Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top Chef - Bad Cooking and Disquieting Camera Shots

Jen got sent home in last week’s improv episode. This week's show starts with Stephanie getting dressed and, EWW, it looks like she’s putting on a chef’s jacket with tons of blood on it. Oops, no, it was just a shadow. How about better lighting?? She’s amazed she’s still there.

Now this really is Ewww. We see Mark (is that his name, the New Zealander? or is he South African?) brushing his teeth and his pasty white back and some hideous tattoo on his left arm. He also has an unattractively haired chest and belly. C’mon this is a cooking show! OMG, now he’s shaving! Can we please just leave his grooming to himself? This is gross. Finally, they assemble and leave for the Top Chef kitchen.

Wait a minute! Hold your horses! This week I’m going to learn from past editing clues. The people they show in the beginning have an outsized role in that particular week’s show.

Could it be that Mark goes home OR could it be that he’s the winner? Okay I’m taking a stand here…After watching 3 minutes of this week’s Top Chef, I’m predicting that (or more accurately hoping that) Mark is going home. Vamos a ver.

Oh, I spy that sweet dumpling of a man, Art Smith, Oprah’s former chef, who opened a restaurant called Table Fifty-Two in the Windy City. He’s a sweetheart. I hope he doesn’t get all judgmental and nasty. Oh, I guess he IS there to judge after all.

Padma goes into some riff about speed in a professional kitchen and there’s tons of Uncle Ben’s Microwavable Rice packets on the counter. Art says in a restaurant “a minute to the kitchen is 10 minutes to the diner, so it has to be perfect and on time,” so their Quickfire Challenge is to create a fabulous entrée in 15 minutes.

Why do I feel like this challenge has more to do with getting the globally gigantic Mars company, owner of Uncle Ben’s, involved as a sponsor than any culinary reason? Puleez. I’m not feeling this…I think it’s an insult. Any chef could make a wonderful dish in 15 minutes WITHOUT relying on parboiled rice.

Lisa’s bellyaching about the lack of time. She would. They show porn shots of the shiny red packages in the microwaves, spinning dramatically on the turntable.

Friends, NEVER cook in plastic in the microwave! Use glass and porcelain, that’s it. Don’t cover anything EVER with plastic in the microwave. Use CorningWare lids or waxed paper. I’m not saying don’t use your microwave. I use mine many times a day. Just don’t cook in plastic leeching containers or with evil-when-it-gets-heated-up plastic wrap.

OMG, the show has only been on for 5 minutes! This is going to be a long post.

Dale says he’s going to go with a fried rice dish. He doesn’t lose his head. He says most Asian dishes are cooked quickly. I just want to remind you that Dale is my pick, and HAS been all along, for overall winner.

I like, is that Stephanie?, her idea of seafood pancakes with the rice. That’s interesting. They look great.

Greek Spike is making stuffed peppers. Ick. Oh, tomatoes too, which would be better, but still not the most innovative idea in the world.

They should have called this challenge how to cook with crap fast food. What I wonder is if any of them will choose NOT to use the Uncle Ben’s. They didn’t say it was an actual requirement.

Antonia acts as if rice salad is some new idea. Hey kid, I’ve been making that since my Cordon Bleu days. Here’s a similar recipe, using real rice of course…that goes beautifully with a curried chicken salad that was served at Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation luncheon.

Richard says taste is the most important thing and then they cut to Mark saying that he’s tasted the components of his dish, but not the whole thing. HE IS SO GONE!!!

I just want to digress (one more time) for one second and tell you that, as I write this, I have no clue as to the outcome.
I am writing these words AS I’m watching, as I do with all my Food Network posts. Even if Top Chef was on days ago, I keep my head down, I read NOTHING about it and I carry on with my blatherings with NO advance knowledge of what’s happening. So YOU may know that everything I’m saying is a crock, but I don’t. Clear?

Okay, the challenge is over. Here are the dishes and comments from Art and the others:

Antonia: Rice Salad with Skirt Steak, Arugula, Red Onions and Cherry Tomatoes (okay, so the Cordon Bleu recipe is a more traditional rice salad without all the salad stuff…let’s see what Art says.) “I like the cold and the hot.” Hmmm, what do I know anyway?

Nikki: Vegetable Fried Rice with Mushrooms, Zucchini, Snap Peas and Eggs. (Oh, Honey, don’t go where Dale goes…you’ll never win that way). “It’s very comforting.”

Richard: Tuna Steak and Tomatoes over Rice with Yuzu Vinaigrette. THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about. It looks great. And he only used about a tablespoon of that “rice” stuff. I know it’s rice, I just don’t support using precooked packaged products in a “chef’s” competition. “I love the yuzu on the tomato. That’s a great complete meal.”

Stephanie – Brown Rice Pancakes with Scallops. She actually admits she never made them before. Uh-oh. I don’t think she should have said that. “Very clever.”

Spike – Rice Stuffed Tomatoes with Veal, Port and Rice Wine Vinegar Sauce . Sound awful to me. Art says, “It’s wonderful. It’s like a very great way to serve a vegetable.” ART! You have to diss someone!

Lisa – Rice, Corn, Black Beans and peppers with Avocado Crème and Grilled Shrimp. For all her complaining, it looks good. She encourages Padma to squeeze fresh lime over. Wow, Art is surprisingly loquacious. “I think the lime makes a big difference. It’s all about the acid…Most chefs oversalt food, rather than add acid.”

Dale – Yay!!! Pineapple Fried Rice with Grilled Scallops and Chinese Long Beans. “I like the long beans, because I think they’re very underused.” Does that mean he didn’t like the rest? What do you expect? He had to use Uncle Ben’s!

Mark (Remember he’s the one I say is going to be gone): Miso-glazed Turkey Breast over Rice with Snap Peas and Grapes. Art: “I need a sauce.” Padma: “I need sauce and I need for this chicken to not be so tough.” Mark: “It’s turkey.” That’s priceless…THEN it’s okay for it to be tough. Art AND Padma “It’s a little dry.” BINGO! Go home boy, right now, save us having to sit through the rest of this.

Andrew: Wild Rice Crusted Fish with Almond and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. He sounds a little too breathless and enthusiastic, as if he thought using Uncle Ben’s was actually a good idea. Plus he spent way too much telling them what he did (in the same way this whole post is going). Art: “It’s a little crunchy. I think it’s really clever idea, but you need more than 15 minutes to figure out to make it right,” so I’m guessing his ingenuity will not be rewarded.

The results: Mark, Stephanie and Lisa are in the bottom three. Art thought Stephanie’s was pretty but a yawn and the other two just didn’t taste good.

He really loved Dale’s, Richard’s and Antonia’s. Antonia wins the challenge.

They plug Art’s organization Common Threads, which encourages families to eat together. The next challenge is to “create a healthy meal for a family of four using only $10”. I bet Lisa is cursing that she already used black beans.

I can already think of a menu – Carrot and Potato Vichyssoise, Black Beans and Rice with Homemade Tomato Salsa and Strawberries with an Orange Yogurt Sauce. Well, wadya think? Plus something green and sautéed, if there’s any leftover money.

Andrew says it’s impossible. Easy for Antonia with immunity to say, “You get 10 dollars.. You make it work.” Ok, TG-wannabe, thanks.

Another problem is that they’re shopping at Whole Foods, which is known in some circles as Whole Paycheck…I’m not even sure Whole Foods sells Uncle Ben’s…hopefully, none of them will ever use that again.

Dale is clever, very clever. He sees everyone else buying chicken, he goes for turkey bratwurst. That’s a great idea. I think I’ll add one to my beans and rice.

Yuck, Mark says he makes a vegetarian curry for himself and his lady when he’s strapped for cash. Not yuck about the curry, yuck about him and his lady. Maybe she’s never seen him brushing his teeth.

SORRY! This is about cooking not insulting the chefs. (They DID leave him open for that by that opening sequence,)

Mark is playing his didgeridoo. OK. He is SO going home. They’re making this too easy.

Why are they focusing on the chefs wrapping their food in Glad bags and that sticky Glad plastic wrap. I’m really getting annoyed by their overt product placement. Covert, fine, but product whoring, NO!

Antonio has a phone call with her daughter. Why are they wasting time on her when she has immunity? They obviously need filler.

They go into the kitchen at some center or other and many kids are brought in to be their assistants. Antonia wants to cry because the kids are so cute and make her miss her daughter. The kids are sweet, and the chefs are gracious. They seem to relate really well to them and they actually give the kids stuff to do.

Spike, do not tell that dear child what the puttanesca means! Am I the only one who thinks this dish is inappropriate? Oh, his kid has already cut himself (on the peeler). Downer Lisa doesn’t like Mark’s idea of the curry, I think that’s just one more setup for sending him home.

They all get to work. Dale likes his kid, who is also really short. We learn Andrew was over 200 pounds before he started cooking for himself.

Tom comes in. He’s impressed with how Richard is schooling his kid. Dale got a good kid. Tom is smiling. Just before the break, there’s ANOTHER quote from Mark, about how unnerving it can be to have Tom Collichio in the kitchen. I get that. I’m nervous to even have him on my television screen.

Here are the dishes and comments:

Richard and Abigail: Roasted Chicken with Black Beans, Apple, Avocado and Beet Salad. Padma likes the apples. Art likes it but would have removed the chicken skin. The kids like it too.

Lisa and Andrew: Roasted Chicken with Edamame and Black Beans, Peanut Butter and Apple French Toast. Padma thinks there could have been more fresh vegetables. Art doesn’t think the chicken has a lot of flavor. They both like the dessert that Lisa made sure to say Andrew made…in case they didn’t like it.

Tom is tasting all the food in the kitchen. That’s kinda weird.

Dale and Emmanuel: Turkey Bratwurst with Potatoes, Onions, Red Cabbage and Apples. The kids were down with this, the judges not so much. Padma and Gail thought the red cabbage was too strong.

Spike and Alex: Pasta Puttanesca, Carrot Soup and Semi-Baked Apples. How can I say anything bad about this when I had the same idea for the soup? The kids were relieved they got spaghetti. The judges loved the very vegetable-y puttanesca sauce. Why Spike admitted they didn’t have time to finish cooking (but served anyway) the baked apples I’ll never know.

Nikki and Amaris: Roasted Chicken with Mixed Vegetables, Tomato and Cucumber Salad. Art loves this “One pot wonder.” Gail says it’s a very complete dish.

BTW, it’s kind of gross how the judges are all eating off one plate in the center of the table, which is so far away that as they bring the food to their mouths, I’m praying it doesn’t go all over the tablecloth.

Also, I’m not liking not hearing Tom’s opinions with the rest of the judges. Speaking of the devil, we see Tom tasting all the food with Mark commenting how scared he is of him.

Mark and Jesucita: Vegetable Curry, Cinnamon Rice and Cucumber Salad. Padma, interestingly, says she’s surprised he made curry, as if it was too exotic. That’s a little weird coming from her. I’m certainly no fan of Mark’s, but why shouldn’t he have made a vegetable curry? Kids need to eat different things to be exposed to them when they’re young or they’ll never try anything.

Padma doesn’t like it anyway, she says it’s way too sweet. Gail wants to know where the protein is, as if a dish made without meat can’t have protein.

Sorry, I must pause here for a sec…First of all, we, in the West, probably eat too much animal protein anyway and did she never read “Diet for a Small Planet”, which is all about combining vegetable proteins to get complete proteins?!! I guess Mark didn’t either. All he would have had to do to complete the protein is to serve plain yogurt with the rice. (He did serve rice, didn’t he?) But the protein isn’t really the point, he simply made a crappy curry.

Oh gosh, there’s more!

Antonia and Jeffry: Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry with Whole Wheat Noodles. Who cares? She can’t be voted off, but her kid is cute. Gail says, “It’s a little sweet, but great.” Padma says it trumps Spike’s spaghetti.

Oh wait, there’s still more chefs and kids…
Andrew and Miguel: Chicken Paillard with Fennel, Apples and Orange Salad. I didn’t like fennel until my 4th decade. Let’s hear from the kids. ”Good.” Art likes it, as well, and proclaims it a well-executed dish.

Please be done…Nope!

Stephanie and Arlynn: Couscous with Eggplant and Zucchini, Chicken in Peanut and Tomato Sauce and Apples with Granola, which she pointedly says her sous-chef made. Both dishes look like piles of goop. Art: “I don’t think it tastes that great.” Padma: “The couscous is not done well.” Gail: ”That’s just a tell-tale sign of a restaurant chef who doesn’t cook at home that much.” I think that’s being kind.

Tom thanked all the chefs and said the kids had a great time.

The Judges’ decisions:
They liked Nikki’s dish and Antonia’s. Tom said Lisa’s was bland and Stephanie’s was nasty. Hah! Just testing to see if you’re still with me. He actually said “Peanut Butter and Tomato!”, as if it were obvious that was a sucky combo.

Richard liked cooking with the kids and wants to go home and make some babies. Okay, I really think that’s being a bit too sentimental. Go borrow your neighbors’ kids to cook with you. I promise you after the 10th time they refuse to eat what’s on their plate, they’re not so cute anymore…Just kidding, kids. I mean just kidding to MY kids…everyone else’s can be annoying.

Andrew, Nikki and Antonia are called in. Oh, I guess even if Antonia can’t be sent home, she can still win, which is exactly what happens. The judges praised all three chefs’ dishes, but she pulled out the win.

Surprise, surprise! They want to see Lisa, Stephanie and…Mark. Who called it?

Stephanie thought they were going to say she didn’t do something simple enough. No, Tom just hated peanut butter and tomato together. (I’m not really with him on this, sometimes I put tomatoes in my cold noodles with peanut butter sauce.) Art thought the portion was too large and that the couscous was not right. Tom was also surprised she had used her entire budget.

Padma asks Mark why he’s there and he says he’s baffled and says, “I don’t think Tom likes me.” That can’t be a good thing to have said, true as it may be. Tom doesn’t like ANYONE! Tom laughs (a bit nervously, if you ask me.) “Make me happy by serving me good food.” Art says, "I think you could have added a lot more vegetables to the dish.” Mark gives no ground about the lack of protein in the dish, which I agree with.

Tom’s issue with Lisa’s dish was basically that it was cooked badly – the edamame were undercooked and the whole thing was underseasoned. She went into SUCH a lengthy explanation about what she thought they wanted, Tom finally said it was so bad it was shocking. Hmmm. The judges go on to skewer each of the bottom three.

We’re almost at the end. I’m not going to be a wuss and change my mind now. They didn’t show Stephanie or Lisa shaving (thank goodness) at the beginning of the show.) I still say it’s Mark going home…Dumdumdum dum…DUMMMMMM

It’s…MARK. SCORE!!!! Go Me!!! Sorry, New Zealand boy, but I was right! Those topless shots were far worse than others I’ve seen and they really made me lose my appetite, which can never be good for a chef.

Oh, listen to this, Tom actually says, “Just for the record, I really don’t dislike you. You’ve been a great competitor, fun to be around, but that hairy stomach was too much.” Oh, sorry, he didn’t say that last part.

Mark leaves with lots of hugs and, thankfully, I can put an end to this post. Top Chef had it all this week: speed, budget cooking, kids and both good and gross food (and chefs).


Emiline said...

It's getting too predictable on who they're going to kick off. I knew it was going to be Mark from the beginning also.

I'm not liking the product placement. I know there has to be some, but not this much. Uncle Ben's? Really?

This challenge was kind of "eh" for me. I personally like chicken skin. I don't care if it's not good for you.

Sue said...

So are you saying that it didn't take any extraordinary brain power to figure out it was Mark who was going home?!!

I agree with you.

Tracy said...


Good post. I SWEAR (like you do at the beginning of your post) I don't look at any other TC blog postings before I write my own. But we had some strikingly similar opinions!

I did think Art Smith turned out to be a sweetheart. He was gentler to the chefs than some of the other judges.


Tracy said...

Oh, one more thing. I make a good peanut soup that has peanut butter and tomato.

Sue said...

Obviously, great minds think alike.

Art IS sweet.

I really don't agree with the ban on tomatoes with peanut butter.

Heather said...

I was surprised to see the salad win, as if putting rice in salad in some novel new idea. Thought this was boring and easier than most of the other dishes.

I've made stews of African origin that contain peanut butter and tomatoes and/or sauce. Bad call on Tom's part - maybe he's not such the smarty pants that he thinks he is.