Archive for the ‘Top Chef’ Category

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Top Chef Week 14: The End!

June 12, 2008

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And it’s over. There were tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of bitterness. And finally, a winner.

But first, the cooking and the parade of celebrity chefs come to get their grub on. Perhaps unfairly, three of them actually had to work for their suppers. Yes, as our finalists stood before the requisite folding tables heaped with food, they were confronted with three big name chefs who would become their sous: Le Bernadin’s (dreamy) Eric Ripert, Blue Hill’s Dan Barber and the Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield.

The final three could choose their sous chefs and the corresponding ingredients that came with them — but it seemed a little more like a popularity contest: the arguably biggest name chef (Ripert) went first to Stephanie, followed by Dan Barber to Richard and April Bloomfield to Lisa. Now, armed with ingredients and high-wattage talent, the three finalists had to craft a four-course “meal of a lifetime” to see who would be the next Top Chef.

Perhaps most surprising? Lisa and April actually hit it off. Indeed, working harmoniously (for once), Lisa crafted a menu that drew on her Asian training. The first course (from what we remember) was spicy shrimp, the second was a coconut soup and dumpling, the third course was beef wagyu and her requisite dessert was some sort of black rice concoction that intrigued the judges.

Stephanie (awesomely) took Eric Ripert to task on his fish filleting skills, while also coming up with a menu that featured her interest in simple, but varied, flavors. Her first course was a soup with a “perfectly cooked” snapper, her second course was a quail breast over lobster ravioli and her third course was an unorthodox combination of lamb with mushrooms, blackberries, tampanade and braised pistachios. Her final course was a ho-hum ricotta pound cake with bananas.

Richard, looking pretty panicked the whole time, didn’t get much screen time with his sous chef and seemed to keep his menu in flux until late in the game. In the end, he produced a menu that was, apparently, “overthought” and under-executed. (But he did wow Ripert with his liquid nitrogen antics.) His first course was a simple scallop with fruit, his second course was a play on “which came first” featuring a chicken egg, fois gras and guinea hen, his third course was a not-too-crispy pork belly with pickled radishes and his dessert course was a cheeky bacon ice cream with banana scallop.

Cut to shots of food-world glitterati stuffing their faces.

(Aside to the reader: Are you finding this recap lacking snap? Us too. We’re struggling to find anything sort of funny about this episode. Couldn’t somebody have choked on a clam shell or something? We’re dying here.)

Perhaps the only drama of the night came when the judges continually praised Lisa’s meal. Shock. Horror. Could the much reviled Lisa actually win this thing? Indeed, throughout the judging, Stephanie and Richard looked like they might vomit from nerves… while Lisa, who usually looks like she wants to take an axe to the judges, actually looked kind of friendly. Then favorite Richard sputters out an “I choked” when asked how he thinks he did. What is happening, Top Chef?

At last, the judges relieved the tension wrought during the last ten minutes of the show… Yes, a woman is Top Chef — but it is not, in fact, Lisa. Stephanie, you go girl. The all new Top Chef, now featuring girl power. Congrats!

And now Q&A with Husband and Wife:

Q: What celebrity chef would you choose to be your sous-chef?
Husband: Gordon Ramsey might throw a knife at me. Thomas Keller would require me to sit in the corner and practice until I got it perfect. And Emeril Legasse most likely would douse everything I made in his essence or parsley. So, I want someone like Charlie Trotter. He’s frighteningly intense, and he used to be a former gymnast so he can work the tight corners in the kitchen. But he looks like a little guy, so I might be able to take him down when he wasn’t looking if he got too out of hand. Otherwise, I might need Eric Ripert or Daniel Boulud. At least, they look like they might have a good time working.

W: I suppose it would have to be Eric Ripert (only because my husband doesn’t yet qualify as a celebrity, of course). Not only is he, ahem, pretty good looking — which you should be if you possibly can — but he can cook. Which is important … since I pretty much can’t. Plus, he has “le sexy” French accent, which might take some of the sting out of it when he tells me “You le suck at le cooking.”

Q: Was requiring dessert fair?

H: No. I know they’ve done more to emphasize the dessert skills this season. But none of these folks are pastry people. The desserts they made were not impressive desserts. If you go to fine dining and see refined desserts, they are little pieces of edible art these days. All three of them made variations on warm, comforting dishes. While there might be some Top Chef types who could hold their own with dessert, it shouldn’t be a required skill. On its best days, it would be like lining up three sports cars next to a nice looking sedan.

W: Yes. If I were a judge, I’d want to eat dessert — and those contestants have to do what I say! Plus, if you’ve watched the show and have any sort of game plan, you’d know that making dessert is likely to be required. Hello? Practice, practice, practice. I’ll even eat your failures.

Q: The Zagat guide is known for its three criteria and 30-point scale. So in honor of Tim Zagat’s presence at the final dinner, what would you give this season of Top Chef?
H: 19 for story. There were times I was a bit bored this year. While I appreciate them appearing to be more serious about the food, it would have been nice to have at least one attempted assault with shaving sheers to make the blog entries funnier. 20 for contestant demeanor. We’ve come to accept that odd people want to work in kitchens and odder people want to be on Top Chef. Unfortunately, Lisa of the bad attitude was the worst we got. And compared to Flavor of Love, these people seem almost normal. Finally, 29 for product placement. They were so close to a perfect score. If they had just mentioned Toyota one more time… perhaps one stuck in a Glad garbage bag stuck in the bottom of the harbor in San Juan.

W: What this show needs a Christian from Project Runway. That kid had talent and personality. Plus, he had hair that would shame these Top Chef contestants’ meek little faux hawks. So I have to give Top Chef a 15 for personality and hair. Pretty mediocre, Top Chef. If I was rating food — a la Zagat — I’d have to give Top Chef a 20: It all looks really yummy, but so far I have yet to taste anything but the glass on my TV set. And finally, I have to give Top Chef a 30 out of 30 for girl power. It’s about time a chick won. Go Stephanie!!

What is your score for this year’s Top Chef? And did you also think Stephanie might throw up during judges table?

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Top Chef Episode 13: Puerto Rico

June 5, 2008

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And then there were three. And what a three! But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

After a few months break, our four intrepid contestants reunited in sunny Puerto Rico for the penultimate episode of Top Chef. Little had changed, except Lisa had also joined the ranks of “Top Chef contestants sporting spiky hair” (whose membership continues, disturbingly, to swell). Even our infant son has gotten in on the act: You can see him sporting “the Blais” (au naturel) below.

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But we digress. The Quick Fire called on the contestants to take on a Puerto Rican favorite, frituras (aka fritters) and use the ubiquitous plantain in their dishes as well. Richard stumbled on slimy raw bananas in his salsa, as did Antonia in her plantain jam. Stephanie, looking relaxed and confident, and Lisa, looking smug and prickly, rose to the top with their superior tostones (fried green plantains). Ultimately, Stephanie took top prize and won the honor of assigning sous chefs for the elimination challenge.

What is astonishing, however, is that anyone could cook with guest judge Wilo Benet staring them down. Yes, Wilo is a frightening Tom Colicchio doppelganger without a soul (patch). Some may criticize: “What? Do all bald, pale, portly, middle-aged, white male chefs look alike to you?” And we answer: “Um, yes. They look like freakin’ twins.” Top Chef producers wisely kept Gail and Padma sandwiched in between the two Mario brothers, but to little avail. We viewers were continually confused and disoriented by the surplus of bald, white, male judges on the panel.

Anyway… Despite declaring that she would team sous chefs and chefs to ensure a harmonious kitchen, Stephanie paired Lisa with her nemesis Andrew, while pairing herself with Dale; Richard with Spike; and Antonia with Nikki. The challenge? To butcher an entire pig and create at least three dishes using local ingredients. And while a few sparks did fly between Lisa and Andrew, the drama really came when Dale left Stephanie’s pork belly out in the kitchen all night. Where it’s hot. And where pigeons (apparently) live. Stephanie wisely chose not to serve the tainted pork belly, and she and Dale cooked up an ultimately popular alternative third dish of fruit salad with chicharrones (crispy pork skin).

After guests of the Puerto Rican first lady had dined on their dishes and the judges and savored their flavors, the winners were declared. Richard and Stephanie (natch) were tops, with Richard taking the prize for his restrained and simple pig fare. And what was his prize? (Insert Price is Right voiceover) A NEW CAR! His confused and surprised reaction said it all. Hello, Richard, don’t you watch TPIR? You’re supposed to lose your mind when they throw you the keys.

By process of deduction, Antonia and Lisa were deemed the losers of the challenge. Antonia’s rustic dishes were underwhelming and ran together on her single-service plate; also, her pigeon pea beans were woefully undercooked. Lisa’s Latin offerings were patchy, her plantain puree was cloyingly sweet, and she committed other unnamed offenses. Who would be kicked off? Well, according to Bravo’s phone text challenge, 91% of viewers thought Lisa should be.

Hmmm, say the Top Chef producers.

In that case, fan favorite Antonia gets the boot.

Yes, the tearful farewell was very heartfelt — and the corresponding spike in dislike of Lisa predictable. But those producers are wily… before the door could even hit Antonia in the backside, Lisa had stirred the drama pot by acidly asking Richard and Stephanie where her congratulations were. The muttered, “Congrats,” can only whet our appetites for the Top Chef finale. What will they cook up next?

And now, Q&A with the Husband and Wife…

Q: In dramatic fashion more in line with an episode of CSI: Miami, the judges revealed the dead body of… a pig? And not even a big pig. And then the trained chefs cringed, but the question really is, are you afraid of the dead pig?

Husband: No. I like the pig. In many places, including a couple I worked at while in NYC, you stroll into the meat walk-in and there it is: Old Porky hanging upside down, waiting for minions such as myself to take sharp blades to its flesh. There are so many useful parts out of one pig that there is little limit to its potential — if you have the space and time. Also, it’s delicious. I can point to many postings on this blog to verify this belief.

W: I’m not afraid of a big dead pig; I readily consume portions of dead pig on a regular basis. Now, could I butcher said whole animal? Not on your life. Not even with a road map and a sharp knife.

Q: After her most excellent pity party, the big question: Is Lisa insecure or simply cocky?
H: Well, I’ll be nice. Richard had the best line of the night with his statement, “Congrats for winning the f—ing bronze medal.” In a four man race, when you finish third, you aren’t exactly tearing up the track. So, my feeling is she is insecure. She knew she wasn’t well liked, she knew she screwed up. Her survival was only a surprise because the judges spent a huge amount of time on how bad her dishes were. Therefore, she was lashing out, trying to fine some refuge. Though, the teaser for next week has her claiming to kick Stephanie and Richard’s butts. So I’m probably wrong.

W: It’s possible she’s insecure; aren’t we all? Maybe this was a crazy strategy to get them to like her. Something like, “You guys are so mean for not saying congratulations… now feel guilty and like me better.” Despite my attempts, I have yet to crawl inside my TV — much less the minds of the people on it.

Q: So, if you are Richard, in this time of high gas prices, would you take the car, trade it for a Prius, or hope for a cash deal?
H: Cash. He lives in Atlanta. Traffic is nearly as bad as here in DC. And he uses all those culinary chemicals so I’m not sure the Prius will help his standing with the environmentalists.

W: Keep it. It’s a Toyota… it will run forever.

Q: Who’s going to win?
H: Richard. I’ve a feeling he’s got more toys than neon green tape. And toys are fun.

W: Stephanie. You go girl.

Who is your winner? What do you think of Lisa? And what was with that dramatic pause at the party — Padma was dancing, then slow motion followed by a voice over of contestants sounding like they were going to a funeral?

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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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Why we are in New York, and why we aren’t blogging about Top Chef.

June 13, 2007

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Top Chef is back! But, sadly, our snarky commentary isn’t.

What?” you exclaim in disbelief and horror.

Yes, it’s true. Our amusing — if we don’t say so ourselves — recaps and Q&As are sidelined this season because of … my husband. There, I said it.

Last season, I was willing to sit through lame reality show drama (such as, say, drunken head shaving), uppity contestants who whine that they hate TGI Fridays food, and bizarre vending machine quickfire challenges. I put up with Padma and endless product placements. I was even willing to stay up to the ungodly hour of 10 p.m. to watch these goings on, and then remain awake even later to write the posts.

No longer.

Why? Well… My husband has done it: He’s taken the plunge and is going to become a bonafide, certified, rarefied and dignified (?) actual chef. Dramatic pause. That’s right: He’s going to culinary school.

The whole family has temporarily relocated to New York City while he attends the French Culinary Institute for six months. Now, dressed in a budding chef’s uniform — black-checked hammer pants, a white chef’s jacket, dinner-napkin-like scarf and paper hat — he’s learning the basics of classic French cuisine and then some. He’s on his feet all day. He’s tired. He’s drained. And, yes, I still make him cook for me, dear readers of My Husband Cooks!

So, while our exploits here may slow a bit (I can only ask a man to cook so many hours in the day), we’ll keep the blog going — and hopefully drop some of his cooking school wisdom on you.

“But wait,” you interrupt, “what does this have to do with Top Chef?”

Well, gang, aside from having a 3-month-old whose sleep/wake schedule interferes with Bravo programming scheduled at 10 p.m., there’s another barrier. My husband has a professional conflict of sorts.

Lee Anne Wong, of Top Chef season one fame, is a faculty member at the French Culinary Institute. Plus, there’s all those other professional-type chefs at the joint who may not share our wicked sense of humor. So, while like all good cooks my husband likes a little bit of char, he’s not for burning bridges. So, we’ll keep our snarky commentary about Top Chef to ourselves and our TiVo.

We hope, though, that you’ll stay tuned for the blog as we enter this new chapter in my husband’s cooking — and my eating. I’m thinking both can only get better!

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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?