Top Chef Season 5, Episode 12: Apparently, there is a major disconnect between how old people and young people like their pigeon cooked
We're getting close, y'all. Final Four is set.
Quickfire: Endearingly nerdy moleculo superchef Wylie Dufresne, known best for his mavericky NYC restaurant WD-50, loves eggs. "Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day," he said more than once. Padma called Dufresne an "egghead" and giggled airily. He challenged the five remaining chefs to whip up an impressive egg dish. (Thankfully, no one attempted to cook up the gag-inducing albumen bomb that is an ostrich egg, which led to cheftestant Jill's downfall early on.)
Fabio, who called Dufresne "Doo-frez-nay" instead of "Doo-frain," like Tim Robbins' character in The Shawshank Redemption, tried to impress the star chef by busting out some reverse-free-something-something chemical process to produce lychee soup in an empty eggshell. "Alginate?" Dufresne questioned when he learned Fabio geeked it up a bit. "Of course, " the Euro replied. What?! Hosea overdid it with a trio of Japanese bites that didn't work well together. Leah did a funky bacon egg and cheese deal that didn't impress, either. Came down to Carla, who incorporated spinach into egg whites for a "green eggs and ham" dish, and Stefan, who pulled some sort of yolky switcheroo that Dufresne found "clever." Carla, who is tearing it up as of late, ended up taking it by keeping her stuff simple.
Elimination: After eating what looked like a delicious meal at Top Chef Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle's Greenwich Village eatery Perilla, the chefs tackled Season 5's most interesting challenge yet — cooking a "Last Meal" for a random panel of food legends.
Fabio drew the charming Lidia Bastianich of Lidia's Italy. Hosea got James Beard Foundation prez Susan Ungaro. Stef landed ever-eloquent Swedish superstar Marcus Samuelsson. Leah got Dufresne, which did not bode well because he was steady hating on her Quickfire plate. And Carla? Carla got Jacques Pepin. I AM OBSESSED WITH JACQUES PEPIN. I could watch his soporific-to-everyone-else public TV show Fast Food My Way, which consists of him standing in his rustic country kitchen chopping vegetables and rambling on about things in his dizzyingly thick French accent, all day every day. He's got such a calm, warm, welcoming and kindly le grand-père demeanor. He's everything a venerable culinary legend should be — and the man rocks bow ties. Make me croque monsieur, Jacques! Sil vous plait.
Not surprisingly, these pillars of the food world all wanted something whole and simple to nosh on before they metaphorically kicked the bucket — dishes that are at once comforting and transporting, a la Anton Ego unexpectedly quantum-leaping back to his childhood as he tasted that first bite of Remy's Ratatouille.
Hosea, who got Ungaro's order of shrimp scampi and tomato provencal (a tomato half stuffed with breadcrumbs, herbs and cheese) drew criticisms for gussying up his old-French-lady side dish too much. Stefan, in a surprising move, grossly overcooked the salmon, which Swede Samuelsson asked for with roasted potatoes, spinach and dill. Leah struck out once again making eggs for the Egghead, crafting a watery benedict that everyone but watery-egg-loving Brit Toby Young disliked.
Here's where the odd squab squabble referenced in the headline of this post came into play. Pepin requested that Carla cooked him roasted squab with peas. At judges' table, Tom Colicchio mentioned that he thought the bird was overcooked, while Pepin found it stellar. Instead of chalking it up to a difference of opinion, Tom C. pointed out that there is a latent ideological difference between how older chefs and younger chefs like their squab cooked. I found this extremely dubious. Granted, I don't follow the game bird beat that closely, but this is the first I'm hearing of a generational gap impacting the way people view the temperature of pigeon. Can anyone better-versed than me in squabology comment on this? How about you, Jacques, in your bravotv.com Q&A?
Bravotv.com: Tom and Carla agreed that the squab was slightly overcooked. You said that you didn't mind. Tom then went into something about how old school and new school differ on the way they like it cooked. Do you agree with that?
I don't know if it's only older chefs or old school chefs. It's a question of personal preference or taste. It's a question of the fad or the fashion at that time. We used to roast a duck, which I still love. A roast duck you put in the oven for an hour at 400 degree and the skin is crispy and well done. You can do that at home. Many years ago this was the only way that duck was cooked. Now the only way you can have duck is with the breast rare and the leg is confit or whatever and it is kind of ridiculous because one is just after the other. All of a sudden you have the old style coming back new again and you have those types of things. It's more of a question of passion than anything else. It's a question of personal preferences. Sure, I could have had the squab slightly less cooked than it was, but it was quite well seared and satisfying and good.
I love that a) Bravo didn't really seem to copyedit Pepin's responses, so they read very sprawling and Frenchily; and b) he provides absolutely no insight into Tom C.'s squab comment by attributing it to personal preference, taste, fads, fashions AND passion. I LOVE JACQUES PEPIN.
Fabio, who was tasked with doing up roasted chicken and caramelized cippolini onions for Lidia, did something grotesque to his finger (they didn't show what) and ended up having to have it splinted and wrapped in the kitchen. ("I'll chop it off and sear it on the flat top," he replied with mega Italiano bluster after a medic asked if he needed to go to the hospital.) But the injury didn't keep him from winning the Elimination — Tom C. called his chicken "a dish that makes you," while Samuelsson pointed out that it was the only plate that he thought could go straight from judges' table onto a restaurant table. High praise.
Leah was told to her pack her knives and go. About time — she totally hasn't wanted to be there ever since she grossly sucked gross face with Hosebeast.
So we've finally got our Final Four — Stefan, Carla, Fabio and Hosea. Check back on Meal Ticket before next Wednesday's episode for what will easily be the most horrendously nerdy thing I've ever done — TOP CHEF POWER RANKINGS. Wait, don't go! I'm cool, seriously! I like rap!
OK, one more Jacques Pepin Q&A quote and I'm done:
Bravotv.com: Do you watch Top Chef?
Occasionally. I've seen a couple of them. I never know exactly when it's on. I tend to stay with the news or stuff like that. It's very rare that I look at things like that.
Jacques Pepin has no clue when Top Chef is even on. JACQUES PEPIN IS KILLING IT.
Samantha Brown, who hosts the Travel Channel show Passport to Great Weekends, is going on a pub crawl with the crew from Philly's Beer of the Bike pedaling/drankin' club next week. South Philly Taproom GM Meredith Twist tells us that they'll be filming some scenes next Thursday, Feb. 19, from around 2:30 to 5 in the afternoon. If you want in on the TV action, stop by! Right now we're trying to figure out what other bars they'll be hitting up on the crawl; more info soon.
You thought I was going to say "mash-up," didn't you?
Many apologies for the delay with this recap. Last week was a bear!
First things first: Jeff, who was eliminated in Episode 10, told people.com that he felt the show used him as "some kind of sex object." I love that guy!
Onto 11: As far as celeb chefs go, I've always liked Eric Ripert. The chef/owner of NYC's heralded Le Bernardin (as well as Philly's 10 Arts) is a living legend, and he's French, meaning he could probably get away with being a total wad if he really wanted to. But seems like a generally nice dude. How much of this is genuine and how much of this is expertly polished public persona? Impossible to tell. But he's doing an excellent job.
Quickfire: Three-Round Super-Fast Fish Filleting Tournament. Round 1: The remaining cheftestants had 5 minutes to clean and butterfly two sardines. The Duchess of Scallopshire Jamie and Tony Todd/Didi Pickles daughter Carla screwed up, leaving Vaguely Ethnic Debbie Downer Leah, "I've Strayed From the Church's Teachings!" Hosea, and to so-very-continental Fabio and Stefan to give a big ol' arctic char the what's for. Leah and Fabio dropped the ball, so the show's two bald dudes faced off in Round 3: skinning and breaking down a still-kinda-alive eel. "Skinning eel is like riding a bike," Stefan said enthusiastically while nailing the thing's writhing, slimy head into a cutting board and tearing it apart with ease. The uncircumcised winced. Stefan won.
(One thing I've noticed: It's easy for us schlubs at home to be like "You're a professional chef, you should be able to gut and fillet that fish with the quickness!" But I don't think everyone realizes that it's extremely difficult to do well. I've tried — and failed spectacularly — on several occasions. Then again, I'm far from a pro chef — but could you imagine if a God de Poisson like Ripert hovered over you while you struggled through a task he could probably complete blindfolded with one hand while smoking an unfiltered cigarette and discussing the waning strength of the Euro?)
Elimination: The final six are treated to classy six-course lunch at Le Bernardin, where apparently you get an extremely dapper black French man in a bespoke suit describing your food as part of the package. I'd imagine that's an extremely nervewracking position to be in, even if you work in a kitchen — sitting at a private table with a chef while his or her food is being served, putting you in the obligatory position to make insightful comments about the dishes in real time as you fork away. (Of course, I feel this way because I'm not at all eloquent when I eat, mainly because my mouth is so full.) It was funny to watch these generally cocky chefs stumble over their words when attempting to describe the heavenly texture of oil-poached escolar. Ripert acted very gracious and friendly throughout, of course.
Anyway, after dinner, chefs drew knives to see which of the six courses they would have to recreate for Eric and the Crew. Quickfire winner Stefan was given the advantage of being able to choose, so he picked baked lobster with asparagus and hollandaise sauce. The rest of the contestants groaned because they thought it was too easy. Come on y'all, there are no easy Le Bernardin recipes.
Carla drew the aforementioned escolar (seemed like one of the hardest), Hosea got za'atar-spiced monkfish, Leah picked mahi mahi in a matsutake mushroom sauce, Jamie drew a black bass plate (Ripert's pick for most difficult) and Fabio drew sourdough-encrusted red snapper (sounds so good).
The judges' tasting was one of the bigger wankfests I've in awhile. "It's like someone forging a painting," Tom Colicchio said about the chefs mimicking Ripert's dishes. Wank. Toby Young offered high praise to Ripert's menu, causing the Frenchman to blush and say, "Coming from you ... " Wank. Padma just sat there and acted transcendently beautiful. Wank. Et cetera.
Stefan won again because his plate was apparently very close to the Ripert original (back to backs here).
Bottom three: Hosea, who overdid the za'atar (how you gonna overdo the za'atar, brother?); Leah, whose stuff was too greasy for comfort; and Jamie, who screwed up the celery on her plate real bad. Toby went so far as to claim that Jamie's dish featured a "rogue element," a "metallic aftertaste" that rendered it "completely toxic." Take those comments out of context and he could very well be talking about terrorism.
Jamie got the ax. It seemed cruel on its face because Leah has been half-assedly coasting for the past few episodes, while the last bastion of Team Rainbow, for all her pouting and complaining, has consistently performed well. Was it a fair elimination? Don't ask Ripert, who seems to think both the girls should've been sent packing. From his post-show Q&A:
Bravotv.com: When Leah gave up on the arctic char, what were you thinking?
Gone baby gone …
Bravotv.com: The eliminated chef was seemingly sent home for oversalting celery — was this the worst culinary crime that day?
By far, yes. Unfortunately we just couldn’t eat it.
Next episode: Jacques Pepin, Wylie Dufresne and various other chefs attempt to outwankify each other. Fabio chops his finger/hand/arm off.
Top Chef Season 5, Episode 10: "There is no reason to eat vegetables when there is meat and fish around."
It was amazing how pained Padma sounded last night as she uttered the line "As you know, the Super Bowl is just around the corner" (see video). Also amazing: Neither the Arizona Cardinals nor the Pittsburgh Steelers, the two shitbucket teams responsible for providing us with what will surely be the wackest Big Game in a decade, were featured in later portion of the show that involved the cheftestants selecting NFL franchises to model their cooking after.
Quickfire: In what might be the best example of brutally unsubtle product placement porn this season, each of the remaining cooks was required to take a random cooking element and combine it with — no, not Diet Dr. Pepper — Quaker Oats. Padma instructed them to "rethink this supergrain," but didn't seem quite as upset about this preposterous statement as the Super Bowl one. Guest judge Scott Conant, of the Meatpacking District's Scarpetta, served as resident chef who tries far too hard to be a dickhead. (We talked about this last week.)
Fabio drew "vegetables," which led to him offering the timeless quote that serves as this post's headline. (A few people told me they found it apropos that he dropped this gem during The Week Without Meat, but I feel as though it's important to offer up this distinction: It's not like I'm obsessed with meat/fish and despise vegetables. I love both. I just like them together at the same time.) Stefan pulled it out once again with an oat-laced banana mousse. He got love for his desserts during Restaurant Wars, too. For all his gruff alphamale grandstanding, that dude is kind of sweet.
|OK, leave your best football/sex|
double entrendre in the comments.
Elimination: This was one of the most schematically fucked competitions I've ever seen on Top Chef, but it was partially saved by the sheer novelty of carting a bunch of past contestants back on to ruffle the Season 5ers/sop up some more cable TV face time. The game: Each squad huddled up and assigned individual chefs to one of several NFL teams. They were then required to develop a dish inspired by that team's geographical region and cook it, head to head against a past-season opponent, in front of a live audience. If the four judges liked your dish better, your team got 7 points; then they threw it out to a bunch of randoms in the audience to either serve as a 3-point "field goal" addendum or a tiebreaker. Neat it's so much like football. Padma even wore ref stripes.
Stefan's Quickfire win granted him the privilege of picking a team and an opponent, so he went with the Dallas Cowboys and Season 1 crunchyhippielady Andrea. The rest of them were paired off according to team.
Jamie beat dead-behind-the-eyes Season 3 chick Camille with a San Franny crab cioppino. Season 4's Nikki fell in a New York Giants battle to Leah. She clearly does not want to be on the show anymore after grossly sucking gross face with Hosea, who topped Season 1 fat jolly dude Miguel in an incredibly boring Seattle Seahawks seafood battle. Challenge winner Carla zapped Season 4 ADHD sufferer Andrew with a how-did-that-work 20-minute gumbo dish.
As for the losers — Stefan was defeated by crunchyhippielady, probably because he decided to include a fussy piece of roasted pork and corn salad (?!) on a plate meant to represent the food of Texas. No one told Fabio that putting a shitload of cheddar cheese on his salad might be too literal of an interpretation of Green Bay. (Severely overcooking venison didn't help, either. Where were the brats at?) Jeff's Miami Dolphins-inspired rock shrimp ceviche with sangria ice was narrowly edged out by Season 2er Josie's dish, which was the exact same shit except warm.
Jeff got axed, which sucks because I generally enjoyed his hair-flipping deadpan assessments of things. A necessary move, though, as Stefan is far too good-TV-combative to leave and Fabio is just so goddamn foreign/charming.
Next week: Eric Ripert makes the chefs screw with live eels, then laughs in a self-satisfied manner.
About a year ago at this time, I was somehow asked, along with Foobooz's Art Etchells, to be a judge on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Prior to the taping, which took place at Collingswood's excellent Pop Shop, two of the producers pulled Art and I aside to go over some particulars. Most of the stuff was solid but benign advice — smile, act natural, speak up, etc. But they did share one nugget of info that I remember finding particularly humorous: They basically instructed us not to act like total dickbags.
A few Throwdown judges in the past, they told us, saw their .2 seconds of cable TV exposure as an opportunity to make their critical bones, and proceeded to tear apart the dishes of the competitor(s), Flay, and in some cases both participants. Not because the food sucked, necessarily, but just because they could act like snitty sonsofbitches and get away with it. Needless to say, the producers were forced to reshoot segments in these cases until they were able to capture the fam-friendly quips that so characterize the Food Network program.
This phenomenon, of course, is not unique to TV, but it certainly comes up a lot on Top Chef. The show's guest judges, regardless of their roles in the industry, often seem like they're forcing the cruelty just because they can. (This also seems to apply to Toby Young, but that's an issue for another post.) The distinction here is that I'm guessing TC's producers take the exact opposite approach of Throwdown's: They gotta be convincing their judges to act as farcically inhumane as possible. That's why I was amped on the fact that Philly's Stephen Starr represented us so well on last night's much-anticipated Restaurant Wars (RW) episode.
Quickfire: The remaining eight cheftestants were asked to develop a dish that would serve as a microcosm of a specific restaurant concept. The top two dishes, they learned, would be designated as the captains of the RW teams. Here's where the Starrchild came in. Instead of smarmily slamming everyone's plates with disgusted one-liners (paging Jean-Christophe Novelli), he simply told the chefs whether or not he liked their stuff. "I don't think I'm going to be going into business with you, buddy," he told Jeff. Jeff was like "Alright." Fabio tried to weave some sort of precious multi-course dealie that featured tuna and swordfish carpaccio, a roasted vegetable salad and a filet mignon sandwich all on one plate. Starr looked at the latter item and made us proud by saying that it was "a cheesesteak." The Italian countered by attaching the "high-end" descriptor to his offering. (You think filet makes it high-end? Do your research, Fab!) Steve's two faves: Radhika, who's won about a million Quickfires; and Leah, who, along with Gross Couple partner Hosea, sucks.
Elimination: RW always makes for the most compelling episode of the Top Chef season for one simple reason — when you give a bunch of Type A knife jockeys less than one day to see an entire restaurant from concept to fruition, EVERYTHING WILL GO TERRIBLY WRONG. It's brilliant. Rad's teammates — Carla, Jeff and Jamie — settled on an "old spice trade" restaurant called Sahana. Leah, ew-gross-they-kissed-ew Hosea, Fabio and Stefan ran with a concept called Sunset Lounge, which sounds like it would be a place that relies heavily on the use of raw bean sprouts and Smart Balance.
Sahana was a terrible dining experience for the judges, as front-of-the-house leader Rad decided it would make more sense to have a series of panic attacks in the kitchen than care for her guests. Though they liked the curried carrot soup with smoked paprika oil at the outset ("I like the cucumber thing at the end that I'm getting," said Starr; hey, that's how we talk, too!), the rest of the dishes had problems, culminating with the unmitigated disaster that was Carla's not-frozen frozen yogurt. Oops. ("I wanted to shake her really hard," Starr would later say of Carla's limp judges' table defense of the dessert. Same!)
Sunset went considerably better on the service end, with the unflappable Fabio charming the pants off everyone ever — including Starr, who gave him a nice lil' man-wink — by managing to make himself sound even more foreign than usual. Impressive. Then came the controversial snafu that resulted in this week's elimination being not so cut and dry: Leah served a bunch of people severely undercooked fish. I was talking to my dude Emynd about this earlier: Yes, Radhika completely screwed up the front of the house and Carla served a goopy dessert. But are those worse offenses than potentially hospitalizing a dinner guest? I would say no — but that's irrelevant, since Sunset took it thanks to Fabio's people skills and solo winner Stefan's stellar dessert.
Radhika ended up packing her knives. At first blush, this seems fair for two reasons — 1) she seems poised to become a celebrity chef, and to be successful in that role, you need to be able to work a room; and 2) one of the prizes for winning Top Chef is a chunk of cash to open your own spot, which also requires talents beyond behind the line. But did she trot a potentially hazardous entrée out the kitchen door? Nope.
Let's hear what you thought about the elimination in the comments.
Above, check out a preview clip of tonight's Quickfire Challenge, which features the cheftestants preparing dishes for Philly's own Stephen Starr. What exactly is Hosea, aka one half of Gross Couple, thinking calling the restaurateur "one of the highest-regarded chefs in America"? Not that I doubt Steve could throw down in the kitchen.
The episode airs on Bravo tonight at 10 p.m. There's a slight chance I may be late with my usual Thursday episode recap, as LOST is returning tonight with a two-hour season premiere. Yes, I am one of those people.
With the exception of a very welcome appearance by my favorite Top Chef, Season 3 winner Hung, this was the suckiest episode in recent memory. The number one reason: The spiritless "farm to table" theme haphazardly driven home by the cheftestants' visit to Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York.
< illadvisedrant >
No disrespect to Chef Barber and Co., but their inclusion in this episode caused me to stew over my biggest (admittedly tangential) pet peeve about the excruciating "locavore" trend. Are local/sustainable/organic ingredients great? Absolutely — they taste excellent. I'm just sick of A) people who go out of their way to pat themselves on the back because they think it's impressive that they've come to this utterly obvious realization ("Hey everyone, I rule because I use fresh ingredients! Look how amazing and socially conscious and green I am!"); and B) smug diners/home cooks who look down on people who buy lettuce from Shop-Rite instead of exclusively sourcing from a central Vermont-based microgreen farmer who fertilizes his crops with fossilized pterodactyl droppings that he spreads across his fields in the pattern of a Tibetan sand mandala.
Please don't get me wrong — I'm all about locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. I think you should use them whenever possible. But just know that I'm going to give you shit the second you start behaving like the epicurean equivalent of those self-important douches who think they're singlehandedly preserving humanity by driving their kids to riding lessons in a Toyota Prius. It's food. If it tastes good, eat it and stop looking for a medal of valor. (This is not the first time I've said my piece about this — 13th down.)
< /illadvisedrant >
Quickfire: This challenge, which Hung oversaw, gave the chefs 15 minutes to create a delicious morsel — using only canned, pre-fab ingredients (THE HORROR! NEED ... ORGANIC ... BUTTERNUT SQUASH ... TO SURVIVE). I personally loved this task because it featured copious amounts of Spam, the Filipino household staple that people like to hate on even though they've never tried it. Trust me, it's a godlike product — as evidenced by Hosea making the top three for his Spam 'n' sweet pea soup, as well as Stefan's immunity win for his Spam-ified baked bean soup and Velveeta grilled cheese. Hung knows the deal.
Elimination: After being split up into three separate groups — pork, lamb and chicken — the chefs traveled to the afoermentioned Blue Hills to cook a family-style lunch, for a crunchy local/sustainable crew, using products fresh off the farmstead. "This is totally the food I do," Jamie said. Scallop fields on yonder! After some uninspired moaning and groaning from Tom, Padma, Toby and a few people who looked like they'd just gotten back from watching The Wizard of Oz on mute with Dark Side of the Moon playing the background, Team Chicken — The Duchess of Scallopshire, Stefan and dessert master Carla (who's really grown on me) — earned a three-fer win for their simple pollo menu. (Did anyone else notice that Stefan seemed to establish a deep spiritual connection with the live chicken he was cradling during their farm tour?)
Though Team Pork (our dude Jeff got a lot of face time) was tsk-tsked for a few misgivings, Team Lamb — Ariane, Hosea and the increasingly irritating Leah — ended up in the bottom three. As expected, the Gross Couple, BOTH OF WHOM HAVE SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, turned their gross backs on Ariane at judges' table, which seemed to contribute to the sweetheart Jersey mom's dismissal.
True, Ariane didn't know how to properly butcher the lamb or tie it up so the meat roasted evenly in the oven — but she openly admitted her lack of expertise in that particular area, while Leah and Hosea openly admitted that they possessed such experience. Instead of working as a team to try and stay off the chopping block, Gross Couple let her fuck things up, with every intention of placing the blame squarely on her if it came down to it. Yeah yeah, I know you often have to play dirty on reality TV. It was just especially noxious this week, namely because Ariane is so likable and Gross Couple is so not.
Oh well. I'm confident Ariane has a future in TV. Like Gail, she's got a nice balance of expertise and approachability. Catch you on Food Network, girl.
NEXT WEEK: Restaurant Wars!
I gotta give it to Burger King. Their marketing department is quite clever, from the ubiquitous creepy plastic-faced king to Web ads like this to the extremely controversial burger cherry popping of indigenous peoples they've dubbed "Whopper Virgins."
Put your Facebook friendships to the test, kids, because the top-dog social networking site and BK have teamed up in their most recent marketing scheme to get people to scarf down more Whoppers. The aptly named Whopper Sacrifice is a Facebook application that will give you a coupon for a free Whopper if you delete 10 Facebook friends.
I bet you think you already outwitted them, because it's easy to just delete someone and then add them back. (More than 215,000 people and counting have been sacrificed so far.) Facebook, however, will still notify the rest of your friends that you "just sacrified [name] for a free Whopper."
I'm getting used to seeing that on my news feed. I may end up alone, but at least I'll be full.
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