Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

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‘Top Chef’ Episode 12: High steaks

May 29, 2008

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This is it! This episode will determine who the final four will be! This is the big showdown! This is where it all happens! This is — yawn — so boring…

Perhaps it’s the lack of drunken head shaving (nice tip, Ilan), or the fact that all the contestants are real-live chefs and not the pathological attention seekers/nudists usually seen on reality TV. Whatever the reason, this episode was, well, just kind of ho-hum television.

This despite the fact that the show started off with all the contenders wielding large knives and donning protection from flying meat particles. Yes, the two-part Quick Fire began with the final five (shout-out to fellow Battlestar Gallactica geeks!) in a butchering contest to create “Tomahawk Steaks.” Spike, practically hatless throughout the episode, channeled his forebears (who were of course butchers) and carved him some meat. And then he cooked it real good — winning the Quick Fire.

His prize? He got first crack at the pantry/walk-in when the chefs took over the restaurant Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood — a noted Chicago eatery — for dinner service. The fearsome fivesome had to prepare an appetizer and entree from whatever was in the restaurant’s apparently well-stocked stores. Indeed, only Spike seemed to get himself in trouble, choosing frozen (gasp! shock! horror!) scallops from the refrigerator’s plentiful wares.

But, since these are actual chefs, not the learning-challenged nose-pickers on “Hell’s Kitchen,” all five managed to cope with the challenge with few hiccups. In fact, Tom Colicchio decided to bask in their reflected glory, serving as the expediter during service — and not once launching into a Gordon Ramsey-like rant. (Which would have been hilarious. Hello, producers? Didn’t think to throw a monkey wrench in there somewhere? Hmmm??)

Perhaps the episode’s only twist was the fact that it took three men to replace Ted Allen. (Snicker.) Yes, it was the conquering heroes who returned to serve as judges: Harold from season one, Ilan from season two, and Hung from season three. All bellied up to get their critique on… but, either because they are very empathetic or because the food was very good, they were fairly mild in their criticism.

To make a long story short (too late), all the food was good but — predictably — Stephanie, Antonia and Richard floated to the top. Stephanie was declared the winner for all around good offerings, Richard’s playful appetizer was deemed tops, and Antonia’s steak was praised highest. That left Lisa (with her puzzling and nauseating sounding peanut-butter mashed potatoes) and Spike (with his frozen scallops) on the bottom. Producers, here’s a twist for you. Eliminate both of them.

But, alas, only one would go home tonight.

And it was Spike. Frozen scallops were too much of an offense (plus, he threw down on the Tramanto for having them in the freezer. Not a good move.).

So, what will happen in Puerto Rico? More good cooking and collegial back-patting? Or will those chefs sharpen their knives for combat? We’re eager to find out!

And now questions and answers… with Husband and Wife!

If you were Rich Tramonto, would you turn your restaurant over to these people?

Husband: Hmm, I’ve got to balance marketing and costumer safety. So I guess I’m going to let them have it, but only on Sunday or Monday night. This way I can get the free air time that will ensure that my business grows like, say Glad, but then I’ve got a minimal likelihood of losing the same restaurant because someone eats a bizarre peanut butter potato, sort of like drinking a poisoned bottle of Evian.

Wife: Sure. I think these crazy Top Chef kids have got a future in this business.

Since odd mashed potatoes are the story of the night, what would you do with them?

H: The first thing that popped into mind was the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Richard Dreyfuss begins to sculpt a mountain from mashed potatoes. Tableside potato sculpting would be fascinating, or perhaps the next step in avant-garde cuisine v. molecular gastronomy. Mashed potatoes made not of potatoes, but two chemicals that give you a potato-like gel. This gel would taste like potatoes, but simultaneously have no resemblance to them at all. Then we would mold them to look like the head of Che Guevara and complete a statement begging the people to decide whether we are hip or simply culinary fascists pretending to be of the people. It would be true post-modern cuisine that would put Lisa’s peanut butter mashers to shame.

W: How can I possibly top that answer? Truth is: I’m a mashed potato purist. The only acceptable ingredients are potatoes, cream, butter, salt and pepper. Peanut butter mashed potatoes sound like crazy on a plate. (Though not nearly as crazy as what my husband proposes above.)

Were you kind of bored?
H: Given that I had time to decide whether or not to shape Che’s head from pseudo-mashed potatoes, I answer with a resounding, “Yes.” I mean, the best line of the night went to Ilan who told people not to shave their heads. He’s not even a contestant! There was about as much drama as watching a middle school production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The end was shocking, too. One of the two worst contestants, who have been nearly kicked off a total of a dozen times between them, are on the block… shocking! The only thing I was sort of surprised about is the lack of a porkpie hat on Spike. Did his lack of hat make him visible to the judges? Or perhaps when Dale was kicked of last week, he absconded with them.

W: Yes, it was not an exciting episode. But despite all my snarky comments, I actually enjoy the fact that reality-show drama is largely missing from this reality TV show. Contestants with integrity? Merit based competition? This is highly innovative stuff to be seen on a network like Bravo. So I say, “Bravo, Bravo.” Get it? (It’s late.)

Next off? Favorite to win?
H: Lisa is out of here. I’m feeling the Stephanie vibe right now. Though Richard might bring his bag of tricks to Puerto Rico.

W: Lisa, obviously. You can just tell she’s waiting for the hammer to fall at judge’s table. She doesn’t even look as pissed about it as she usually does. And Richard’s armor definitely seems to have some chinks in it… where is his self confidence? I like Antonia as a dark horse… but now I think that Stephanie’s the one to beat.

Who’s your favorite to win? Next off? And does anyone else think that someone lost a limb by the way they were teasing next week’s episode? (Part of us is hoping for the excitement to spice it up imagine: “Look, Mom, I won Top Chef, but I’ve got nothing below my left wrist!)

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‘Top Chef’ Epsiode 11: Restaurant wars

May 22, 2008

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By popular demand (um, at least one of you asked… and, frankly, that’s enough for us!), we’ve decided to resurrect our Top Chef commentary. Of course, we’ve been watching all along — but only our TiVo knows just how insightful our remarks have been. Until now.

To recap: The quickfire found the contestants awoken by Tom Colicchio’s bald head (GOOD MORNING!) at the apparently ungodly hour of 5:45 a.m. (Not so ungodly for those of us with infants — nor, I would think for breakfast short order cooks. More on that, er… now.) The six remaining contenders were asked to stand at the “egg station” — also apparently the sausage, steak and bacon station — of a storied Chicago breakfast eatery. There they had to contend with waitresses barking orders, cloudy poaching liquid, melting styrofoam containers, and, perhaps worst of all, a stern Chicago matron staring at them while they worked. In the end, that matron declared that Antonia had the most potential as a short order cook in her restaurant.

Antonia’s prize? She got to pick her teammates for Restaurant Wars. Yes, that’s right: Restaurant Wars. Hooray! Indeed, we fans of Top Chef had worried that the show had made a serious error in turning “restaurant wars” into (incredibly lame) “wedding wars.” In fact, the usually sadistic Top Chef producers seemed to have taken pity on the contestants and not required them to actually attract paying customers to their tear-down restaurants — and hey, they gave them five whole hours to pull the entire thing off. Top Chef producers, have you gone soft?

In fact, the teams were the same as for “wedding wars”: Antonia, Richard and Stephanie (read: non-dysfunctional team) vs. Dale, Spike and Lisa (read: ill-tempered and ill-fated team). Who could possibly come out on top? The drama! The tension! The foregone conclusion!

Yes, the non-dysfunctional team triumphed (again), leading to finger pointing and backstabbing from the misfits (again).

Indeed, you have to hand it to the crew at Warehouse Kitchen (the winning team’s gastropub concept): They were actually praised by the judges on virtually every dish — perhaps a first in the brutal restaurant wars episode. More true to form was the Mai Buddha team, which received scathing remarks for several dishes and faint or no praise on the rest. (Think: “Texture reminiscent of wood chips…”, “Looks like a melted candy bar…”, “It was like sticking your head into a campfire…”, etc.)

All this led to much recriminations and of course, finger pointing, by the Mai Buddha team. This is where the real drama begins — and Top Chef knows it, having dispensed with the winners in about one minute of television, thus saving the 15 remaining minutes for meltdowns and tears. Ah, reality TV.

Would Dale the executive chef be eliminated for his sour mood, poor leadership of a disgruntled Lisa in the kitchen, and his revolting butterscotch scallops? Or would Lisa go for her unappetizing smokey laksa (whatever that is), or her inedible mango sticky rice? Or would Spike go for… hey, wait a minute! Spike has cleverly (or something) maneuvered himself off the chopping block. Yes, incognito in a suit and sans pork pie hat, Spike has dodged the bullet by staying out front and styling the restaurant “like the backseat of Prince’s car.” Well played, Spike, well played.

Anyway, it all came down to Lisa vs. Dale. And both looked really pissed about it. As usual.

And, in the end, Dale was told to pack his knives and go. Cut to insincere man hugs and back slapping, followed by an understandably weeping Dale fastening his knife case.

Mmmmm. Some tasty, tasty drama. It’s good to be back! Read the rest of this entry ?

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A thank you from us in the form of a little sunshine: Fresh pineapple sorbet.

March 26, 2007

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First, let us begin by thanking you all for the wonderful comments last week. They were warm little rays of sunshine in the middle of the night as we began to adjust to the hours young Jack is keeping.

Second, the wife is doing great. She’s up and likely too mobile and too active for her own good. It was only after a dirty look I gave her and a remark about stitches that she slowed down. However, because she is a human vending machine, on demand at all hours, she is a bit fatigued and I wanted to keep up with demand for both baby photos and delicious food.

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Finally, since I’m a solo act again, I bring you a simple dessert that has turned out to be one of my favorites, Fresh Pineapple Sorbet. I’ve been on a tropical flavors kick over the past month, and this is perhaps one of the finest results. In addition to being refreshing, there is something pure in its flavor, texture and sweetness. It’s great as a palette cleanser, paired with other desserts such as coconut cheesecake, or as a stand alone.

In closing, the recipe includes rum. Unless you have an issue with serving alcohol, I would recommend its inclusion. Besides adding flavor, the alcohol reduces the sorbet’s freezing point. This allows the sorbet to maintain its smoothness after being frozen to harden. It will keep it easy to scoop, even after a few weeks in the freezer.

Once again, thanks for your congratulations. I’m glad to be back in the kitchen. Watching what my wife was served in the hospital was rather appalling, and made me itch to be home!

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What’s a birthday without cupcakes? Jack’s Blueberry and Meyer Lemon Cupcakes.

March 18, 2007

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I’m happy to write this solo as my wife is currently recovering from the birth of our son. This morning, my wife gave birth to our son, Jack. As he was breached and came to us two weeks early via cesarean, Jack weighs in at a peanut sized 6 lbs 6 oz. The wife is recovering and we will be back to our thing very soon, including the wife commenting on desserts. So to prevent this being self-absorbed, and bragging about how awesome my son is (I mean my son is awesome, just look at the little pink blob), I want to provide you with a recipe.

Before Jack was born all I could think about is the types of things I’ll need to do as dad. When cooking one day, I thought cupcakes. There is perhaps no more ‘hip food’ then cupcakes. Magnolia Bakery, Ina Gartnen (a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa), and many others have made their names on making cupcakes. Heck there are great cupcake blogs out there like Cupcake Bakeshop and 52 cupcakes. So, while I have no skill in this area like these folks, I know parenthood means birthdays, and childhood birthdays mean cupcakes.

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So I give you my first foray into this childhood delight in honor of this happy birthday for us—Jack’s Blueberry and Meyer Lemon Cupcakes. While I know he’s on a strictly liquid diet for the next several months, and therefore cannot comment, this was inspired by my wife’s insatiable appetite for blueberries. At one point, my wife was eating enough blueberries I felt like I may end up mimicking Violet Beauregard’s father from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, “I can’t have a blueberry for a daughter!!”

Luckily, fate spared me a little blueberry tinted son. But before he was even born, I was experimenting with combining my wife’s favorites with the fresh, delicious taste of meyer lemons. The topper, and apparently best feature when I was testing these on my wife’s coworkers, was the meyer lemon cream cheese icing. It is tangy, sweet, rich and smooth, perfect for the muffin-like yellow cake.

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Finally, we were terribly excited for his arrival. Jack is going to change everything. Knowing this, the recipe was prepared in advance so we have no comments from him. Hopefully, he’ll feel free to tell his old man soon enough what he thinks (or maybe I don’t want to know). We’ll be back later this week as we start our adjustments from a duo to a trio.

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Click here to download the recipe for Jack’s Blueberry & Meyer Lemon Cupcakes.

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Five things about me (er, us)

February 11, 2007

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This is our first meme. We could use an explanation of the origins of the term ‘meme,’ but what we do know is that we were chosen by Chez Pim for the “5 Things About Me” meme and to pass it on. Well, we decided since MHC is a two-person operation, we’d tell you 5 things you don’t know about “us” instead.

1. Our first date was to see “Natural Born Killers.” What does this say about our relationship? Was it a fluke or did it set the tone? Either way, we’re still together nearly 13 years later. We met when we were seniors in high school — though we didn’t go to the same school — and were set up by mutual friends. It was the wife’s best friend’s birthday party, and we were the only two who were sober — and, our friends said, smart — so naturally they tried to get us together. Cupid couldn’t have done any better. Ain’t love grand?

2. Food weaknesses. Depite the Husband’s affection for fancy food, we actually do have a weakness for the simple things. Take, for example, his love of a good burger. If he’s ravenous and seeking a comfort food, burger is his go-to choice. If stranded on a desert island with only burgers for sustenence (where is such an island?), he would no doubt survive happily until age 40, when he’d perish from heart failure. (Taking him to heaven, where he’d continue to dine readily on the all-you-can eat burgers there). The Husband also has a weakness for chocolate. Yes, the stereotype is that women love chocolate — but the Husband’s affection for the stuff vastly exceeds the Wife’s. Her weakness, on the other hand, is for heat. Spicy foods. Of all kinds. Her common refrain when sampling a dish: “This is good. But you know what would make it really good? Red pepper flakes.” (She’s not all wrong, you know.)

3. And now a fond memory of the Wife from the Husband. We were in Paris about five years ago, rekindling the romance. It was a perfectly sunny day, one of our last in Europe after backpacking. We were sitting on a park bench in front of the Louvre after deciding we didn’t want to spend one more day in a museum, no matter how great it would be. How to fill the time? This is when one of the Wife’s special skills comes in handy. She can recite entire movies, line by line; the Princess Bride in particular. So, the Husband was treated to whole scenes of that classic bit of cinema on a park bench outside the Louvre on a perfect sunny day in Paris. The only question that remains is, “Do you know the classic blunders?” Inconceivable.

4. When cooking was a contact sport. The Husband certainly knows his way around the kitchen nowadays — but it wasn’t always that way. When he first started cooking, in addition to a few failed dishes (shock! horror!), there were also a few second- and third-degree burns, singed arm hair and small knife wounds. The Wife remembers vividly when the Mother-in-Law came to visit and found her son badly bandaged after one such encounter with a hot oven rack. Eyebrows were raised. “I swear it was the margarita pizza’s fault.” Not a great defense but, sadly, true.

5. Our secret ambition: To create a Frankenfoodie. We’re still tweaking the recipe, but we think it might go:

1 quart of Alton Brown (for food curiosity and special cheesy flavor)

3 cups of Mario Batali (his glutton content will help thicken the dish)

1/2 cup of Jeffrey Steingarten (sharp, bitter flavor and mad writing skillz)

2 tbsp. of Gordon Ramsey (for his athletic ability, tall stature, foul mouth and British accent — come on!)

1 tbsp. of Paula Deen (um, that’s just like adding butter or bacon fat — a must have in any recipe)

1 tsp. of Christopher Kimball (he may be a little dry and tough, but with braising he’ll soften)

A splash of Anthony Bourdain (not too much, that’s strong stuff)

Eye of newt (a must in any witch’s brew!)

Directions: Stir to combine, let stew on high heat for 50 days and nights. Pour into your favorite foodie mold and enjoy!

Actually, we haven’t perfected the recipe, and would love your thoughts.

Finally, we appreciate the tap by Pim and we decided to pass it along to some of our favorite other blogs. So the following folks are ‘it':

Mimi at French Kitchen in America
Brilynn at Jumbo Empanadas
Scott at Sugar & Lard
Kate at Cook ‘n Kate
PuddingPop at Wait-and-See Pudding

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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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