Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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What should Top Chef 3 look like?

February 2, 2007

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I think many of us agree that this second season was a bust for the most part. The quality of the food and creativity of the chefs were overshadowed all season by petty behavior, questionable ethics and melodrama. With that said, I’m fairly confident Bravo will bring us a third incarnation as I believe producers are already preparing to hold auditions for a new season.

Part of me was frustrated because the show wasn’t about the food, it was about the fake drama. I think producers believe that the show is more interesting than it is because of it. They are wrong.

I would love for them to revamp the show and correct this problem. They should really make it a competition about the food. I would love for them to remove some of the forced situations such as the beach cooking, and make it a cooking competition. I understand that conflict brews personalities, but this season was ridiculous. Instead,  truly find the best unknown chefs regardless of how much tension they might create, and focus on giving these guys good equipment and good ingredients. (A number of contestants have said the kitchen was not up to commercial standards and was stocked like a home kitchen. So all that Kenmore Pro line stuff is getting not so great reviews by the people they hired to push it.)

Let Top Chef be about who is really the best. Make it more like American Idol, even as much as that is forced and packaged. In the end, our focus as viewers shouldn’t have been on the ridiculous ludicrous behavior but on who was really the best cook. I would think if nothing else, it would make Top Chef as a show a more valuable asset.

Ilan is going to have good name recognition, but at what cost? I’m sure I’m not headed to his place soon. I think the show as-is would be more discouraging to talented chefs as they see it as a chance to have their personal lives butchered rather than a chance to further their careers. Also, you have to wonder if the big named chefs will want to associate with the show if they are being lumped into this morass of mischief.

I’d love to hear what you all think about this idea. Or even better, what would the show look like if you were producing Top Chef 3?

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Top Chef the Finale: Five courses, eight celebrity judges, and one Top Chef.

February 1, 2007

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Like that roast you’ve been cooking in the oven all day long, Top Chef is done at last. And like that roast, it didn’t come out quite like you’d hoped: It’s dry, unappetizing and quite frankly, you’re not that keen to eat it — it certainly wasn’t worth all that work.

Ah, Top Chef, why are you so like an overcooked roast?

But enough with the forced cooking metaphors, and on with the show. Our two unlikable final contestants, Marcel and Ilan, squared off for the title of Top Chef, tasked with cooking “the best meal of their lives” for eight judges over five courses. We think the opening of the show set the tone… It included such memorable lines as, “I would have loved to have peed on Marcel.”

‘Nuf said.

Similar to last year’s finale, our booted and long lost contestants also made a reappearance (packing their knives and returning), and like last year, they were asked which chef they’d most like to work with in the final cooking showdown. (Here Marcel waits for the Acme anvil to fall on him or the earth to swallow him up.) Surprisingly, about half the contestants — including our fallen hero Sam — give Marcel the nod. Does that say something about how there really was no favorite? Were the two really such a loathsome toss-up?

Both Marcel and Ilan wind up with at least one strong sous chef: Sam goes to Marcel and Elia to Ilan. Sam, clearly confusing Top Chef with some other reality show, attempts to give a reasonable explanation as to why he chose to work with Marcel, showing himself to be a class act. (Sorry, Sam, that does not count for much on Top Chef.) Then he displays those leadership qualities that made absolutely no difference in the competition: He tells Marcel to pick him; Marcel does. He tells Marcel to pick Mikey; Marcel does. (Later he tells Marcel not to freak about missing fish and substitute hearts of palm; Marcel does. But I’m skipping ahead.)

At any rate, the two teams had an hour to shop at a product-placement — er, farmers’ — market, and four hours to prepare their five courses. Both chose characteristic menus: Ilan took a Spanish cuisine approach, and Marcel a molecular gastronomic approach. (Ilan’s courses: Spanish baby eels on toast with caviar; pan seared moi with macadamia nut gazpacho; grilled squab and shrimp with fois gras; braised short ribs with romanesco sauce; cherry sorbet with fruit and fritter-fried bay leaf. Marcel’s courses: Uni in meyer lemon gelee; salad with yuzu isomalt tear drop; hearts of palm with seabeans; seared beef with taro balls; belini with mousse and kona coffee caviar.)

To their credit, both seemed to construct impressive and seemingly tasty meals. The judges table was packed with celebrity chef star power, and the praise from the heavyweights was regular, if not effusive. Guests included such folks as Wylie Dufresne, Scott Conant and Hubert Keller. Unfortunately, only one of these celebrity chefs, Hubert Keller, weighed in at the judges table, and frankly, he didn’t say very much. Before judgement, our intrepid sous chefs and defunct Top Chef wannabes also gave their two cents about how things went (despite not having tasted the opposing team’s food) … Naturally, Marcel’s abrasive personality and (lack of?) leadership skills were noted, though no one mentioned that Ilan can be kind of weasley, too.

In the end, the judges compared the menus course by course — bestowing praise on all but Ilan’s first dish of eels on toast and Marcel’s salad. It was difficult to determine who the judges would crown Top Chef — and even they hedged their bets saying something about how “one may eventually be better, but we’re picking the best chef at the moment.” La-ame. But with Padma’s slow talking delivery and the addition of suspenseful music, we dutifully waited in a state of mild anticipation for the winner to be announced.

It was Ilan.

Marcel — “unfortunately,” as he kept saying — had to stand awkwardly as his rival was congratulated and hugged. We, “fortunately,” got to turn the TV off.

After waiting all this time for our Top Chef roast to cook, we did feel obligated to eat it. We only wish that it had gone down easier — and tastier — in the end.

Did Sam prove he is the true Top Chef?
Husband: I think I’m gushing too much about this guy, my wife is going to worry I have a man crush on him if I don’t watch what I say. Nevertheless, I think this guy proved it. First, he showed again that he didn’t care as much about the reality TV ridiculousness. Offering to cook for Marcel I think was clearly a classy move. Second, he was obviously an excellent influence over Marcel with his hand in correcting for the missing fish. Sam shows why he’ll have no problem being the real deal when not surrounded by reality show foolishness.

Wife: It’s hard to say, since he was probably in half-hearted form tonight. But he did display class and leadership skills at the sous-chef selection. It’s disappointing that he wasn’t one of the finalists, but he clearly won the hearts of many fans. (And to think that Ilan started out as my favorite.)

Did Marcel steal from My Husband Cooks?
H
: I suspect that my wife is too embarrassed to even answer this. But he clearly reads our blog because we were doing olive oil bon bons back in November. I mean, I even explain the technique and go into a discussion about what isomalt is in the comments! Come on, Marcel, you need to own up and give some love to MHC. (Of course, I’m being a moron because I stole this idea from Jose Andres and Minibar. Clearly, both Marcel and I are dirty rotten scoundrels. And note to Marcel: If you are going to steal people’ s dishes, don’t steal there signature dish — or, at least throw a little credit out there.)

W: I hope he doesn’t read our blog. I only like being snarky if I think the people I’m talking about won’t actually read it.

Finally, do you agree with the outcome?
H: At this point, I don’t know. I like Marcel’s style of cooking better. I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of Spanish cuisine. I also like the idea of using science and new products to press the edge on certain ingredients. However, if you cook like Marcel and you don’t execute, the flavors aren’t there, and your ideas aren’t original, you go in the tank fast. So, I’m not shocked that Ilan won. I still feel the only winner in this whole show is Sam. He might have lost, and Ilan might have captured the big prizes, but Sam has got my vote. (NOTE: This does not mean I will be giving him a Kenmore Pro Kitchen, a ticket to the Food & Wine Classic, a feature on My Husband Cooks, or $100,000.)

W: It seemed to be truly a toss-up in the judges’ minds… and since they’re the only ones tasting the food, it’s hard to be certain if they’re uncertain. Ilan did have a way of charming his colleagues into working well with him. And certainly Marcel managed to turn just about everyone against him, and seemed to display poor leadership skills in the kitchen. All things taste being equal, then, the judges may have made the right call with Ilan. But, as we note repeatedly, the show would have been so much more enjoyable if the finalists weren’t so “ehh.” It’s a shame.

Finally, and most important to us, what are your thoughts on the finale? Did we get the Top Chef? Are you sick of Molecular Gastronomy? Is saffron the new pink?

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Top Chef Week Twelve: Welcome to Hawaii, come to a luau, and ‘aloha’ means hello and goodbye to two contestants.

January 25, 2007

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One episode down, one to go. Two contestants down, one to go. That’s right, kids. Top Chef is coming to its culinary conclusion at long last… and the cooking is good.

Our repeated complaints that too little of the actual food and cooking talents have been on display must have gotten through to the producers. That, or the fact that four contestants (and an hour and fifteen minute show!) means that you are forced to show more food whether you want to or not.

But before all that cooking took place, we viewers had to have at least a dose of the requisite reality show flashbacks and “profiles” — and, of course, some product placement ads. The show caught up with the contestants at the conclusion of the two month filming hiatus. So which of the four contestants had been practicing most in anticipation of this grand finale? The answer, it seems, was Marcel — who had formed some sort of “gastronic” mad scientist society with his friends. In his suitcase: Xantham gum and other chemicals to create 21st century culinary bliss. Sam also impressed by taking the two months to learn to bake at the foot of a former Tom Colicchio pastry chef. Elia had been working at her restaurant job and reading a few books, and Ilan, similarly, was back in the swing of Spanish cooking at the restaurant where he works, Cafe Mono in NYC, and reading a few books himself.

They all reunited, awkwardly, in first class on a plane bound for Hawaii and the grand finale. Had the two month hiatus doused the flames of Marcel hatred? Not to worry. Everyone still despised the kid. (Voiceover Ilan, smiling insincerely at Marcel and drinking champagne: “I find him as annoying as ever.” Or something like that.)

(Hold the drama for a quick tourist video for Hawaii. The four contestants take a helicopter ride over the big island’s blue waters and lush greenery. Really, Top Chef, you couldn’t find 15 minutes to cut to make the episode a mere hour?)

Upon touchdown, the four contestants greeted our three judges and Hawaiian guest judge Chef Wong. There they, and we viewers, were treated to an educational lunch (which we got to watch them eat) of traditional Hawaiian luau fare. But this was no mere product placement, folks — at the end of the meal Padma dropped the words “Elimination round,” and you could tell our intrepid cooks felt like ralphing up that Hawaiian poi. The next day, that casual lunch took on more significance when the chefs heard the challenge: They’d have to re-create two dishes of a traditional Hawaiian luau, but while putting their own twist on things. (In other words, “Hope you were listening to the lecture yesterday, kids.”) They had three hours to prepare to serve 30 guests at Chef Wong’s birthday celebration.

Cue dramatic Top Chef music (and the shots of the outdoor KENMORE PRO kitchen).

Aside from minor drama with Marcel (natch) making a stupid joke when Ilan’s pot caught fire (still don’t know what happened there) and moving Elia’s steamer off a burner, the prep work was interesting and uneventful. The menu? Sam made marscapone mousse with hawaiian salted coconut milk and citrus twirl; and opakapaka poke, acid cooked in uzu with seabeans. (Translation: Coconut dessert and ceviche.) Elia made snapper steamed in tea leaves with peas, peppers and carrots; and ahi poke (raw tuna) with olives, capers and lemon confit. Marcel made hamachi poke with pineapple poi (using xantham gum instead of traditional taro root); and salmon lomi lomi with tomato foam, scallion oil, chili oil and lotus root chip. And Ilan made morcilla (a homemade Spanish sausage) and squid lau lau in taro root leaf; and a saffron haupia fritter (coconut milk donut). It all sounds fancy, no? Well, if it’s it’s indecipherable here, it was pretty impressive on TV. Basically, Sam — a seeming generalist — went with more traditional flavors and techniques. Elia fell back on her Mediterranean know-how. Ilan, of course, put a Spanish twist on things. And Marcel deconstructed stuff and unleashed molecular gastronomy on traditional Hawaiian fare.

The results? The judges were duly impressed, and perhaps for the first time did not have to pretend to agonize over who would go home: It was actually a hard decision. Nonetheless, two would “pack their knives and go.”….

…. Wait. Hold it, hold it. First, Elia and Ilan would try to get one more shot in at Marcel with some lame and purposeless fingerpointing and muttering about him “cheating.” Examples? Well.. (Foot shuffle, foot shuffle.) He moved a steamer off a burner (which may or may not have been lit). Anything else? Well… (Awkward silence and muttering.) OK. Then we’re going to announce the losers, OK, if you’re finished. (Tom Colicchio rolls his eyes and tells Elia he doesn’t care about what goes on in the kitchen.) Only Sam looks like a class act here, as usual.

All this served only to delay the inevitable: Sam and Elia are sent packing. Apparently the judges thought Marcel was a lock for his beautiful dishes and Elia, who strayed too far from Hawaiian tastes, was finished for sure. They were only seesawing between sending Sam or Ilan home… in the end, the Samauri chef (who had — Samsom-like — chopped his bun), was sent home. Sniff. At least he may find the $10,000 prize for being the fan favorite some consolation.

Finally, we’re left with bizarre footage of our two finalists, Marcel and Ilan, “smack talking” to each other in hushed, girl-like tones while avoiding eye contact. Can’t wait for next week, can you?

What did you think of the three-hour luau elimination challenge?

Husband: At first, I was rather horrified by the whole idea. I was hoping to see all the contestants cooking without constraints. I wanted to see what it meant to eat what Elia made versus what Ilan made. However, after seeing how they uniquely stamped each dish with their own flavors, I think I was wrong. I think the biggest problem would have been design and execution in three hours for thirty diners. It required brutal efficiency by them, and I was really wowed by the variation in dishes and their performances. So in the end, I was wrong, the challenge seemed like a good one.

Wife: It was a good challenge because it drew out the chef’s cooking personalities and talents. The Hawaiian fare — while completely foreign to me — offered them a base where they could show off their particular areas of strength and expertise. The three hour time limit was also pretty impressive: Two dishes for 30 people in three hours seemed like a difficult challenge that they all mastered. And the primer on the Hawaiian food earlier in the show actually helped viewers understand what the contestants were making — sort of. At least they tried to explain what words like poke and poi and lomi lomi meant, even if addled viewers like me forgot anyway.

Are you surprised who went home?

H: Absolutely. While I have chosen a half dozen people over the weeks to win, I really thought Sam was going to be there winning the whole thing. I think if he went off for ‘not cooking’ as Tom Colicchio criticized, I’m not sure that is a great reason. Now because I didn’t taste any food, I couldn’t tell you if I agree or not. But if that was the deciding factor, then it means the world’s greatest sushi chef could never win this title. In the end, I think Sam impressed me with other qualities. The facts, that he’s now learning pastry, that even when he had personal beefs he helped out Marcel, and that he seems to get the idea of leading means focusing on the task at hand, have made me think he’s the only one of the group I’d actually trust to run my kitchen if I owned a restaurant. Unfortunately for Sam, all that matters is the food and he didn’t seem to carry the day.

As for Elia, I think her actions in regards to Marcel, her panic when her dessert wasn’t perfect last week, and her dishes over the last couple week prepared me for the result. It seemed on a number of occasions she stumbled into something and was just a bit off. I think more than anything it has to do with age and experience then pure talent. I would hardly be shocked to see her extremely successful down the road.

W: I’m mourning the loss of Sam. It seemed clear from the judge’s comments that Elia’s offerings were the weakest, although I had grown to like her spunk and confidence more. But Sam’s dishes seemed to be well executed and tasty; to be honest, I was hoping they’d axe Ilan instead. Why, you might ask? Of the personalities, Sam was the one I felt I could root for. He resisted (at least with more success than others) the childish lure of using Marcel as punching bag, and he seemed to be a nice guy and talented chef. Last season, I thought they made a bigger deal about who was a leader in the kitchen and who other contestants would want to work for. Had those been criteria this year, I think Sam would have been the champion. Judging from the final two contestants, Marcel and Ilan, both more odious and immature with each episode, leadership skills and likeability are no longer requirements to be Top Chef. And that’s a shame. Now, sigh, I have no idea who to root for.

Our final prognistication: Who is the next Top Chef?

H: I’m rooting for the villain. Call me a contrarians or just a man on a mission to see evil win one, but I’m thinking Marcel might spank Ilan. I suggested a few weeks back that the producers recasting of Marcel as sympathetic (and rightly so after the uncomfortable Cliff moment) might be a preparation to see him as ‘Top Chef.’ Also, it appeared that when Marcel was given a chance to do what he enjoys, molecular gastronomy, with his own tools that it pays off. Finally, Chris, from Insane Thoughts and Insane Ramblings dropped me this little link, which I very much appreciated. Apparently, Marcel had a rough week when attacked with a beer bottle in a club (It’s one line in the last paragraph). So, I’m having a tough time not rooting for him. With that said, I wouldn’t be shocked if rich and flavorful Spanish dishes by Ilan win the day, but part of me has never been a huge fan of the cuisine so I’m left a bit cold by it. So I’m predicting an unpopular champion, Marcel.

W: I feel I have no dog in this fight. I don’t like either of them that much, despite my initial prediction (see the first post about Top Chef!) that Ilan would win. But his immature rivalry with Marcel has soured me on him. I have a feeling from the track record of judge’s remarks that it will be a close battle, despite producers’ desire to stoke still more hatred of Marcel. If Marcel can impress the cavalcade of celebrity judges in next week’s preview, it won’t matter that he’s a squirrely, awkward kid that nobody liked. He just may win.

The only questions that matters: Who do you think will win Top Chef?

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Top Chef Week Eleven: Chocolate, Romance and… You have to be kidding me.

January 18, 2007

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Last week’s scintillating, scandalous-looking teaser had us kind of keen to tune in to Top Chef this week. (Well done, you wily producers. Like we don’t watch every week anyway.) Would all the hype and speculation pay off with drama actually worth watching? You tell us, loyal fans.

The show started off routinely enough. Between a blizzard of product placements in the KENMORE! kitchen featuring CALPHALON! products, the now five remaining contestants were asked to concoct dishes using “one of two flavors” of NESTLE CHOCOLATIER! brand chocolate. Presiding over the chocolate feast were, of course, Padma the hostess (does her voice get more nasally and irritating each week?) and a silver-haired, gentlemanly-looking French chef who had the contestants swooning in their admiration: Chef Eric Ripert of the famed Le Bernadin restaurant in New York. (Is it painfully ironic that one of the more dignified and renowned guest judges wound up on this particularly ridiculous episode?)

The QuickFire seemed more important when the judgments were intoned in a thick, le-sexy French accent: Elia just missed winning by making two dishes — a chocolate chicken (“It looks like a mistake, like chocolate sauce dripped onto chicken in the refrigerator.” Oh, snap. And in heavily accented English, no less.) and an apparently delicious chocolate dessert. Ilan also missed the boat by making a revolting sounding combination of chocolate ganache and chicken liver (“It is not something that should be served, say, in a restaurant.” Or ever.) Winning praise were Cliff for his traditional chocolate mole sauce over chicken, Marcel for his innovative potato cannolis stuffed with coffee and chocolate, and Sam for some kind of “well-balanced” seafood with spicy chocolate sauce.

Dramatic pause. Sam won.

And with victory, Sam earned the privilege of picking which course and proteins he’d serve for the Elimination Challenge. Aside from a thinly veiled advertisement to VISIT ROMANTIC SANTA BARBARA!, that challenge was to cook a romantic five course meal for 30 people. No other restrictions were given, besides having to work together in a small restaurant kitchen. Yawn.

Sam determined to cook a first course using lobster and scallops (which disappointed Marcel, who wanted to use lobster or scallops) and beets (which disappointed Marcel, who was also using beets) with plum sauce (Marcel had no comment on the plum sauce). Second course was Ilan, who went to his wheelhouse of Spanish cuisine to cook a delicious clam concoction with noodles. Third course was Marcel, who made salmon with cutesy little hearts down the seam and served with beets (naturally). Fourth course was Cliff, who made, in the words of Chef Ripert, mundane “hotel food” of beef with purreed lentils and “useless” greens. And finally, Elia served “The Kiss,” a chocolate and mint concoction that was, apparently, quite good, but caused her to have a minor meltdown when her chocolate hearts wouldn’t come out from their molds. Tearfully declaring, “I quit,” she looked mournfully at the near-perfect plates exiting the kitchen. The all-male remaining contestants quickly rallied around their distraught heroine; Sam encouraged her, Ilan comforted her and perhaps Marcel squeezed her arm (that part we may have made up). Frankly, this kind of camaraderie has been sorely lacking on the show. Sometimes it helps to be female and good looking, no?

But wait, there was more “camaraderie” yet to come… hours after the meal. This is where the drama occurs, folks.

Asking for a camera (the producers must be thanking their lucky stars) and imbibing mass quantities of alcohol, Sam, Ilan, Cliff and Elia decide to act out the old TV-land trope that good television equals drunken reality show stars filming their escalating antics. First, they decided to shave their heads. Well, Ilan shaved his head when Elia said she would shave her head. Then Elia did shave her head. (For added drama, the producers had her wearing a remarkable “Elia” wig during her post-shave interview recap, which she pulled off with a flourish to reveal… a nicely shaped shaved head. Frankly, she looks pretty good bald.) Sam and Cliff, apparently, declined to undergo the clippers. But with all this head-shaving going on, thoughts naturally turned to the most impressive head of tresses on the show: Marcel. The poor kid was innocently sleeping, excluded from all this drunken grooming, when he was rudely awakened by Cliff, who intended to execute a hair-brained (pun alert!) scheme to shave Marcel’s head. Now, Cliff is probably, oh, three times the size of Marcel — perhaps 12 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier. So, after being jolted awake, a struggling and confused Marcel was easily pinned down as Cliff fruitlessly called for the clippers and the other drunken contestants looked on — half amused, but apparently not as serious as Cliff about actually shaving Marcel’s head. At last, Marcel struggled free — impressive locks still intact — and ran to the bathroom to sleep on the floor.

Good television? Or a re-enactment of seventh-grade sleepaway camp? (And isn’t it really astonishing that they chose to film it all? The producers must be living right.)

Anyway, since this synopsis has become exhausting, let’s sum up: Tom Colicchio, looking stern, arrived the next hangover-laden day to say that Cliff is off the show for “touching another contestant in an aggressive manner.” The other contestants say nothing. Cliff is duly remorseful, and Marcel gamely gives him a “man hug” as he departs.

Oh yes, and there was also a judges’ table. The four remaining contestants undergo a tongue lashing of sorts, mostly from Padma, after they march in Cliff-less and half bald. Our French guest judge wisely says nothing and somehow manages to remain dignified. Who, oh who, would go to Hawaii after all that? Well, all of them. Sam and Ilan were given their Hawaii tickets, and the only drama came from Padma’s rather painful line, “Elia and Ilan, pack your knives… and go to Hawaii!” Oh, boy!

Let’s just cut to the chase: What do you think of the prank and tonight’s episode?

Husband: Cringe worthy. The whole episode was an example of why not to drink. I mean talk about becoming the newest poster-child for teetotaling. At no point was that not just painful to watch. You can tell from the very beginning, it all looked like a good idea through beer goggles. Yet, I can’t imagine something more humiliating when you are standing in front of two of the most successful people in your industry (Tom Collicchio and Eric Ripert) and have to explain yourself. I can’t imagine Elia felt so grand about her smooth skull then.

Wife: Every time the show might focus on the food these “talented” chefs are preparing, Top Chef manages to swerve back into reality-TV land. Which I loathe. The prank was, of course, incredibly juvenile. I shudder to think of the consequences if they had actually shaved poor Marcel’s head. As it was, I thought the kid was pretty calm about the whole thing. The more astonishing part is that those clowns filmed the whole thing… Was it really them and not a Machiavellian producer? Well, then, if not cooking, they may have a future in creating C- level reality shows.

The judges agreed that the cooking on the show was actually the contestants’ best. Whose dish would you want to try or were you most impressed by?

H: Wait, there was food? Oh, yeah, there was some food… Hmm, I guess my feeling is that Ilan had the dish I could least imagine what it tasted like. However, it’s not like we know what it was or how it was prepared. Actually, we know that at the end he took up 10 burners and torqued Marcel off, so at least we know the important thing. NOTE: Please read that previous sentence with even more sarcasm then you thought previously possible.

W: I’d want to taste Ilan’s — which didn’t look that pretty to me, but went over huge with the judges — and Elia’s. Really, though, I’d try any of their cooking. It’s become so hard to judge whether they are actually talented cooks or can just arrange food nicely on a plate. Maybe this is because the show has taken the emphasis off of the food. Because the ingredients whiz by and the preparation is not shown in favor of footage of the contestants bumping elbows in the kitchen, I have no idea what anything might taste like — except when I see the judges react after forking it in. That kind of sucks. Hint, hint, Top Chef.

Favorites? Next off?

H: Sam is hands down my favorite to win. He appears to be the leader and creative. I think he’s a full step ahead. However, I’m excited to see what Marcel might bring to the table with a bit of a break. Part of me wishes they’d ditch the forced scenarios and have a straight cookoff so we can really see who is the best, and know who’s the best under the circumstances. As for next off, I’m going to choose Marcel. While I think Marcel could bring the big game, I’m well aware that he’s not hit a home run this far and it could tank him.

W: Sam will win. And I no longer are what order the other contestants are booted in.

Who is your favorite? Do you think Elia’s looks good bald or is that a quick to grow back scarlet letter? Did you finish watching the episode or were you tempted to change the channel like we were?

Disclaimer: All “quotes” from the show are approximate. We weren’t taking notes. :)

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Top Chef Week Ten: KRAFT!, two less than successful restaurants, and a shoulder shrug of a send off.

January 11, 2007

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Amid commercials for other Bravo shows and obvious product placement ads – KRAFT! TOYOTA! KENMORE! – there was also a Top Chef episode (brought to you by, KRAFT! TOYOTA! KENMORE!) Ahem.

Tonight’s Top Chef episode was a depressing wake-up call for all would-be restaurateurs out there – particularly those contemplating opening a restaurant on 48 hours notice with $500 for food, $500 for dishes and $700 for decorating and with roommates that you marginally, or openly, despise. We saw our intrepid contestants fall on their faces as diners spilled their dissatisfaction on those fun comment cards that only wiseacres and dissatisfied patrons usually fill out. (Note to future restaurateurs: Reconsider comment cards.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as usual. First, there was the QuickFire challenge, graced by a guest judge nearly as snarky as our own dear contestants. (Bonus: He, too, sported weird hair.) The chefs had 30 minutes to create a “snack” using KRAFT! products – mayonnaise, barbeque sauce and dressing. Obviously the producers had to cut out the intense eye-rolling that may have followed. (After all, these were the same contestants who found Friday’s cuisine completely foreign… now they’re eager to squirt barbeque sauce, mayonnaise and dressing on a “snack”?) Anyway, top offerings ranged from sauce-covered figs (Elia) to steak tartar (Cliff) to Po Boy with pickled peaches (Sam) to curried lamb kabob (Marcel). Michael’s overly cheesy crab-brie quesadilla and Ilan’s dry napoleon failed to impress.

Marcel and Sam won the contest and earned the honor of picking teams a la grade school kickball (an awkwardness that Marcel highlighted, obviously reliving painful memories). Marcel chose Elia and Cliff; Sam chose Michael and Ilan. Cliff, for his part, wasn’t happy – and recounted how many times he’d had an urge to slug Marcel. (Five.) Still, he went along, grimacing mightily.

(And to think, Cliff hadn’t even heard Marcel’s cringe-inducing rap at the opening of Top Chef. It took all our willpower not to exercise a clicker finger during that skin-crawling display. Had Cliff heard it, the total number of would-be blows to Marcel would definitely be six. At least.)

The teams endured the aforementioned task of coming up with a restaurant concept and opening with at least three dishes for patrons in a matter of hours. After toying with a Mediterranean restaurant, Marcel’s team switched gears when Elia suggested an up-scale diner. Sam’s all-male team went with an Italian restaurant cutesily named for a combination of all their honeys’ handles. Lala… something.

To sum up: The food at both places was marginal. The service – fronted by Ilan and Cliff, respectively – was poor. At the up-scale diner restaurant, the judges were made to wait 20 minutes for an undercooked amuse bouche chicken wing. At the Italian restaurant, they were denied wine (there wasn’t any), made to look at a spit-up olive pit on the table, and subjected to a dessert of watermelon with blue cheese sauce. Noses wrinkled, and judges decided that there was no winner tonight.

As all six contestants were made to face the chopping block, the pickings winnowed to Sam, Cliff and Michael. Ultimately, Michael – who had failed to spend an extra $100 at the supply store – was sent packing. And despite the dramatic music being piped in, it all seemed somehow anticlimactic. Were our brains dulled by the onslaught of product placements and ads for The Real Housewives of OC? Or is our interest in the show merely waning? We’d consider it more… but… yawn.

TOYOTA! KENMORE! KRAFT! Alright! We’re awake!

Are they setting up Marcel to be the show’s grand anti-hero?

Husband: I like this question if for no other reason than we can give him a nickname and tights. Really, it’s why I made the question up. I think it’s obvious that our junior Wolverine has become Foam Boy. I do think producers might be casting him as sympathetic so they don’t get hate mail at the end of the show. I think Marcel hurts these efforts when he tries to rap. People need to learn: Don’t rap or sing in front of a camera unless you are a professional. Even if Marcel isn’t the focus of producers’ schemes, it appears he might have the chops to continue being a compelling focus for the show.
Wife: I don’t know whether Marcel is an anti-hero… “Foam Boy” sounds more like a side kick to “Gelee Man.” But I know that I’m getting bored and tired of the drama surrounding him. Most of the conflicts come across as incredibly immature; mostly I wish could tell the contestants to grow up. (This is why I don’t normally watch reality shows.) I’ve moved from disliking Marcel, to feeling sorry for him, to not giving a whit about him, to really, really wishing I had never seen him rap.

Are we shocked about Michael?

H: Yes and no. I’m only surprised because last week the show went the same direction when Betty was kicked off. It had a great deal of drama, but none of it about the person who was kicked off the show. The reason I am not surprised is that it has become pretty clear that Michael, even if he’s not technically the least proficient, is not at a point in his life where he’s decided how he’ll be as a chef and leader. I don’t doubt that he’s a very good cook. I just think when you see the presentation and flavors from the others, it’s clear he is not there yet.
W: I’m not shocked that Michael was booted, but I’m sorry to see him go. His head down, hands in pockets, “Aw shucks” smile at the end is the reason why I ultimately grew to like him (after mocking him – a lot), and probably the reason he was also kicked off. He was a sheep among mini-Wolverines (and mini-Wolverine haters.)

Why were people drawn to the Italian restaurant over the diner?

H: I don’t know myself. I love me a good burger and find that there is a great deal out there in this realm of food. I might be biased because I cook a great deal in this area. But a true burger that modifies the standard and brings in new flavors and elements would have had me in a second. I also have this bias about Italian food. I love Italian food, especially pasta. Just look at the number of dishes we’ve posted with pasta here. But my personal take is that most Italian requires a limited set of skills to execute well. There are things at the fine dining end of the spectrum I’m not talking about. Italian is something I eat when I want to eat. If I want to go out and experience food, I typically don’t eat Italian.
W: As is every red-blooded American’s right, I like diner food, too. But I think the customers were all about boozing – let’s face it: they didn’t pay money to eat at those “restaurants” — and an Italian joint was bound to have wine, right? Wrong. That factor probably resulted in some pretty nasty comment cards. Plus, people want more bang for their free food – and no doubt Italian sounded fancier.

Who do you think is going to win? Who do you think is next off?

H: This is a lot harder then last week. Sam and Cliff let me down… consider Cliff’s sour demeanor and Sam’s watermelon fiasco. I’m not sure if Elia has the chops to carry it out, but she appears to be the person minimally affected this week. So I’m going to go with her. My next off is going to be Ilan. It’s crunch time and Ilan is young and is not showing the initiative that appears to be the sort of thing they are rewarding. I also think his jabs at Marcel are setting him up for a big embarrassing kick off. We shall see. Heck, I could make arguments for all of them at this point!
W: After being on the fence about Elia, she has definitely grown on me. And relative to the other contestants she seems insanely reasonable. My once favorites Ilan and Cliff are continuing to fall in my estimation: Cliff, because he seems more and more like a jerk; Ilan for his immature obsession with picking on Marcel. At this point, it’s hard to have a stand-out favorite… and I won’t shed a tear for most of the contestants should they face the chopping block.

So who do you think is the winner? The next off? And did this episode finally feature food or were we just imagining it?  

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Better Blogging Through Downloads.

January 4, 2007

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For those of you who have been reading the blog for awhile, you might have noticed there are regular comments that part of the recipes are being blocked by our photos. This puts us in an awkward position: We love our photos AND we love our recipes!

From the start, we’ve thought that telling the story both visually and literally is extremely important. To pass on the husband’s experience – and the wife’s eating pleasure! — it’s important that you see what we see, smell, taste and feel. (Or as best you can until they come up with smell-a-Web, lick-a-Web and feel-a-Web. The porn industry is eager for all of these developments, too.)

Finally we’ve come up with a solution to our Sophie’s choice between photos and recipes. We’ve added a feature — a recipe download. Now you can see the much-loved photos online and print out a handy copy of the entire recipe. PDF files of each recipe will be included at the beginning of each post.

(We’ll be working backwards in our recipe history to implement these PDF files, so please be patient! Eventually every post will have a PDF.)

Happy cooking and eating from the husband and wife! Oh and keep voting!

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Decision 2007: Is MHC the best new food blog?

January 4, 2007

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Is it just an honor to be nominated? Well, we won’t answer that question just yet. See, we are in the hunt for Well Fed’s Best New Food Blog Award. This was very exciting, so much so that I had to run upstairs to wake my wife to tell her the incredible news (while she tried to get some sleep, I was putting on the finishing touches to our weekly Top Chef post). Seeing the hour it was and the degree of disturbance I caused, I am positive my wife wanted to know if I was going to serve the left over pistachio crunch ice cream during my nearly unintelligible rant about how thrilled I was. So while my lovely and droopy-eyed bride wanted either ice cream or sleep (favoring sleep I’m sure), I am filled with excitement and energy.

This leads us to the big issue, winning. Being a man, and a competitive one, I like to win. I mean I went to law school and became a lawyer so that should give you an idea of how cut throat I can be. However, winning this award requires people to vote. So if you feel we are worthy of your vote, I encourage you to vote for us.

Even if you don’t vote for us, I do encourage you to hop over to Well Fed. The other four blogs competing against us are really great blogs. Also, there are other categories which I also urge you to read and check out some real top rate food and writing.

So in the spirit of Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 and the Florida Fiasco in 2000, we encourage you to vote early and vote often! We also thank you for your support.

If you want to vote, you can just click here.

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