Thursday, September 02, 2010
Top Chef: To The Moon And Back
It's a quite morning at the Top Chef manse, and not a lot of gloating or partying that Amanda is gone. I mean, we celebrated at my house, but the cheftestants don't seem to care. Except Kevin, who wondered how she made it so far, and then wonders how he made it so far, and then utters the Idiotic Line Of The Night when he says, "It's time to cook."
Really, the last thirteen weeks it wasn't time to cook?
Padma's in the kitchen with Food & Wine editor, Dana Cowin, and this will be the Wine and Food Pairing challenge. It's also a High Stakes Quickfire, and the winner gets a trip to London. Each chef will pick a wine, and then create the perfect pairing to go with that wine.
Angelo, who loves wine, lives for wine, sips and spits, and finally settles on an Evolution White wine that tastes a little bit Riesling and a little bit Gewurztraminer. Tiffany admits that she has a "wine guy"--and by that I hope she doesn't mean someone who drinks Mad Dog out of a paper bag, while Kelly tells us her husband is the sommelier at her restaurant so she has this in the bag. Kevin and Ed apparently just like wine.
Tiff pairs a Two Hand Shiraz with a Cocoa and Pepper Crusted Tenderloin and Risotto, while Angelo offers his sweet wine with Foie Gras. Kevin had planned to pair a Tangley Oaks Merlot with pork belly, but then his belly didn't turn out, so he chose another big, bold meat: quail. Yes, quail. Ed used his Italian red, Il Poggione Rosso with beef and spring potato risotto, while Kelly served Federalist Dry Creek Zin with wild boar and a blue cheese emulsion.
Dana liked them all, for the most part, but Kevin got the quail smackdown. Kelly got praise for her dish but Dana no likee Blue Cheese Emulsion. Personally, I wouldn't like any food called "cheese emulsion" because it sounds less gastronomical and more gastro-intestinal. So, that leaves Angelo as the winner, and all the other chefs worried that, as Kevin says, Angelo got his mojo back.
Create a dish that can be freeze-dried and sent into space.
No. Really. Space food.
The cheftestants head to the Goddard Space Flight Center and talk to astronauts aboard the space station and Vickie Kloeris, Food Scientist. Vickie explains the types of food available, and the kinds of foods the astronauts like. Nothing too sweet, because sugar is hard to freeze dry; no big chunky food, for the same reason. But, the astronauts find that spicy food tastes best in space. Go figure.
Plus, Padma tells them, that this year the Final Four will be going international, and the last challenges will be in Singapore. Angelo faints.
So, let's rip....
High off his win for the Quickfire, Angelo chooses to serve Ginger Lacquered Short Ribs, Pea Puree--making a triumphant return--Horseradish Creme Fraiche and Pickled Mushrooms.
At Whole Foods, Angelo's ego takes over and he barks at the counter help and nearly runs down an old lady shopping. But hey, anything to win, right? Gotta get that mail order bride into an envelope.
When Tom visits in the kitchen, and Angelo mentions ribs, Tom makes a face and suddenly Angelo is worried. But not too worried because he then proceeds to make love to his ribs. Cue the porn soundtrack.
And cue the Big Ego soundtrack, too, because, Angelo knows he's gonna win this. Cut to me, and I'm hoping that this is the Too-Cocky-Now-You're-Knifed edit.
But, Angelo settles down long enough to worry that the Candied Ginger will make his dish too sweet, and too sweet is bad. Um, Angelo? Candied ginger? It's very name says sweet. I mean, I could'a told you that.
Still, the judges like the dish. Buzz Aldrin is a fan of the pickled mushroom, perhaps because Buzz looks a little pickled himself. Just sayin'.
Tom calls out the sweetness, but says the dish is quite flavorful. Eric Ripert doesn't mind the sweetness, but finds the dish too acidic. Anthony Bourdain simply loved it.
Perhaps Angelo didn't get the Too-Cocky edit after all.
Tiffany offers the judges a Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut with Coconut Curry, Snow Pea Shoots and Jasmine Rice. There was going to be some mussels in the dish as well, but Tiffany wanted to cool them down, and accidentally froze them.
Mussels dead; mussels, out.
Beaumont, we have a problem.
Still, she'll keep it simple and make it flavorful with some extra added fish stock. I fear Tiffany is getting the Big-Mistake-Gets-You-Knifed edit, but then Tiffany laughs and I forget all about that.
I love that laugh.
And I love her perseverance. See, Tiffany started at IHOP and was told that girls were not allowed in the kitchen, but then she changed all that.
And FU Eric Ripert, who doesn't see the connection between the ingredients in her dish, even though Anthony Bourdain loves the sauce--the mussel-less sauce.
Things look good for Tiffany.
He feels that since the astronauts are no longer on Earth, that he wants to serve them Earth Food....or at least good old-fashioned comfort food. He offers up a Grilled New York Strip with Bacon-Jalapeno Marmalade, Corn Puree and Crispy Onions.
Kevin knows, he knows, that his American comfort food will buy him a seat on a plane to Singapore, because he's resilient, like his mother on whom the family pulled the plug about six years ago, and she didn't die....right away. She hung on and Kevin will hang on, plugged in or not. This, as Kevin tells us, means that he deserves the win more than anyone else because he will just not die.
I call this the Creepy-Personal-Story edit, and I don't like it.
Tom liked his dish, but Anthony Bourdain wished Kevin had thought outside his orbit. Mad Food Scientist Vickie thought it would be too hard to get crispy onions into space.
Really Vickie? They can put a man on the moon, but onion rings can;t be done.
What are you doing with that billion dollar budget NASA?
She went to Space Camp, which, as Tom says, makes her either really cool or really nerdy; I'll let you decide.
For her Spaceship Cuisine, Kelly went classical, offering Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut--though I can think of something else from Alaska that should be rocketed off the planet--with Artichoke-Fennel Barigoule, and a Sourdough Salsa Verde Salad.
As she cooks, and I will give Kelly props for being the polite chef, although Saddam Hussein would appear polite alongside Angelo, Kelly thinks the Top Four! Top Four! will be her, Angelo, Tiffany and Kevin.
Tom liked Kelly's dish, but Vickie--or as I'm thinking of her now, Vickie Downer--thinks there's too much liquid and it doesn't freeze-dry well. But Buzz, who has actually been in space [Vickie!] thinks the dish works really well, and he likes the crunch of the artichokes.
He figures that since the space station crew will be flying over Morocco, he'll offer up a Moroccan-inspired meal of Yogurt-marinated Rack of Lamb, with Eggplant Puree--is it me, or are these chefs really into The Puree?--Couscous Croquette and Hummus.
He's worried about the fat on his ribs...and I mean the ribs he's cooking, not his own ribs you know. I mean, a chef coat can only hide so much,. Ed.
But the judges like his flavors. They like the Moroccan touches, though Eric Ripert calls the dish too complicated. Anthony Bourdain calls Eric Ripert a whiny bitch, because he thinks the dish is perfection.
But, and this is who counts, the NASA folks wonder what the astronauts will do with the rib bones.
Hello? The Jetson's dog? Astro? He loves rib bones.
Problem solved by Bob in Smallville.
Tom likes all the dishes and wishes all the chefs could go to Singapore. Tom, I think, is getting soft. Where's the nasty Tom who berates the chefs for not cooking, for bad rice, for no salt or too much salt?
I sometimes get a little tingly at Mean Tom.
Still, everyone liked Ed's dish, with Bourdain calling it perfect, and saying Ed cooked his heart out, and Ripert once again calling it complicated, and Padma having to separate the two of them. Tom says so much could have gone wrong with a dish that had so m much in it, but Ed pulled it off.
Tom also liked Tiffany's nicely cooked fish, but he didn't get the tomatoes. Not that he didn't actually get tomatoes in his plate, but he missed the point of the tomatoes. Eric Ripert wanted some lemon or lime in the dish to brighten it up, while Anthony Bourdain thought the dish needed a stronger tasting fish. That he could use to beat the crap out of Eric Ripert.
Kelly gets props for doing a classic-styled dish and executing it well. Ripert loved Kelly's classical take on her food.
With Angelo, Tom again brings up the dreaded Candied Ginger, though Bourdain and Ripert are now playing nicely and agreeing that his dish was quite good.
Kevin's steak gets called perfect by Tom, though he likes thicker meat--and I will say no more about that. Bourdain thought his whole dish was a bit safe, because this isn't Top Chef Sirloin, after all. Whatever that means.
And so who wins the challenge? who gets their dish rocketed into orbit? Who wins a new Toyota Avalon and a copy of Bourdains new book and an invitation to watch a shuttle launch?
Angelo. Who again gets weepy and exits to the stew room where he rubs and rubs the Toyota key and thanks Jesus.
I may throw up.
And who gets Knifed? Kevin for his safe dish? Kelly for her classic take? Ed for doing too much?
I'm gonna miss that laugh and the fact that she cooked good food and played fair and seemed nice and laughed a lot.
Singapore will not be the same.