Category: Culture

Top Chef Final Three: “Fire and Ice”

Watching chefs who innovate a dish, work within challenge parameters, and win or lose based on execution.  Yay!  We are back to what Top Chef is all about, after last week’s detour into game show/Survivor hell.   There were even kind of boring points, which is fine.  Do I need to get every piece of minutae about the instructions to the waiters headed out to serve the 150 plates of food to Vancouver’s food elite?  Well, the show’s editors think so.   And the j.v. theme “fire and ice” was a call back to Season 2, when it was considered cool beans just to have a theme for what amounted to a cook off.

So Texas in the summer was fire and Vancouver in winter, the Final Three location, was ice.   Get it?  For the Quick Fire, and to win $20,000, furnished by the new wine label Top Chef is putting out, Lindsay, Paul and Sarah were paired with Top Chef Masters (super successful name brand chefs who are all Asian) to cook an Asian dish in ten minute increments.  Meaning, whoever stepped in as chef would not know what the prior ten minutes was prep for. Okay, a little gimmicky, but designed to show us whether the Final Three could make a dish out of various assembled chopped and partially poached food items.    There was a curry dish (Sarah), a raw giant clam dish (Paul) and a scallop dish (Lindsay).  Side note:  scallop dishes are the go-to quick dish on Top Chef episodes and almost never win. Get a clue, chefs!

Note the arm scar on Padma Lakshmi, co host.

And Sarah won the $20,000.  Aramanth was the yummy secret flavor which put it all over the edge, according to co-host Padma, who hinted she’d be stealing this.  What?  Padma cooks?  Who knew?  She’s slim, she shows her odd, unexplained arm scar proudly in short sleeved shirts.   She cooks? Seriously?   Flush from that, Sarah et. al. were off to cook a fire and ice small plate dish, plus an accompanying fresh-made cocktail, for 150 Vancouver foodies, plus the judges, with no sous chefs.  No prior contestants would be coming back to help for the traditional “sous chef from hell” segment.  If you had me make 150 fussy small plates I’d faint, go nuts or take a hostage.  The Final Three were chummy and calm.  Damn them.

Sarah sent out hand made pasta for 150, covered by a ginger-laced frozen “sauce” meant to melt over the pasta.  Which didn’t melt.  Paul did an intense poached lobster in a lobster broth (killed the poor squirming buggers on camera to make the sauce extra fresh), then he pulled a cooking class 101 move and threw arugula garnish over it all.  Arugula is for pikers, Paul!   And that’s what Tom Colicchio said in the evaluation.  Lindsay did poached halibut and carefully rendered tomato soup and  a tomato-y ice.    Poached fish, girl?  Last season we would have seen one of the  Voltaggio brothers smoking, rendering and molecuralizing that fish in some way.  Duuuude!  The game is to be raised!  Don’t tell me you were true to yourself (as Lindsay explained in the post mortem)  when being true to yourself conveniently meant you were poaching fish rather than hand-cranking mountains of pasta or making lobsters scream on camera.

And so.  Lindsay was out.  The extra slaving done by Paul and Sarah means they are heading to the Final Two.

Get to cooking!

Not you, Padma.  But please explain that scar at some point?

Top Chef “Culinary Games” Final Four

Anyone seen the 70’s Depression-era flick  “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”. Don’t bother if you haven’t.  Suffice it to say it is really earnest. Jane Fonda is one half of a dance team trying to win some much-needed money by outdancing, over several days,  dozens of other couples.   To get the flavor, you can just catch a rerun of  tonight’s episode of Top Chef, as the Final Four endure several physical challenges, utilizing British Columbia’s Olympic ski area, which have nothing to do with how good a chef you are, and a whole lot to do with amping up the game show/Survivor quality of this once-great series.  You will win $100,000 and get a whole lot of food business publicity. Just dance, damn you, dance!

Back in the misty days of Season 2 or 3,  a last chef standing might fight through to a win with hard ingredients, wacky time limits, and maybe the impediment of a booted chef, brought back to “help” as sous chef.  Usually this was the one who oversalted and could be counted on to cut a finger and drip blood on a plate just before service.  Not tonight.   And also, for the first time, a formerly eliminated chef was allowed to fight her way back onto the show by defeating other losing chefs in  the online-only “Last Chance Kitchen”.  Web traffic to Bravo, anyone?  Sure.  But that meant Beverly Kim, who indeed got another chance, was back, having taken the worthy Ed out last week.  Ed, why did you use canned pre-smoked oysters for your sauce? Why?

So the falsely smiling Beverly joined Sarah, Lindsay and last man standing Paul for a cook-off in a swinging gondola going up a mountain at Whistler ski resort.   Lindsay won a spot in the Final Three with her perfectly crisped salmon with sausage.   Crisping is very hard at high altitudes.  Good one, Lindsay.

Now who is going down?  I know! Let’s have all three  chip ingredients out of huge blocks of ice and cook outdoors.  Paul chivalrously helped Beverly with ingredients and ice smashing.  For once, he was not punished for his classy kindness and won a spot.

Now, what all foodies want to see (not).  Chefs doing cross country skiing and marksmanship.  Is there a crossover demographic I don’t know about?   Winter  Olympic biathlon viewers who love arcane cooking shows?  Anyway, if it exists, Bravo nabbed it tonight, as Beverly and Sarah staggered through a cross country course, slipping and falling, then had to shoot at targets which would earn them enough ingredients to cook with.   That’s not where amazing plates of food come from.  It’s where okay plates of food come from.   They both got enough to pound out a meal, but while we’re at it, it would have been intriguing to see someone miss every target and have no ingredients.  Would they be the first in the history of the show to be eliminated for bad marksmanship instead of cooking?

Beverly’s arctic char was overwhelmed with too many earthy flavors and Sarah’s kinda dry rabbit ruled the day.  So Beverly, who did not deserve a second chance, really, was off.  Thankfully.

Next week, real cooking, no gimmicks.  I hope.

Top Chef: The Cadillac of Reality Shows

Okay, these days, based on monthly payment cost and status, I guess I mean an SUV hybrid.  Or something.

Reality shows have a formula.  Get a bunch of competitive people together.  Isolate them, give them tasks and stand clear for fireworks which will make good, cheesy television.  “Top Chef” does get competitive people together, but humliation and ratcheting up personal beefs are not the number one reason they are there, thankfully, or they would have lost me long ago.  The (mostly young) male and female chefs are supposed to cook really good food under time constraints for picky people.  Kind of like being a parent, come to think of it.  Is that why I love the show?

Tom Colicchio, Perennial Top Chef Judge and Co Host

This season has the contestants cooking their guts out in various parts of  Texas.  In the summer.  Since I grew up there I can assure you the sweat you see on the contestants as they cook is not exaggerated. Prior seasons, in New Orleans, Vegas, Chicago and New York, to name a few, have focused on the cutting edge blend between high end and higher end.  The creators seem to have figured out that these days, chefs going into business (since the winner gets backing and publicity to launch their own restaurant) will do well to offer comfort food.  Texas has plenty of that, with barbecue, Mexican influence,  coastal seafood, oh who am I kidding?

I watch it for the personalities.  Who is going to crack?  Flame out?  Steal recipes?

Somehow, this season is especially loaded with Asian chefs and women who are lasting to the end.  Prior seasons have featured a lot more tattooed chefs and kind of punk chefs.  The class of 2012 is calmer, younger and, maybe due to the economy, very anxious to please.

We shall see how tonight goes with the Final Five.   Once it is Final Four, they are whisked to a fabulous location with even more culinary torture to endure.  For a very good cause.  Their future.