Top Chef Season 4, Episodes 2 and 3

Editor’s Note: Citizen Chef and Miss Macchiato have agreed to go review Top Chef together and already they are behind. CC went on vacation and MM is a big slacker. They have agreed to power through the next couple of episodes to catch up. Episode 4 will be reviewed tomorrow. Hopefully.

MM: So this review will combine both episodes 2 and 3 together. AwK readers (all 4 of you) have probably watched episodes 2 and 3 by now.

CC: You’re only saying that because you don’t remember what the challenge was.

MM: I remember! The Quickfire was a little interesting, but it left something to be desired. Basically, the chefs were taken to a small Farmer’s Market, given a budget, and told they could only use five ingredients for their dish.

CC: BAH!

MM: And I remember that Mark, my favorite chef so far, won even though he forgot one of his ingredients. I was surprised that one of the chefs was not careful about the ingredients he was buying. Instead of being choosy, he just bought whatever was handed to him, then spent the rest of his time hanging out at the market, listening to folk music. When he returned to the Top Chef kitchen, he saw how bad his ingredients were.

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CC: You can obviously get good meat at a farmer’s market, but with the ingredient limit I don’t know why you wouldn’t make sure that all 5 of your ingredients are screamingly fresh.

MM: He was more careful about his ingredients from a grocery store than the farmer’s market. That makes no sense to me.

CC: I normally don’t like recipes that limit the number of ingredients because they seem too “dumbed down” most of the time. As if putting in an extra two, three things would be too much work or something. But if you start off with a few really good things and you work really hard NOT to mess it up, you’ll succeed every time.

MM: When he returned from the market and saw how bad his meat was, why didn’t he decide to do something vegetarian?

CC: To quote Chef Tory Miller (yes, again) “A lot of chefs out there will tell you they like to let the products ‘tell the story’, but then they add so many other things to it you’re like ‘hey, where did the story go?'” When you’re working with only a few ingredients, or even making something vegetarian, the dish should come naturally from the products instead of forcing it. The best vegetarian dish is one that you go “oh wait, I guess that was vegetarian wasn’t it?” I’ve been subscribing to a CSA for a few years now, and the first few elaborate recipes I tried incorporated a lot of the different vegetables at once. I realized that I was paying a premium for great produce, and that it didn’t need the artifice of elaborate cooking styles.

MM: I’m not sure I get what you’re arguing. Are you saying that the Quickfire was doomed to fail because they were forced into only using 5 ingredients? I don’t buy that.

CC: No not at all, I’m saying if you go to the farmer’s market and buy great produce, you don’t NEED any more than a few supporting ingredients to make that produce shine. What I am arguing against is five-ingredient lasagna.

MM: I’m with you there. I have actually seen recipes for 5-ingredient lasagnas and they are gross. Lasagna that calls for a jar of premade meat spaghetti sauce is… I don’t even know. I wouldn’t put that on top of cheap noodles and eat it, so why would you put that in a lasagna?

CC: Right, that’s a prefect example of using 5 when you need 10, because 5 is somehow easier. As opposed to using 5 because you have the best corn you’ve ever tasted and you don’t want to hide it.

MM: So, Ryan, who wasn’t careful about his ingredients, also wasn’t paying attention to the challenge either, because he used more than 5 ingredients for his dish. Mark, who even forgot one ingredient but was able to improvise.

CC: I’m going on record now as saying both of the K-Fed twins need to go post haste.

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CC (continued): But onto the zoo elimination challenge, which I thought was a great idea. Tell me you wouldn’t have made a beef Carpaccio and put a “gorilla tartare” sign in front of it to make the zoo people faint.

MM: Yeah, I totally would.

CC: Actually gorilla tartare wrapped in banana leaves sounds kinda good doesn’t it? Of course if you steamed it, it wouldn’t be a tartare any more. Hmm… I’m going to have to spend some more time in development on that one.

MM: Don’t let PETA find out, if you do.

CC: Anyway, let’s cut to the chase: the loser. DON’T MAKE BLINIS AHEAD OF TIME, YOU DOLT.

MM: Actually, there were a lot of losers in that challenge.

CC: Did ANYONE think that wasn’t going to be a disaster?

MM: I did.

CC: You did think it was not going to be a disaster?

MM: I did think it was going to be a disaster. Those blinis had “gross” written all over it.

CC: Deftly escaped my double negative web there, well done.

MM: Thank you. I worked hard to develop such a skill. The winner was K-Fed #1, aka Andrew.

CC: K-Fed won the competition with his pseudo phat beats! Also, there was a shoe-exchange moment with the lesbians. Unfortunately they were sensible shoes, which was an opportunity wasted. Hell it’s Bravo, they could have made a whole spin-off series on that if they were stilettos.

MM: Um, no.

CC: On to week 3! Quickfire challenge: please let’s all tell Rick Bayless about how WE think Mexican food should be prepared. Apparently they were all too busy “keepin’ it real” to listen to instructions.

MM: That’s what I kept telling my TV set all through the Quickfire. I kept looking at what the chefs were doing and asking, “How is that fine dining?” At no point did anyone say, “Give me street food.”

CC: Most of them took it on themselves to say that the taco can’t be done as fine dining, while standing in front of the chef who has become world famous for doing just that. I also thought, “the person who uses a different ingredient as the taco shell is going to win this.” Boom! Jicama for the win!

MM: I have to confess, weird hair molecular gastronomy boy is winning me over.
I hope he continues his odd creations through the series and goes on to the finals.

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CC: Yeah, he is my favorite for sure. I thought with this new more-qualified batch of contestants we would have weeded out the knuckleheads beforehand, but apparently not.

MM: you mean eliminated, or identified?

CC: Eliminated and not allowed on the show! Identifying them is our job.

MM: Oh, no way. That won’t be until at least the fifth or sixth week. There are a lot of knuckleheads to vote off the show. I mean, Spike? Come on. It’s only a matter of time.

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CC: Yeah, I allowed myself to hope. But, skipping ahead a bit, this episode got rid of one of them.

MM: During the elimination challenge, the chefs went around to people’s houses to try and “shop” for food in people’s pantries. Bravo is making much ado about Spike’s “sabotage”: When a fellow chef asked Spike about one of the houses, and he said not to go there, when, in fact, but there was a lot of food left.

CC: Oh yeah, that was pretty lame.

MM: He’s also the moron who didn’t follow the instructions on the previous week’s Quickfire. He had too many ingredients and was too busy listening to the local music to carefully choose his ingredients.

CC: And one of the K-Fed twins who need to go, as mentioned previously. Andrew even failed to impress me with the challenge he won.

MM: The premise of the elimination was interesting and challenging if you consider that they were shopping for ingredients from “normal people” pantries. I do have to say this, though: Given the spirit of the Quickfire challenge, which was to take a taco and make it upscale I would have thought the chefs would have taken a cue from that and make a slightly upscale bbq.

CC: That’s a really good point. Whereas the losing team took almost the exact opposite approach, and decided to ignore the judges entirely and cook “for the people”.

MM: It makes sense, given that so many of them ignored the instructions of the Quickfire and just went with street food, because they wanted to stay true to the original spirit of the dish. I guess that tells us where the minds of the chefs are — they’re cooking for all sorts of strange reasons, and won’t seem to budge.

CC: Yeah they seem to be intent on making really stupid decisions.

MM: Not following directions, not listening to the spirit of the challenge… it doesn’t bode well for any of them.

CC: Like making corndogs and letting them sit for 2 hours in a steam tray. That’s not a chef mistake, it’s not even a cook mistake. It’s “anyone who has ever eaten anything in their life” kind of mistake.

MM: Bread. Steam. Do the math.

CC: bread + steam = KEEPIN IT REAL, BEYOTCHES!!!!

MM: I don’t care what kind of corn dogs you make in your restaurant – what kind of upscale is a corn dog? It’s food on a stick. You can’t five-star that up, lobster or not. The whole challenge was an utter failure for most of them. When I saw someone was making a mac and cheese with velveeta, I thought that was fine. You really can make something decent with velveeta — that is, if you’re just going for your down home bbq. If you’re going to let that hunk of plastic sit around for two hours… It’s velveeta, for crying out loud.

CC: Again I’ll agree with Collichio, these are entry-level blunders being made by professional chefs. It’s ridiculous. “Gee does velveeta melt well?” Are you kidding me? It is genetically engineered to melt!

MM: Maybe her excuse is that she is a fine dining chef and has never worked with velveeta in her life. But that’s a stretch.

CC: The challenges and Quickfires have been really good so far, the chefs not so much.

MM: Perhaps the problem is that the Quickfires and Elimination challenges have been so unique and unexpected that they are geared to weasel out the weak earlier on. In previous seasons, the weaker contestants continued on somehow.

CC: There is a lot of talent on the show, and I’m excited to see them really showcase that.

MM: First we have to weed out the weasels. It’s hard when we’re watching the show because we see so many people who need to go right away, and you can only kick one person off every week. It’s painful. Speaking of painful – the Judges’ Table. The losing group was really shocked to be there.

CC: What’s up with the mouthy K-Fed twin who said, “This is my house, and I’m not leaving.”

MM: I couldn’t believe he said that.

CC: I expected Colicchio to say, “Actually, it’s my house and we do have security guards.”

MM: There had to have been more that was edited out. In the end, the K-Fed twins got to stay, and Erik, our tough guy, was sent home for his corn dogs.

CC: Oh and as a final note, and a callback to last week’s post, my sister-in-law made pasta from the Brett Favre cookbook for Easter and it was really good, so there!

MM: Your sister made Brett Farve pasta for Easter?

CC: You aint laughin at Brett Favre are you? Or my sister-in-law?

MM: I’m laughing at Brett Favre pasta.

CC: Hey it was good, what can I say? It had noodles in the shape of awesome, and the sauce was made out of victory and honor, and some yellow onion.

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