Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top Chef: NYC!

Last night was the premiere of Season 5 of Top Chef, this year taking place in New York City, which has got to be the greatest place to eat in the world simply because of the variety of food you can get (a theme which was used effectively in this opening episode) I'm telling you, you can get ANYTHING in New York, which makes it a very interesting backdrop for this season.

I'd like to just make a disclaimer out there that this is the first time I'm doing something like a TV show recap, and I've learned from the best blogger I know, Mrs. Meggie Wow, but bear with me - my notes are practically illegible!

Here's a quick rundown of some of the cheftestants and my first impressions:
Fabio: First time in NYC, funny accent
Jamie: Yet another local/seasonal American cuisine gal, founding member of Team Rainbow
Eugene: Dishwasher turned chef, will make Bourdain proud
Jeff: Narcissistic tool. I have no time for him. His new name is Kitchen Ken. Ass.
Radhika: Don't pigeon-hole me because I'm Indian in descent!
Lauren: Hot Army wife
Ariane: Why New Jersey folks have terrible reputations. Awful spray tan, awful accent.
Danny: Total meathead, in the same mold as Joey and Howie from Season 3
Patrick: School kid who barely needs to shave, and I'm expecting recipes straight from the CIA textbook
Stefan: Born in Finland, that's close enough to Sweden for me. Bork bork bork!
Richard: Founding member of Team Rainbow, already cracking jokes
Leah: Girls Don't Cry!!!

Padma quotes a little bit of the Chairman ("If I can make it there...") and Tom already starts up with the tough talk, and it's time for an immediate QuickFire. All the cheftestants react with shock...and I am forced to wonder whether or not they have seen this show before. Fools!

The Quickfire is broken into 3 stages, with the top finishers from each stage moving on to the actual show. The first task was to peel 15 apples with a paring knife, which is no small task considering the advent of the vegetable peeler (Tom gleefully announces "They'll be here for a while!"). Someone gashes a thumb (Richard, I believe) but keeps on peeling. Eventually, the Swedish Chef calls out he's done, gets his work OK'd by Tom, and gets immunity from elimination. He handles it in a most non-humble manner. Eventually 8 others finish. The 2nd stage was to brunoise some apples - eep! Brunoise means perfect little 1/8" cubes - which means all those lovely curves need to be squared off. Not the easiest thing to do, as demonstrated by Jill who gets her work dismissed by Tom...but eventually all but 4 of the cheftestants accomplish this task.

The last stage was to take some random ingredients and make Tom a dish with apples in it. The one he likes the least packs their knives and goes home. Nothing notable here, except that Radhika, for not wanting to be pigeon-holed for making Indian cuisine, makes CHUTNEY. Really? Chutney? Whatever, Tom liked it, and sent Lauren (with a boring salad of apples, spinach, pears, bleu cheese and bacon) home. Good riddance, that's a salad straight out of Better Homes and Gardens (not that I'm mocking that magazine, I just expect better from a potential TOP CHEF).

So its time for the Elimination Challenge, and (gasp) it's time to draw knives! They all draw out neighborhoods around NYC, which correspond to ethnic cuisines (I called it as soon as they pulled Brighton Beach). It's a head-to-head cook-off, creating a dish inspired by the neighborhood and the ethnic foods. However, before they go out the next day, we get to see them all giddy and drinking in their new pad, and already the Swedish Chef is pissing poeple off by being all arrogant and a soccer fan (A vinaigrette is not an emulsion? Suuuuuuure, says the chem major). Team Rainbow is all giddy!

Here's a list of some stuff that I noticed during the shopping/cooking, taken straight from my notebook.
- Carla (who is tall and scaring me) is asking her spirit guides for knowledge in Russion cuisine
- Ariane has no clue about anything in Middle Eastern food
- Jeff (aka Kitchen Ken) is cocky because he's from Miami and knows Latino food
- Patrick took a course in Asian cuisine
- Danny is a meathead who uses football metaphors for cooking
- Neither Alex or Eugene have cooked Indian food, which smells disaster
- Jeff wants to use lots of garnishes (never a good idea, because you either run out of time of forget 1 or 2 of them)
- I didn't know anyone could murder an animal that was already dead...until I saw Carla totally destroy a smoked fish
- Ariane choosing farro is going to be a poor choice because it takes longer to cook than rice does (an eerily prophetic note, as it leads her to be in the bottom two later on)
- Rice noodles can be very gummy, if you wanted soba noodles, you should've bought soba noodles, Patrick.

So the judges come in, with Padma, Tom, Gail Simmons (who, despite her dress, is still a cutie) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the greatest chefs alive. Here's what each cheftestant prepared, briefly. You can follow along with pictures at Rate the Plate by Bravo:
Middle Eastern: Ariane makes lamb with farroto and dates, Swedish Chef makes lamb with hummus & a beef skewer. Farroto is undercooked (duh!), Swedish chef wins
Greek: Richard makes lamb sliders (which sound absolutely delicious), Jamie makes deconstructed Greek salad (I hate things "deconstructed" - they taste good together!). Richard overcooks his lamb (doh!) so he loses.
Jamaica: Jill makes jerk scallops, radhika makes jerk halibut. Jill wins.
Latino: Fabio makes pork with mango sauce, Kitchen Ken makes pork with beans and rice. Kitchen Ken wins.
Russian: Hosea makes trio of smoked fish (some of which he smoked himself, excellent technique), Carla makes smoked trout cakes (which was all she could do after absolutely shredding the fish). Tom the Salt King finds her dish underseasoned, so she loses.
Italian: Leah makes farroto with snapper, Melissa serves rib-eye with tomato sauce (which sounds like a bad Italian special at my local pizzaria). Again, Melissa does not add enough salt for Tom's palate, so she gets the L.
Chinatown: Both dishes are terrible, in both my opinion and the judges. Patrick makes a glazed salmon with bok choy straight out of an "Asian Food for Dummies" book, Danny makes a poached chicken salad. Both were boring, but Patrick's moreso.
Indian: Alex makes lamb chops with a spicy ragout, Eugene makes more lamb with a yogurt sauce. The judges are really impressed, but Eugene gets the win for making a traditional Indian dish without realizing he was making it. Not sure if I agree, but I wasn't there tasting the food.

In the stew room, Fabio says what everyone who has been watching Top Chef for years knows already - Tom wants his food salty. I've watched them dump big pinches of salt into food over the years, and I am convinced it is just his own personal taste to like his food salty. Everyone who is on the show should know this!

Swedish Chef gets the win over Eugene and Leah for his duo of grilled meats. Not awful, but I prefered Eugene's I think. The bottom 2 are Patrick and Ariane, Patrick for not showing any originality or vision, Ariane for just not knowing. In the end, Patrick's inexperience cannot be denied, and so he is told to pack his knives and go! Goodbye!

It's too early to name a few frontrunners, so I won't. Next week will better I'm sure, in terms of my recap. I hope you enjoy this one!


David Dust said...

"Sweedish Chef - bork, bork bork". I LOVE it!! He is definitely a front-runner.

CLICK HERE for DavidDust's Top Chef New York recap.


Bakerloo said...

Awesome write up!

I am a fan of Team Rainbow, though now it's the Rainbow Duo.

I wanted Eugene to win - he's an early favorite in our house.

I wish we could taste these dishes - that is the one thing that makes me crazy week after week about Top Chef.