Top Chef Week Three: Ice cream, TGI Fridays, and salt does Emily in

November 2, 2006


The show opened with a QuickFire challenge up any ice-cream lover’s alley: Design a flavor and serve it up. Of course, when the hostess in the hot pants says that you’re going to be serving your ice cream to Average Joes on the boardwalk — most of whom are 12 and under — you might want to rethink the Avocado/Bacon ice cream you had in mind. Marcel did not. Cliff won, with a crowd pleasing cookies and crumble ice cream. Ah, duh.

The Elimination Challenge was fairly wide open: In between repeated commercials for TGI Fridays, come up with an entree that reminds you of your childhood, serve it to firemen, and just maybe it might end up on — you guessed it — a TGI Fridays menu. This segment was largely eaten up by schoolyard-style name-calling between Betty and Marcel, with Marcel growing increasingly irritating to other contestants and viewers alike. After showing this exchange for about 20 minutes, the producers rammed through about 10 dishes displayed in 30 seconds. In the end, Betty won the challenge with her roasted red pepper soup and grilled portabello cheese sandwich. Marcel looked like a chump, but he didn’t get kicked off. Emily exited for her over-salted “Slammin’ Surf and Turf,” which was, apparently, inedible.

The show’s lowest moment?
Husband: Breaking the golden reality-show rule and No. 1 hospitality industry rule, Emily attacked innocent ice-cream tasters (her customers) — including snarky commentary about the body type and dental hygiene of someone who thought her ice cream wasn’t sweet enough. She was kicked off. Naturally.

Wife: I’m quite fond of Betty and was rooting for her to best Marcel in their battle of “nanny-nanny-boo-boo.” But eventually I grew tired of the over-dramatized and drawn-out exchanges, culminating with Marcel’s attempts “to stare her down” as she was grilling her sandwiches. So lame. Hey, knock it off you two. Don’t make me pull this car over! On an unrelated note — and despite the alienating “Jack Daniels” Friday’s commercials — what was with half of the contestants acting like Friday’s was some foreign and bizarre low-brow eatery? Isn’t there one in every town? Don’t your parents go there after church? “This isn’t the food I cook”? Puh-leeze.

The show’s best moment?
: Betty’s general demeanor lifts the show. She has a winning personality and gets the idea that food needs to taste good. But she also understands that people need to feel they bought more than the food. Her scream at the end when she won was great.

W: I liked watching the hostess’ many changing outfits. The hot pants. Then the blue jean get-up, which my husband noticed was set off by her special fireman’s badge at the taste testing. This is a fairly stupid comment… but then again this show didn’t have the highs and lows of last week’s lychee-filled drama.

Whose cuisine will reign supreme: The comfort food crew, or the high-class offerings?
H: While I think they’re trying to do the everyman appeal, the end will likely require some high-end skills. So my favorites are Sam, Ilan, or possibly Cliff.

W: I don’t disagree, but your list doesn’t include Betty, and she’s been kicking some tail. She lumped herself in with the comfort food crew, and I have to admit that I’m a fan of the stuff. I think she may take it all, so I’ll throw my lot in with comfort food. It tastes good.

Who’s the next off?
H: Michael. I’ve stayed with this pick two weeks in a row and I’m not about to leave after he seemed to lose it. Also, I think he revealed himself as not a real competitor when he spent $8 on beer for himself rather than on ingredients for the dish. It actually makes me wonder whether he might have some issues with alcohol.

W: Michael, he’s headed for a melt down.
Final thoughts…
: It seems like every time the contestants are not in the kitchen, there are shots of them drinking. I suspect a good portion of the production costs of the show were spent on the bar tab. Whoever decides to go cold turkey may improve their chances of winning.

Also Marcel — who not only has ridiculous hair on his head, but also needs to shave that hair under his bottom lip — seems to go on about being a molecular gastronomist. Yet, I wonder how much he really understands his craft. For the non-foodie, molecular gastronomy is built on the idea of focusing on science in the preparation of food. The leading chefs in this area are two Spaniards — Ferran Andria of El Bulli in Cala Montjoi, Spain, and José Andres of Minibar in Washington, DC. (We ate at Minibar for my birthday this year and it was amazing. Also, if you go to these restaurants, they will categorically deny they are doing molecular gastronomy, yet the rest of the world seems to cite them for it.)

Therefor, I question Marcel’s credentials. When dealing with the deep fat fryer that wasn’t hot enough, he left his onion rings in the oil hoping they would be OK. This is a rookie mistake. A fry cook who hates his job at a fast food joint knows that this will give you greasy fries; and if Marcel knew an ounce of food science, then he’d know that if the oil isn’t hot enough to cause the water in the onion rings to push back against the oil it will make them greasy by allowing the oil to seep in. This is simple food science that Alton Brown on Good Eats covers at least once a season. In Marcel’s defense, he had the good sense not to serve his rings.

W: I finally know most of the contestants’ names, but I’m also growing tired of them. As much as I like the reality show drama, they don’t actually show a lot of food on the show. They zipped through the dishes tonight; I’d be hard-pressed to say exactly what fruits were in Sam’s much-praised entree, or what kind of dressing was on them. That kind of stinks. And those are my final thoughts. Live long and prosper.

Your thoughts? Who’s the next off? Who’s the winner? And do we need to take a collection so we can get Marcel more hair product?


  1. “what was with half of the contestants acting like Friday’s was some foreign and bizarre low-brow eatery?”

    Thank You! Even if you don’t eat at TGIF, it amazed me that for the most part the chefs acted as though they had no knowledge of home cooking from childhood. I find it hard to believe that none of their mothers ever fed them meatloaf or fried chicken for dinner. I think several of them have talent, and a little ego is good, but my gosh, they need to get over themselves!!!!

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you on that point either. The other one that kicks me is that the winner, in this case Betty, is now having her dish featured on their menu in hundreds of restaurants. I think that alone from a promotional standpoint would be huge.

    Other part of it is, I want them to take a lesson from Wolfgang Puck… I think the guy is amazing and he gets that the point is to sell good food people want. Even Mario Batali is quoted in Bill Bufford’s Heat as saying his job is to buy and cook ingredients to make a profit. I mean what good is being a professional chef if people don’t show up at your restaurant and eat. I think there are some who likely get this, but I get the impression from some of the younger competitors that cooking is just art with food. They don’t get that they are in a business first and foremost.

  3. Hi, I just wanted to say first, thanks for visiting my blog. Second, I am heartily enjoying your Top Chef roundups. My husband won’t watch it with me, so I am vicariously living through you guys. My favorite right now is Cliff, and it’s because I think he’s actually paying attention to what is being asked for in each challenge rather than mouthing off for the cameras. As for who should have gone, it should have been Michael, hands down, but in these early episodes, what does it matter? It’s not really a matter of who goes, just what order they go in, at this point.

  4. Thanks! We love doing it. I think we make ourselves laugh. Actually, my wife makes me laugh and I struggle to keep up with her. My wife has a great sense of humor that makes me laugh all the time.

    I think there is something really smart about Cliff. He seems to work within himself. He’s not so desperate to be avante garde that he’s not going to put something out there that is too challenging to the palette. I think that is why he’s won the last two QuickFires. He got the idea that you need a certain set of skills in both challenges (making sushi and making ice cream) before you can press them to the next level. In both cases, he made solid dishes that he would want and executed them well despite the limitations.

    My feeling is what he does like having a great editor when you write (which my wife regular does for me) who pares down your work to give it more clarity—keep it simple. Its that same thing when you making a big feast like Thanksgiving or Christmas. I come in with this ambitious multi-course feast and really sometimes you just need to focus on make less and higher quality of those dishes. I could definitely seeing Cliff getting there to the end.

  5. I don’t know, as obnoxious as Marcel was being, I had to laugh when he poked Betty with “What, the griddle’s not as hot as you’d like it to be?” They both took it too far, but Betty is old enough to know better. I was a fan of her until this week, but I was kinda unimpressed with her concept… I thought the fruit salad was way more innovative, probably would have won if it was feasible for TGIF to get that much fresh fruit! Oh well, I get too into these things…

    Excellent blog, by the way. Isn’t it fabulous to have a husband who knows his way around the kitchen? 😉

  6. Jackie,
    I hope my wife thinks so. She certainly lets on that she does. I agree with you about Sam’s fruit salad. My wife and I agreed though it may be the issue with seasonal ingredients. You could see a great dish like that getting dropped for more politics/pricing concerns than actually being the worse dish.

    See our thinking was that the dish gets unveiled now the first week in November and the show was shot sometime late summer. The fruit salad likely hits home runs in Spring/Summer, but might just sit on the menu this time of year when people are at Friday’s for comfort food.

    The other part is that if he dropped summer fruits like melons, etc down on the plate. It might suffer the same indignity because the cost of reproducing the dish in November, in 500 restaurants, might also make it cost prohibitive.

  7. […] The Elimination Challenge divided the contestants up into four teams, and charged them with making a three-course meal totaling no more than 500 calories for kids at “Camp Glucose.” (Seriously? Camp Glucose?) Fortunately, and to their credit, this caused much less groaning than the kid challenge did last year, and even less than the Friday’s challenge last week. Betty wisely 86′d Marcel’s crazy idea to serve the kids asparagus with a tiny sliver of prosciutto, and their team made the winning pizza dish. Frank thought of the recipe, and therefore “won.” The team including the “hot diabetic” — to use one kid’s handle for Sam — didn’t do as well as you might have thought, considering that advantage. Hard turkey meatballs and sour smoothies do not satisfy sugar-deprived kids. […]

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