a LONG time now.

Usually everyone can get a good sense during the Flat Screen of Doom preview. Today the judges are being kinda vague. While it’s obvious who had the best dish, it’s hard to tell who might be in the bottom.

There were obvious complaints about Nick’s overcooked fish and Patty’s bland watermelon salad, but judges also didn’t like Carrie’s dessert and some thought Shirley’s beef was too tough.

Here comes Padma. The Gray team is summoned.

People are confused. Awkward applause ensues. 

There’s a term in boxing called “rope-a-dope.” The Gray team is about to find out what that means.

Walking in, you can tell by the judges faces that this isn’t going to end well. 

Tears of relief.
Even though Nick was responsible for a lot of the work on the Gray team, it was finally Patty’s time to go. Frankly, it was overdue. And of course, cue the tears. 

The Green team gets called in. Despite being called in last, they can tell from the Gray team’s faces and Patty’s tears that they’re going to be ok.

Kudos all across the board. Given the fact that Nina’s already made gnocchi once before, the win goes to Stephanie and her crispy artichokes. Plus, you know how much effort goes into prepping artichoke? Well deserved win. Not to mention, she knew who Kermit was, extra credit.

The gang gives the weeping Patty a supportive round of applause and a warm goodbye. It’s like watching a little sister who finally, as Tom puts it, “ran out of luck.” As much as I knocked on her you can tell she’s a good cook who just need more time and confidence to become an leader in the kitchen. Bye Patty, next time audition for that other Bravo show, Battle of the Top Sous Chef, where I’m sure you’ll do better! 

Next week. Another New Orleans Jazz Icon, Doctor John! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 6: "Campfires, Cream Cheese and Countryside."

Michael Sichel is gone. No more annoying and phony terms of endearment like “boo boo” and “babycakes.” Nina is happy.

Lea Michele is gone. No more self-aggrandizing and phony culinary terms like “needs more acid” and “party in my mouth.” I am happy.
If you think he's handsome now...

After the non-sequitur guest appearance last week, it’s a relief to see John Besh, one of champions of the New Orleans food world to be this week’s guest judge. Time to bring the focus back to the region. Did you know that he was a former marine who was in Operation Desert Storm? 

Before the challenge is announced, the chefs were told to pack their bags. It’s time for an overnight trip. It’s also time for an impromptu Toyota product tie-in. 

Check him out back then.
The gang drives a hour north of New Orleans to Covey Rise Farms, a 50 acre farm that supplies restaurants and their local CSA/Produce club. When a restaurant claims the (all too cliched) term “farm-to-table,” they’re talking about a place like this.

Chef Besh tells everyone that one of the farm’s specialty are their creole tomatoes. These tomatoes are only grown in the southern parts of Louisiana. They are large, meaty, thin-skinned and juicy. Their Quickfire Challenge is to compose a dish highlighting these tomatoes in 20 minutes.

Paddy’s complaining that these Quickfires are getting shorter and shorter. I remember one season when the chefs had only 10 minutes to make a breakfast dish - with one hand! Quit your bitching.
Killer tomatoes.

The winner of the challenge will have immunity.

Here we go.

Here’s why this season has been kinda meh. If I were to tell you that Brian Huskey is making a “toad-in-the-hole,” using a big piece of tomato instead of bread you’d probably say, “who?”


You know what Tom Colicchio would say? You got it. You’re not going to win Top Chef by sticking an egg in the middle of a tomato. And that’s also why eventually Brian Huskey is going to join the likes of Eliza Gavin, Whitney Otakawa, and Tracey Bloom. #RedShirts.

Everyone’s getting on Bene for this challenge. His past two attempts at tomatoes both landed him on the bottom. So the chances of him winning this challenge? Yeah.

Nina’s making a chilled watermelon tomato soup. That’s what cooks refer to as “pushing.” To make a chilled soup in Louisiana summer heat in 20 minutes is ambitious to say the least, but she’s “pushing” herself to do something more than throw a freaking egg in the middle of a tomato. 

Stephanie, who claim she studied John Besh’s book prior to the season, goes with sliced tomatoes with cubes of watermelons, avocados, and crumbles of feta cheese. That’s literally something anyone can just throw together. Mean while, over at Masterchef Junior, 10 year olds are whipping up Beef Wellingtons. 

Here are the dishes from chefs with skills and imagination.

Carlos - Olive Oil Poached Tomato with Red Onions, Cilantro & Basil.

Nina - Chilled Watermelon Tomato Soup with Jalapeno, Fresh Basil & Shaved Zucchini.

Maybe we should be on Top Chef.
Louis - Tomato Seed Bouillon, Marinated Tomato, Watermelon Cucumber & Zucchini.

The winner - Nina’s chilled soup. Not that she needs it, but she’ll have immunity for this week. With the slight hiccup last week when Michael pulled her down to the bottom, Nina has been favored since the first challenge. Regardless of where she finishes, I suspect we’ll remember her name after this season’s over.

Elimination Challenge.

There’s that term again. Since they’re at a farm, they’ll be doing the whole “bring the farm to the table” business. They’ll have 90 minutes to showcase all the beautiful local produce. And oh yeah, every dish will have to have PHILADELPHIA CREAM CHEESE!!

Told you this was a bad idea!!
Right. Because nothing says freshness and farm to table like commercialized processed food. 

Look. I understand a show needs sponsors. But it’s ridiculous to use this particular sponsor on this particular challenge. Isn’t the the whole point is to use local products? Isn’t the whole “farm to table” movement to source from small, nearby purveyors? So you guys go ahead and feature something that LITERALLY has the name of a city that is 1,200 miles away?!?! 

Philadelphia Cream Cheese says they source their milk from local farms and it goes from their creameries to their fridge is just 6 days. I also did check their ingredients list and everything in there does check out with the good people of Label Watch. So I guess as commercialized products go they’re not too bad. But wouldn’t it make sense to feature something like Creole Cream Cheese, something that is native to the region and could use the help to boost publicity? 

Wanna hear something even more shocking? Beloved John Besh, champion of all things New Orleans, serves a Creole Cream Cheese Red Velvet ice cream at one of his restaurants, Soda Shop. 

Guess he figured it’s not his show. But still, it’s this kind of BS that turns people away. 

The cheftestants will be serving the judges and some of the executive chefs from John Besh’s restaurants. Each will be responsible for either an app, entree, or desert. Dishes will be served family style. Everyone gets to draw knives to see which course they’ll serve, and along with immunity, Nina gets to pick first. She picks apps. Smart choice because it’s basically a one/two bite dish. No need to worry about protein/veg/starch composition.

Since this is a sponsored challenge, winner gets 10 grand.

After the knife pick for dishes, the chefs get a night off and relax at the Covey Rise Lodge, part of the whole Covey Rise Sportman’s Retreat. It’s got a pool, a fire pit, you know - outdoorsy stuff: Drink a beer, make some s’mores, nature walk. Hm. I wonder if they have wifi. #ProbNot

I would have looked great in a bikini.
Hey there’s a pool so that means bikini shots! Nope. I can hear the primal screams of the producers now with both eye-candy cheftestants Jason Cichonski and Janine Booth being eliminated. No T&A here, we get one shot of Stephanie hanging out with a beer in her tank top. Sigh.

Nina, Travis and Bene have formed a tight little group. They’re bonding and making s’mores. Nina says that Bene is a happy person and when you’re happy you make happy food. Notice she didn’t say “good” food. If I were Bene I’d ask Nina for some cooking tips. Because he’s making s’mores over open fire with his bare hands. I’m no Top Chef but I’m pretty sure you’ll burn yourself doing that.

Next day the chefs arrive at John Besh’s restaurant, La Provence. Right away everyone’s squeezed into the walk-in fridge, battling for ingredients. Since the *ahem* focus is on local and seasonal, there’s a limited amount of what’s available. Products are on a first come first serve basis. No need to fight for the cream cheese. They’ll have plenty of that.

I never have a problem getting my hair done in time!
With only 90 minutes, people are scrambling around. Somehow Sara finds the time to bitch about her lack of success thus. She says she’s tired on being in the middle of the pack - and that’s being generous to say the least. If she paid as much attention to her food as her hairdo, she’s have already won this thing.

Louis (yes, another name I don’t really recognize) utters one of those cliched competition phrases, “If it works it’s great, if not I’m screwed.” He’s making some sort of graham cracker bread pudding surprise with blueberries. 

Speaking of surprise. Surprise! Bene didn’t see the ingredients he had hoped for so now he doesn’t know what to do. I wonder what he was hoping to find? Ready-made po’boys from Parkway Deli? He’s going to be super creative and cook chicken. 

Bene. You're doing it wrong.
Justin’s in a odd spot. Much like the Commander’s Palace challenge, he knows some of these chefs that will be in attendance. Hell, as a James Beard award nominee, he could probably be one of the chefs working for John Besh. Extra pressure for sure.

Instead of Tom Colicchio, it’s John Besh who does the cook ‘n chat. John is much less intimidating than Tom. It’s not that John’s any less of a chef, you can just tell his style of mentoring is much more nurturing. It’s like being motivated not out of fear but out of not wanting to let him down. 

Tavis’ mom has a crush on John Besh. Of course! John Besh is a handsome man! I’m sure if he was Asian Travis would be fighting his mom for John Besh. 

Beacon of Positivity. 
Sara’s running out of time. She’s having problem stuffing her lamb loins (no pun intended) so now her lamb doesn’t have enough time to cook. She says she just needs to stay positive to make it work. Yeah, because you know, she’s been the most positive person in the kitchen thus far. She’s just glad what she has the plate isn’t disgusting. That’s the positivity! 

Time for the appetizers.

Patty - Snapper Crudo with Cream Cheese Vinaigrette. 

Brian - Summer Squash & Zucchini Tagliatelle with Poached Oysters & Emulsified Cream Cheese.

Carlos - Poached Beets & Pickled Carrots with Peach, Habanero & Cream Cheese Sauce.

Nina - Crispy Zucchini Blossoms with Eggplant & Cream Cheese Puree.

Sara - Island Spiced Lamb Chop Stuffed with Cream Cheese & Curry Powder.
Finally. Something delicious.

The stand outs here were Carlos and Nina. Carlos manages to bring his Mexican background into every dish. There’s always some sort of chillies or cilantro to accent that unique flavor. And Nina’s just being Nina. Smokey eggplant puree with the tangy cream cheese stuffed in a crispy zucchini flower. Crispy and savory in one bite. 

Not surprisingly, Sara’s lamb was severely undercooked. Her dish was clearly the bottom of this group.

Back in the kitchen, the next group is finishing up the entrees. Bene’s in a bit of a trouble. (I feel like I write that every week.) He feels the vegetable are underdone, so he throws it back on the stove and covered it with some tin foil. The result is mushy, steamed vegetables. He says, “It’s not my best work.” I feel like he says that every week.

Here are the entrees.

That lamb is not quite silenced...
Bene - Roasted Chicken Breast Filled with Caramelized Onions & Tarragon Cream Cheese.

Carrie - Vinegar Braised Chicken in Cream Cheese Sauce with Chilled Cucumber.

Justin - Roasted Duck Breast with Eggplant Vinaigrette, Chanterelle Mushrooms & Corn Puree.

Travis - Seared Lamb Chops with Moroccan Succotash & Cream Cheese Aioli.

The judges concur with Bene. Just not Bene’s food. When Tom Colicchio says, “Steamed potatoes with paprika on them, it’s just like ‘what are we doing here?’” You know you’re in trouble.

John Besh’s being nice. He thought Travis’ lamb stood out. Tom disagrees. “Let’s put it this way. If any of these guys here made dish like this for you or one of your restaurants they wouldn’t be at this table!”

The only stand out here was Justin’s duck. This is were being local comes in handy. Justin knew that aside from vegetables, Covey Rise also has Chappapella Farm nearby and they raise free range, happily treated ducks. His seared duck breast with mushrooms could be the best dish on the day. No one can really taste the cream cheese in the sauce. Perhaps that’s his secret!

Tom tells this story of back in the day when his moms rolls up colored breads with cream cheese and pimento olives and serves them at her dinner parties. I love it when Tom tells childhood stories. It’s the only time I’m not deathly afraid of him.
Tell me again why we're doing a cream cheese episode?

Lastly, the desert group puts on the finishing touches.

Stephanie’s having a tough week. After serving the simplest of dishes to John Besh, now her “desert” isn’t work out at all. She tried to combine cream cheese with whipped cream and it’s just not mixing. So basically she’s serving a pile of goop. 

The sweet stuff:

Louis - Graham Cracker with Blackberries & Cream Cheese Mousse.

Nick - Funnel Cake & Carrot Cake with Peach Flavored Ice Cream.

Shirley - “Philadelphia” Steamed Egg Custard with Macerated Blueberries.

Stephanie - Cream Cheese, Peach & Cherry Mousse with Cream Cheese Short Dough.

Everyone is wondering what happened with Stephanie’s “mousse.” One guest chef said it was “broken” on many different levels. Even Tom says there’s gotta be a story behind this. Not good.

Nick was the big winner in the desert round. His funnel cake was a great combination with the carrot cake mousse. Being from Philly, glad to see he knows how to incorporate the ingredient! However, no one at the table mentioned it.

Overall, the guests and judges were not impressed. Usually chefs love to cook for other chefs. It’s one of those unsaid things where you did your best work simply because you know that they will understand and appreciate your efforts more than the average guy. However, today most the cheftestants folded under pressure. Once again, it feels like some these guys are cooking to get by rather cooking to win.

Back in the Stew Room. The Flat Screen of Doom flickers on.
This season so far.

Padma’s disappointed. John Besh is disappointed. We’re all disappointed. But what did you expect when they’re forced to use freaking Philadelphia cream cheese in every dish? But that’s no excuse. Some of these cooks are just weak.

The few highlights were Nick’s funnel cake, Justin’s duck, and Nina’s blossoms. Time and time again Nina’s among the top dishes. Sara is intimidated and resentful. There’s that positivity again.

The winner to no one’s surprise is Nina. If this keeps up we’ll just call the show “Cooking with Nina Compton!” 

On the bottom we have some familiar faces. Bene, Sara, and Travis are called to face the music. Somehow Stephanie was spared. Perhaps because it was a dessert course? Hard to imagine she survived service a goopy mess.

Welcome to the club, Bene.
As Tom puts it so eloquently, the loser “went from farm to table and took a detour to the cafeteria.” Bene and his steamed vegetables gets the cut. He joins Mohammed,  Jugdish, Sidney and Clayton in a lonely corner of the Omega house. Enjoy the punch and cookies!

Next week is going to be awesome. To prepare for it, go fix yourself a sazerac and set your Pandora station to Kermit Ruffins! 

Please follow me on twitter @ChezWu!