Last week's episode of Top Chef Masters saw the remaining superchefs cooking a vegan and gluten-free meal for Zooey Deschanel. In the next-week teaser at the end of the ep, we noticed Angry Dale from Season 4 yelling at finalist Michael Chiarello. If that alone is not reason enough for you to catch Wednesday's penultimate airing, here are new details on the ep straight from Bravo:
The final four chefs enter their last quickfire challenge blindfolded. The elimination round presents the chefs with the goal of catering a large event ï¿½ only they are not allowed to touch the food. Each Master must use his or her leadership, teaching, and directing skills to accomplish their vision at arms length.
The elimination sounds right-on ï¿½ these contestants will likely be at their best expediting in the kitchen and overseeing a big crew, Angry Dale notwithstanding. But the blindfold thing? Seems like a cruel and unusual choice for chefs of this caliber. Meaning it's gonna be hilarious.
Who'd have thought that a well-mannered vegan celiac chanteuse would be the first person to give five world-class chefs pause?
Yes, universally adored emaciated-boy crush object Zooey Deschanel was featured on last night's Top Chef Masters, joining NPH and the dudes from Lost as the latest example of this miniseries' celeb-pulling power. ("I loved her in Elf!" exclaims Art Smith.) And yes, Z is a vegan ï¿½ and gluten-intolerant and anti-soy. The girl probably has more wispy scarves and vintage berets than she does true meat-eating experiences.
While tasking these bad-ass chefs to create vegan dishes may seem a bit like tasking a philharmonic orchestra to play Jonas Brothers songs ï¿½ just ain't in their wheelhouse ï¿½ you gotta admit it's a fascinating, albeit cruel, thing to watch on TV.
Quickfire: So there was one other "celebrity" featured this ep, as well ï¿½ Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock, whose over-coiffed handlebar mustache rivals Rick Bayless' goatee as least awesome facial hair ever to appear on Bravo, joined former cheftestant Spike Mendelsohn (D.C.'s Good Stuff Eatery) and Sang Yoon (L.A.'s Father's Office) to judge a burger cook-off between the remaining chefs ï¿½ Bayless, Smith, Hubert Keller, Anita Lo and Michael Chiarello. (Eating a shitload of McDonald's for a month makes you burger expert? I got nothing.)
Keller, who owns Burger Bar locations in three cities, does a beef/roquefort burger with rustic taters. Bayless serves his with three types of guac ï¿½ judges hate on it, and he hates on them back all nasal-like ("There's three kinds of guacamole that are very unusual ... they can't even perceive that!"). Chiarello makes a 2.5-pound beast dubbed "hamburguese enorme." Art wraps his patty in a hoecake with fried green tomato chips, while Lo does some Dali-inspired cheese soup that causes Mendelsohn to recoil and compare the burger element to "boiled meat." She gets shafted with 1.5 stars, while Chiarello and Bayless tie up with 4 a pop.
Click here for a joke about Lo that's probably a little more racist than it is topical.
Elimination: In a challenge eerily similar to the plot of every one of Deschanel's movies, the chefs bend to her every whim because she is cute and emits the sweet stench of unattainability when she sweats. They're asked to cook a five-course vegan luncheon for a group of 20 crunchy people, with each chef tackling one course.
And South-in-your-mouth Smith ï¿½ aw, Art ï¿½ so flummoxed by having to do a dessert without butter, lard or a combination of both, purchases rice milk ice cream (sadtrombone.com),ï¿½ ribbons it up with fresh strawberry and tops it with almond brittle for a lackluster meal-ender that not even Deschanel's look-on-the-bright-side compliments can save. He's offed with a total of 12.5 stars, while Chiarello takes home $10K for charity with his 22-star pasta effort.
Next week: Top Chef alums come back to assist the masters, including Dale, my favorite pissy Filipino chef!
At the outset ofTop Chef Masters, I predicted that it wasn't going to get compelling till the championship round, when the winners of the first six eps would face off in a series of so-below-them challenges in the name of a hefty $100K charity prize. Last night, the finals got rolling, and my prediction held true, as the Quickfire featured the cut-above six-pack ï¿½ Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tracht, Rick Bayless, Anita Lo, Michael Chiarello and Art Smith ï¿½ rocking menial tasks they probably haven't rocked in decades.
Yes, it was time for the mis en place relay race. (Y'all remember when Season 3 winner Hung STRAIGHT DESTROYED the chicken butchering challenge?) Working in threes, the chefs had to take on the thankless jobs that their staff typically handle ï¿½ shucking oysters, dicing onions, chopping birds and whipping up egg whites into a stiff froth. Our fave Tom C. ï¿½ heretofore known as "Big Daddy," thanks Art Smith ï¿½ who dressed like how your dad dresses for church for the occasion, acted as ref.
Impressions ï¿½ Lo, who did the chicken thing like a champ (lesson: always pick the Asian to do the chicken), kills it when she describes Season 3 race participant Casey as "some poor woman chopping onions for way too long." Bayless referring to Keller as a "French demigod" = somehow creepy. Smith making a "cry myself a river" crack while hacking his onions = fully expected, fully appreciated.
Keller's team wins, and the chef, who took on two tasks in the race, picks first for Elimination ï¿½ each chef must reinvent a competitor's signature dish. Keller picks Lo's scallop/urchin, sticking her with his lobster cappuccino; Tracht and Smith flip-flop, taking on seared grouper and chopped sirloin with a fried egg, respectively. (The Obamas love that grouper, says Smith ï¿½ hey, have you heard he's friends with them? Also Oprah?) The last pair-up sees Chiarello handing his quail over to Mexican master Bayless, who puts his roast lamb with pasilla chiles and figs in the hands of the Italian chef.
Judging the plates are a group of TCM cast-offs, including the dude Ludo Lefebvre, who apparently enrolled in dialect lessons after Bravo subtitled him, Morimoto-on-Food-Network style, in Episode 3. Producers didn't feel the need to do this to him this time around, causing Ludo to be like "the fuck?"
The judges like Keller's urchin cream, so he gets 21.5 stars. They're also all about Bayless' not-that-Mexi interpretation of Chiarello's plate,ï¿½ earning him 23. Winning, though ï¿½ and earning a gushing "genius" nod from Britcrit Jay Rayner ï¿½ is Lo, who tallies up 24. (Her twist on Keller: corn chawanmushi, champagne gelï¿½e and a lobster biscuit sandwich.) Smith, who stuffed a boiled egg inside a ball of undercooked lamb (Gael Green calls it "grotesque") gets just 15 stars, but the ax falls on Tracht, who drastically overcooks her fish.
Nice how this group worked out to be relatively diverse ï¿½ two women (one Asian), a French dude, a Medi-looking dude, a gay dude, a white dude who at least knows a lot Mexican people ... foreal, we're about one armor-wearing dog and one wheelchair-bound child away from
Next week: Zooey Deschanel. (500) Days of Forcing Chefs Against Their Will to Cook Vegetarian.
Carroll will use focus on locally sourced ingredients (10 Arts' credo since the outset) to produce dishes like wild salmon with wasabi pea purï¿½e and citrus vinaigrette and steak frites (grilled hanger steak from Jersey's Pineland Farms) with shallot sauce. Glass'll do sweets like carrot cake with Philly cream cheese mousse, hazelnuts and carrot sorbet.
The prix fixe, also available with a two-glass wine pairing for a supplemental charge of $15, is available Tuesday through Saturday.
The final Top Chef Masters episode before the six-slot championship round featured massive amounts of dudelove. In a way, it represented both what is most and least appealing about this spin-off ï¿½ while it's refreshing to watch pros hand out cellophane-wrapped bundles of luvandrespect to each other, the lowbrow, finite-attention-span reality TV fan in all of us wants needs to see jettisoned colanders, drunken screaming matches and duplicitous pan-fried sabotage on the reg.
I don't see the show getting any more trashy. These last few episodes will probably feature a good amount of bro-hugging and cheek-pecking and helping-hand-ing as the sextet reaches for that $100K donation. Maybe I'm wrong ï¿½ but if I'm not, at least it'll make the Aug. 26 debut of the regular Top Chef seem that much trashier/glorious.
This week's lineup: Art Smith (former personal chef for Oprah and onetime contender for the head chef job at the Obama White House); Michael Cimarusti (seafood-focused chef from L.A.'s Providence); Jonathan Waxman (the iconic NYC chef whom I, for some reason, associate with all those funny-named restaurants in American Psycho); and Roy Yamaguchi (the Hawaiian fusion chef who's got an outpost here at 15th and Sansom). These dudes were so goddamn kind and sweet and close it was kinda like:
In a way.
Quickfire: The chefs get assigned the "Aisle Trail" ï¿½ each man has to cook a dish using ingredients taken from a single grocery aisle, with a budget of 20 bones. Cimarusti, who's referred to as a "young little chicken" by Smith (dudelove sesh starting right about ... now), gets the baking aisle; he ends up with a chocolate parfait with ginger and rum. Yamaguchi, vexed by the dearth of Asian ingredients in his area (no, there's no soy sauce in the pasta section, Roy), whips up noodles topped with a fried egg that two-thirds of the Whole-Foods-worker judges find "strange." Waxman, with the international aisle, comes up with a lentil salad, while the grains section leads Smith to a risotto. Cimarusti edges his buddies out with a perfect QF score from the judges.
Elimination: The cheftestants head back to Whole Foods to pick out 11 ingredients apiece. The twist is that their basket is then handed to a competitor, who must use seven of the 11 mystery items in a dish. So this is where it got real cute: While the chefs could've filled their baskets with a bunch of disparate crap, each gives the next guy a fighting chance, selecting versatile veggies and proteins. "I want Art to show the world his love and passion for food," says Yamaguchi, who blesses the Southern chef with some chicken. Awww. When are y'all going to go on a group camping/whitewater rafting trip together, and I can please come?
Yamaguchi admits he's not the best at thinking on the fly (who is?), and it shows in his mahi/short rib dish, as he ends up with a mediocre 15 stars. Waxman ends up with a total of 20 for his "retro '80s" (see, American Psycho!) pork chop dish, edging out young buck Cimarusti's 17.5. Smith, however, ends up on top, earning 22 stars for a delicious-looking fried/ smothered chicken dish served with a teeny mango pie. Everyone hugs and snuggles. "I love the way you all took care of each other," Gael Greene tells the foursome. Daw.
So here's the Final Six:
- Anita Lo
- and this dude!
I'm rooting for Art.
I'm looking at last night's Top Chef Masters episode ï¿½ and next week's ï¿½ like I look at the last two tortuous days of work before you bolt for a long-overdue vacation. Conventional wisdom suggests these days are dull, but rat racers know that the exact opposite is often true ï¿½ the final 48 hours before escaping via train/plane/automobile somehow always end up bogged down with more stupid tasks and useless information and vexing revelations than an entire month's worth of ass-busting. It makes me furious just thinking about it. Thank God no one will really care if I direct my hostility at a benign target like TCM.
Yes, Episode 5 had every cylinder of my ambivalence engine firing, but it also featured perhaps the most gracious star cheftestants yet ï¿½ Michael Chiarello (former Food Network host and chef at Napa's Bottega; described by one friend ï¿½ not me ï¿½ as "rapey"), the charmingly ADHD Rick Moonen (Vegas' RM Seafood), coolcalmcollected Swede Nils Noren (formerly of Aquavit, now a bigwig at the French Culinary Institute ... and apparently Earth's only Scandanavian reggae fan) and the slightly wild-eyed Lachlan M. Patterson (Boulder's Frasca Food and Wine). These guys displayed loads of class in the heat of competition, helping and congratulating each other the whole way through. It was lovely. Almost ... too lovely.
Quickfire: In a rehash from Season 1, the foursome is tasked with creating an upscale plate based on a well-loved junk food. Though Top Chef popped off just three years ago (doesn't it seem longer than that?), it's funny how dated this challenge seems already ï¿½ plenty of chefs are fond of the whole spin-on-empty-calories idea these days ("curly Fries ... three ways"), mainly because it's fertile ground to do really fun stuff. Chiarello selects fish sticks as his inspiration. Patterson goes for hot dogs, which prompts Moonen to select corn dogs (smart man!). Since Noren's Swedish, he decides to play his plate off fried shrimp.
The judges are the crew from Bravo's Flipping Out, which I believe is about how hard and/or awesome it is to flip real estate while being irresistibly sassy and suffering from immense OCD. I've never watched this show, but I'm fond of that in-The Soup-perpetuity clip of star Jeff Lewis ordering a drink that's 70 percent lemonade, 20 percent punch and 10 percent Sprite, so I looked forward to him tearing the competitors' dishes apart for no substantive reason.
Rick, in a heartbreaking oversight, fails to plate his dish in time, DQing him. Though Noren and Patterson both crank out lovely-looking offerings (poached shrimp with creamed corn, pickled tomatoes and a lobster sauce; a prosciutto stufado with pork sausage), Chiarello wins the QF with a 4.5-star-earning swordfish meatball dish. No hyper-specific beverage requests from Jeff, which is bullshit.
Elimination: Each chef has to prepare three bite-size mini courses ï¿½ starter, entrï¿½e, dessert ï¿½ for a 100-person cocktail party that's attended by both real-life Top Chef fans and random-ass cast-offs from Project Runway. Noren does a seafood-centric menu featuring a diced scallop starter, slow-cooked salmon and a ganache topped with smoked tea whipped cream that freaks everyone out. Noonen kills it with an exotic fish ceviche, a well-received scallop/shrimp brandade and a simple lemon panna cotta. Patterson, the northern Italian chef, fries pineapple wrapped in speck, serves grilled short ribs with an anchovy/parmesan vin and a frangine with strawberries in lieu of the traditional pear.
Chiarello, meanwhile, is shown working the females in the crowd like a perverted carnival barker. "If I had a smile like yours, I wouldn't have to cook for a living"? Perhaps "rapey" is too strong of a fake adjective, but I see where my friend is going with this. His menu: shaved brussels sprout salad with roasted marcona almonds, "pissed-off" prawns cooked in chili and garlic oil and a marinated strawberry dessert with basil gelato that Green likens to the taste of "lawn clippings."
Next week: The last of the six finalist slots will be finally, finally be filled. Then ... vacation!
The question that ate at me throughout last night's Masters episode was not culinary in nature: Am I gonna have to like Neil Patrick Harris less now that I know he's a hardcore MAGIC ENTHUSIAST? I'm leaning toward yes, and that breaks my damn heart. I love Doogie. I love Harold & Kumar. I love How I Met Your Mother. I even kinda like that Dr. Horrible singing jawn even though I usually mark most Joss Whedon-tainted things with my red rubber douche stamp. Why, why, why must you possess such a sincere and dedicated interest in the lame-ass art of illusion, NPH?! You've liked it ever since you were 10 or 11, foreal? You're really BFF with Ed Alonzo? Can't you just be into perverted cinema or awards hosting like so many of the other famous gay men I admire?
I am filled with NPH-brand ennui, and the only thing that can get me out of my funk is a screening of Undercover Brother.
The actual cooking part of last night's episode was OK.
The latest foursome (two more eps to go till the six finalist slots are filled): Douglas Rodriguez, exec chef of Alma de Cuba here in Phily as well as many other Nuevo Latino spots in the states; Anita Lo, the no-nonsense woman behind NY's Annisa and Rickshaw Dumpling Bar; NOLA's John Besh, who may actually rival Rick Bayless in Ilovetohearmyselftalkitude; and Mark Peel, of L.A.'s opulent Campanile.
Quickfire: Cook eggs with one hand behind your back, monkeys! (How did the albumen-crazed Wylie Dufresne not draw this one?) Rodriguez rightly calls the task a "circus act," and rocks out with one paw to the tune of an open-faced arepa with scrambled eggs and ham. Peel, whose father was actually born with one arm (I feel like this QF should've offended him, knowing that), somehow pulls off a fresh duck egg pasta with a single hand, which was truly impressive. Lo uses one of those cutty tools to pop the top off her eggs, refilling them with a shiitake scramble flavored with truffle oil and oyster sauce. Besh underestimates how long it'll take for his eggs to cook inside teeny casserole dishes and ends up earning what I believe is the lowest Masters dish score to date ï¿½ half a star. Oof! Anita's dish impresses the judges' panel ï¿½ which includes Gail S, eyyy girl ï¿½ so much that she takes the first challenge with a perfect 5.
Elimination: A magician named Max Maven (right) comes in wearing an outfit from the Ra's Al Ghul Pajama Collection (now @ Sears) and instructs the cheftestants to draw cards. Using some sort of trick that didn't really seem that impressive in the context of TV, he assigns each chef an adjective pertaining to magic ï¿½ mystery! surprise! spectacle! illusion! wackness! ï¿½ and tells them they must create a dish conveying this concept for NPH, a dude who I assume is his boyfriend (they didn't ID him as much though ... weak Bravo!) and Alonzo, the magician you know best as Max, owner of The Max, from Saved by the Bell. This got me thinking about all all the small furry animals ï¿½ birds, rabbits, etc. ï¿½ Max would produce out of thin air on the reg when talking to Zach and them. I bet the entire kitchen of that place was teeming with filthy free-roaming critters. You can't have a damn magic bunnies behind the line! Health code violation! Shut The Max down!
Tom C. checks in with the chefs in the kitchen of the Magic Castle ("It feels like Hogwarts," says Lo), where they're serving the guests and judges. He leaves too soon. See you in August, Tom C. Peel, who draws "Mystery," puts Tai snapper, and shrimp/garlic mash and stewed leeks into a parchment paper bag tied with a string. "So delicate," coos NPH. Aw c'mon, Barney's not supposed to talk like that. SUIT UP. Besh, working with "Surprise," asks NPH to hold a vat of liquid nitrogen to prepare a creme fraiche and horseradish sorbet tableside. He uses it to top a cucumber and salmon roe salad, while the rest of his plate features salmon tartare and tempura-fried lobster wrapped in smoked salmon. Lo, who has to convey "Illusion," creates a nifty preparation meant to mimic a scallop, using braised daikon stuffed with steak tartare. NPH LOVES IT. Rodriguez, who's assigned "Spectacle" (the perfect thing for dude since his cooking is ballsy/unexpected), does duck in four separate preparations, including one that involves a duck soup served in a flaming coconut. Problem is that he doesn't have any 151 to get the fiery effect going, so he smears the 'nuts up with Sterno gel with lackluster results.
At the judges' table, they stick it to Besh because his liquid nitrogen sorbet was too cold. (It was prepared with liquid nitrogen, guys.) Gael Greene likens Lo's faux scallop "a surrealistic painting," and the rest of the panel is also very complimentary about it. Rodriguez is docked for poor execution, and Besh can't recover from the brutal .5 Quickfire, so it comes down to Peel and Lo, whose dishes were both admired by the panel. Lo ends up with an impressive 22.5, beating out Peel's 18.5 for a spot in the final challenge.
I still can't come to terms with the fact that NPH loves magic so much.
Next week: Hey famous chefs, make a three-course dinner for 100 people with absolutely no help.
There's never been a Philly contestant on Top Chef. But Season 6 ï¿½ Vegas ï¿½ just revealed its lineup, and we've got two cooks repping. Who?! Find out after the jump. (The new season debuts August 19.)
Jennifer Zavala is the Executive Chef at El Camino Real in Philadelphia where she brings "border food" to a new light, focusing on Norteï¿½a and Tejas cuisines. Born into a Mexican and Italian family, she grew up with mostly Mexican cuisine and takes great pride in her ability to cook Latino food with great knowledge and skill. She uses fresh, local ingredients in her homemade style of cooking and hopes to learn more about the ever-changing culinary scene. If she could have her last meal with anyone, it would be with Julia Child, and Jennifer says, ï¿½hopefully, sheï¿½d cook.ï¿½
Jennifer Carroll started as a Law major at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. But the kitchen wooed her and she went on to culinary school and quickly became a sous chef at both Julia and Cafï¿½ Kati in San Francisco. After returning to her hometown to work in the kitchens of Sonoma and Arroyo Grill, popular eateries in Philadelphia, she then went on to become sous chef at Eric Ripertï¿½s revered Le Bernardin in Manhattan. She was recently personally selected by Chef Ripert to lead his kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia as Chef de Cuisine of 10 Arts. Her favorite thing to make is a really good sandwich, especially late at night after work. And she is sure to keep fine sea salt, espellate citron vinegar, black peppercorns, high fat unsalted butter and setia extra virgin olive oil on her at all times.
Y'all look good!
Episode 3, on paper, sounded offal swell, with chefs Wilo Benet (Puerto Rico's Piyako and Paya), Cindy Pawlcyn (Napa's Mustards Grill), Rick Bayless (Chitown's Frontera, dumb goatee!) and awesomely French Ludo Lefebrve (L.A.'s Ludo Bites) being assigned the dubious task of feeding the Universal Studios crowd animal odds and ends. In execution, however, 'twas a touch duller than the Nerd Valhalla glory of Episode 2, due both to the humorless Quickfire guest judges and the fact that no tourists from the Midwest were shown barfing up tripe on the Waterworld ride.
Quickfire: The chefs were tasked with recreating the color challenge from Top Chef Season 2 ï¿½ composing a dish based around a randomly selected hue. Benet drew orange and whipped up a tartare-style deal with smoked salmon, tomato paste and coconut milk. The betatted Lefebrve got red and created a visually shocking steak tartare coupled with watermelon, red onions and a poured-on beet gazpacho that was likened to blood by one member of the frowning all-lady judges' panel, which consisted of a food stylist, a cookbook author and a food photog. (Not even close to a fair criticism ï¿½ you asked this guy to make everything red! If he'd drawn blue this chick probably would've whined about the shit looking like Smurf semen.) Pawlcyn pieced together an all-yellow veggie curry with sweet corn grits and crispy fried tortillas. Ricky B. did some roasted mole verde vegetable thing on a banana leaf, talking the whole while about how "intuitive" his cooking was. Though the stupid judges whined about the ring mold around Benet's tartare, they gave him the QF win with 4.5 stars.
Elimination: Host Kelly Choi (who, apparently, isn't allowed to drop a "hands up, utensils down!" call, so she just yells "hands up!" in her impish little voice) tells the foursome that they're going to cook up offal ï¿½ you know, those "non-traditional" animal parts/organs ï¿½ in a street food setting for a bunch of people touring through Universal Studios. Benet gets beef hearts, which he's never messed with before. Lefebrve is assigned tough and unruly pig's ears, and promptly explains that he knows exactly how to cook them, in addition to knowing exactly how to cook all the other contestants' items. Pawlcyn receives tripe, a Meal Ticket favorite. And Rick ï¿½ RICK! ï¿½ Rick gets tongue, which, OF COURSE, Rick LOVES.
Perhaps I should expand on my slight disdain for Rick Bayless. I've never really dug him, ultra-manicured beard notwithstanding ï¿½ he's just smarmy, and the worst part about it is that he seems to believe that his self-congratulatory prattling about how much he knows about Mexican cuisine is serving some sort of lofty didactic purpose. I understand that he's an extremely accomplished and eloquent chef ï¿½ perfect for TV ï¿½ but everything he says is tainted by an off-putting self-satisfaction. Please understand that I've never eaten at his restaurants ï¿½ I base these grumbles solely on the many hours of Bayless-based programming I've taken in over the years. Also I just realized that Rick is Skip Bayless' brother, and I'm not sure whether or not this makes me like him less or more.
Watch the Rick video above and form your own opinion.
Back to organs: After dropping $300 on Whole Foods ingredients, the chefs return to prep their dishes for street service. Lefebrve decides to make a pig's ear quesadilla ï¿½ "Everybody love quesadilla," he states matter-of-factly ï¿½ prompting Bayless to hate him for being French and trying to do something Mexican. The pleasant Pawlcyn decides to do a hangover-erasing menudo (a Mexi stew) with her stomach. Benet stuffs his heart into a pita sandwich with ham and chicken ï¿½ a slick and meaty move.
Quickfire winner Benet comes very close to punching a ticket to the finals with a 19.5, but in the end, Rick edges him with 22.5. BAYLESSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!
Next week tonight: Neil Patrick Harris.
... it's coming! Sorry. I missed the airing and its subsequent re-airing due to a Wednesday evening cocktail marathon 4K that included stops at the new Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., among other spots. I don't have DVR. I know this is not a very good excuse.
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