Friday, February 6, 2009

Something's Fishy On Top Chef

And I don't mean that in a bad way. I'm talking about the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges, both involving fish and the inimitable Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.

This week was an excellent episode that highlighted the COOKING skills of the competitors, and not their dysfunctional personalities, yucky hook-ups or anything else.

Stefan doesn’t want to be in the bottom again. Fabio is making a call on a Sidekick. Could they be more obvious? I have no idea who Jessica is. His wife?

Hosea says grandiosely, “I’m the last American male chef standing in the competition.” UGH! WHO CARES?!! Carla says she’s underestimated.

Quickfire Challenge
Padma introduces Eric Ripert, saying he has the best seafood restaurant in New York. New York??? How about anywhere.

She says technique and precision will be tested. They will be have three rounds of a fish filleting tournament, with chefs being eliminated in each round.

In the first, they have 5 minutes to clean and butterfly two whole sardines in the same way that Eric’s sample was done. They all agree that it’s hard to do such a small fish.

Leah says, in her monotone, that she doesn’t have a great record with fish on the show (or anything else).


Her fish is definitely not beautiful. Carla tells Eric he doesn’t have to say it’s butchered, we all know it is. He laughs.

“Dis one ees a beet better zan zat one.” Yeah, she says. I agree. I don't think hers looked bad at all.


“Pretty nice,” says Eric.

Jamie says she’s never done it before. Eric tries to explain the fine points. She laughs.

looks fantastic. “Very nice job.”

Hosea is sooooooooooo annoying. He’s says that he is very disappointed in himself and that his hand was shaking. As Scott said last week, we don’t care about your intentions. It’s what’s on the plate that counts. Eric: “The good news is that you finished your sardines. It’s not too bad.” Gosh, he’s nice.

Who did the best job? asks Padma.
Leah did. She recoils in surprise…And Fabio also. And Jamie and Carla did the worst jobs. They both laugh.

Oh, there’s a round two, I forgot. They have to filet an Arctic Char. Jamie and Carla are out. Leah gives up. Stefan is quite handy. Leah sticks her lip out and said I just gave up. Stefan is snotty to Eric. Fabio didn’t do well either. Eric says Hosea did the best job.

It’s just Stefan and Hosea for round three doing a freshwater eel… that’s still moving. Ewww, apparently it HAS gone to its reward, but it just keeps on moving. Skinning an eel is like riding a bike - you just gotta know how it works, says Stefan.

Stefan hammers one end of the eel into the board. OH my! I don’t need to see this. Hosea copies him while admiring his work. Hosea tries “his hardest”. Loser.

Eric says in his accent, “It looks like you’ve done that before.” Stefan says in his accent, “When we grew up, we had eel.” And he learned to skin them and clean them.

WHAT KID LEARNS TO SKIN EEL? Where did he grow up? In Transylvania? Eric also admires his very clean station.

Hosea AGAIN apologizes. Doesn’t he know that in life you should NEVER apologize for anything! (Just ask my husband…) Eric says that actually he didn’t do SUCH a bad job, but he butchered the flesh a bit with his knife, which I’m guessing is a bad thing is eel-filleting. And he was a little bit messier.

Obviously Stefan won the Quickfire, which will give him a useful advantage, he’s told.

Eric invites the chefs for lunch in the private room at Le Bernardin. Why do I think that they’ll be doing the cooking??? Oh, not according to the previews. It looks like they’re actually eating his food sitting at a restaurant table…

We see them hanging out in the apartment, pretending they’re doing a challenge. Not that funny.

They wake up (in the bunk beds). That so annoys me. And do we really have to see them getting dressed? Jamie’s idea of attire for a fancy restaurant is, well, a bit different. I thought she was dressed for house painting. Tom (already seated) greets them in the private dining room of Le Bernardin a bit gruffly. SIT DOWN, he barks at them. Was I the only one that noticed?

The chefs are served six different dishes. Where is this leading? Is it possible that they are going to be asked to recreate these dishes?

Leah loves it: “Like, I just want to give him (Eric) a big old hug.” Jamie is less thrilled. She actually says she’s BORED by this kind of food. It doesn’t inspire her. I’m going to make a huge jump here, and say that if THAT’S her attitude, her food is going to be crap and it is possible that SHE’LL be the one going home.

Carla loves the presentation, the flavor, everything! She says “This is what I want to be when I grow up – one of his dishes.” Funny.

Tom says with his characteristic smirk, I think there’s one more course on the menu and out come the Top Chef knives. I betcha anything, that each knife will represent one of the dishes that they’ve just eaten and that they will have to make…from memory. And I’ll go even further and say that Jamie will have to make the one with celery that she specifically said she liked the least. Who wants to bet with me? Let’s see.

Either I’m a genius or this show has become so predictable that even I could see what was going to happen. Tom says the 6 entrees that they had are going to be their elimination challenge.

Fabio looks ill. Carla: “OMG. That’s like recreating the Garden of Eden.” If the Food Network can give Adam G., his own show, there has to be somewhere on television for Carla. Maybe a self-help talk show with a hefty emphasis on cooking and “love-inducing” food.

They have 2 hours to prep. Because he won the Quickfire, Stefan gets his pick which dish to do – he chooses the lobster dish, for which, he says, he’s already figured out the components. Hosea, griping to the camera, says Stefan picked the easiest dish. WELL, WOULDN’T YOU?!!! He is such a baby…stop complaining, explaining and BLAMING…just COOK!

Of course, because I’m psychic, Jamie does pick the Black Bass, the dish she disliked the most.

They’re in the kitchen. Luckily, they get a tray with all the ingredients for the dish. Well then what’s so hard about that? I thought they would have to remember exactly what in the dish.

Carla says she’s never oil-poached a fish before. She doesn’t know what she’s missing!

Oil-Poached Escolar with Potato Crisps In A Red Wine Béarnaise Sauce
Good Luck! A normal mortal would need 4 days to make that dish (or plenty of sous-chefs) and 20 cookbooks and web sites for research. I guess what they’re banking on is that there will be some spectacular failures.

Sourdough Encrusted Red Snapper with Tomato Basil Consommé

Sautéed Black Bass & Braised Celery With Serrano Ham Peppercorn Sauce

She says she’s never braised celery before and she’s never made a sauce from Serrano ham. She’s kind of annoyed that “they” are just standing there watching all of them. She asks Hosea how to deal with the leg (?) of Serrano ham that’s in front of her.

Baked Lobster with Asparagus & Hollandaise Sauce

He doesn’t display any discomfort whatsoever with this dish.

Baked Mahi-Mahi with Miso &
Matsutake Mushroom Sauce
That dish could be tricky. What in the world do you do with the miso? Leah is confident about the fish, because she was the lead fish cook in her last restaurant.

Za’atar Spiced Monkfish with Black Garlic

Oh, here he goes again, “I’m not schooled as a chef.” He says that every now and then THAT comes back to haunt him. He DOES have a chip on his shoulder, but he works at a fish restaurant, so that should be an advantage. He’s worried about using Za’atar.

Fabio makes an excellent point when he says that the most difficult part of recreating a Eric Ripert dish is doing it without his 30 years of experience. I hear ya! He’s worries that his Italian sensibility will work against Eric’s French one, but he says they share a border, so it should be alright.

Leah is confused about how he incorporates the miso. I swear I’m writing this as I go, but THAT was exactly what I thought too. Stefan tells her the dish has a lot more miso. She thinks to add butter to balance out the strong flavor. Is it possible that she isn’t as bad as we thought?

Eric comes around and gives them all tips. He says Carla’s dish needs more acidity. His doesn’t seem to like Hosea’s that much. Eric wishes them all good luck.

The judges arrive. Toby drapes himself over his chair. Tom says this could be a career changing experience, because working for great chefs can change the way you think about food. Yeah, that’s great, but this is not WORKING for a chef. This is a challenge with all the odds stacked against them (except they did get the huge benefit of having the ingredients in front of them and Eric’s advice to many of them.)

This is actually a good challenge. It’s about the cooking. It’s about showing their chops and just getting the dish done, without being a crybaby or sissy.

Fabio goes first. Oh wait, this is kind of not fair. There is a restaurant produced dish of the original, right next to Fabio’s recreation. HE didn’t have the benefit of having the dish right there. His bread is too thick and a little too browned. “Flavor-wise, very close,” says Eric. Tom: “It’s good.” Eric:”I’m pretty impressed.”

The other chefs help Leah with her dish. Tom immediately says that she didn’t use enough miso. She did that on purpose, because she thought it was too strong. Padma: “Definite flavor difference.” Tom: “The fish is overcooked.”

You know, whoever wins this SHOULD be the Top Chef, because this is a difficult challenge. Wait, I take that back. Of course, it takes a skilled chef to recreate something after only one tasting (and they didn’t even know that was what they were going to be doing), but I think a Top Chef should also have the ability to create his or her own dishes, not just recreate a master’s.

Eric’s taste of Leah’s fish is not overcooked, he says. Toby goes on blabbering about the Caribbean and new discoveries. Honestly, they could edit him out entirely and no one would miss him.

Stefan says he feels really good about his dish. The other stuff going out? Not so much. Padma says she can immediately see that Stefan’s sauce is not as light. Eric says they do theirs in a blender. Stefan did his by hand. Interesting.

Eric: “Really good.” Padma says his lobster is just as good as Eric’s. Tom: It’s very good.” Every time he gives someone a compliment, you can just see he’s holding back. He would love to say, “BUT…” With Stefan’s dish there is no but. They all agree his dish is very close in excellence to Eric’s.

Carla needs to make potato chips in 15 minutes. The chefs all help her. Eric says her potatoes are not as crispy as they should be. He does find a crisp one, though. Tom says this is one of the more difficult dishes. Good…finally, he’s going to give someone a break. He says she did a very good job. Eric says she was very loyal to the original dish. “I zink she got it.”

Hosea tells us he’s “the seafood guy” and he cannot allow himself to be sent home on this challenge. They agree he’s close with the sauce, but not with the cooking of the fish. Eric says he used too much za’atar. Tom says it’s overcooked and that monkfish should rest before it’s cut, which this didn’t. Tom says this is the least precise of all the dishes and Hosea will be trouble if he has to face his staff at his seafood restaurant if he gets eliminated over seafood.

My prediction? Jamie’s will be even worse and she’ll go home, although I would prefer if she stayed longer and Hosea went bye-bye.

Jamie realizes the celery is too salty, but she has no choice but to send it out. Tom immediately says the celery is “blanched out”. Tom says it’s a salt lick. Toby says that clearly something went wrong. Tom and Eric agree that the fish itself is well cooked. Toby says Tom is being too kind (a first!): “It’s not merely unremarkable, it’s remarkably poor.” Eric says it’s not an easy dish. Toby starts talking about the circus. Eric can only laugh and say Yes.

Back in the stew room, they toast to each other. Padma comes out and asks to see Fabio, Stefan and Carla.

They act relieved and happy when they're told they're in the top group. Don’t they know by now that the first group in always wins? They all get kudos. And Eric announces the winner - Stefan. He acts humble. He gets a copy of Eric’s new book, On The Line AND the opportunity to “follow” Eric in three of his restaurants for a week and a room in the Ritz Carlton. PLUS at the end of the week, he’ll go to the Food and Wine Festival in Pebble Beach with Eric. Now that’s a great prize for a chef. Stefan is actually grateful.

The other three go in. Tom repeats that Hosea’s fish should have rested. Tom gives Leah a hard time for giving up in the Quickfire. Jamie knows her celery was over salted. Padma says she would have sent it back. “Completely toxic” is how Toby describes it.

I actually think Leah should stay, I can’t believe I’m saying that…Tom says she was not paying attention and has no idea how the dish was put together. But Jamie gave them something they actually couldn’t eat. Am I going against my own philosophy where I think they should consider all their dishes and not just the current one? In that case, Leah should go home…but I’m just not seeing it.

Who will it be? Jamie, it is. Who would have thought that she would go home before Leah? That wasn’t a surprise to me THIS episode, but I would never have predicted it before this week. It's looking like Stefan is the only one who may be able to pull off a win.

The admirable Jacques Pépin is next week’s guest judge. They certainly do get the crème de la crème.


Joie de vivre said...

Your re-cap was so thorough!

DebCarol said...

Totally agree that this episode was FINALLY about the instincts, skills and experience of the chefs. Was fun and interesting to watch . . . despite my lifelong phobia of eels :^0 And how about Jamie , I honestly thought she would hang in there till the final 2.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that Carla didn't win, just because they said that dish was the hardest, and Eric commented that she got the sauce correct, even though technically it's not a bernaise. And Tom did say to Stefan "you thought the dish was easy." I don't blame him for picking the easiest dish, but wouldn't any chef know how to make a hollandaise? Carla should've won just for the difficulty factor.

Sue said...

Thank you Joie!

Hi DC,
It was really good...finally. The eel thing was gross and was it really necessary? It was almost like they want Stefan to win and they found the most unlikely ingredient that only he had handled before.

I did not see Jamie's elimination coming before this episode.

Hi Amy,
Remember most of Carla's potato crisps weren't crisp and Stefan's dish was perfect (although his HAND MADE sauce was a bit thick).

It would have been nice if someone else had won this, though, because he DID win all those appliances after the Restaurant Wars episode.

Emily said...

I was very distracted by Jamie's Bermuda shirt at the nice dinner. I would have worn a dress or something.

I'm surprised she got kicked off. I thought she might have been in the final three. I think she really wanted to win, and I don't believe that Leah wants it.

I don't know how you couldn't be inspired by Eric Ripert's food! I would be honored to eat it.

What else, what else?? Hosea whines all the time. It's getting on my nerves.

Carla needs to tone down the facial expressions.

Stefan will win. I prefer Fabio.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Thanks for the recap. I meant to watch this while I was away and was hanging out alone in a hotel room in the evenings, but somehow I missed out. I was starting to hate Jamie less these days and was a little surprised to hear she had to go.

Tracy said...

Eric Ripert seems like a truly nice person, doesn't he?

And I'm with you about Toby. He should pack his bad metaphors and go home. Wait, I think I want to use that on my own blog!