Thursday, September 20, 2007

Top Chef: At Last, a Real Challenge

So, we're in New York.

The big apple! Mean streets! My man Joey's town! The chefs are at Le Cirque. This is apparently Le Cirque's 3rd location. I was actually at Le Cirque last week for a Young Lion's event. Eh.

Padma walks in with the owner of Le Cirque. The chefs are served a special dish, a white sea bass wrapped in a russet potato. Padma says, "Pay attention to how this tastes. Because this round of competition is all about the classics."

The challenge is to recreate the classic dish in 20 minutes. Dale points out, "for 20 years that dish has been refined, and we have 20 minutes! We walk in there" (the kitchen of Le Cirque, and a service is actually going on) "and every single line cook was like 'who the fuck are you?'"

Malarkey is in a newsie hat. On backwards. My friend Peter is appalled by this hat. Peter is an accessories designer so I feel validated. "That hat! That hat!" he wails throughout the episode. It's almost like background music. I'm grown a bit immured to Malarkey and his parade of toppers gone wrong, but Peter's ire inspires me to say once again, MALARKEY STOP WITH THE HATS!

Hung, classically trained chef, is up first. "This quickfire is really not intimidating to me..." and I believe him. I really do think Hung enjoys cooking. He really does cook with gusto (although some would say freneticism.)

The owner likes Hung's - who he calls "Hang". "Bravo, this is close to the original." Hang is glowing.

When Hung goes back to the other Chefs, they want to know how his went. They also want to know how he cooked it! He says, "I can't really reveal that." Which I am totally fine with. I agree that it's kind of annoying of him to go on and on about how easy and simple it is, but I don't blame him for not telling them how he did it, and I don't think they should have asked him since the very challenge was to approximate how to cook the dish from eating it. And I especially don't think the chefs should have been so hard on him for not revealing it!

But I did learn last week that I'm one of the few people who doesn't dislike Hung. I had to do some soul-searching on that one, but I'm standing by it. Go on, hate me! I can't help it. I'm also going to admit that I think Hung should win, at the risk of alienating the people who read this who hate Hung. I'm sorry, but a blogger must be true to herself! What else does she have?

As for the other quickfires, Casey's is the top contender with Hung and Sarah and Dale's are pretty bad: Sarah's is raw, and Dale's is flavorless.


They're at the French Culinary Institute! Padma points out that this is the last challenge between the chefs and Aspen. She says they asked the French Culinary Institute to come up with the ultimate French test, and the school chose these ingredients to be the ultimate test
of skill and's a potato, onion and chicken.

See, now this is my type of challenge (and quickfire). I feel like we're actually getting to see some cooking skill, as opposed to just crisis management (cook on planes, on trains, in trailers, make a fried egg on a pony climbing a hill! Devise a wedding banquet on 30 cents and unlimited canned foods! Make stone soup in a rocket ship!).

Hung: "Those are perfect flavor combinations. Classics. Score for me."

Also, Hung, as the winner of the Quickfire, gets an extra 1/2 hour to cook and he gets to serve first.

The Chefs get $200 dollars and go to the Union Square Greenmarket. I like the Greenmarket but I find Union Square area to be such a madhouse of NYU Freshmen. Dale spends most of his time following Casey around as they shop together. I think Dale should be a little less BFFing and a little more focused. "Casey and I get closer and closer," he muses. Great Dale, but what are you cooking?!

Casey is going to make a Coq Au Vin. I did make that once, at a dinner party. It took hours and hours -- seriously like 5 -- and some cheese was set on fire and the host had to clean out the oven in his underwear the next day and at the end, the dinner party of 12 had consumed 13 bottles of wine (and cocktails!) but it was delicious.

Hung starts to cook. Actually, first he screams "Whoo-hoooo!" and sharpens his knives frantically. "I want to do everything with finesse and grace and elegance." The other chefs check out his skills, and they are indeed, as Malarkey says, "Spot on." Hung is doing a sous vide chicken (in butter!) with a very very crispy chip of fried chicken skin. I'm not a huge fan of sous vide (At least not when I had it at WD-50.)

Malarkey is going for taste over presentation this week, making a sort of Shepard/peasant pie of chicken, pheasant, sausage and potato. Sarah is making a fricassee of chicken with couscous. Dale is making some sort of chicken duet.

TOM IS HERE! He raises eyebrows and strikes fear into the hearts of young chefs, as usual. He also introduces the panel of judges from the French Culinary Institute. An intimidating lot! It's the dean of classic studies, the founder, the dean of this and that, Jacques Torres and more. I have a soft spot for dear Jacques because I once wandered into his chocolate shop in Dumbo and he made me a hot chocolate and was very charming. Oh, French Men!

Dale says that it's the "last supper of chefs" and they are all "apostles." I am curious to who Jesus is in this tableau.

Hung is plating by himself. He asks for help but everyone says they are too busy to help him. That's fine with him, he understands. See? Now, Joey would have bellowed and raged and Howie would have gone on a maniacal rant about "making him an enemy" but Hung just plates it. Like a champ! The judges love his crispy chicken skin. It's called, "magnificent." There is some back and forth over the fluffiness of his potatoes, but the founder of the school points out, "Quite frankly, I ate the whole thing. I liked it!"

Sarah is up next, and her fricassee isn't getting any good reviews. She explains her chicken by saying "it makes me feel all warm and homey." It always makes me uncomfortable when the chefs get emotional about their food and tell stories. It's kind of like when waiters spend 30 minutes describing some menu item and get really verbose, like "These luscious raspberries are hand massaged by virgins in a purified water bath at exactly 98 degrees, to be the same temperature as your palate."

Dale goes next, and he forgets to put the sauce on the chicken! So it's actually kind of boring. People aren't enthusiastic. They think his duet of chicken concept ran away with him.

Malarkey's peasant pie is really revolting looking. I assume the meat is all underneath, and then there is a giant green cloud of potatoes covering the whole thing. Dale says, "what is that big green turd on his plate... because it was crazy." However, the judges are enjoying it. There is some question if the smoky sausage outstrips the chicken, but they (especially Tom!) really enjoy it.

Casey is last. They all enjoy her coq au vin, although Tom insists that it's not really coq au vin since coq au vin uses an old rooster. He insists this over and over again.


I do a quick poll (of my four guests) and find out that NONE of my co-viewers likes Gale. They think she's too judgmental or something. She's a judge! I can't believe it! Has the world gone mad? We are surrounded by beer bottles so perhaps their judgment was clouded.
(Next week, if I make them watch "Gossip Girl" again, we will be drinking tequila.)

I point out to Peter, "She's an editor at Food and Wine Magazine!"

"So what?" He says. "you just like her because she's a writer. She isn't a chef. She just sits and types."

This stumps me. Could it be? I point at my laptop ominously and say darkly, "I'm going to put this in my blog." Which might be the lamest threat ever, but....DONE. I ran into Peter on the F train today and gave him a chance to recant but he stands by his Gail opinion.

No revelations here; the top three is Hung, Casey and Malarkey The Newsie, but it's clearly between Hung and Casey. I think they're setting up a final two between Ilan and Marcel. Oh, excuse me, I mean Casey and Hung.

Hung is declared the winner.

The loss is between Dale and Sarah. Tom says something about wanting to know what drives them as individuals.

Dale delivers an icky speech (and you know I love Dale!) about how "cooking is love." Okay, ew. He then continues on about how food and"when you taste it, you know who got laid last night." Okay! First off, minus 1000 points for using the word "laid". Also, if I taste my soup and I know that chef got laid last night, I'm sending it back. Thanks.

I predict to my co-viewers that it will be Sarah who is sent home, since Dale is more amusing. They think I'm cynical. I think they're naive! Travis says, "Don't you think it's about the cooking?" To a point, my innocent friend, to a point. Anyway, I'm right.

Sarah, please pack your knives and go.

Sarah: "Thank you all. thank you for the ride. I had a good ride. I made it to the top five. I'm happy. I'm gonna miss all my friends...this doesn't define me as a chef."

Back at the chefs' holding pen, the four going to Aspen all congratulate each other and drink champagne. They give Sarah a plastic cup of champers to drink on her way out the door. Nice.

Casey waxes philosophical on the merry bunch: "all of us at one time have been on top and on bottom."

You said it, sister.

1 comment:

Travis said...

I didn't mind Gail, I just thought she was a wimp for complaining about pink chicken. And I just now looked at her bio, and while she has never worked as a chef, she has been culinarily (?) trained, probably in food writing or whatever. I don't see why chevs should be the only people who get to judge anyway.

Also, while on the Bravo site, I happened across the information that they refer to the contestants on the show as "cheftestants." Were you aware of this? When were you going to tell me?