Saturday, April 10, 2010

Top Chef Masters - It's Baaacckk!

Top Chef Masters

I’m really liking Kelly Choi. She has a lot of verve and if you follow her on Twitter, you'll see that she’s quite an enthusiastic eater.

Anyway, I think it will be hard for the second season of Top Chef Masters to beat the first one, but let’s see.

Don’t you notice THAT about some things – restaurants, dates, vacation spots??? If the first time is awesome, the second time is undoubtedly a disappointment. Then things often turn around by the third time.

Here are the chefs this week and their charities:

Govind Armstrong (He’s hot)

Susan Feniger

I LOVE the Border Grill in Santa Monica and I loved her on Two Hot Tamales.

Ana Sortun, chef of the incredible Oleana

Jerry Traunfeld, chef of Poppy

Jimmy Bradley chef of New York’s The Red Cat and The Harrison. His sous-chef was Top Chef’s first winner, Harold Dierterle.

Tony Mantuano, chef of the Obama’s favorite Chicago restaurant, Spiaggia

Same "critics" as last time. Gail is showing a lot of cleavage (and leggage) in the opening sequence. I’m glad we can see more of Gael's face, with her hat not so tightly pulled down.

They’re going to Chinatown, which worries Tony because that’s not his strong suit. The chefs get busy plotting some strategies as they are driven around. Then they find out that their first Quickfire Challenge is…the kind I hate.

They have to choose ingredients from a gas station store. Of course, a gas station store in Los Angeles is probably a lot better than one on the New Jersey Turnpike. I bet there’s some arugula there.

The 6 chefs are divided into 3 teams. The tasting panel will be The Bravery, a band that Tony listens to on his Ipod. He thinks a band that tours as much as they do will be a good judge of food on the road.

We find out later that the bass player, Mike Hindert, has a culinary degree. Hmm, what does that say about the state of the cooking job market? OR the music scene?

They have 15 minutes to shop, $20 to shop with and 45 minutes to cook. That last thing is what would get me - along with everything else - about the challenge.

These are their dishes and the band’s reactions...which the chefs get to hear from the kitchen:

Susan & Tony

Maple Bread Pudding with Caramelized Bananas

Why, in goodness name, did they have to start with something sweet?

Michael Zakarin (lead guitar): ”Wow, it’s got a lot of flavor.” Anthony Burulcich (drums): “I wonder if all the fruit and nuts came from just one snack pack.” Susan yells (they can’t hear her), “It DID!” Sam Endicott (lead vocals): “VERY sweet. Maybe a little too sweet.” One of them says, “I’m a dessert person, so for me, it’s great.”

Govind & Jimmy

Cheetos Macaroni With Grilled Slim Jims & Tomato Soup

The pasta is (not enticingly) fiery red.

Reactions from the band: “I love Slim Jim’s.” They’re curious about why it’s so bright red. (It’s because the chefs bought super spicy Cheetos, without knowing.) “I’m really impressed by how much (flavor) they (got) out of that.” “Flaming hot.” When one of them says he doesn’t love the sauce, Govind (back in the kitchen) gets a little testy.

Ana & Jerry

Crispy Rice Cake With “Clamesco” Sauce

They’re using Clamato Juice, which has to be a mistake. But their dish looks beautiful, not at all like a gas station creation.

“Very original. I can’t say I’ve ever tasted anything like this before.” That’s probably a good thing. “This to me is something you could expect from a nice restaurant.” “I like the texture a lot, but it was a little bland.” Ana and Jerry shout together “NO!”

We’re just beginning to get a handle on some of their personalities. Susan is spunky, Govind is strong-willed. Jerry is sweet. Ana is tough and a great chef.

The band fills out the score cards.

Susan says she hopes to win the Quickfire, so her charity can win $5000.

Ana & Jerry gets 3 stars. I thought they would have scored higher. I think the fiery mac and cheese will win. Jimmy and Govind get 3½ stars. Hmmm, who’s going to take it? Susan and Tony get FOUR stars. (Shows how much I know.) They’re really happy. They each win $5000 from Lexus for their charities.

They’re remaining in the same teams for the elimination challenge. Govind isn’t happy. He wanted to strike out on his own. Oh, I guess that’s why TWO of them will go on to the Champion’s Round. Govind is coming off as kind of full of himself.

The Elimination Challenge is to cook a romantic duo dish (whatever that is) for 30 couples on their first dates. That’s kind of weird. It’s not Valentine’s, so what’s the point? I wonder if any of them will make fondue, so the couples can eat each other’s spit.

Tony tells us he wooed his wife with food on their first date. How hard can this be? They have $350 and 45 minutes to shop at Whole Foods. There has to be a twist. This is kind of too easy. Actually, what am I saying?!! I LIKE this. It’s just cooking and not tomfoolery.

Ana is just happy to go to a real grocery store. Jerry likes that he and Ana share the same sensibility about food. They are both cooking duck with flowers.

Okay, it’s early, but I’m rooting for either Susan or Ana. With the pairings the way they are, though, only one of them can win. :-(

Susan points out that her style and Tony’s are completely different. Tony feels confident because he cooks for the Obama’s on THEIR date nights, so he thinks he can make other people happy.

Govind is a little nervous, because he says the only thing you can trust in this competition is yourself. He is coming across as kind of egotistical, but he isn’t wrong.

Oh there’s a poll. Who would you rather have dinner with? Gael, James, Jay or Kelly? Where’s Gail Simmons? Too busy with her new show, perhaps? I’m going to say I’d love to have dinner with Gael Greene. She has plenty of stories to tell, I’m sure.

Jimmy says he made Lamb Carpaccio for his girlfriend and she’s now his wife.

Susan says she wooed her girlfriend with her cooking and Tony says she’s creative in ways he isn’t. Okay, that came out wrong…What I meant to say is that Tony is impressed by her imaginative cooking.

Susan is the chatty one and they keep showing her, so I’m thinking she and Tony are going to win.

Jimmy says exactly the same thing I was just wondering about this very second. He says he’s going to sear the lamb on the outside, because he doesn’t think people will appreciate eating raw lamb. Really good thinking.

Govind tells us he (Govind) is running around making all these reductions and roasting tons of lamb and blanching this and stewing that and that his partner is basically just making a salad. That’s sort of obnoxious, but, again, completely true.

Jimmy says it’s BS that making a cold dish is easy and he compares his style of cooking to Coco Chanel’s style of dressing – “Before you leave the house, take one thing off.” It’s curious that he knows that quote, but whatever. I’m beginning to think he’s a bit lazy.

Jimmy says his and Govind’s dishes are the most harmonious and Susan’s and Tony’s the least.

Couples come into the dining room. The judges sit down and Kelly says she feels in love already. Jay says “Any one in particular?” “With you.” “Oh darling”, he says.

Govind is up first. Kelly introduces the judges to him. I’m sure he knows everyone there already.

Govind & Jimmy

Seared Lamb Chop Carpaccio With Baby Arugula & Herb Salad

Roast Chop With Cauliflower Couscous & Pomegranate Reduction

Jay wants to know if they should use their hands or cutlery for the chop. Govind says hands.

Gael says the cold lamb does NOT have a “lamb-y” taste. Kelly: “I think it tastes good.” Jay: ”I love the dressing. I like the dressing on the salad – it’s bright and sharp. It’s not holding back.” James: “It’s very nice. Very, very well-balanced.”

They also like the idea of Govind’s lamb chop for a date. James: “Those two things played off each other very, very well."

Ana & Jerry

Lavender Duck Breast With Red Cabbage, Pomegranate & Beets

Duck Leg In Vermicelli With Orange Blossom Smoked Cinnamon Almonds

Wow, their dishes sound sensational and so creative.

Jerry says they thought it would be romantic to cook with flowers.

Kelly: "Jerry’s duck is gorgeous." Jay: "This is duck breast done really, really well.” Gael: “Wonderful flavor and I love the combination with the cabbage.” James loves the “tart, vibrant, delicious” sauce. “This is very strong food," says James.

About Ana’s dish – James: “The spicing is very expert in this dish, but it’s so ugly to look at.” Gael: “I find this dish to be impossible to eat in any kind of a polite gracious way.” Kelly says it does taste good. Jay says, “Funnily enough, THAT’S what I look for in food.”

Kelly asks James how the two dishes work together. He points at Ana’s and says that this person wore her pajamas on the first date and, looking at Jerry’s, the other one got all dressed up. Good one, James.

Susan comes out with a HUGE smile. I just hope she doesn’t go on for too long so the food doesn’t get cold. I think she should let the food speak for itself.

Susan & Tony

Black Pepper Shrimp & Scallops

Homemade Pasta With Cheese Mushrooms & Truffles

Susan says they call it the Love Potion. The spiciness of the shrimp is followed by the smoothness of the pasta. She says something about it being a “mythic aphrodisiac” and that this dish should guarantee a second date.

About Tony’s pasta – Kelly: ”It smells amazing.” Gael: “I LOVE this pasta.” James: “There are almost too many layers, though.” Jay: “It’s not the lightest of pastas.”

Oh, are Govind and Jimmy going to win? But let’s not forget that OBAMA LIKES TONY’S FOOD.

Oh wait, Jay continues, “I wouldn’t kick this pasta out of bed.” Kelly says SHE’D “invite it BACK to bed.” Gael: “The arugula really cuts through the richness.” They all enjoy it, but James says he’s a bit on the fence.

They move on to Susan’s shrimps and scallops – Kelly: “Wow! Hello!!!” James: “I LOVE the heat in that broth.” Gael: “I would have liked the shrimp to be somewhat less cooked.” Jay: “The combination of (everything) is kicking.”

Jay says both of the dishes are an intense experience, which is “what we want from a date”, so they worked well together.

We hear about how Govind worked for Susan when he was in high school, so she’s hoping for help from him at some point. Govind says he had the biggest crush on Susan Feniger when he was 16. He laughs and says it didn’t really work out for them.

Back at Critics Table

There really isn’t that much to take the chefs to task for. Jay congratulates them for some “serious cookery”.

Susan and Tony are a riot to see together. She's TEENY TINY and he’s a big brute. So cute.

I’m trying to see Govind’s reaction when Jimmy describes them as “Ebony and Ivory”. Let’s just say he has a tight, very tight smile.

Jimmy describes their dishes as an opposites-attract kind of thing - the chilled lamb and a fresh salad against the smoky chop. James says using lamb in a carpaccio was a “small revelation”.

Govind keeps his feeling about Jimmy’s dish to himself as he takes praise from Gael (who is looking positively coquettish as they discuss the romantic dishes). She liked his idea to eat the lamb chop with one’s fingers.

Tony explains why his and Susan’s dishes were at opposite ends of the spectrum. He says it’s like traveling, which can be so romantic. First you go to Malaysia and then you go to Italy.

He could just as easily have said they were two very strong chefs and they each just made whatever they wanted. I’m not so sure the two dishes went together that well, but they were both so good that I guess it didn’t matter.

Susan is unhappy that the shrimp were a wee bit overcooked. Jay tells her that he adored the broth and wished he could have picked it up and drunk it right out of the bowl.

Jerry and Ana seem to have had the most considered pairing. They shared some of the same elements and Ana says they “played off each other”. But I think the difficulty of eating Ana’s dish is going to get them.

Oh, listen, RIGHT after Jay says how good Ana’s broth is, Gael asks her if she thought about how people were meant to eat it. Were they supposed to use a knife and fork in that little bowl? This isn’t good. Ana allows that she should have cut it up.

The judges agree Jerry’s duck was brilliant. After the chefs go back to the kitchen, though, they say they’re happy that they didn’t taste more lavender in Jerry’s lavender duck. I agree. I love it in a bureau drawer, but not on my roasted bird.

James describes dishes with a lot of lavender as eating and taking a bath at the same time, which did NOT happen, he says, with Jimmy’s dish.

The only negatives – The slightly overcooked shrimp, the difficulty in eating Ana’s dish, the fact that Jerry’s and Ana’s dishes were so different in presentation – pajamas vs. a tuxedo; and perhaps the taleggio in Tony’s pasta filling was too strong.

I’m still going with Susan and Tony…not JUST because of the food. They seem to have given Susan more camera time, which I frankly can’t remember if that means she stays or goes. But I’m going with she stays.

Oh good, up to the minute poll results are shown. Amurika agrees with me. They would rather dine with Gael too.

Back in the kitchen for the final scores:

Jerry & Ana

James 3 1/2

Gael 4

Jay 3 1/2

Diners 4

Total: 15 stars

Jimmy & Govind

James 3

Gael 3 1/2

Jay 3

Diners 3

Total: 12 1/2 stars

They are sent back to the kitchen. Awww. Will Govind pummel Jimmy? Nah, he seems fine.

Susan & Tony

James 4

Gael 4 1/2

Jay 4

Diners 4

Total: 16 1/2 stars

They win!!! Go ME, I mean, THEM!!! They are genuinely thrilled. The feisty Feniger has a giant smile and is sooo happy. They walk out. Tony is huge. She’s small.

Govind gives Susan a gigantic hug. He’s nice now. Jerry and Ana are so sweet. Tony says he doesn’t want to compete against Susan.

This was a pretty good start to Top Chef Masters. It did take a bit of time to get off the ground, but then it spotlighted what I love the most about Top Chef Masters – chefs cooking great food.


Anonymous said...

I really love that one of the first things I read is, "He's hot!" Definitely makes me want to read on!

Emily said...

Yes! Go you!

Govind is a good looking man. I liked this attitude, too. Seems like a nice guy.

How can they top the first season? Impossible! But maybe not.. I'll be watching, for sure. It's on tonight again, and I can't wait.

Sue said...

Govind IS really hot, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to do the trick.

I'm not sure they can top the first season. But I'll be watching to see if they do.

Phyllis said...

Finally watched this! I thought it was really cute that Govind had a crush on Susan when he was a teenager. Was kinda pissed that they made these awesome chefs partner up (didn't think it would let them individually shine and I started wondering whether they were going do the partner thing for the rest of the season). But I'm glad Susan and Tony won.