Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Dream Has Come True – Michael FINALLY Appears On Top Chef Masters – Part Two; Plus Panna Cotta As Wobbling Breasts

The Elimination Challenge is to cook a 3 course meal for 100 people all by themselves.

Rick: You gotta be kidding me! Michael: Put on the coffee pot. Lachlan does the math and says, “That’s 300 plates.”

THEN Kelly says they will be catering a party for 100 of Top Chef’s biggest fans and the chefs each have to create 3 different HORS D'OEUVRES, (not an entire meal), based on an appetizer, entrée and dessert. They all breathe a HUGE sigh of relief, except for Rick, who is still concerned.

They have 3 hours to prep that day and one hour the next day. They have $1000 for food. Each of them?

They go shopping and bring all their food back to the kitchen. Nils says he wants to do most of his cooking today and try not to use the stove much at all tomorrow.

Lachlan wants to do things that standout in people’s mouths. Michael is impressed, “Going old school?” he says.

Michael says he likes to have things in his dishes that set him apart and have a little snap to them.

The subtitle says Michael’s dessert will be Balsamic Marinated Strawberries. I’m worried that that will be too simple. People always love chocolate and I want his dish to compete with Nils’ dessert OR any of the others, which all sound good. Oh, Michael says he’s also making a basil gelato. That will obviously be exceptional.

Rick says since the Quickfire, he feels a new respect for the competitors on Top Chef. I agree. To me, the hardest thing is the time crunch they have. Just getting anything on the plate would be a victory, much less a fantastic delicious anything.

Uh-oh, there’s a problem with Michael’s gelato. It’s not freezing and he says it’s starting to separate. I really hope he’s not left with just the strawberries. Maybe he can bang out something tomorrow. He says he’s screwed. Why can’t he just freeze it over night?

It’s the day of the challenge. The first thing Michael has to do is to figure out what to do with his gelato. (Why couldn’t he throw it in the freezer? I know the texture isn’t the same, but at least it would be frozen.) He’s putting it in the blast freezer, “piggy backing” it onto something that Lachlan’s doing. Mike doesn’t know to use it, but Lachlan does.

Rick isn’t worried about his food; he’s worried about cooking for 100 people all on his own. Nils, the efficient Swede, remarks that he’s the first chef in the dining room to set up. He even has time to schuzzz up his table.

Lachlan says he’s “ferociously busy” and is thankful that the servers arrive when they do to help set up. Rick is a bit scattered as he gathers all his elements. They are all going to be so appreciative of their restaurant staffs when they get back to their restaurants. Rick says his strategy is to set up a “sensible assembly line situation”.

Michael says “doing large parties by yourself isn’t something a chef normally does”, so he’s depending on his waiter to help him plate stuff. He wants to have the first 50 or 60 servings done in advance.

Nils goes back in the kitchen and feels as if something is wrong, because he’s not busy scrambling around. It’s not possible that he forgot a dish, is it? He says maybe he didn’t do enough or he forgot something. Nils helps Rick to scoop out some avocados. Rick is psyched. He thinks his dishes are great.

People arrive. Michael is behind his station smiling at the ladies. Oy, he does say one tiny little slightly cheesy thing to a young woman, “If I had a smile like yours, I wouldn’t HAVE to cook for a living.” I guess he’s just trying to pile on the points and, if it takes flattery, so be it.


Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad, Citrus Vinaigrette & Marcona Almonds

Prawns With Rice Flour, Chili & Garlic Oil

Balsamic Marinated Strawberries With Basil Gelato & Chocolate Crème Fraiche

Kelly comes in, looking gorgeous. Michael, please say NOTHING to her about her looks! She introduces him to the judges. He says (to us) that Jay is a loose cannon and that Gael has tasted food from some of the best chefs in the world.

Michael tells them that the salad has half winter and half spring in it. The guests love it.

Gael: I think this would be a great salad at any dinner…BUT probably not standing up. James: It’s not the best context for it.

It would have been a little impossible to have fried 100 tidbits in the short amount of time he had, wouldn’t it?


“Fritta Esotica” Fried Pineapple Wrapped In Speck

Grilled Beef Short Ribs With Anchovy Parmesan Vinaigrette & Horseradish

Strawberry Frangipane Tart With Yogurt Semifreddo And White Chocolate Dust

Lachlan DID deep-fry his appetizer, but he’s getting a huge backed-up line. Jay: Is putting pineapple in the deep fat fryer a good idea? James: It loses its sweetness and kind of gets overtaken by the cooking grease.

Ok, good, Michael’s still on top…for now. Gael likes the speck. Other folks say it tastes like a Hawaiian pizza. Someone else says it’s a little odd.


Upakapaka & Barramunci Ceviche with Yuzu, Avocado & Grapefuit

Brandade Of Scallop & Shrimp, Fennel Salad With Truffle Vinaigrette

Lemon Panna Cotta With Ginger, Macadamia, Coconut & Pineapple

What a lovely menu.

Rick has a really nice deep radio voice. That probably comes in handy in the kitchen.

A guest says, “Heaven in my mouth,” about his ceviche. James: Kudos for presentation. Wait a sec, how is that any different than Michael’s salad. It’s served in the same way in a small cup with a utensil. Jay: The flavors are nice. Gael: And the avocado texture is wonderful.

Rick says he realized as he was serving, that the guests were ALL foodies.

Nils Norén

Scallop With Smoked Potato Cream, Apple & Curry Oil

Slow Cooked Salmon With Napa Cabbage, Chorizo, Broccoli Puree & Madeira Sauce

Chocolate And Goat Cheese Ganache, Cara Cara Orange Gel & Lapsong Cream

I hope he’s not sous-viding the salmon. That never works out well.

AND it looks like a TINY serving. The guests say it’s good. James: Beautiful presentation. Look, it’s very beautiful. Jay: Fantastic. James says Nils met the cocktail challenge too, better than the others.

How is eating something with a spoon a typical cocktail dish? I mean three out of the four of the chefs served stuff in bowls, so they can’t mark Michael down for serving an unsuitable cocktail dish.

Michael calls his main course “Pissed Off Prawns”. He's having fun with the crowd and they’re loving him. Lachlan says (to us) that Michael is the favorite and definitely “the most comfortable showman”. “It comes really naturally to HIM,” Lachlan says in an almost jealous way.

Gael is peeved that MC’S dish is served with a knife. She says you would never have one a cocktail party. James luckily says that’s not true. Jay agrees with Gael. Oh no, this isn’t slipping through Michael’s chef fingers, is it? Well, he’s ahead and the crowd loves him, so maybe he can pull it off. THEN Gael says it’s very oily. Jay says it’s a bit greasy, but very well cooked.

Michael thinks Rick is the man to beat and that his zero stars are a giant motivator for Rick to do well today. Rick’s main course goes over well. Gael: This definitely lives up to the promise of being a brandade. (I just love when that happens.) James: The greens are really good.

Lachlan’s main course short ribs look gorgeous. James: Delicious. Jay: I love it. James: I love the salad part. Michael is definitely slipping down a few notches. Oh, but James says too bad that wasn’t Lachlan’s appetizer instead of the fried thing.

The crowd loves Nils’ salmon. James: The best dish or aesthetic of anybody so far. Jay: Oh! James: Wow! I’m getting concerned.

A guest says Lachlan’s dessert reminds him of something his mom would make, if she could bake. James: It almost has a meat-like taste. That cannot be good. Gael: Where? James: The strawberries themselves.

Michael's rushing to get out the dessert. He says it has more components than he has time or patience, but the gelato did freeze. I’m so glad he threw some chocolate in there. That’s always a crowd pleaser, but with the basil? Let’s see.

MC has the cute girls, standing around him, finishing the plating. “Women helping me is never cheating…maybe to my wife.” Har-har. Jay: It shouldn’t work, but it does. YES!!! Gael: I don’t like lawn cuttings in my dessert.

Do you think she has it in for him, because he’s not from New York? C’mon Gael, be fair.

And it’s not just the women who fall for Michael’s charms. A male guest says he wants to eat this dessert for the rest of his life.

Rick says dessert is not his forte, but I actually think his sounds wonderful. About the presentation in little individual bowls - each with a crusty topping - Jay says, “I’m impressed by the way he pulled that off. James: The panna cotta itself was creamy and wonderful. Jay looking straight into Kelly’s eyes says, “A good panna cotta…is meant to wobble like a woman’s breast.”

Alrighty then…I wonder how long he’s been waiting to use that line.

Nils’ dessert is not well received. The guests don’t like the smoky cream. James says it’s like eating bacon-y chocolate. Jay: I think that’s the goat cheese bringing a savory element you’re not expecting. One guest says that dessert was too smart for her.

This is funny. The others chefs shake hands with some of their fans as they finish up for the evening. Michael is double kissing the ladies.

Okay, let’s hurry this puppy along. At Critics Table, there are things the judges like from all the chefs and things they don’t.

Michael says he’s used to doing things like this, but with 15 other people helping him. James loves his Brussels sprout salad. Gael asks him about needing a knife and fork for the shrimp. He says he left the tail on and to Italians that’s kind of like a fork. Jay says there’s was too much oil on the shrimp. Gael repeats that she doesn’t like lawn cuttings in her dessert. Michael laughs heartily. Then she says she was amazed at how well balanced it was.

Nils was complimented on his first two dishes. Gael asks him if he cooked the salmon sous vide. He said no, that he put it in water, covered the top with salt and cooked it on the bottom and cured it on the top. Interesting. James suddenly comes up with the fact that fish tasted a bit fishier than he expected. What does that mean? It wasn’t chicken, after all, it WAS fish. The other two judges don’t agree.

They comment on Nils’ dessert. He LOVES tea and whipped cream and he almost doesn’t care who else likes it (but he was nice about saying it). Jay says that was the most unsuccessful part of the menu. Nils says, with a smile, it was supposed to taste smoky. James says he appreciates that Nils was trying to get their palates to taste something new.

Lachlan is so earnest as he talks about his cooking. James says the meat dish may have been a bit salty. Lach says some parts of it may have been hit with more salt than others. Jay wants to know why he used strawberries in his dessert, instead of the classic pears or plums. Lachlan says pears weren’t in season. Jay says fair enough. (I don’t actually like cooked strawberries. I think the texture is a bit wimpy.)

Gael loves Rick’s ceviche. And the judges were wowed by the fact that he made 100 individual panna cottas.

The chefs go back to the kitchen and drink wine, while the critics discuss. Jay says it was interesting to watch a group of very experienced chefs “stripped back to just themselves”. (Hmm, a couple of them stripped down? I’m in.)

Gael adds that they had to chat with the guests at the same time, as if it were all easy. Well, we know who was the shining star at that…Gael says she’s converted to basil in desserts now.

In the kitchen, the other chefs rib Michael for his “The tail is the fork” comment.

The critics say Nils’ dishes were the most elegant and “gem-like”. Hey! Don’t forget that you hated the dessert.

They can’t agree with Lachlan frying the pineapple, and they’re not overly enthusiastic about his other dishes. So it seems like Michael is in a fight with Nils. Rick’s were good too, but starting at zero may be too much ground to make up.

Rick got good marks for his brandade with the salad. They LOVED the dessert. He is definitely the one to beat, but is it enough?

Rick is completely hyper before finding out the results. He’s funny. Alright, one last prediction…from the bottom up – Lachlan, Nils, Rick, AND Michael will triumph.


Quickfire – 0

Fans – 4 stars

Critics – James 4; Gael 4 ½; Jay 4 1/2

Total – 17 stars

Thank Goodness, Michael can beat that.


Quickfire – 3

Fans – 3 1/2 stars

Critics – James 2 1/2; Gael 3 ½; Jay 3

Total – 15½ stars

Wow, that’s not a lot. He gets sent back to the kitchen.


Quickfire – 3 stars

Fans – 3 ½ stars

Critics – James 4; Gael 3 1/2; Jay 3

Total – 17 stars

Michael is sooooooooooooooooo winning. Nils is tied with Rick, but I’m not worried.

I actually think I’m amazing. Really. Okay, so I didn’t predict a tie, but it’s not going to matter. Michael is soooooooo close, I can almost taste it.

This is the big moment. The reason I’ve been watching this show for weeks and writing thousands and thousands of words about it. FOR THIS MOMENT:


Quickfire – 4 ½ stars

Fans – 3 1/2 stars

Critics – James 3 1/2; Gael 4; Jay 4

Total – 19½ stars

YAY!!! GO ME!!!!GO ME!!! Oh, I mean, Go Michael!! Yes! Finally an outcome on one of these things that I can get behind! Yes! He is awesome….and I ALWAYS knew he would do it. He’s thrilled. He kisses Kelly’s hand (of course) and drinks with his buddy chefs.

Rick is happy he got 4 stars from the guests. To him that’s like the People’s Choice award. He says Top Chef is “not easy. It’s grueling.”

I am thrilled. THRILLED. Hey Michael, call me, I’ll tell you my prediction for the finals…


Tom said...

Hi Sue,
Cy and I met Michael Chiarello here in DC at a book signing dinner he did at the National Press Club. He's a really sweet guy -- and while he of course is going to turn on the charm to get a roomfull of people to buy his book, he went beyond the call.

Cy's nephew Cory watches cooking shows and cooks with his mom (Cy's sister)and Michael's was a favorite back when it was on PBS. "Casual Cooking" had just been released and Michael was coming to DC to promote it. Cy and I went to the dinner to get a signed copy for Cory, and we brought along a photo of Cory making crepes in a crepe pan we had bought him as a gift.

We showed Michael the photo and told him how much Cory liked his show, and he wrote such a nice inscription for Cory, telling him to keep cooking with his mother because that's something he'll always remember. He didn't have to do that, but he did -- so he can practically do no wrong in my book now (luckily he's a great cook too).


Sue said...

I LOVE hearing good things about my boyfriend, Michael. Your story doesn't surprise me at all. He really does sound like an overall good guy and he has mentioned things he learned from HIS mother, so I know he has a soft spot for stuff like that.(She used one of those choppy chop contraptions, so he did too).

Nat said...

Hi Sue, I'm more of a "lurker" than a commenter on your blog but I love it and come here daily to read your posts. I knew you had a special spot in your heart for Michael (I do too - he is just so ....well.... fun to watch and darn near perfect!) that I thought of you when he won - it was a great show! And this is a great blog!

Sue said...

Hi Nat,
Thank you so much. Please lurk anytime! You obviously have excellent taste in television chefs...and blogs. ;-)

The finale will be fun.