Posts Tagged ‘top chef’

Dinner Party at Stephanie Izard’s House

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

As you might remember, a couple of weeks ago, I entered a contest that the RedEye was running called Virtual Kitchen Stadium. The idea was that Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Chicago, would pick three random-ish ingredients, each participant would create a dish, and then she would judge the dishes based on the pictures and recipes. You can read more about my entry here.

I didn’t win. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, Stephanie Izard is so sweet and awesome that she decided to invite everyone who participated in the contest over to her place for a pot-luck dinner party!

me

David and I went last week, and had an awesome time. There was a ton of great food, and lots of fun conversation. We met some very interesting people, in addition to Stephanie herself. We got to try a bunch of new dishes, including, for me, brussels sprouts. (They were good! What is the world coming to?!). After all of the food, and there was LOTS, we all crowded in around Stephanie’s new TV to watch that night’s Top Chef.

It was a little weird, watching Top Chef with an actual Top Chef, but a lot of fun. Stephanie was really nice, friendly, warm, and just plain normal. We had a great time.

If you want to see more pictures, you can check out the RedEye gallery here.

Stephanie also blogged a little bit about the night at her own website/blog, here.

Top Chef Masters: Season 1

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Though I haven’t been blogging about it every week like I did with the last season of Top Chef, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Top Chef Masters this summer. For one, the skill of these proven, seasoned chefs can’t be denied. There’s no question of “Who Deserves to Be Here.” They all most certainly do. It’s been fascinating to see how well current superstar chefs complete classic Top Chef challenges.

I’ve also really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie among the chefs. While the Top Chef contestants are usually a cutthroat bunch, the Top Chef Masters competition has been full of teamwork and mutual respect, which is refreshing after years of bickering and backstabbing on Top Chef.

That’s not to say everyone has behaved perfectly: Michael Chiarello came off as a complete jerk last week. I hope it was a trick of editing–I know that happens sometimes on Top Chef–but if not, he needs a serious attitude adjustment.

Onto the finale. Going in, I was rooting for Rick Bayless. He seemed to have the greatest combination of attitude and skills. His food always looks amazing. I kind of can’t believe we haven’t made it to Frontera Grill yet–I hear those Tongue Tacos from his qualifying round are on the menu now, and that they sell-out nightly. (Not promising that I’d order tongue tacos, but I’d be tempted, just to say I’d had them). So going in, I was really hoping he’d win the full title.

Top-Chef-Masters-Season-110-13

Of course, that means I was pretty pleased with the Finale last night, as Rick was crowned (the first?) “Top Chef Master.” I thought that the finale was excellent, actually, all around. The challenge was such a perfect tool for judging these chefs: They were asked to prepare a four course meal, the first to show their first food memory, the second to show their inspiration for becoming a chef, the third to be inspired by their first restaurant opening, and the final to be a vision of where they are headed as a chef. I loved the memories and photos of the chefs throughout their life. I loved seeing what each chef created. The food looked absolutely fantastic, but was clearly a representation of each chef and who they truly are. Like every Top Chef finale before it, the producers set aside all the drama, all the last minute crises, all the extra difficulties and said to the chefs: Cook us the best meal you possibly can. And like every Top Chef finale, it was refreshing to watch them do it.

Rick Bayless was absolutely a joy to watch cook, and I’m glad he won.  His passion for food is inspiring, and he managed to cook with poise and respect for his peers throughout the entire season. It was great to see how much this title meant to him–not because of the fame, or even the money for his charity, but as a way to validate true Mexican cooking. I hadn’t thought about it going into the finale, but certainly the culinary world is biased towards French and Italian cuisines, as two of the greatest cuisines out there. Rick proved that his Mexican food can stand with the best of them, and even come out on top. That seemed to be the real victory for Rick Bayless.

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Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

This was a fun one for me. You guys have caught onto the fact that I’m a Top Chef fan, right?

Of course you have.

Well, my all-time favorite Top Chef is Stephanie Izard. She’s talented, but also gracious and humble. I was really excited to see her win the title, and David and I are looking forward to checking out her restaurant when it opens up. She’s a Chicago girl, after all!

Last weekend, David pointed out Stephanie’s website to me, and it took me about a minute and a half to decide to make this Macaroni & Cheese dish. I sent David on a shopping trip for ingredients almost immediately.

We were not disappointed. The apples added a unique flavor to the traditional Mac & Cheese, but were a welcome touch of sweetness in a sea of creamy, salty cheese sauce. I skipped the ham, since David isn’t a fan. Though I can see how it would be a good addition, I can’t say that I missed it. (I did decide to double the bacon and add half to the breadcrumbs and the other half right into the macaroni & cheese). This dish was heavy enough to stand alone as a meal, even without the meat. If you want to add them, it would be good with either ham or grilled chicken, though.

Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs
Adapted from www.stephanieizard.com

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter (I used salted butter–no problems)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups ciabatta cubes (about 6 ounces of ciabatta bread, cubed)
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • 6 cups whole milk (we keep 1% on hand, so I used 5 1/2 cups of 1% milk with a 1/2 of heavy cream…worked out just fine!)
  • 8 ounces bacon (6-8 strips), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, cubed (we had Honeycrisp on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pound conchiglie pasta (I used a different shape that we had on hand, anything that’s going to catch the sauce is good)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 ounces aged cheddar (1 cup grated)
  • 6 ounces whole milk mozzarella (1 1/2 cup grated)
  • 4 ounces smoked gouda (1 cup grated)
  • 4 ounces havarti (1 cup grated)
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large Dutch oven or saucepot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, steeping in the butter for about 1 minute, until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Remove from the heat and add the bread cubes to the pot, tossing to coat them in the garlic butter. Spread the butter-coated cubes across a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bread is very crisp. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Put the onion and the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the milk to a bare simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom.

While the milk simmers, return the Dutch oven to the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot again, add the bacon pieces and render until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside with the cooling bread cubes. Add the apples to the hot fat in the pan, sautéing for 1-2 minutes, until the apples are just soft (not mushy). Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a large mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and toss to coat.

Put the cooled bread cubes and bacon in a food processor and pulse several times to form bread crumbs.

Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to the package directions.

As the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk together, forming a thick paste, or a roux. Let the roux cook for a minute or so, until it begins to smell nutty. Strain the milk and discard the onion. Slowly add the hot milk to the roux, about 1/2-1 cup at a time, whisking well to avoid lumps. Continue incorporating the milk until a thick sauce forms. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of mozzarella and add the rest of the cheese to the sauce, stirring as it melts.

When the pasta is done, strain it and add it to the cheese sauce along with the apple mixture. Stir to combine all of the ingredients and pour into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Cover the macaroni and cheese with the bacon breadcrumbs and scatter the reserved 1/2 cup of mozzarella on top. Put the dish on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Broil the top until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese is bubbly.

(Serve immediately or hold in a 300° F oven for about 30 minutes).

Note: Love, love, loved this! When I finished the sauce and moved it to the baking dish, I was concerned that the cheese sauce was a little on the thin side. It thickened in the pan to a perfect consistency. Even better, the chilled leftovers set up so well that David suggested I make Fried Macaroni & Cheese, which is what we did with the leftovers. Come back tomorrow for the recipe!

Top Chef Masters begins June 10th

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Top Chef is coming back this summer–with a twist!

The first season of Top Chef Masters begins June 10th (just in time for my birthday!) From BravoTV.com:

Top Chef Masters will pit 24 world-renowned chefs against each other and see how well they fare in the tried and true format of Top Chef. In each episode, money will be at stake for the chefs, with the winners of eliminations being awarded cash donations for their charities. The first six episodes will consist of four chefs competing against each other to name one winner.  The six winners of each episode will then meet up for the final four weeks when one person will get eliminated each episode until the finale where one winner is crowned Top Chef Master. The winning chef will receive $100,000 for the charity of their choice.

This looks to be a pretty great spin on the Top Chef formula, and it’s kind of fun to see several previous guest judges on the list of competitors. There are some pretty big names there. I love to see what the culinary world’s newbies can come up with on Top Chef, so I think watching these proven, fantastic, respected chefs compete should be very interesting. And after last season’s uninspired bunch of cheftestants, I think it will be good for the Top Chef franchise to showcase some truly amazing food for a change.

Cookbook Review: Top Chef the Cookbook

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

top-chef-cookbook

I’ve had my eye on Top Chef the Cookbook ever since I first glimpsed it in Padma’s hands during season 4. And I wasn’t even sure why. At the time, the food being served on Top Chef was far, far out of my league, and even if I had been inspired to try a dish, Bravo has been kind enough to post the chef’s recipes on their website all along.

Luckily, Top Chef the Cookbook is more than just recipes. It’s also behind the scenes features about the chefs, food, and judges that make the show what it is. It’s also recaps of Seasons 1-3. Like Top Chef itself, it’s food AND entertainment.

Though I haven’t cooked a lot from Top Chef the Cookbook, I still enjoy reading the book. And the one dish that I did try ( Dave Martin’s Cognac Cream Macaroni & Cheese) was as amazing as I remembered from Season 1.

I’m looking forward to the sequel to this book, which I expect we’ll see once Season 6 is over. Top Chef the Cookbook is so much more than just a cookbook, and I think that any fan of the show would do themselves a favor to pick up a copy.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll find in the book:

  1. Introduction from Tom Collichio
  2. Cooking up Top Chef (behind the scenes info on organizing Top Chef)
  3. Judges Table (with bios on each of the Top Chef Judges)
  4. Breakfast
    • Elia’s Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Waffle with Ham, Cheese & Fried Egg
    • C.J.’s Crepes filled with Almond Whipped Cream & Strawberries
    • Hung’s Steak & Eggs with Papaya, Banana, & Grand Marnier Shake
    • Sara M’s Eggs in a Hole
    • Lisa’s Fruit Kabobs with Honeyed Red & Blue Yogurt
    • Ilan’s Spanish Tortilla with Chipotle Aioli
    • Betty’s Black Forest Ham & Egg Bundle with Cor and Leek Ragout on Rustic Toast
    • Mia’s Crabcakes Benedict with Mango Cream Sauce
  5. Season 1: San Francisco (with Chef Bios, Episode Guide and Elimination Bracket)
  6. Quickfire Madness Feature
  7. Appetizers and Small Plates
    • Casey’s Beef Carpaccio with Watercress, Fried Capers, and Shitake Broth
    • Dale’s Seared Scallops with Purslane and Marinated Grapes
    • Hung’s Tuna Tartare with Nicoise Olvies, White Asparagus, and Egg Vinagarette
    • Marchel’s Watermelon & Tomato Trio – Watermelon Steak, Tomato Salad, and Watermelon Refresher
    • Frank’s Ham and Cheese Mini Quiches with Pesto
    • Sam, Ilan, Marcel, and Betty’s Braised Pork Shoulder with Tomato Marmalade
    • Stephen’s Poached Baby Manila Clams over Grilled Sea Beans
    • Ilan’s Baked Escargot in Their Shells
    • Ilan’s Morcilla and Squid Lau Lau
    • Marchel’s Hammachi Boke with Pineapple Poi and Taro Chips
    • Lee Anne’s Deep-Fried Oysters with Lemon Cream
    • Cliff’s Hama Hama Oysters with Mango and Split Prawns, Hamachi, and Daikon
    • Lia’s Olive Oil-Poached Shrimp  with Avacado and Cucumber, Lime, and Grilled Pepper Salad
  8. Entrees: Meat
    • Dale’s Colorado Rack of Lamb
    • Ilan’s Spinach & Cannellini Bean Salad
    • Tre’s Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Cheese Grits and Chipotle-Tomato Butter Sauce
    • Dave’s Salami & Gouda Panini
    • Sam’s Sweetbread and Scallion Beignets
    • Howie’s Brraised Pork Shoulder
    • Harold’s Duo of Beef with Jobe Strip Loin and Braised Kobe Short Ribs with White Polenta
    • Frank’s Prosciutto and Cheese Pizza
    • Howie’s Black Truffle Burger
    • Lee Anne and Stephen’s Corn Sopes with Char Siu Pork and Pickled Asian Slaw
    • Dale’s Seared Elk Loin
    • Dave and Tiffani’s Moroccan Cubanos
    • Harold’s Prime New  York Strip Steaks with Foie Gras and Parsnip Puree
    • Team Korea’s Spicy Braised korean Pork
    • Stephen’s  Threesome of Colorado Lamb
    • Howie’s Fennel-Crusted Pork Chops
    • Casey’s Veal Medallions
    • Marcel’s Curried Lamb Kabobs
  9. Beware! Bourdain Feature
  10. Season 2: Los Angeles(with Chef Bios, Episode Guide and Elimination Bracket)
  11. Entrees: Poultry
    • Casey’s Coq au Vin
    • Harold’s Pan-Roasted Quail
    • Brian’s Spring Harvest Pheasant’s Pie
    • C.J. & Tre’s Black Truffle and Parmesan Lingune
    • Hung’s Sous-Vide Duck with Truffle-Scented Broth
    • Lee Anne’s Chicken in Red Curry Sauce
    • Casey and Dale’s Turkey and Pork Meatballs with Orecchiette Pasta and Spinach-Almond Pesto
    • Tre’s Seared Ostrich Fillet
    • Brian and Sara N.’s Chicken  Rigatoni
    • Hung’s Poached Black Chicken and Raw Geoduck
    • Elia’s Roasted Chicken with Vegetables
  12. Top Coif Feature
  13. Entrees: Fish
    • Harold’s Steamed Red Snapper
    • Ilan’s Macadamia Nut Gazpacho with Pan-Roasted Moi
    • Sara M.’s Halibut with Grapes and Fried Leeks
    • Ilan’s Fideos with Clams and Saffron
    • C.J.’s Scallop Mousse and Shrimp Burger
    • Sam’s Espresso Shrimp Flambeed with Sambuca
    • Michael’s Trout and Salmon
    • Elia’s Ahi Tuna and Shrimp Tacos
    • Hung’s Sauteed Shrimp with Corn Puddnig, Bacon & Corn Salad, and Shrimp Foam
    • Brian’s Sea Bass, Scallop, and Shrimp Sausage
    • Harold’s Ecuadorian Ceviche with Popcorn Cakes
    • Betty’s Spicy Coconut Curry Steamed Mussels
    • Tiffani’s Read Wine-Braised Angel Hair Pasta
    • Tiffani’s Mirin-Glazed Sea Bass
  14. Knives Out! Top Feuds Feature
  15. Entrees: Vegetarian
    • Dave’s Truffle and Cognac Cream Macaroni & Cheese
    • Marcel’s Tempura Vegetables and Mozzarella
    • Sam’s Summer Fruit Salad
    • Sara M.’s Chiles Rellenos
    • Miguel’s Deconstructed Falafel
    • Carlos’s Sunflower Seed and Carrot Loaf with Cilantro, Sesame Oil, and Squirt
    • Elia’s Portobello and Button Mushroom Creme with Walnuts
    • Betty’s Grilled Cheese with Portobello Musrhooms and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
    • Dave’s Lasagna with Two Saucess
    • Andrea’s Quinoa Pilaf with Curried Sweet Potato Mash
  16. They Oughta Know By Now Feature
  17. Season 3: Miami
  18. Top Chef Finales Feature
  19. Dessert
    • Joey’s Trio of Tarts, Berry Cream, Roasted Mango Puree & Warm Apple Compote
    • Marcel’s Potato Cannoli
    • Marcel’s Blini with Kona Coffee “Caviar”
    • Hung’s Molten Chocolate Cakes
    • Harold’s Fig Tart with Cheeses
    • Cliff’s Marshmallow and Cookie Ice Cream
    • Richard’s Banana Scallops, Banana Guacamole
    • Brian H.’s Strawberry Apple Crisp with Hazelnut Whipped Cream
    • Miguel’s The Total Orgasm Lemon Pastry Puffs, Tapioca Pillows, and Cold Hot-Chocolate Shots
    • Elia’s Low-Fat Berry Cheesecake
  20. Blogging Top Chef Feature
  21. Reunions Feature
  22. “It Is What It Is”: A Top Chef Glossary
  23. Index
  24. Credits

Cookbook Review: Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio

Monday, March 16th, 2009

As the name suggests, Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef isn’t just a collection of recipes. Like the name says, Collicchio has set out to demonstrate how a true chef makes dinner: not from a written recipe or list of ingredients, but from a quality ingredient and inspiration.

think_like_a_cheft_book_jacket

The overarching theme of the book is one I hear him reference over and over again as head judge on Top Chef, mainly that when you taste great food, you know that it’s coming from someone who cares about food, thought about the ingredients, and really put their heart into it. And yes, that sounds a little bit like Carla “putting the love” in her food, but I think it goes deeper than that. For Collicchio, being a chef means respecting the ingredients enough to use the proper technique to make them shine.

The book opens with something of a memior, as Collicchio describes the development of his culinary career, with special care to show how his background and family shaped the chef he ultimately became. The early food chapters describe some very basic techniques (pan roasting, braising, blanching, stock-making, and sauce-making) that are building blocks for any asipring cook. Collichio explains them well, breaking them down step by step, and illustrating with gorgeous, uncomplicated recipes designed to teach by doing, and really inspire you to get in the kitchen and start trying them out.

The following chapters focus on the ingredients (as Collichio’s cooking does) and gives you a glimpse into how Tom’s recipes must develop. A chapter on Roasted Tomatoes, for example, teaches you what to look for in quality tomatoes (apparently, “Everybody knows the best tomatoes come from New Jersey”), how to roast your carefully chosen tomatoes, and then five different recipes that showcase these roasted tomatoes. The best part of this approach is that you turn the page at the end of this section imagining what else you might do with roasted tomatoes.

And that, I’m sure, is the point.

This book is beautifully photographed, and a pleasure to read. And even though many of the recipes use ingredients that aren’t often found in my humble home kitchen, they inspire me to expand my culinary repiortare ever-so-slightly. I guess you might say they inspire me to “think like a chef.” Go figure.

The book includes a foreword by Danny Meyer, and a preface and introduction from Collichio himself, and concludes with a resources section, as well as a detailed index. In between, you’ll find the following sections and recipes:

1. Techniques:

  • Roasting (Roasted Chicken, Pan-Roasted Striped Bass, Pan-Roasted Sirloin, Roasted Herbed Leg of Lamb, Salt-Roasted Salmon, Pan-Roasted Sweetbreads, Pan-Roasted Soft Shell Crabs with Pickled Ramps and Creme Fraiche, Pan-Roasted Lobster with Bay Leaf, Pan-Roasted Salsify)
  • Braising (Braised Short Ribs, Braised Beef Cheeks, Braised Fresh “Bacon,” Braised Red Snapper)
  • Blanching
  • Stock-Making (White Chicken Stock, Brown Chicken Stock, Lobster Stock, Veal Stock)
  • Sauce-Making (Beurre Fondue, Beurre Blanc, Apple Cider Sauce, Basic Vinaigrette, Tomato Vinaigrette, Lemon-Rosemare Vinaigrette)

2. Studies

  • Roasted Tomatoes (Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic, Roasted Tomato, Zucchini, and Eggplant Lasagne, Roasted Tomato Risotto, Clam Ragout with Pancetta, Roasted Tomatoes, and Mustard Greens, Sea Bass Stuffed with Roasted Tomatoes, Seared Tuna with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette and Fennel Salad, Braised Lamb Shanks with Roasted Tomato, Caramelized Tomato Tarts)
  • Mushrooms (Pan roasted Mushrooms, Roasted Sea Scallops with Mushrooms, Marinated Mushrooms, Salmon Braised with Mushrooms, Polenta Gratiin with Mushroom “Bolognese,” Pan-Roasted Quail with Swiss Chard and Mushrooms, Caramelized Mushroom Tarts)
  • Braised Artichokes (Artichokes Braised in Olive Oil and White Wine, Artichoke Salad, Artichoke Vinaigrette, Oricchiette with Artichokes, Cabbage, and Cranberry Beans, Artichoke Ravioli with Artichokes, Peas, and Asparagus, Quick-Braised Striped Bass with Artichoke and Zucchini, Slow-Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Artichoke & Tomato Gratin)

3. Trilogies

  • Asparagus, Ramps, & Morels (Ragout of Asparagus, Ramps, and Morels, Baked Free-Form “Ravioli” with Asparagus, Ramps, and Morels, Sole with Morelss, Ramps, and Asparagus, Asparagus Soup with Morel Custard, Pan-Roasted Poussin with Morels, Ramps, and Asparagus, Morel, Ramp, and Potato Gratin)
  • Lobster, Peas, & Pasta (Basic Boiled Lobster, Fettuccini with Lobster and Peas, Basic Pasta Dough, Chilled Pea Soup, with Lobster, Pasta, and Pea Salad, Spiced Roasted Lobster with Pea Ravioli, Lobster Risotto with Peas, Lobster Spice, Lobster Butter)
  • Duck, Root Vegetables, & Apples (Roasted Duck, Root Vegetables, and Apples, Braised Duck with Apples, Root Vegetable and Apple Ragout with Duck Crepes, Basic Crepes, Duck Confit, Root Vegetable Soup with Apples and Duck Ham, Duck Ham, Duck Rillettes, Duck, Root Vegetable, and Apple Terrine)

4. Component Cooking

  • Spring Vegetables (Pickled Ramps, Pan-Roasted Ramps, Pan-Roasted Spring Onions, Rhubarb Chutney, Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad with Prosciutto, Swiss Chard Cannelloni with Chanterelle Sauce, Pan-Roasted Asparagus)
  • Summer Vegetables (Summer Vegetable Ragout, Ratatouille, Eggplant Caviar, Pan-Fried Eggplant, Corn Relish, Corn Chowder, Creamless Creamed Corn, Corn and Potato Pancakes, Zucchini with Lemon Thyme, Pan-Roasted Zucchini, Pan-Fried Zucchini Blossoms, Pickled Watermelon Rind, Tomato Consomme, Green Tomato Chutney, Pepper Chutney)
  • Fall Vegetables (Braised Red Cabbage, Roasted Savoy Cabbage with Raisins, Roasted Endive with Whole Spices, Glazed Endive Leaves, Endive Chutney, Onion Confit, Honey-Glazed Onions, Puree of Onion Soup, Onion Marmalade, Balsamic Onion Marmalade, Potato, Leek, and Bacon Pan-Fry, Diced Potato-Leek Soup, Roasted Potatoes, Leeks, and Bacon, Boulangerie Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon)

5. A Few Favorites

  • (Lentils, Foie Gras Terrine, Poached Foie Gras, Pan-Fried Oysters, Cured Salmon, Lemon Confit, Cannellini Beans, My Favorite Chicken Soup)

In conclusion, I would recommend Tom Colicchio’s Think Like A Chef for the ambitious home cook or growing foodie. The book is well-written, and full of information about Colicchio and his personal style of cooking. I think  most anyone whould have osmething to leanr here, but if you’re skittish in the kitchen, you’ll probably be intimidated by a lot of these recipes. I, personally, am excited to try a number of these dishes. I picked up the paperback version of the book, which is well worth the $15-20 price tag.

Top Chef Rundown: February 25, 2009 (FINALE!)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Honestly, it’s so sad how little I have to say about this season’s finale. It speaks a little bit to how disappointing this season has been overall.

While David and I were watching the finale last night, he kept asking me who I wanted to win, and I just couldn’t seem to make up my mind. Thinking back to previous years when I clearly had my favorites (I <3 Stephanie!), it was kind of disappointing. I just wasn’t that concerned with what each of these three chefs would do.

That being said, Carla was probably, gun to my head, my choice going into the finale. She really found a way to step it up and had been getting consistently better all season long. Her finale dishes were good, too, when she let herself cook the food she wanted to cook. Unfortunately, she let nerves get the best of her.

It was a decent enough twist to have Marcel, Casey, and Richard back to help the chefs out. Because the losers popped up to help as sous chefs, I halfway expected Hung, Stephanie, and Ilan to be there as judges. In any case, I liked what they were doing here, and I think it made sense.

Unfortunately for Carla, part of letting her nerves get the best of her meant letting Casey push her way into her menu. She definitely had some highs, but she chose to sous-vide the beef, instead of making it her own way, AND she let Casey talk her into blue cheese souffles for the dessert. Casey was someone that I liked a lot, and a lot like Carla, she scraped her way into her own season’s finale. I don’t blame Casey, because Carla should’ve stepped up and made her own decisions.

Side note: Casey’s saying it wasn’t her fault, and the editors made her look much worse than the situation really called for. Not very classy to whine about it, Casey, but I have no problems believing that’s what happened.

Carla made some big mistakes that pulled her out of the running, which nearly everyone seemed disappointed about. That leaves us with Hosea and Stefan.

They both made good food. I could have seen either one winning. I was impressed by Stefan’s alligator soup, because he really pulled off something difficult there, with a tough ingredient he’d never used before. Hosea made the right call to skip dessert, I think, even though Toby criticized it. Yes, he should be able to make a dessert, and if pressed, I’m sure he could’ve come up with SOMETHING. Instead of pulling something together and trying to skate by with a so-so dessert, he chose to make three strong dishes, and it clearly worked in his favor.

Ultimately, Hosea won. And I am indifferent.

top-chef-finale

Truthfully, every season I’ve had my favorites and my least favorites, but this year most of the cheftestants landed right in the middle for me. Here’s to hoping for a better crop of cheftestants next time around!

Top Chef Rundown: February 18, 2009

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

First of all, I think New Orleans is a great backdrop for the finale, if for no other reason than it’s a locale that’s really known for its food.

Second of all, I think it was a great idea to let Jamie, Leah, and Jeff try to break into the finale during the quickfire challenge, and an even better idea to require that Jeff get first place in order to make it to the end. I was a little bit proud of Jeff, actually. Though he’s still convinced that he didn’t do anything to deserve elimination in the first place (and he’s wrong), he did find his focus and reign in all of his whims to create simple dishes. He did a good job on the quickfire, and I was happy to see him join the Final Five.

Third of all, the cheftestants should not have been surprised to see Emeril Lagasse–I think he was a great fit for guest judge.

top-chef-emeril

Fourth of all, everyone did pretty well in the elimination challenge as far as I can tell. Stephan’s bad attitude was back, but for the most part, he’s able to back up his swagger with actual skills, so what’s the harm?

Fifth of all, my feelings could be changing about Carla. She’s been pretty frickin’ good for the past few weeks, and it’s nice to see her enjoying herself, even if she is a bit of a weirdo. Jeff got burned by the “deal with the devil” that he made, and because he wasn’t the best, he went home.  I felt bad for him, a little, but ultimately, I think that was a fair price to pay to get back in the game.

Sixth of all, I was not heartbroken to see Fabio go home. He was good all season, but he really didn’t have his best night here, and small mistakes are enough when everything is good overall.

Seventh of all, I’m looking forward to next week, when we see Carla, Hosea, and Stephan cook the best meal of their lives. No restrictions, no games, no price limits, time limits, or broken freezers–just great cooking. I can’t wait. I will admit, I don’t have a clear favorite right now, but I’m excited to see how this all plays out.

Top Chef Rundown: February 12, 2009

Friday, February 13th, 2009

This week’s episode of Top Chef had our cheftestants star-struck once again. Famous chefs were everywhere you looked. Everywhere.

The quickfire challenge, to make breakfast for a breakfast loving molecular gastronomist, turned out pretty much as I expected. I thought that Stefan’s dish was actually pretty clever, and it was odd that Fabio’s similar dish didn’t quite make the cut. I do think it’s a shame when the top chef’s try to out-wit the science guys. I don’t know why they think the molecular gastronomists are going to be impressed with the little bit of molecular gastronomy they can pull of. Richard Blaise had this problem–even Marcel made this mistake. The guys who invented the tricks aren’t all that impressed wth your take on them.

The surprise in the quickfire was that Carla won, by keeping it simple and clean, if a little bit whimsical. Her green eggs and ham looked kind of cool and was one of the few dishes that you could actually imagine eating for breakfast. I think she read the guest judge well and gave him exactly what he was looking for. All in all, a very smart move.

top-chef-last-supper

The elimination challenge, to cook “last suppers” for famous chefs, wasn’t really all that difficult. Like Hosea said, your death-bed meal isn’t really the fanciest meal, or the ultimate meal of your life. Even the most famous chefs asked for classic comfort foods that everyone should have been able to make. Maybe even with one hand tied behind their back…

Speaking of Fabio…I was impressed with his ability to get everything done with a broken hand. He really just put his head down and plowed through, and didn’t let the food suffer. I worried a bit about his chopping skills (and his other hand!), but he managed to finish the roasted chicken, and finish well.

Once again, Carla kept things basic, and it worked for her. I don’t know how peas could be something so amazing, but she sure did win over the entire panel of guest judges with them.

Leah…should have been able to make eggs benedict. She’s shown some strength at egg dishes this season, and I really thought she’d be able to pull that off. I think I could probably pull that off, though I have no interest in eating eggs benedict, so I don’t see me making it anytime soon. I’ve tried it, and it’s not for me. Her eggs weren’t cooked properly, and she messed up the sauce, which was a pretty terrible mistake.

Hosea’s shrimp scampi was uninspired and forgettable. And apparently, not quite correct. The tomatoes looked like they were thrown together, and scampi can never have too much garlic, so clearly he went wrong. Like just about everything on the menu this week, shrimp scampi is a basic dish, one he should’ve been able to pull off. Especially the seafood guy. Maybe they don’t serve eel in his restaurant, but I’m certain they serve shrimp!

Finally, we come to Stefan. His salmon was overcooked. I could see it from my couch. It looked like “dead” food baked under restaurant heat lamps. I don’t know what the deal was with the spinach two ways, but ugh. Of course, I’d never choose spinach as part of my last meal. Or really much of any meal. If the judges couldn’t tell that the spinach was cooked two ways, I think it’s safe to say that Stefan missed the mark.

Judge’s Table, then, was a bit of a surprise for me. As much as it pains me to say it, as much as I hated Leah…I really think Stefan deserved to go home last night. Nothing about his dish was good, and the judges at least seemed to be split on Leah’s dish. I think overall, Stefan is a better chef, and on those merits deserves to be in the final four, but that’s not how this game is played. If they’re going to judge on that night’s performance and only that night’s performance, then that’s what they should do. Maybe it was just editing, but it sure didn’t look like Stefan deserve to make it through based on that night’s performance.

Fabio deserved his win, though, no contest. At least all his pain and suffering paid off. And look, he can do it with one hand tied behind his back!

New Orleans should be a fun finale location, so I’m looking forward to next week’s show. I think Carla and Hosea are wildcards, and the top two chefs here are clearly Stefan and Fabio (Team Europe). Stefan is more of a technician, and Fabio’s got all the heart, so if it comes down to those two, I don’t know which one will win. I guess we’ll find out.

Top Chef Rundown: February 4th, 2009

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

top-chef-ripert

This week’s Top Chef Rundown is in the format of quick, sometimes snarky comments. Here goes:

  • Stefan’s actually less of a dick this week. Must have been humbled a bit by last week’s judge’s table.
  • Cute how everyone’s nervous about Eric Ripert.
  • Also, I don’t know a LOT about the guy, but he seems to be an amazing chef AND a great guy. Very humble for as good as he supposedly is at what he does.
  • Leah sucks. You don’t just quit.
  • Wow with the nail into the eel’s head. I guess that’s one way to do it.
  • Stefan is a machine.
  • Yeah, Hosea works at a seafood restaurant, but I bet they don’t serve eel there.
  • I’m glad the chef’s actually got to enjoy their meal, instead of being thrown right into the kitchen, even if it was the preface to a challenge.
  • I knew, as soon as Jamie complained about the celery that she’d be making the celery dish.
  • Leah’s still a mess. She’s in charge of the fish at her home restaurant?!
  • Did Stefan pick the easy dish? I don’t know—but it looked good.
  • No surprise that Stefan wins.
  • Some surprise that Jamie lost, but she did seem to be the worst this week, and they say that’s all that matters.
  • At LEAST two of the remaining five chefs have no business being in the Top Four.
  • If Leah gets to the Top Four…I don’t know what I’ll do.